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Why isn’t Paul Ryan on Catholic bishops’ ‘wafer watch’?

President Barack Obam(left) laughs with Cardinal Timothy Dolan GOP presidential nominee Thursday night Alfred. E. Smith Memorial Foundatidinner New York

President Barack Obama (left) laughs with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and GOP presidential nominee Thursday night at the Alfred. E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in New York City. | Carolyn Kaster~AP

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:42AM

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Archbishop Timothy Dolan appeared in excellent humor Thursday night at the white-tie, $2,500-a-plate, Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner at the gilded Waldorf Astoria in New York. Photos show them all together and laughing heartily.

The event raises millions for Catholic Charities, and politicians were there in profusion, as were media stars. And, it goes without saying, a lot of bishops dressed in formal clerical attire.

But beneath the surface of their bonhomie, the bishops must feel like they’ve been consigned to presidential purgatory in this 2012 election.

Not only are President Obama and his Catholic running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, decidedly pro-choice. But the church is suing their administration over Obamacare’s mandate of free contraception for women on the grounds that it violates religious freedom.

For a long time now, going back to Geraldine Ferraro, the pro-choice Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984, the bishops have appeared to tilt Republican, given the pro-life planks in the party’s platform. And though they didn’t couch it in blatantly partisan political terms, no one could miss their message. Catholic pro-choice politicians were threatened by some bishops with denial of communion. Those politicians were, almost without exception, Democrats.

Suddenly the Republicans appear to pose the same problem for the bishops.

Mitt Romney and his Catholic running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, while pro-life, allow for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

That might sound more conservative than Obama and Biden, but it is not in keeping with Catholic orthodoxy, argued Fordham University theologian Michael Peppard in the New York Times last week. Peppard says the sanctity of life is a prophetic teaching — not a political position.

In his op-ed, headlined “Paul Ryan, Catholic Dissident,” Peppard writes that there are no allowable exceptions when it comes to abortion.

None. Nada. Zero.

Therefore Ryan, who was in lockstep with Catholic orthodoxy before becoming Romney’s running mate, no longer is.

Have the bishops put Ryan, as they have Biden, on what’s called “wafer watch,” warning that he better not be taking communion if he continues to support a woman’s right to choose?

Not that I have heard.

And the bishops, as we know, are not shy people when it comes to reining in those they think have gone astray. The nuns come immediately to mind, slapped hard by the Vatican for worrying too much about poverty and social justice rather than abortion and contraception.

For two years now, Sister Simone Campbell and her organization, NETWORK, have indeed focused on the poor. And they have been critical of Congressman Ryan on another front. They object to his budget-cutting proposals that arguably would harm the poor, sick and elderly. On that score, the bishops agree with the nuns.

But, for the womb-centric men of the church, abortion trumps every other issue. As Peppard reminded, Sister Margaret McBride, a hospital administrator, was ex-communicated (later rescinded) by her Arizona bishop for authorizing an abortion to save the life of a dying mother of four.

That’s the exact same “life of the mother” exception Ryan now embraces.

When do the bishops condemn him?

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