Showdown? Conor Lamb v. Bishop David Zubik
Conor Lamb's remarkable congressional victory will continue to be a national story and political lightning rod. It will do so in a way pundits have thus far missed.
Lamb ran as a moderate in a district unlikely to elect a Democrat. But Lamb is no moderate in his position on abortion. He's ardently pro-choice. He's also a practicing Roman Catholic. And it's here that the Lamb story could again flare up on the national stage.
Lamb attended Central Catholic High School, just down the block from St. Paul's Cathedral, seat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Lamb actually dismisses the “pro-life” label, in a most curious way: “I just want to say, I don't use the term ‘pro-life' to describe what I personally believe, because that's a political term. It's not one that you learn in Catholic school or anywhere else in the Church.”
Really? John Paul II, who was pope while Lamb was at Central Catholic, famously coined the term “Culture of Life,” used repeatedly by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Did Lamb not hear this at Central Catholic? That's quite an indictment of his alma mater.
But Lamb isn't merely “pro-choice.” He opposed the recent bill banning partial-birth abortion. “I'd have voted against it,” he said of the bill to restrict abortions after 20 weeks, the point at which science affirms that fetuses feel pain.
Well, it was that exact position taken by “pro-choice” Catholic Sen. Dick Durbin that led Durbin's bishop, Thomas Paprocki, to instruct Durbin to not present himself for communion in his diocese. Paprocki said Durbin is “cooperating in evil,” persisting in “manifest grave sin,” and must “not be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents.”
This will no doubt apply to Lamb and his bishop, David Zubik.
I fully expect Zubik to follow Paprocki. Zubik is one of America's most faithful pro-life bishops. He was a national leader in battling the unprecedented religious violation that was the Obama Health and Human Services mandate, an executive decree requiring groups as disparate as Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor to forcibly fund abortion drugs.
The Pittsburgh diocese was among the first of 42 Catholic plaintiffs filing 12 federal lawsuits against the Obama administration. As Zubik memorably framed the HHS mandate, the Obama administration effectively told Catholics “to hell with you.”
“At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom,” stated Zubik. “The mandate would require the Catholic Church as an employer to violate its fundamental beliefs concerning human life and human dignity ... . It is really hard to believe that it happened.”
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It's known as “the Zubik Case,” or, formally, Zubik v. Burwell.
Thus, this sets up a potential showdown — Zubik v. Lamb.
The next Congress faces some major abortion legislation, including Planned Parenthood funding. Lamb surely intends to toe the party line and thus blatantly contravene his church on vital matters of the sanctity and dignity of human life.
Lamb and Zubik could be set for a showdown. Lamb may leave his faithful bishop no other choice.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include “A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.”