What Obama Owes Catholic Voters
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 09:49:53 AM EST
The Catholic Right-Part, Seventy-three
Some Catholics think President-elect Obama owes American Catholics something for providing him with a 54% plurality. As Frederick Clarkson recently observed there are timid Catholic liberals such as E.J. Dionne who urge the president-elect to somewhat modify his position on issues such as abortion - for example, by not signing into law the anticipated Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), or even anti-abortion related executive orders.  Those on the Catholic Right, are already chastising him to reverse course on his pro-choice position - this is the predominate position among several bishops.

However, my take is that Obama should remain true to his previously stated positions - especially on abortion, contraception and stem cell research. Beyond that, I suspect that many Catholics voted for the former Illinois Senator because they too disagree with the hierarchy in these issues -- and hope that he stands his ground.

As we are well aware, the Catholic Right has heralded the all-or-nothing position of strident Catholic bishops such as Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Bishop Finn of Kansas City and Bishop Martino of Scranton. They demand that the incoming chief executive capitulate to their position of outlawing abortion or they will make life difficult for him and his administration.

But what would an Obama administration owe these demanding clergy?  Polling has repeatedly proven that a plurality of American Catholics pro-choice; perhaps not unconditionally, but at least in most cases. Likewise, they also support embryonic stem cell research in numbers a bit above the national average.  A few oppose abortion under any circumstance and a slightly larger minority believes that it should be available under any circumstance. In any case, however, a significant majority does not want it outlawed.

Perhaps writer James P. Carroll summed it up when he keenly observed that pro-choice Catholics should not argue that they personally oppose abortion but that they openly support it. Instead, Carroll believes the better argument is that abortion is sometimes "the necessary lesser of evils."  

We are dealing in grey areas.  The bishops' black and white solutions for complex issues don't address the realities of a young teenager made pregnant through an act of incest or even by an act of youthful indiscretion.

In such cases conscience becomes a better guide than dogma, as Jon O'Brien, President of Catholics for Choice recently wrote:

Catholic tradition requires Catholics to follow their own well-formed consciences even if it conflicts with church teaching. As the Catechism notes, "a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience."

A clear majority of American Catholics voted for Obama knowing full well where he stood on the issues.  Similarly, a clear majority of American Catholics are pro-choice, as well as being pro-embryonic stem cell research.

Given the choice between the hierarchy's viewpoint and Obama's, Catholics chose Obama's. Accordingly, he should listen to those who voted for him, not a still hostile and increasingly strident hierarchy.

And that was that he would not allow the government to become the  enforcer for my faith's hierarchy on certain social issues.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 09:55:27 AM EST
As an American I voted for Obama, in no small part for his positions on stem cell research and choice. As a Catholic I had no ability to vote for the current pope, but if I could have I wouldn't have. Cardinal Walter Kasper would have been my choice.

As for the show you saw, it was Nova on PBS. And yes, I took away the very same message. Freedom is the central message. Ironically, such metaphoric readings of the Bible is indicative of Catholicism at its best.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 01:41:12 PM EST

There was an article in the paper a few days back where the Pope basically said that Roman Catholic politicians HAVE to toe the line!  I rather suspect he would back up any Bishop who decided to excommunicate a free-thinking parishioner (especially a politician who didn't OBEY "the Church").

IMO, the Bishops and Pope are not much more than the megachurch preachers we've had problems with.  They expect obedience and submission, and don't seem to understand the importance of separation of church and state- or they consider it an obstruction to their authority.

That isn't so different from the NAR "Rule the World!" BS.

I recently watched a show that suggested that the Old Testament narrative was actually about freedom from authority- and the relationship between freedom and authority.  The idea was that the Jews had found freedom in the beginning and the tales about that became the older parts of the OT.  Then the people demanded authority over them (a king)- and that brought misery and problems.  (This last is a thought that came from meditating on the show.)

The show resonated with me for a number of reasons, including because it brought in science (and solidly disproved a literal reading of the Bible).  It mentioned some things I've already learned from archaeological readings- and other things I know solidly back up what the show was suggesting.  I also learned a number of additional points disproving a literal reading of the Bible- which have helped me in my "walk" and will help me in school.

This is a "take" on the Bible that I've never heard before- and I think it is one that people need to consider (especially those would-be rulers!)

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 12:35:05 PM EST

I think the Catholic Right is pushing for a confrontation. It's no secret they would like to encourage Catholics who dissent to leave. From what I can tell at my own parish, some people have done just that, although I think our pastors are middle of the road and not apt to discuss politics in their homilies. The Catholic Right saw Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) as a potential enforcer in their religious/political campaign, but I don't think the pope has quite fulfilled their expectations in this respect.

The blunt truth of the matter is that outside of some people who never question authority, no matter what, and who are encouraged in this mindset by the likes of Chaput, Burke, Bruskewitz, Finn and Naumann, the bishops have totally forfeited their moral authority, and they are totally out of touch with many of the laity. Andrew Greeley once wrote that many Catholics stay Catholic because they like being Catholic, but it's hard on them when they see the clerical/lay disconnect, and bad homiletics.

by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 07:56:48 PM EST

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