Pontifications

Pontifications


Will Obama resurrect the Catholic left?

posted by David Gibson

“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.
So is this the liberal Catholic moment? Thanks to Obama? And what role will the church leadership play? Read it all here

 



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C3

posted June 3, 2009 at 3:01 am


There’s already a large congregation of the Catholic Left. They’re called Lutherans…



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David Gibson

posted June 3, 2009 at 8:04 am


Har har.



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2009 at 10:25 am


Resurrect the Catholic left? That’s odd – in most polls, the vast majority of practising Catholics disagree with the radical right-wing policies dictated by the Vatican. (From memory, about 80% disagree with the official party line on gays, contraception, divorce and re-marriage).
Talk about spin!



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JF

posted June 3, 2009 at 10:35 am


First, I hesitate to use the words liberal and conservative. There are Catholics who are practicing and follow the teachings of the Faith and those who do not. However, for the ease of definition, I will use the terms here.
As a seminarian in his mid-20s, let me offer my perspective on “liberal Catholicism.” It came to prominence in the 1960s and brought some helpful changes. It gave the laity a larger role in serving the Church. It made the liturgy more accessible. It softened the way the Church interacts with other Faiths to make Catholicism more welcoming.
However, like most post-conciliar times, it led to a period of confusion. This is finally dissipating and I can see that the face of the Church is changing in several ways.
First, Bishops are faithful to the Magesterium and Holy Father which is of primary importance. The salvation of souls trumps all.
The prelates realize that social justice is absolutely vital and work tirelessly for immigration reform, poverty reduction, workers rights, etc. (raising the ire of Lou Dobbs towards the Church). However, they also recognize that none of these rights are more important the right to one’s life. If one is killed before one is born, he or she does not have the opportunity to experience reformed immigration.
The seminaries are full of “conservatives” faithful to the Holy Father and strong on the fundamental issues of life. I very rarely, if ever, encounter seminarians in the vein of a Fr. Curran or Reese. These young men emulate their Bishops or priests such as Fr. Corapi (a hero among seminarians, I assure you).
Finally, look at the convents. The “liberal” orders of sisters tend to be quite elderly and starved for vocations. Meanwhile, the newer “conservative” orders are forced to turn applicants away.
The same can be said of young lay people. When I go to Young Adult Ministry events I am amazed by the speakers they bring in and the discussions that are had. They are absolutely “conservative” Catholics.
The Church has always and will always have a mix of those who are more or less faithful to the Church’s teaching. It’s important to condemn no one and leave the door open for everyone to draw closer to full practice of the Faith. However, those who are most active in the life and leadership of the Church will tend to be “conservative.” And, I see only an increase in this trend for decades to come.
Recommended Reading: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1737323,00.html



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Livia

posted June 3, 2009 at 11:43 am


Rather than politically left or right, I like to think of what happened after the Second Vatican Council as a “failure to launch,” understood well by many parents of young adults. It seems that what’s happening within the Church’s life is similar to the 20-something who moves home with mom & dad after struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood.
At its most basic, Vatican II called all disciples, including the laity, to take personal responsibility to form a life that would grow into the fullness of Christ. The religious leadership had the institutional responsibility to renew Church structure to allow this to happen. All Spirit led.
On both counts it seems that the Church has failed to launch as of yet. Instead the Church seems to be stuck in an adolescence of sorts, with leaders and laity focusing on sexual issues, dress up, hero worship, group thing and group identity. Growing up is hard to do — growing into the fullness of Christ in your real life even more difficult. Much easier to focus on externals (what to wear, who is “in or out”) than to make true internal change – individual or institutional. But the Spirit continues to persuade!



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JF

posted June 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm


I might hesitate to equate the Church that Christ founded 2000 years ago with immature 20-somethings.
The Church has provided two millennia of unchanging teaching to humanity. Men and women are bound to rebel, but God knows what is best and He founded His Church to guide the way. God through the Church is the parental figure and we are the children, not the other way around. Those are not my words, but those of Jesus Christ.
One other trait of good parents is that they will tend to focus on the most blatant issues facing their children. In our over-sexualized society, it’s no wonder that this is a key focus of the leadership. However, even then, it is far from the only focus.



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Livia

posted June 3, 2009 at 1:47 pm


Dear JF,
I didn’t mean to imply that you or other young conservatives are immature. Just that all growth happens in stops and starts. Ours is a living faith, born in truth, built on tradition, but always being renewed. As a young seminarian, you should be proud and headstrong about your faith and upcoming commitment. But allow room along the way for your mind to be changed, your heart to be broken and mellowed, and your life to be transformed. You will be invited into Christ’s compassion and be able to give a tremendous gift to His church and world. God bless you on your journey.



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JF

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Thank you very much for your prayers, Livia. You’ll be in mine as well. I am always looking to be changed in transformed in the way I approach things, talk about the Faith, etc. The Church as a whole needs that. And, while the doctrine is unchanging, we are always learning new ways to express it.



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C3

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm


In all seriousness I believe the left turn this country made was due more to opposing what the right had in store rather than what the left actually offered. Coming from Chicago’s Northside and from a more conservative parish(the clergy more so than its parishioners)I can tell you that not supporting Obama is tantamount to not supporting the Cubs,you definitely would make up the minority and you certainly wouldn’t mention it.
My conversion was due to the conservative stance the Church unashamedly holds on matters of social issues but more importantly on their theological beliefs and ecclesiastical authority. People don’t turn to Catholicism because they want compromise they turn to it because the Church holds certain Truths that are uncompromising!!!
Abortion and gay marriage are issues that certainly need to be addressed but they are by all accounts issues involving personal choice. Poverty and social justice however are issues that need be addressed because in economic matters we are all effected. There is no Pro-Choice movement on poverty because obviously no person in their right mind would choose to live in poverty!!! Clergy and monastics excluded of course. It would be a mistake to think that left leaning political patterns translate into a desire for a Left leaning Church. Those who take matters of religion seriously (not converting because marriage, etc..)flock to the Church not because it is Left or Right but because it is only the only one that hasn’t got it wrong. If this changes in a misconceived notion of “catching up with the times” what will we have left?



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C3

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm


Your Name,
I would be most interested in seeing exactly which polls you gleaned this information from. 80% is an aweful high number for “practicing” Catholics to be at such odds with seemingly unarguable stances. Perhaps thought need be put into the motivating factors behind such notions? All of the policies from the “ultra right wing” on the issues you provided are scripturally and traditionally sound. Is it a matter that people practicing sinful behavior expect recognition and a reassuring hand that what sins they commit are tolerated, welcomed?
While “love the sinner hate the sin” is a mantra that most certainly is encouraged; I would say that “love the sinner condone the sin” definitely isn’t, nor should it be.



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:04 am


“those who are most active in the life and leadership of the Church will tend to be “conservative.”
Major B.S.
“an aweful high number for “practicing” Catholics to be at such odds with seemingly unarguable stances”
Preventing married couples from using contraceptives is hardly and “inarguable stance”. It’s lunacy.
“All of the policies from the “ultra right wing” on the issues you provided are scripturally and traditionally sound.”
Sheer lunacy.
“While “love the sinner hate the sin” is a mantra that most certainly is encouraged” it is rarely practiced.



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:27 am


Okay, 80% is high, but by no means do all Catholics toe the party line, and in some cases, not even a majority. Want a link or two?
http://www.usatoday.com/news/graphics/2008_pew_religion/flash.htm
Fully 58% of Catholics think society should accept homosexuality.
“30% of white non-Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass weekly said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 61% of those who attend Mass less often said it should.”
- http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/10/notre-dame-obama-abortion-opinions-columnists-catholic.html
Or,
“The TIME poll confirmed that a majority of Catholics (59%) can be broadly defined as pro-life”
- http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1819897,00.html
40% find abortion morally acceptable and 63% find emryonic stem cell research morally acceptable – http://www.gallup.com/poll/117154/catholics-similar-mainstream-abortion-stem-cells.aspx
53% are pro-choice and 61% think abortion should be legal – http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5554/is_200407/ai_n21839713/
etc.
And I didn’t even bother going to the Catholics for Choice website.



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C3

posted June 4, 2009 at 7:32 pm


“Preventing married couples from using contraceptives is hardly and “inarguable stance”. It’s lunacy”
Expecting self control and sacrifice, yeah what a bunch of nutcases…
To the rest of your musings I must illustrate that your disagreance with them doesn’t negate their factuality.



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