Given they were collectively a non-factor in determining the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election, it was impressive to see the U.S. bishops muster their clout in getting federal funding for abortion removed from the House’s Affordable Health Care for America Act last Saturday.

I would have loved to have heard the conversation between Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi when the former was “encouraging” — the verb Catholic News Service used in its story — the latter to allow the full House to vote on Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment that called for prohibition of that funding. The amendment by the Catholic Democrat from Michigan passed 240-194, and gave Pelosi the pro-life Democrats’ votes she needed to pass the health care act. How badly did she need them? With a vote of 220-215, she had few votes to spare.

I hope the success bolstered the bishops’ confidence as they’re going to have to make an even greater effort when the Senate takes up the legislation, again when a joint committee works out the differences between the two chambers’ versions, and still again if President Obama pressures members of the legislative branch to keep abortion funding in the act.

You can’t please all of the people: Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, has taken the bishops, in particular Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of their pro-life committee, to task for working out a deal with Pelosi.

On her Web site, Brown writes, “There was a time when Catholic bishops wisely invested themselves in teaching their flock, preparing them to be the men and women of faith who could remold a nation and her politics by standing up for God and His truth. Currently, the USCCB’s leaders themselves appear to be all about politics… “

Uh, Judie, what the bishops are doing is a form of teaching. Let’s be glad those leaders understand the role politics plays in protecting the sanctity of life. I’ll take the political savvy and diplomatic expertise of Cardinal Rigali and the other bishops who have immersed themselves in the health care battle over anything you can bring to the halls of Congress.

We need — and have needed — Catholic leadership that is not only willing to mix it up at that level, but that knows how to mix it up. Rather than deriding the bishops for their political acumen, you should be thankful that they have it.