The war between U.S. Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over Obamacare's abortion, sterilization and contraceptive mandate has been well publicized and was to be expected. Democrats, including Catholic Democrats, have openly and notoriously held policy positions with regard to these sexual issues which run directly counter to Catholic social teaching. That the bishops believed Obama would exempt religious institutions from submission to such regulations exposed profound naivety, but the ideological tension and potential for conflict was apparent to all.
The bishops' recent stance against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget in the House likely took many by surprise. The Church would seem to a casual observer to fit hand in glove with the Republican Party platform - primarily because the media usually only highlights the Church's position on a single issue: abortion. But those more intimately aware of the Church's hierarchy will notice a plethora of self-identifying blue-collar, union-supporting Democrats among the nation's Catholic leaders. These are Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry Catholics, absent the pro-choice stain. The social gospel, according to this large faction, fits squarely with liberal economic policies. And so, we have the present impasse over the Ryan budget.
And it's a wonderful thing.
The debate will largely be decided by the November elections and the weight of the mandate handed to the victorious party. Nevertheless, for the first time in recent history, America is witnessing a mature and principled political debate. Between the GOP and the Catholic Church, no mud is being thrown, no names are being called and both sides are showing respect to the ideas and persons of their rivals. Gently rebuking the Georgetown Ninety, Ryan reiterated that the financial crisis requires a "charitable conversation." This is the model of political bipartisanship which America demands and deserves.
Unfortunately, it only exists because one party decided to sit this one out.