Ever since the Holy Roman Empire in pre-medieval Europe, the Vatican has seen the church as a public institution entitled to negotiate with political figures, says David Walsh, a political-science professor at Catholic University. Given the bias toward separation of church and state in American politics, U.S. bishops have hesitated to intervene.
"They'd rather say that even more than being religious issues, these are human rights issues," he says. "I think that'd be the kind of rhetoric McCarrick would be more comfortable with."
The 21/2-page letter details how Lassa voted on several recent bills and legislative initiatives related to abortion - including her vote against a bill that would have allowed health care professionals to refuse to participate in procedures that violate their personal or spiritual beliefs.
"As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation to fulfill the duties of your office with regard not only to the laws of the state, but also with regard to the moral law," Burke wrote
The bishops ought to agree to at least defend the defenders of the faith against the attacks of this last group. That is, if a Catholic who is orthodox and observant in his or her beliefs comes under attack for those beliefs, especially by elected officials presuming to call themselves "Catholic" and gain the political advantage of so doing, then the bishops ought to at least rally around that public man or woman against the attacks.
Alabama attorney general William Pryor comes to mind.
Pryor is one of the president's judicial nominees who has been filibustered by the Democratic minority because of his "deeply held views," which is code for his Catholic beliefs. The Catholic lay group, the Knights of Columbus, has denounced the bigotry beneath the opposition to Pryor, and Republican senators used much of their recent lengthy debate to highlight Pryor's extraordinary credentials that qualify him for service on the Eleventh Circuit.
But the American Catholic bishops as a group have been silent on the Pryor nomination, thus emboldening Pryor's opponents and underscoring their own trepidation.