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Hail to the Victor

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The GOP race heads to Michigan next week and two recent polls show Rick Santorum opening a lead over Mitt Romney. This is a surprise to the Romney people who thought that Michgan would be in the bag. Romney's father was a popular governor in the state and Romney won Michigan four years ago. But, parts of Michigan are exceedingly conservative. The southwest corner of the state, the areas around Grand Rapids, is home to a host of evangelical and charismatic colleges and universities. While Detroit has produced some uber-liberal congressional reps, in the Upper Peninsula, only a Democrat with the conservative street cred of Bart Stupak could win. These areas should prove very open to Santorum's candidacy.

Both men need to come out of the state singing the U of M fight song, but only one gets to be the victor. If Romney wins, he can deflate a lot of the steam behind the Santorum candidacy heading into Super Tuesday. If Santorum wins, he not only puts to rest Romney's inevitability argument, he also likely pushes Gingrich's supporters into his own column on Super Tuesday.

Mea Culpas

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First, in my post this morning on conscience, I should have noted that the PRRI poll randomized the order of the questions asked, so as to off-set what I perceived as a bias towards framing the issue as one dealing with contracpetion.Pollsters, at least good pollsters, and the people at PRRI are very good, use techniques like randomization to avoid creating bias, but in this case I think it needed more than randomization. I would note that none of the questions, randomized or not, served to frame the issue the way I and many others thought it should be framed, e.g., "Do you believe that church-affiliated instutitions have a First Amendment right to be exempt from government mandates that contradict their moral teachings?"

Second, I should have also noted that the second headline in the press release from PRRI read "Catholics more divided on whether birth control requirement should apply to religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals."

Rehabilitating Conscience

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Throughout the debate over the HHS mandate, the difference between the way the Catholic Church looks at the world and the way the ambient culture looks at the world keeps popping up in ways that often have frustrated the debate, but which point to some of the most fascinating fault lines in our twenty-first century American culture. This difference has been most obvious when the conversation has turned to a word that has been at the heart of the controversy: conscience.

Must-Read Interview with Msgr Scicluna

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Vatican Insider has a really great interview with Msgr. Charles Scicluna, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the recently conducted symposium on the sexual abuse of children, held in Rome last week.

It will be curious to see if his demand that ecclesial efforts to protect children receive an indpendent audit will be honored by Bishops Bruskewitz and Vasa who have refused to conduct such audits.

The Politics of the \"Accommodation\"

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The politics of the HHS mandates is, at once, easier and more difficult than looking at the ecclesial implications. For starters, the politics will be played out before a fickle electorate and a media intent on ambulance chasing. Here we are this weekend discussing profound constitutional issues regarding the relationship of Church and State, and the President’s budget, and the mayhem and murder in Syria, and the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, but as soon as Whitney Houston died, everything else went away. Mind you, I liked Ms. Houston’s singing, and I feel very badly for her family, but the way our media and the electorate responds to the ebb and flow of events has little to do with the gravity of the issues at stake.

MSW on CBS News

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In case you missed it, I was interviewed last week for the CBS Evening News by Elaine Quijano. The interview was part of a report they aired Saturday night. Here is the link.

I should note that the interview was conducted before the President announced his "accommodation" on Friday.

And, I should also note that we filmed the interview at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in New London, Connecticut which, as you can see from the pictures, is one of the most beautiful churches I know. A shout out to the pastor, Father Bob Washabaugh, whom I have known since childhood, for letting use film at his beautiful church.

Silk Takes on Krauthammer

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Mark Silk has posted a brilliant takedown of a recent column by Charles Krauthammer in which Krauthammer argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition calls all to private charity but not to government programs to help the poor. As Silk points out, when Moses laid down the Law, it was a solemn, legal obligation, with all the force we associate with a state mandate or program today because, of course, back then, the separation of Church and State would have struck the Israelites as a very odd thing.

The Krauthammer meme is one we hear often on the right and all of us who support government anti-poverty programs should have Silk's argument at the ready.

Good Commentary & Bad

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The best commentary on the Obama “accommodation” so far, and how to respond to it, has come from Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, in an article at America. He writes: “I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.” Bishop Cupich’s balanced look at the issues involved should be read by everyone, but especially by his brother bishops.

Ambivalence & the \"Accommodation\"

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I am deeply ambivalent about President Obama’s proposed “accommodation” regarding the HHS mandates. I was grateful I was in the car most of the day on Friday, and unable to offer immediate comment. When I listened to the President’s remarks, it seemed to me that the better part of wisdom was to say nothing over the weekend and, instead, first consult with people whose perspectives, knowledge and expertise I value. Alas, I am as ambivalent this morning as I was on Friday.

There is much to say on this topic, and it is difficult to neatly separate the ecclesial from the political issues. The debate over the past several months, and especially over the past three weeks, revealed a great deal about our culture at this moment but, nonetheless, I would like to try and focus this morning on the ecclesial significance of the decision.

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