Monday, October 13, 2008

Barack's Bishop

With 22 days 'til Election Day, it has been hard to miss that no shortage of Stateside prelates have sought to tackle the question of Faithful Citizenship... even as the ongoing Synod's net effect is that a critical chunk of the American church's top brass -- namely, its president and vice-president, the archbishop of the nation's capital and one of the two cardinals based west of the Mississippi -- finds itself in Rome in the run-up to the vote, where they'll remain for another two weeks.

In their absence, however, more than ever before, ecclesiastical authority on these shores -- granted, by no means a majority of the 300-strong conference, but still a bloc unprecedented in size and force -- has drawn a line in the sand on church teaching and the faithful's responsibility at the ballot box. Its impact -- both on the election itself and the life of the church -- remains to be seen, but the new reality forged in these days has already served to create powerful, lasting impressions far beyond the church's walls that promise to be sliced and diced long after the last vote is counted and the 44th president sworn in.

Yet for all that, as its American contingent keeps mum on matters here at home, one of the Scripture Summit's Pope-appointed members -- Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, a Word-scholar by trade and former president of the Nigerian bench -- bucked his confreres' carefully-broached approach to the campaigns, telling the National Catholic Reporter that he'd "obviously" back the Democratic nominee:

Known as a strong advocate for social justice, Onaiyekan said Obama’s pro-choice record wouldn’t stop him from voting for the Democrat.

“The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life,” Onaiyekan said in an interview with NCR. “You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.”

A past president of the African bishops’ conference, Onaiyekan is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa. During the synod, he was tapped to deliver a continental report on behalf of the African bishops.

Onaiyekan said the election of an African-American president would have positive repercussions for America’s image in the developing world.

“It would mean that for the first time, we would begin to think that the Americans are really serious in the things they say, about freedom, equality, and all that,” he said. “For a long time, we’ve been feeling that you don’t really mean it, that they’re just words.”

Onaiyekan said he’s aware that many American Catholics have reservations about Obama because of his stand on abortion, but he looks at it differently.

“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.

“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.

“It’s a whole package, and you never get a politician who will please you in everything,” he said. “You always have to pick and choose.”