An Archbishop for Obama?

Photo from cafod.org

One could easily excuse Archbishop Onaiyekan for lacking some familiarity with American politics but one wonders what will come of his theological stance here, expressed in John Allen's interview with him in Rome. My guess is that in a day or two there'll be a follow up for the purpose of "clarification." This could prove to be interesting...
Synod: An African bishop for Obama


While American bishops are usually circumspect about declaring their electoral preferences, at least one African prelate currently attending the Synod of Bishops in Rome feels no such scruples. Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, said today he would “obviously” vote for Barak Obama if he could cast a ballot on Nov. 4.

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.”
The complete article is here at NCRcafe.org and the text of the interview can be found here.



  1. I saw that too... Fascinating.

    Many will criticize this bishop for speaking up about matters that do not concern his country.

    Others will doctrinally challenge him.

    And then the "clarification" you mention.

    However this is on my heart and has been since I read John's column yesterday... if Jesus were to offer a parable about this, what would it be?

  2. Well, he should rethink his position, shouldn't he? Priests and bishops are never supposed to become involved in party politics. Certainly in the archdiocese of Boston, for example, there is a policy statement to that effect. Don't you think a bishop -- any priest -- loses his position as an honest broker when he comes out for an individual candidate? Doesn't a representative of the church risk alienating members of the flock by favoring a party or individual?

    Perhaps one may excuse an African bishop for not knowing the rules about politics. In an American bishop or priest, this would be a violation of trust, even disloyalty to his priestly vows, since he would be in willful disobedience to legitimate authority.

    I disagree that that's "interesting." It is sad.

  3. Anonymous- you make some very good points.

    That said, we have no shortage of opinions in the church that do not favor a candidate explicitly, but implicitly very is another matter.

    I would say that this is problematic as well.

  4. " ...but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” - that would be McCain I guess. Oh well.

  5. Father Fleming,

    I object to the constant stream of partisan stories and commentary that you have chosen to post. This is inappropriate for a parish blog, in my opinion, and for a pastor such as yourself. It does nothing to unify our Holy Family community, nor does it instruct in a beneficial way, nor does it lead to prayer.

  6. Anonymous: Some of the recent comments have been partisan (on both sides) but Catholic people have widely divergent views on almost all issues and some of them choose to express it here.

    As I've written before, I hope this blog is a place where open comment can lead to growth in faith and understanding.

    And of course, "partisan" is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

    The post at hand is a report of clearly partisan comments -- made by a respected Catholic archbishop. Any way you slice it, that's news and while reporting the news is not my focus here, sometimes the news is worth looking at.

    The Catholic Church in the US and the American bishops in particular are fairly important players in the political arena - especially around election time. To ignore this would be to ignore something very important in the lives of Catholic people.

    People (Catholics included) are talking about these issues and I am making an effort to help us bring our faith to bear on the decisions we will make on November 4. I believe that's a beneficial goal.

    If you read my blog with some regularity you'll find that the great majority of the 1100+ posts here center on prayer and on studying the Sunday scriptures. (In the 9 days leading up to the election, I will be posting the bishops' novena prayer for that intention.)

    The masthead on this blog reads: Commentary on life and ministry in my parish, in the Roman Catholic Church and in the world around us. Anonymous may have different goals for this blog but these are mine.

    I regret, Anonymous, that you find this objectionable and I hope that my response here clarifies my intentions.

    Experience tells me that this exchange may occasion a thread of comments arguing over whether or not the recent posts and comments have been partisan and whether or not I should have posted them. Should such a thread begin to develop, please keep in mind that comments will, as always, be moderated...

  7. It seems a little strange that he would make such a comment, but he's free to express his opinion. However, I wonder why he says America's commitment to freedom, equality etc. is questioned by the world. Who's usually the first to respond to needs and disasters around the globe? When terrorists and extremists want to destroy America I always wonder who they think will step up and help if we're wiped off the earth.

  8. As if in reply to the African bishop, the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth today issued a statement clarifying the US bishops' statement on voting. It answers those like Doug Kmeic who advocate "incremental" steps.

    A snippet:

    “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (28)

    5. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, in paragraphs 34-37, addresses the question of whether it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil – even when the voter does not agree with the candidate’s position on that evil. The only moral possibilities for a Catholic to be able to vote in good conscience for a candidate who supports this intrinsic evil are the following:

    a. If both candidates running for office support abortion or “abortion rights,” a Catholic would be forced to then look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done; or,

    b. If another intrinsic evil outweighs the evil of abortion. While this is sound moral reasoning, there are no “truly grave moral” or “proportionate” reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year. To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or “abortion rights” when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil – and, therefore, morally impermissible.

    6. In conclusion, as stated in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the decisions we make on these political and moral issues affect not only the general peace and prosperity of society at large, but also may affect each individual’s salvation. As Catholics, we must treat our political choices with appropriate moral gravity and in doing so, realize our continuing and unavoidable obligation to be a voice for the voiceless unborn, whose destruction by legal abortion is the preeminent intrinsic evil of our day. With knowledge of the Church’s teaching on these grave matters, it is incumbent upon each of us as Catholics to educate ourselves on where the candidates running for office stand on these issues, particularly those involving intrinsic evils. May God bless you.

  9. Deep, deep sigh.

    I am so concerned, from the core of my being - about abortion. However, I can not find a way to vote for someone who is against that and for so much death in so many other ways.

    If that makes me a bad Catholic, so be it. I must struggle and find my way and make my way to God like anyone else.

  10. Fran,
    My feelings about abortion and voting coincide with yours. If you are a bad Catholic, so am I! My prayers are with you, for what they're worth!

  11. For the last anonymous post:

    The statement should be read in its entirety before one can make decisions. It is available as a pdf file from the website (it's listed under pastoral statement on the front page):


    Context and explanation are important.

  12. Why would anyone assume a major party candidate is "for so much death in so many other ways?"

    Is that in a platform? In a speech? From the transcript of a debate?

    What a judgment on a candidate to assume he/she is for "death" without explanation! Such a statement without backing seems blatantly unfair, remembering always that those in politics, too, are individuals, and members of churches, with pastors and families. Both sides of the aisle have sons in the Army this election. Why is one candidate the candidate of "so much death?" That must be responsibly and credibly answered before it's accepted by readers.

    Too many ready slogans are tossed around this year. It is not fair to "hit and run."

  13. This discussion, and all that have preceded it, clarify for me what I have believed all along, voting in the US is a complex responsibility. I am staunchly pro-life, but for me being "pro-life" encompasses SO VERY MUCH. Being pro-life demands that we look at all of the life issues which include, abortion, capital punishment, war, poverty, the dignity of the human person, domestic abuse, health care, and effectively providing for the mentally ill, our returning soldiers and the marginalized citizens of our country, to name just a few.

    What seems to be of paramount importance is that we KNOW what we are voting for; we do this by becoming informed.

    I cannot recommend the bishops document "The Challenge of Faithful Citizenship" strongly enough. It guides,encourages and empowers us to vote with a well formed conscience.

  14. This is not the best venue for replying to concerns particular to the parish I serve. I encourage anonymous local commenters to be in touch, by name.

  15. I wish that all the attention that is being paid to the "intrinsic evil" of abortion would be paid to the "intrinsic evil" of sexual molestation of children, by anyone, but particularly by clergy. For all these decades that the pope and bishops have spoken out so forcefully on abortion, until their feet were put to the fire, they said nothing about the horrors children were enduring at the hands of priests.

    The innocent victims of this evil deserve as much concern and support as the innocent victims of abortion.

    I haven't seen any rallies led by cardinals or bishops holding banners on behalf of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Perhaps, it is time for this to happen. And I would hope that all of the outspoken "pro-life" people would be the first to step forward in this effort.

  16. Anonymous 3,
    It's my understanding that a group gathers for a holy hour for priests Tuesdays at Holy Family. They offer prayers for priests, for vocations, and prayers in reparation. I believe those who attend are prayerfully and outspokenly pro-life. The holy hour has been held for more than 20 years. The victims of sexual abuse are also in the prayers of the faithful at the churches I attend. Survivors of abuse do indeed deserve concern and support; their only advantage, I think, is that they are alive and may with time and love receive healing, which sadly can never happen with the victims of abortion.

  17. There's wisdom in the comment published above. Lives lost through abortion and lives damaged by (and sometimes lost as a result of) sexual abuse cry out for response from the Church and the world, but different kinds of response. Without losing a sense of the depth of loss in both tragic cases, they are different evils and call for different modes of response.

  18. I am neither aware or nor do I care if there is a policy against the Bishop making these statements.

    He should be allowed to voice his opinion.

    That said I am not an Obama fan.

    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.”

    ...isn't that the truth! ROB

  19. A weekly holy hour by a small group of parishioners does not give the visibility to a cause that a rally and parade led by a cardinal does. I maintain that sexual abuse of children deserves the same kind of publicity by the cardinal that is given to abortion. They both are intrinsically evil acts.

  20. Cardinal Sean has been meeting quietly with the abused since he took office. He was responsible for setting up a meeting with a Boston group of abuse survivors with the Pope. He held Masses of Reparation and Healing in each of the different regions of the archdiocese. Counseling remains available and there are people available to deal with concerns of this group. The lawsuits have been settled.

    At some point, you have to give the cardinal and the archdiocese some credit for trying, anonymous 5:04.

    All too often rallies and banners are mere publicity stunts. I believe God greatly honors the weekly, small, hidden efforts of volunteers who come together -- away from TV cameras -- looking to God and Him alone, praying on their knees.


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