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SCRANTON, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Scranton is holding its first-ever pro-life information hour Tuesday, but faithful parishioners say they're unimpressed, especially since they have learned their bishop, Joseph Bambera, is a registered Democrat.
The Scranton diocese, and its adherence to Catholic teaching, has come under scrutiny because it is Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's diocese. With Biden now the confirmed frontrunner among Democrats in the race, his faith and his relationship with Bp. Bambera is of particular interest to faithful Catholics.
One parishioner, skeptical of the diocese's commitment to the pro-life movement, reported to Church Militant on her conversation with Kathryn Windels, coordinator of service and social justice:
I called and asked Ms. Windels if any of the [social justice] grants were going to pro-life groups in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. She said that the diocese is supportive of the pro-life cause, but they wouldn't be getting any of the grants. I told her that statement doesn't make any sense. She then said that the groups are not Catholic. She then told me to call Mr. Bebla [secretary for development] to find out why the annual appeal doesn't earmark funds for pro-life.
The diocesan pro-life information hour may suggest a reversal of policy for the diocese. The primary spokesperson is from the nonsectarian organization Pennsylvanians for Human Life, a group affiliated with National Right to Life Committee. Furthermore, it is being held in the cathedral rectory — a location that could not represent the diocese more officially.
Regardless, concerns remain that the program is an attempt at manipulating Scranton Catholics. The parishioner told Church Militant, "Now the bishop is trying to promote the pro-life cause because we found out that he's a Democrat, the Party of Abortion! Bishop B. never had an Information Hour before."
The bishop's party affiliation was discovered through legal access to public records.
Church Militant reported, for example, that Abp. Bernard Hebda of the diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis urged bishops in his diocese not to vote in the Super Tuesday primary because the party they are registered with could be made public.
The November 2019 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) confirmed that not all bishops believe in the importance of the pro-life movement.
At the gathering, the bishops were asked to approve a letter declaring, "The threat of abortion remains our pre-eminent priority because it directly attacks life itself — because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family and because of the number of lives it destroys."
Of the 212 bishops in attendance, 69 voted against the statement. The USCCB did not disclose details of the vote; therefore the details of how the bishops voted — including Bp. Bambera — remain unknown.
Bishop Bambera has made at least one statement indicating he is a "seamless garment" advocate. The overriding tenet of the seamless garment is that pro-life issues include social justice issues like poverty. Influenced by Chicago Cdl. Joseph Bernardin — an accused homosexual predator — the seamless garment equates intrinsic evils such as abortion and euthanasia with unemployment and deficits in education, housing and health care. Reflecting on the seamless garment's watering down of the pro-life perspective, Todd Aglialoro writes in Catholic Answers:
Rather than creating a deeper respect for human life by expanding the categories in which we consider it, [the seamless garment approach] has diluted that respect by allowing Catholics — and Catholic politicians in particular — a specious way to consider themselves "pro-life" on balance even if they don't oppose abortion or euthanasia. Other critiques, typically from the political right, have highlighted the additional problem of conflating non-negotiable moral doctrines (for example, that abortion is a grave, intrinsic evil) with life principles that invariably have negotiable pragmatic applications (for example, how best to direct public policy to facilitate our duty to help the poor, or what role the state should play in ensuring the adequate health care that human dignity demands).
In a 2019 statement on immigration, Bp. Bambera invoked the seamless garment ethical approach:
When we preach a pro-life ethic, we must stand by this value to defend the unborn, the immigrant, the imprisoned, and all those who are left in vulnerable positions by their government or social circumstances. We cannot rank one of these groups above the others. The Catholic Church is called to seek out those silences and give voice to the voiceless.
At the information hour planned in Bambera's diocese, the letter reinforcing that abortion is today's pre-eminent moral issue will be distributed along with the U.S. bishops' 2015 statement on political responsibility. These documents are the bishops' method of guiding Catholics in the 2020 election cycle.
As a registered Democrat in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, Bp. Bambera will face a fundamental moral decision on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 — the date of the 2020 Pennsylvania primary.