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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.
The elaborate courtship of Texas televangelist John Hagee–who is covering McCain’s evangelical flank–and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who accused Hagee of anti-Catholicism for his “Great Whore” sermonizing and other standard anti-papist barbs, always seemed to hold about as much suspense as a prearranged marriage. The diligent ministrations the designated Catholic shadchen for the GOP, Deal Hudson, were put into play early and often to avoid any real danger to McCain, as our own Dan Gilgoff has documented here and here, and as Mark Silk has shown at Spiritual Politics. Indeed, in retrospect the whole affaire Hagee begins to look more like a pre-nuptial vaccination than a real virus.
The consummation was last Thursday, with the Hudson-brokered meeting at Donohue’s offices in New York. While all but the credulous assumed this was a political dance to help the GOP, Donohue was surprisingly candid (I thought) about his political intentions, according to Dallas Morning News columnist Wayne Slater, who got behind the scenes:
A meeting between Mr. Hagee and Mr. Donohue was arranged for Thursday at the Catholic League office in New York. Mr. Hudson recalled the scene.
“I hear a Southern accent,” declared Mr. Donohue with a Boston Irish ring. “It must be Pastor Hagee.”
The two got along fine, Mr. Hudson said.
Mr. Donohue showed the pastor and his wife the window where, from the 34th floor, he’d watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He expressed shared support for Israel against Islamic extremists and said it’s important, politically, that conservative Catholics and evangelicals work together.
“That is the liberals’ worst nightmare,” Mr. Donohue said.
Not much subtlety there, and that’s Bill’s virtue, as long as it isn’t the League’s undoing.
An item in the current edition of The Tablet of London hints at a possible opening for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion–even though many do, obviously, their ban from the altar under church law remains one of the sorest pastoral points in the US church. It is also a sore point in Austria, a once uber-Catholic country, whose flock has grown increasingly disillusioned with its leadership.
Now one of those leaders, Cardinal Christophe Schonborn of Vienna, a close ally of Pope Benedict, seems to have suggested that there may be a way to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to remain in the church’s good graces. According to the article, Schönborn “has said it is essential to ‘broaden the perspective’ of the Church’s treatment of remarried divorcees, hinting that he could see circumstances under which they should be allowed to receive Communion, such as if they acknowledged their guilt and attempted to reconcile with family members.”
Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, where one in two marriages ends in divorce, made his comments in an interview with the Austrian daily Die Presse last weekend. He suggested wronged partners deserved different treatment from those who have been unfaithful. “And then there is the question of the abandoned partners who often have a far more difficult time than those who have already found new partners,” he said. He said he would like to see attention distributed more evenly and the problems of “those who have no one to stand up for them in public” included.
Cardinal Schönborn’s own parents separated when he was young. “True compassion lies first of all in discussing what is to blame and not promising a quick cure by means of a sacramental sticking plaster.” He said that only if and when each case had been honestly appraised, which involved a period of grieving, remorse and perhaps also reconciliation, was it possible to assess, at a diocesan level, whether it made sense to allow people to receive the sacraments again.