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Columns-Consider This Feb-9-2009 (580 words) xxxc

Conversation, compromise and common ground

By Stephen Kent
Catholic News Service

Moderation in language, civility in conversation and a passionate determination to protect and advance the culture of life will be necessary in the new political climate in Washington.

"We intend to work with those in public office whenever we can," said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, adding, however, that "we will raise our voices in respectful but impassioned protest when we must."

The first interplay of the new administration and pro-life came in a week that saw millions on the National Mall in Washington witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama. It was followed two days later by tens of thousands of pro-life citizens who chanted, sang and shouted in the March for Life.

Four days in office, Obama signed a memorandum reversing a policy that banned federal funds from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about the procedure.

The policy was initiated in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and reinstituted by President George W. Bush in 2001.

"Disappointment" seemed to be the strongest word of reaction.

The Obama action, which was expected, nonetheless was "very disappointing," said Cardinal Rigali, who chairs the U.S. bishops' pro-life activities.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told an Italian newspaper that "if this is one of President Obama's first acts, I have to say, with all respect, that we're a short step away from disappointment."

"This executive order is a profound disappointment to me and millions of other Americans who were hopeful that President Obama's vow to govern from the center would apply to the divisive issue of abortion," said House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.

When issuing the order, Obama said he plans to works to find a compromise on the abortion issue: "In the coming weeks my administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world."

Fresh conversation, compromise and common ground appear to be hopeful words, the tone and language useful to fostering dialogue.

But the ultimate goal is not legislation acceptable to all.

"We are here seeking a massive conversion of hearts," said Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., at a Mass before the march. While legislation is necessary, he said, "in the end a conversion of hearts is crucial."

It is more important than ever that the case for the culture of life be based on the firm belief in the dignity of the human person.

Politicians can count. Postelection polls said 54 percent of the Catholic electorate voted for Obama.

"Many Catholics voted for Obama despite his position on abortion, and they have an obligation to say 'this is not why I voted for you,' said Richard Doerflinger of the bishops' pro-life office. One way to tell him is through a postcard.

A national campaign is currently underway in parishes, sending postcards to the White House and Capitol opposing the proposed Freedom of Choice Act and calling for retaining laws against federal funding and promotion of abortion.

Obama's fresh conversation is fine -- if based on traditional values. Compromise is fine -- if based on principles. Common ground is fine -- but only if based on a shared belief in the dignity of the human person.

(Kent, retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle, can be contacted at: Considersk@comcast.net.)


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