Benedictions: The Pope in America

I am somewhat reluctant to respond to Deal Hudson’s rejoinder if only because he has such a great walkaway: “Catholics in the GOP may be step children, but not orphans.” I wish I’d thought of it. But I can find plenty of other drawbacks in his argument that will help me overcome any hesitation…
First off, I would never attempt to stop a debate between Deal and Steve. Just as I would not jump in front of a subway train.
Second, that Catholics like presidents with a strong religious grounding is no surprise. Everyone does. As Ike famously said, every U.S. president has to have a religion, “and I don’t care what it is.”
Where Deal’s analysis goes wobbly, in my view, is in his effort to separate out “self-identified” and “active” Catholics. It sounds like a way to try to figure out who is a “good” Catholic and who is a “bad” Catholic based on frequency of mass attendance. While frequent attenders are more likely to say their faith informs their political thinking, that 50 percent figure is again well below that of other categories, especially evangelicals (81 percent). Moreover, there is, unfortunately, no evidence or guarantee that attending mass regularly ensures that one hews to Catholic teachings, especially as they relate to the public square. Plenty of regular churchgoers throughout history have voted for very bad people. And while regular churchgoers espouse opposition to abortion more readily than other Catholics, they don’t necessarily back policies to reduce abortions, they way less frequent attenders do. The GOP’s rhetoric on abortion may provide “a partisan advantage,” but its record and, more important, the church’s teaching, does not. Moreover, the positions of frequent attenders on a range of issues central to Catholic teachings–especially re social justice–are out of step with the bishops, and less frequent mass attenders.
Above all, however, when it comes to politics–as well as faith–it is not for Deal or me to decide who is a “Catholic who cares.” Candidates want to appeal to Catholics across the board, and to do that they need to appeal to a broader Catholic culture. Which gets back to our original question: Why are Catholics–including those frequent attenders supposedly more “faithful” to church teaching–voting for Clinton more than Obama? They may be stepchildren in the GOP, but they are stepping up in the Democratic Party. Not much of an outro line, but it’ll have to do…

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