October 19, 2007


Catholics and political parties

Don’t you wish there was a political party that stood for all the things the Catholic Church teaches? Naturally, it couldn’t be called the Catholic party or it would never get enough support from

non-Catholics to win elections, but just a party whose platform agreed with the Church’s teachings.

Earlier in U.S. history, the Democratic Party was considered the party for Catholics. It was the one that welcomed Catholic immigrants, especially the Irish escaping the potato famine in Ireland, while the Republican Party was composed of anti-Catholic nativists. That was especially true here in Indiana during the first part of the 20th century when the Ku Klux Klan controlled the Republican Party.

That changed when the Democratic Party became the party that promoted liberal abortion policies, favoring the “right” of a woman to “control her own body” over the right to life of the unborn baby. Democrats went on to promote the acceptance of euthanasia, the killing of embryos for stem-cell research and other anti-life issues. Many Catholics believed it impossible for them to remain members of the Democratic Party and, since the Republican Party promoted pro-life issues, they became Republicans.

Other Catholics, though, while wishing that the Democratic Party wasn’t so ­

pro-abortion, remained convinced that it was more in line with most other Catholic teachings than was the Republican Party. Examples include the issues of capital punishment, immigration and the preferential option for the poor. While many Catholics deserted the Democratic Party, most of the Catholics serving in Congress are Democrats.

Therefore, there is no U.S. political party that can be considered the party of Catholics. Or perhaps we should say that should be the party of Catholics since we know that many Catholics don’t take their religion into consideration when it comes to politics.

Furthermore, it appears unlikely that such a party will exist in the future.

There used to be a scramble among politicians to get “the Catholic vote,” as if Catholics always voted in a bloc. There were times when that was true—especially in the election of 1960 that made John F. Kennedy the first and only Catholic president.

Through the years, though, it became evident that there is no such thing as the Catholic vote since Catholics recently have voted about the same as other Americans. During some elections, they voted mainly Republican while in others it was mainly Democrat. Percentages usually vary depending upon how faithfully the Catholics practice their faith.

With 68 million Catholics in the United States, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s tremendous diversity and pluralism among them. They don’t always think alike, and we shouldn’t expect them to. Aside from the basic truths of the Church—those expressed in the Nicene Creed plus a few more—Catholics’ beliefs tend to stretch across the broad spectrum of opinion.

This is even true in non-political matters. Four Catholic sociologists—William D’Antonio, James Davidson, Dean Hoge and Mary Gautier—recently published American Catholics Today, the results of a survey to determine what Catholics consider the most important “elements” of Catholicism.

At the top of the list were helping the poor, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the sacraments, including the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and devotion to Mary. Those considered least important were teachings in opposition to abortion, the teaching authority of the Church, opposition to the death penalty and a celibate male clergy.

“What!” many will exclaim: How can any Catholic consider teachings in opposition to abortion among the least important elements of the Church? Surely it should be near the top.

We have received letters from readers who make the point that it’s impossible to be both pro-choice and Catholic. But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Despite encyclicals from the pope and teachings from our bishops, many in the Church refuse to accept its pro-life message. Yes, the Church believes its pro-life teachings are among the most important, but not all those who identify themselves as Catholics do.

Catholics can belong to any political party, but they have an obligation to vote for candidates who come as close as possible to the teachings of the Church.

—John F. Fink

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