There is a murmuring in the pews. Is it possible the bishops are launching another Fortnight for Freedom -- this time to protest the assault on the lives of ordinary people by the Tea Party-led GOP?
The bishops have long asked women to look at images of fetuses in the womb to discourage them from having abortions. But now, instead of obsessing about what's in the womb, the bishops are rumored to be inviting the millionaire leaders in Congress, several of them Catholic, to take a closer look at the real lives of people in the world. Unlike their very affluent elected representatives, ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet, even with a paycheck. The Bishops appear to be making the point that to stop those paychecks and government services is very un-Christian.
Last year Network Lobby's "Nuns on the Bus" tour through multiple cities in the nation had highlighted the life-affirming work the sisters do. Sr. Simone Campbell, who heads Network Lobby, is reported to have said that "by lifting up the work of Catholic sisters, we will demonstrate the very programs and services that will be decimated by the House budget."
The dates of the bus tour last year overlapped with "Fortnight for Freedom," events announced by Catholic bishops to rally opposition to what they characterized as violations of religious freedom in the Affordable Care Act.
Sister Simone, however, noted that "we're celebrating the religious freedom we have," pointing to the fact that financing for Catholic social services had increased significantly since President Obama took office. It is not clear if any of the bishops took her up on her invitation to join them in their community visits when the Nuns on the Bus were in their dioceses. No doubt that invitation is still open both to the bishops and to Catholic congressional leaders like Paul Ryan, John Boehner and others.
But change is in the air. Literally. Perhaps Pope Francis has something to do with that. Even Cardinal Dolan has called the Pope's actions, his clear solidarity with the poor, his public gestures of humility and empathy, "a breath of fresh air." In a recent statement, the Pope also reprimanded church leaders for emphasizing dogma and moral doctrines over ministering to its people, urging them to stop being "obsessed" with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.
The Oct. 10 statement from the USCCB stressed that "good government protects its citizens. When it shuts down, it protects no one; and when it runs, it must be sure to respect their fundamental rights."
The statement pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it is the proper role of government to "make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life, including food, clothing, health care, education and culture. The Church is a voice for the poor. It's often the only lobby for people in desperate need. In that regard, the church has argued for universal health care for about a century."
People in the pews are encouraged by this statement. Some are saying that if the bishops spoke out publicly, robed, miters on and croziers in hand -- as they did for the Fortnight for Freedom photo ops last year -- perhaps Catholic leaders might see in their actions the call of the Holy Spirit. And they might be moved to do what they were elected to do: govern.
Daily, we see the hardships mount for millions. Yet John Boehner refuses to call for a vote to fund the government in its entirety even though a majority of the representatives appear ready to do so. Ordinary working people who perform a multitude of government functions are kept from delivering services to their fellow citizens through no fault of theirs.
It would be heartening to many Catholics to see the bishops willing to stand up publicly and be heard with the full force of their office. It would be good to see them go to Congress and speak on behalf of real lives in the world with the same dramatic impact as they have done for the possibility of life in the womb.
It would be nothing less than a breath of fresh air.