“Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George famously said more than a decade ago. As noted earlier, the eminent church historian John O’Malley argues that Barack Obama could be reviving the “spirit of Vatican II” that is associated with a “progressive” Catholicism currently out of favor in Rome.
At PoliticsDaily, the much less eminent journalism hack, David Gibson, coincidentally argues that Obama–an African-American Protestant–may also be reviving a progressive, social justice Catholicism in political life that has been out of favor inside the Beltway for as long as it has been inside the Vatican walls–say the last three or four decades:
But times are changing, and for conservative Catholics, not for the better. The theocon chaplain, Father Richard John Neuhaus, has passed away. Michael Novak and Deal Hudson are so angry at the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, for being nice to Obama that some worry for the editor’s job security (as if the media industry needs more layoffs). And Weigel is accusing Obama of using politics to divide Catholics. That’s rich. One leading conservative Catholic legal scholar, Mary Ann Glendon, refuses to appear on the same Notre Dame platform as Obama, and another leading conservative Catholic legal scholar, Doug Kmiec, actually went over to the Democratic Dark Side during last year’s campaign, causing virtual apoplexy on the right.On the other side of the aisle, it’s a different story. Fifty-four percent of Catholic voters backed Obama last November — despite his strong pro-choice bona fides — and his support is even higher today as those voters agree with his agenda far more than they do that of the GOP. Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president in American history, Nancy Pelosi is next in the succession line, and the 2008 Obama Tide brought some remarkable new Catholic talent to Capitol Hill, such as Tom Perriello of Virginia, while pre-existing talents, including Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., of Pennsylvania — who crushed Santorum in 2006 — are emerging as players.Fully one-third of Obama’s cabinet is comprised of Catholics, also a historic high, and now we have not only Sonia Sotomayor but also Miguel Diaz, a progressive Catholic theologian who Obama named ambassador to the Vatican in a surprise move. Sotomayor herself is arguably the first progressive Catholic nominated to the Supreme Court since William Brennan in 1956, and she is shaping up as a cinch to share the bench with the likes of Antonin Scalia. Does anything else say “New Catholicism” more than a divorced Latina with strong opinions?These progressive, social-justice Catholic politicians are not a new phenomenon. Rather, they hark back to an American Catholicism that was historically on the side of the working man, the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized. Only back then, both church and political leaders were on that same side. As recently as the 1960s, and even up to the 1980s, the likes of Robert F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Sargent Shriver, Joseph Califano, Mario Cuomo, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Geraldine Ferraro could count themselves part of a coherent Catholic social-justice cohort.