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Who's Cutting Slack for Whom?

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It's been a while since "permissiveness" was blamed for America's social ills. Wall Street thievery and wildcate ventures including Bernie Madoff's helped set aside the notion that the old nemesis could be invoked on liberals with impunity -- and permissiveness talk sort of went away.

Now the pope's letter to the Irish, and the premise behind Rome's investigation of nuns, signal a revival. In one case, Benedict says child abuse was in large measure egged on when the "renewal" called for by Vatican II "was sometimes misinterpreted," a situation made more confusing by "profound social change" in and around it.

Nothing Benedict says indicates he thinks anything is wrong with church laws and discipline. Things just got lax and the church sheriffs were distracted from enforcing those laws. The remedy is to do a better job. There's no need to reform the system itself.

Unmentioned is the permissivness angle. Bishops are told they "failed, at times, greviously, to apply the long established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse." But so far the bishops face no sanctions for this permissive behavior.

Stupak & White House Reach Agreement

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Congressman Bart Stupak is holding a news conference as I write with his fellow pro-life Democrats. They announced an agreement with the White House for an executive order that confirms a pro-life interpretation of any ambiguous aspects of the current health care bill. Some on the Left charged that Stupak’s concern about the abortion language in the bill was all a ruse to defeat the health care bill. They owe the congressman an apology – he held the critical, decisive number of votes in his group, and he has delivered them.

Stupak’s commitment to pro-life principles in beyond question; in this murky world of politics if anything is clear, it is clear that Stupak was willing to defeat the bill unless he felt his concerns about abortion funding were met. So, it will be interesting to see which groups – and which Catholic blogs – denounce him now. This will distinguish those whose primary concern is for the protection of unborn life from those whose primary concern is the promotion of the GOP’s agenda.

A Tale of Two Rallies - & How NOT to Lobby Congress

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A friend started getting a lot of phone calls on his answering machine the other day. Evidently, his number is remarkably similar to that of Congressman Jim Oberstar, one of the pro-life Dems who was holding out on the health care bill for a different approach to the issue of abortion funding. Rule #1 of lobbying: Make sure you have the right phone number.

The messages were telling. One person who identified themselves as a pro-life voter said the problem with the health care system could be fixed with tort reform. “Kill all the lawyers,” he said, not seeing the irony in being pro-life and advocating killing anybody. The calls came from all across the country, not only from the congressman’s district.

Stupak to Vote \"Yes\"!

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NBC News is reporting that Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, the leader of twelve pro-life Democrats who have refused to support the final health care bill until their concerns were met, has decided to vote “yes” on the health care bill. Stupak was in negotiations with the White House and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, working out the details of an executive order that would achieve a result that came closer to Stupak’s approach to enshrining prohibitions on the use of federal funds for abortion in a manner reminiscent of the Hyde Amendment. Stay tuned.

Pope writes to Irish Catholics

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Here's a quck round up of reports on Pope Benedict's pastoral letter to Irish Catholics issued this morning. NCR senior correspondent John Allen called the letter Benedict's "most comprehensive statement yet on the sexual abuse crisis."

From the Associated Press:

Asked why there were no punitive provisions contained in the letter, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that the letter was pastoral, not administrative or disciplinary in nature, and that any further measures concerning resignations would be taken by the competent Vatican offices.

Benedict's letter addressed only the scandal in Ireland, not the other cases of abuse which have recently come to light in other countries across Europe, including in the pope's native Germany.

Lombardi acknowledged the other cases but said the Irish scandal was unique in its scope and in what the Vatican has already done, noting that the pontiff last month met with Ireland's bishops. But he said that obviously the letter could be read to apply to other countries and individuals.

Obama and Common Good

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President Obama held a rally for health care reform today at George Mason University in Virginia. The most compelling part of his message was -- for me, at least -- his appeal to the moral issue of ensuring the common good.

"It's a debate that is not only about the cost of health care," he said. "It's a debate about the character of our country -- about whether we can still meet the challenges of our time; whether we still have the guts and the courage to give every citizen, not just some, the chance to reach their dreams."

That’s the gut of the issue… deciding that we as a society will provide everyone, rich or poor, old or young… with the health care they need. It’s a vision of the common good, something integral to the Catholic tradition, and many other faith traditions as well.

Stupak Still in Negotiations

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According to a report at Politico.com, negotiations between the House leadership and Congressman Bart Stupak are still on-going. While it looks increasingly like the Speaker will whip up the necessary votes for the measure, the report says that they want the dozen or so members committed to the Stupak approach to abortion restrictions on board.

I have never doubted that if push comes to shove, Speaker Pelosi would throw her pro-choice allies under the bus if that was what was needed to pass the bill. She did as much in November. But, this raises an interesting specter for pro-health care forces. Will they be willing to jettison their commitment to abortion rights in order to pass the health care bill?

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September 12-25, 2014

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