|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Behind-the-scenes lobbying, coupled with a grassroots mobilization of Catholic churches across the country, led the House Saturday to pass an amendment to its health-care bill barring anyone who receives a new tax credit from enrolling in a plan that covers abortion, a once-unthinkable event in Democrat-dominated Washington.
The restriction would still have to be accepted by the Senate, where it will likely face a tough fight. The issue could sink the larger health legislation if the chambers fail to reach agreement, or if any consensus language leads supporters to defect.
The House vote, and the central role played by one of the country's biggest religious denominations, stunned abortion-rights groups that had worked hard to elect Mr. Obama and expand Democratic congressional majorities. Activists on the left had thought social issues would take a back seat to economic concerns.
The bishops' success served as a reminder that Democrats' strategy over the past two election cycles of recruiting more conservative candidates to run in competitive House and Senate seats can have unwelcome policy consequences for liberals among the party's base. About 40 House Democrats are opposed to abortion rights.
The bishops have a history of political activism. In the 2004 presidential race, some bishops said they would refuse to grant communion to Democratic nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who favored abortion rights. In 2005, the bishops' conference backed efforts by then-President George W. Bush and Republican lawmakers to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. But rarely has the church entered the fray with such decisive force.
"The Catholic bishops came in at the last minute and drew a line in the sand," said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the abortion-rights advocacy group Planned Parenthood. "It's very hard to compete with that."
The deposition was in its fifth grueling hour. The lawyer and the witness had dueled over the meaning of common words, about whether an executive “supervises” or “administers,” about the difference between a lie and a failure to tell the truth.
Then the lawyer sprang his big question: You could have prevented someone from hurting people and you decided not to. Why?
The witness was Edward M. Egan, then the Roman Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. The question was about a priest who had been accused of sexually molesting children.
“I didn’t make a decision one way or the other,” said Bishop Egan, whom the lawyer suggested had failed to act quickly against the cleric. “I kept working on it until I resolved the decision.”
The exchange is one of hundreds recorded in a vast trove of documents the Diocese of Bridgeport made public on Tuesday after battling in court for seven years to keep them sealed. The archive — more than 12,000 pages of memos, church records and testimony — was gathered for 23 lawsuits, alleging sexual abuse of children by seven priests, that the diocese settled in 2002.
At the heart of it lies the bishop’s testimony, in two wide-ranging depositions from 1997 and 1999. Punctuated by legal parsing and frequent exasperation on both sides, transcripts of the videotaped sessions show the man who would become one of the church’s most prominent American leaders — the archbishop of New York, and a cardinal — as he navigated a budding scandal that still threatens the church’s finances and reputation.
Since 2002, when he moved to New York and nationwide attention focused on the church hierarchy’s handling of abuse complaints, Cardinal Egan has faced troubling accusations about his tenure in Bridgeport: that he allowed priests facing multiple sex abuse allegations to continue working; that he did not refer complaints to criminal authorities; and that he showed little interest in meeting with accusers.
He sparred at one point over the difference between the supervisory and administrative duties; and at another point acknowledged that “media attention” to allegations of sexual abuse by priests had already become a serious problem for the church by 1988, when he arrived in Bridgeport, prompting him to take action. Soon after settling in, he said, he codified — in written form — the diocese’s “excellent policies” for handling sexual abuse complaints, which under previous bishops had been passed along by word of mouth.
Even then, Bishop Egan played down the importance of the action he had taken to stem a problem which, to him, was not a widespread one. At one point, when the deposition resumed in 1999, he stopped in his description of church policies to challenge the notion that any abuse had actually occurred.
“Incidentally,” he said, “these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”
“Forgive me, Father — Bishop,” replied one lawyer, Cindy Robinson. “But these things do happen because that’s the reason why we’re seated here today.”
She had been asking about two priests with long records of abuse allegations, whom Bishop Egan had sought to remove from the priesthood, though both continued working.
“These things happen in such small numbers,” the bishop said.
Bishop Egan was at his most combative when voicing his belief in the innocence of most accused priests, including one, the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, who was accused by 12 former parishioners of abuses involving oral and anal sex and beatings.