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Now for the Catholics

First, some links.
Fr. Martin Fox of Ohio, who has a background in politics, posts some reflections here.

It is true, and dismaying, that Obama got a bigger share of Catholic voters this time; but: when you break out weekly attendees vs. non-regular Mass-goers, it’s like this:
Mass-goers: McCain 54/Obama 45 Bush 56/Kerry 43
Non-Mass goers: McCain 37/ Obama 61 Bush 49/Kerry 50
That tells me something very significant: that regular Mass-goers, who were just as affected by all the other concerns, understood the prolife issue as much as they did four years ago. Obama did not improve his position with them significantly, in a year when he had every reason to do so, but for one: the prolife issue.
Of course, many will see the 45% that voted for Obama, and be unhappy about that; all I can do is point out Kerry got very nearly as much, and remember, folks were talking about what an accomplishment it was that Bush got 56% of these folks only four years ago. McCain got only a little bit less in a terrible economy.


Rocco Palmo crunches the number in more detail – although his results do not break down results in terms of the Catholic vote, simply in terms of how candidates and ballot referenda did in the light of various episcopal stances and statements. It’s worth a look before you come over here and discuss it.
As we all know, the bishops meet next week in Washington, and on the agenda is Faithful Citizenship and this whole knotty issue.
If you were composing the agenda, what would be on it?
I know we’ll have some disagreement here, and that is fine.
What I would hope would at least would be on the radar would matters that go deeper than the equation of what vote = what kind of sin.
At issue is, first, American Catholics’ sense of the importance of the abortion issue and their attitude toward it. Support for a radically pro-abortion candidate is only the tip of the iceberg.  It is well known that self-identified “Catholics” abort in numbers comparable to non-Catholics.  Some of those who voted for Obama probably are opposed to abortion but feel that the legal ship has gone too far to come back anyway, but many are simply not bothered by abortion – even the churchgoers.
There’s where the work needs to begin, as I have said many, many times before -to stop treating abortion simply as a “social issue,” but as a reality among Catholics themselves. To have every Catholic parish in the United States be a pro-life place, not just because there is educational material in the back but because it is a place where:
1) Children are welcomed and prayed for – as in the prayer for “a respect for life in our nation” will be supplemented by a prayer “in thanksgiving for the children of our parish and in hopes that God will bless the families of our parish with more children.”
2) It is stated bluntly and directly in every way possible: “If your teenager gets pregnant or fathers a child, please don’t be ashamed. We’re with you. Let us know what we can do to help, and let us pray for the young parents.”
3) It is stated bluntly and directly in every way possible: “We’re rejoicing in the birth of the special-needs children in our parish. Here’s the assistance we give parents of special-needs kids. There’s lots of it.”
4) In which foster parenting is promoted and regular workshops and training on fostering are presented.
5) In which adoption is promoted and the parish participates in funds that financially assist adoptive families.
Secondly, on a broader scale, I wish the bishops would take a critical look at rhetoric and expectations. It seems to me that over the past decades, a building-the-kingdom idealism has infected American Catholic political talk – something that perhaps can be traced to Gaudium et Spes (Ratzinger strongly critiqued the final draft of the document on this score). Related is the issue of faith-in-government – as in government programs and policies are the primary place to work out Catholic social teaching.
This is something that I believe begs for discussion. The bishops need to take a critical look at what they have farmed out to government entities, both philosophically and practically, and then turn back inward for some self-examination. Perhaps some of that self-examination can involve re-imaging the list of lay advisors and voices to whom they listen. If we are called to examine matters as untethered from party ties as possible – then let’s do that – even at the USCCB.
Finally, this.
For American Catholics, political activity and involvement in politics has a moral dimension.  For this reason, the bishops need to speak out and provide guidance in that area.
But in a period when recent stats indicated that barely 1/4 of Catholics make it to Mass any given week…perhaps it’s a good idea to take a look at that matter, too.
From Marcel LeJeune:


Yesterday we got a call from a person who chose life over abortion. She walked away from the abortion clinic and then called us to try and find help. We referred them to a local organization that supports pregnant mothers.
It was a poignant reminder that neither utopia nor Armageddon will come by way of politics.


Comments read comments(26)
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Janet K

posted November 5, 2008 at 9:49 am

We will, of course, wait and see what President-elect Obama will actually do after he is sworn in. But if he does manage to get the Freedom of Choice Act passed, I would like to hear from the bishops on what we are supposed to do when our taxes will be used to fund abortions.
I would like to see discussion on how to weigh moral issues. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI said that the life issues of abortion and euthanasia carry more “moral weight” than war and capital punishment. How are we supposed to apply this as citizens?
And last, I would love to hear how the Church is planning on educating its members in these matters in between elections. I appreciate the bishops who did stand up before election day, but what about the 3 1/2 years between elections?
Most of us do not hear a single word spoken about any of these issues at any time in our parishes.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 10:20 am

Getting Catholics to engage with the political sphere in a coherent, unified way will be very difficult. Relativism and individualism have affected Catholics just as much as others in the modern world.
We cannot even agree on what it means to have a well-formed conscience. And after so many years without catechesis and without regular examination of conscience/participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, our conscience is the flabbiest part of our humanity. Muscles we don’t use get flabby. This is a serious problem.

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bill bannon

posted November 5, 2008 at 10:20 am

Catholics need to return to Aquinas’ penchant for Bible study and bible quoting (see Summa T.)…..since Evangelicals according to PEW research are more reliable than Catholics as voters against pro choice pols….and Evangelicals quote as Aquinas did and that requires reading Scripture.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 10:44 am

The big movement was, it appears (to the extent these exit polls are anything to be taken seriously, which I hasten to add doubt to) that there were only two significant movements:
1. The lesser one of churched Protestants away from the GOP; and
2. The greater of less-than-fully churched Catholics away from the GOP to the Democrats.
As a tactical political matter, I seriously doubt that individual bishops offering their opinions about the application of proportionality as if it were magisterially binding on their flock is going to help as time draws on, and in fact will likely continue to repel the second group listed above from what I can see.
Amy’s list is very worth of consideration and application.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 10:44 am

Hey Bill — good to see your name around again. It’s been awhile since I’ve noticed you.
I’m not sure if you’re perfectly right, however, about evangelicals vs Catholics here. I think there’s the question of whether one is talking about self-identified evangelicals and Catholics OR evangelicals and Catholics who are actually churchgoers, i.e., actually committed to their faith, not just nominals. See, from the Politico, “No Gain for Obama with Churchgoers.
Amy, great post. I just gave you my En Fuego award for it.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 10:59 am

What does it say about our shepherds when almost half of those who attend Mass are unfaithful to a core principal of Catholic teaching?
What is said is not so much that America slips into becoming Rome by choice, but that the Church shepherds, with the usual exceptions, are accomplices in it by omission at best.

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John M. Breen

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:07 am

Amy’s post provides much food for thought for the bishops as they gather in Washington for their November meeting.
In addition to what she suggests, the bishops should also contemplate — meaning not just ponder but have a concrete set of strategies in place — how they address the reality of a President Obama signing into law the Freedom of Choice Act with the help of dozens of of Catholic members of the House and Senate. This legislation would, as Janet K notes, mandate the availability of federal dollars to pay for abortions in every state, strike down every abortion restriction in every state, and mandate that every hospital, including Catholic hospitals, provide abortion services. Such legislation simply cannot be defended by a Catholic politician (or any politician of good will and right reason) on the basis of “prudential judgment.” So, what will the bishops do? How will they exercise their office in teaching and governing the faithful given to their pastoral care?
They have to have a strategy in place to deal with this likely contingency. Moreover, they need to speak with one voice. A piece-meal approach with different bishops responding in different ways would be disastrous on many different levels. Instead, their actions need to be clear, firm, and direct. Indeed, for the benefit of their own souls as well as all of the faithful they should — everyone of them — be excluded from holy communion as per canon 915.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 11:07 am

I think the bishops may have had more influence if their collective name had not been Mud since 2002. Since then, all bishops, good and not so, have been named Mud. They must rebuild their credibility, and one thing I would look for is: what percent of the dioscesan budget is assigned to prolife activities.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 11:08 am

I wrote this after the election last night. Input is appreciated.
Dear America

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Fr Martin Fox

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:16 am

The day after an election when your opponent wins is one of maximum despondency–keep that in mind.
This election year can and should be noted as one in which Catholic bishops and organizations were more forceful on abortion than they’ve been in a long time. There were, as I remember it, far fewer bishops being so forceful in 1992. It isn’t that the bishops’ teaching this year failed, but perhaps that it takes time, and we would be further along, if what we’re seeing now had begun sooner.
That being said, I think what Amy recommends is well worth doing; I’m taking note myself.
The results last night do not worry me terribly on the abortion front; as I watched the Senate returns, it seems clear to me that when the Senate gets hit with what prolifers are going to unleash, the pro-aborts will wring their hands but be unable to break a filibuster of the mis-named “Freedom of Choice Act.” For the several GOP Senators who are pro-abortion, there are even more Democratic Senators who prefer to be re-elected over breaking that filibuster.
I was more dismayed to hear the pro-euthanasia referendum passed in Washington, if I heard that right.
Thanks for the link!
Just to be fair, as you know, but readers who may not go there may not know, a lot of what you cited from my blog was stuff I took, in turn, from others (and which I credited on my site). When I quickly posted my thoughts this AM, I didn’t make what I was quoting as clear as I might–such as that first quote–but I’ve fixed that since.
Sorry for any lack of clarity.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

I want the bishops to explain the basis in scripture and tradition of their belief that protecting the Church’s tax exemption is more important to them than vigorously defending the unborn.
I’m sick of all the strong statements they issue and then fail to back up with meaningful action. They need to teach in person from pulpits and in front of cameras and then walk the talk.

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Joe C

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:22 am

A silver lining:
The pro-life movement can now separate itself from any association in the public mind (however unfair) with wars of choice, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, etc.
I hope, in the long run, this will help the pro-life movement convince moderates to join us.

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Marcel LeJeune

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:36 am

Simply put, the catholic political issue finds it’s roots in the failure of our Church to catechize adults.
The primary and most important kind of catechesis is for adults, but when we ignore it and pretend as if the Church didn’t tell us to properly catechize adults, then their children will also be poorly catechize and the cycle continues.
We need to break the cycle of poorly educated Catholics. This can only be done through a reform of our catechetical models.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 2:06 pm

“At issue is, first, American Catholics’ sense of the importance of the abortion issue and their attitude toward it.”
Starting with abortion will not work. We must go to the root of the problem: contraception (how dare I mention it!).
Respect for life is a result of authentic openness to life.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 2:57 pm

I think this post hits the nail on the head.
We complain about people not voting in line with their faith, but we often don’t show them the meaning of their faith in the parish. If we got serious about making every parishoner a desciple of Jesus Christ and living our own descipleship (by doing the things Amy advocates and more) all of this would be different.
All the talk from bishops about voting pro-life won’t amount to a hill of beans unless making disciples of every Catholic is priority one in every parish.
Politics follows culture, not the other way around.
Revitalize the faith -> revitalize the culture
revitalize the culture -> revitalize politics

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posted November 5, 2008 at 4:17 pm

I don’t see how we’re going to reduce the number of abortions without reducing the number of out of wedlock pregnancies, because no amount of support you can give young parents is going to make up for the fact that parenthood involves huge sacrifices.
I mean take a bright ambitious 17 year old who was planning to go away to college and then law school and then get a prestigious, high paying job. Arranging babysitting so she can go part time to the local commuter college is not going to make her feel like she’s avoiding the death of her dreams. (And note this applies to every girl who is dreaming about being a lawyer, not just the handful who will actually end up with the prestige jobs.)
It’s just not practicible to eliminate abortion by making motherhood seem like no big deal.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 4:55 pm

This will likely not be very coherent as I’m running on a major sleep deficit, due to looking returns from CA well into the wee hours of this morning.
I agree entirely with the ideas that abortion must be addressed and acknowledged as Catholic reality and even more that Catholics ought not to look at government programs as the proper sphere for the application of Catholic social teaching.
I can’t help but think, though, that abortion as Catholic reality cannot be addressed and resolved without a clearer and more forthright presentation of the Church’s teachings, not only on abortion, but especially on marriage and human sexuality.
On a side note, I’m a bit irritated at Palmo’s inclusion of the passage of Prop. 8 and the failure of Prop. 4 (I’m sorry, but 4% loss-at this point, not all precincts have counted yet-does not qualify as “shot down” in a state as generally liberal on sexual issues as CA) as a part of the “repudiation” of the bishops’ teaching. It shows, at the least, a poor understanding of the CA elctorate.
Those who back a Catholic view of social policy are a minority in the state (maybe 30-40% of voters) and those who espouse the most violently anti-Catholic social policy are roughly as numerous; the middle tends to skew away from the Catholic view.
When referenda such as Prop 8 pass, it’s either because the more “conservative” social voters are benefiting from voter apathy (they turn out to vote much more consistently than the more liberal voters) or because the middle has been persuaded. Given the record voter turn-out in CA (no numbers yet, but we’re assured it’s high), the passage of Prop 8 is due to the second option.
I think that’s hardly a repudiation of the bishops’ teaching.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 5:08 pm

How many “Catholics” are actually Catholics? This is a big question, and one that I find very discomforting.
“…It seems to me that over the past decades, a building-the-kingdom idealism has infected American Catholic political talk… Related is the issue of faith-in-government – as in government programs and policies are the primary place to work out Catholic social teaching… The bishops need to take a critical look at what they have farmed out to government entities…”
This is why I lean libertarian on the issue of government. The proper place of government is maintaining law & order, nothing more, nothing less. It is WE — individuals and the Church — that are responsible for taking care of each other.
I urge Catholics to start taking a serious look at libertarian thought. You all might think it’s just misanthropic nonsense — and some of it is, I admit (e.g. Ayn Rand) — but if you sift out the nuggets of wisdom from the more radical elements, you’ll find what it is at bottom: submitting the State to the people, instead of the other way around. Coercive civil authority is necessary, but it can easily be used against Christians; the history of the Church shows this. Thus, the State must be minimized, and neither Party is willing to do this.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 6:12 pm

start teaching religion in the catholic high has been neariy absent for the last several years.just ask your teenager a question regarding the catholic faith and you will see what i mean

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Edward Reinhart

posted November 5, 2008 at 9:07 pm

I wouldn’t put too much faith in exit poles. We really don’t know if the polsters are telling the truth and we don’t really don’t know if those poled were telling the truth. However I will say that I personally know at least one daily communicant who has never voted for anyone except a Democrat and an eleventh hour Catholic volunteer who voted for a third party. I know weekly communicants who accept contraception. More than that I don’t know with certainty. But I do suspect you are right. It is hard to imagine that with something like 60 million Catholics in the country that we can’t become a pro life country. I really do think that the Bishops’ historic penchent for stressing the ” seemeless garment ” has so clouded the minds of the great mass of the faithful that we can’t get off the dime. It’s pretty sad.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm

You should probably clarify that the quote you show from Fr. Fox’s blog was in fact a quote from another blog. When I read that a priest called a true patriot who spent 5 years being tortured in Hanoi a “old political hack,” I couldn’t believe it. So I went to the Fox site and found that he was quoting another blog.
And for the record: we are winning in Iraq. Just reported today in Investors Business Daily: two years ago there were 12,000 Al Qaeda terrorists, and now there are less than 1,200; 12 of the 15 political benchmarks have been met; and the Maliki government has begun negotiating our withdrawal. McCain and Bush were right, and no one noticed. So much for the eight disastrous years. Bush is the most “misunderestimated” president since Truman.
Get over the Bush bashing. It’s not productive.

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Franklin Jennings

posted November 5, 2008 at 9:50 pm

What would I set for the agenda?
Number one would be “Have your butt in a pew every Sunday, and receive communion during Eastertide, and do a corporal work of mercy every Friday!!! That’s not EVEN the bare minimum, but do it or you’re out.”

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not a kerry katholic

posted November 6, 2008 at 10:47 am

I tried reading “Now for the Catholics” but couldn’t get around the pop-up that kept intruding on my screen. It was a bolt of lightning that kept flashing: “I called you bishops and annointed you and filled you with grace to ‘preach, TEACH, and sanctify’ but you hoarded it all and hid timidly–or partisanly?”

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posted November 6, 2008 at 11:42 am

Catechizing adults? Your church needs to start with catechizing children. Sorry, but you are doing a terrible job. When your children come to our youth functions with their friends, or talk with kids from our church, we find that they cannot even explain the basics of their faith– the importance of communion, who the Pope is, why the Bible is not the last word…
As far as President Obama goes, let’s all remember that Christianity originated in a world ruled by pagan Rome, hence Christ’s command to be “in the world, but not of the world”. It was never intended that we use the government as an instrument to enforce our faith. We should always keep trying to enlist the help of government in establishing a culture of life, but when government fails, we should remember that we are an alternative to earthly ideals, and our ultimate allegiance is not to earthly government. In fact, there are still many governments that are active enemies of Christ.
Yes, I voted for McCain because of the life issue, but, the election of Obama is not the end of the world. It is simply another lesson, and another challenge– “in, not of.”
You have a beautiful faith. Teach your children what you believe and why, so that they will understand why and how they must live “in, but not of”. When your people understand what they belive, we can have a realistic conversation about our agreements and disagreements, and that will be good for all of us.

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posted November 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm

I agree with Jay we need to teach our faith to our children. As a religious education teacher I get to see first-hand how poorly most children are catechized at home. As Catholics we have failed in the home to plant the seeds needed for a rock solid faith! Resolving this problem is not going to be easy. Many parents don’t have the basic knowledge to live out their faith in the home yet alone at work. How can you teach what you don’t know or put into practice.
I do believe that the church as a whole has begun to recognize the problem and has started to provide adult education programs, but this is just the first step. All of us need to take responsibility for where the church is or is not today. Are we not called by our baptism to be a priestly people to live our faith openly and lovingly? We as Catholics are called to evangelize to all people even those in our own parishes. I know I am singing to the choir in this blog but really how often do we truly do what we are called to do? Are we really living our faith in public? Are we afraid to call ourselves Catholic? If we are going to change things for the better we will have to engage in the difficult issues that our church calls us too.
It has to start with Catholics like us! We who have a good knowledge of our faith have to get involved and be that connection for those who are ignorant in what we proclaim to be.

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Blake Helgoth

posted November 9, 2008 at 5:31 am

What is their purpose – My vote for the bishop’s agenda would be evangelization and catechesis. But, this will only breed more beaurocratic documents that take too long to compose and much too to vote through. What is it that the Bishops Conference actually hopes to accomplish? Maybe they should start there. Has one of the documents they slaved over for meeting upon meeting actually made any difference in the numbers of people converted to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ? Maybe the agenda should be, how can they stip away the beaurocracy and free up bishops (or force them) to be bishops who teach, preach and witness to the truth of Jesus Christ to their flock? They could start by donating the huge amount of money and time they spend on this horrible beaurocracy to the poor and less fortunate. They need to figure out their purpose, and if they do not have one, then they need to disperse.

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