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Benedictions: The Pope in America

Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput combines an intellectual’s depth with the doughty persona of a politicker, which is what he used to be–he worked for the RFK campaign and later, even as a priest, was a campaign volunteer for Jimmy Carter. Some say he’s still a political operative, though for the other side. Over at First Things, Chaput gives his critics more fodder for that view with a brief essay in which he takes Obama’s Catholic supporters–including Doug Kmiec–to task in a reprise of Bill Donohue’s even feistier forays. Chaput writes:

Earlier this spring, a group called “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08” quoted my own published words in the following way:
“So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can’t, and I won’t. But I do know some serious Catholics– people whom I admire–who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up; they keep lobbying their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite–not because of–their pro-choice views.”
What’s interesting about this quotation–which is accurate but incomplete–is the wording that was left out. The very next sentences in the article of mine they selected, which Roman Catholics for Obama neglected to quote, run as follows:
“But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life–which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.”

Several questions come to mind, one being that if the archbishop is renouncing his prudential judgments of years ago, how does that reflect on the authority of his prudential judgments today? Also, should he himself have been denied communion for his work on behalf of Carter? (Or, more properly, as a priest, should he have denied himself communion?) And finally, his political past is interesting, and his political conversion from Democrat to (apparent) Republican is not unusual. But what would he say to one of his own priests if the man became directly involved in a campaign? Is that a problem? Or does it depend on the campaign?
One more thing: The archbishop is pretty well saying you can’t be Catholic and support Obama (although he carefully qualifies that at the end). At what point does that become an endorsement of John McCain? And if it’s not, who will the archbishop vote for? That’s the real question. The Catholic hieracrchy is rightly cagey about not endorsing candidates. But their pronouncements against candidates are so numerous that it’s difficult for Catholics to figure who they should vote for, if anyone.
In any case, interesting stuff. I thought that with no Catholic candidate in the mix, we might enjoy a truce in the “communion wars.” Apparently not.

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