Sed Contra: The Coming Test

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2004

This summer in Boston the Democratic Party will formally nominate a pro-abortion Catholic, Senator John Kerry, as its candidate for president. This is the man who went out of his way during the primary to identify himself as the most pro-abortion of all the candidates.

When asked what his first act as president would be, Kerry replied that he would repeal the Mexico City Policy. (The policy ensures that federal money is not spent on abortions either at military bases or in population control programs around the world. It was the first presidential act of George W. Bush.)

Already, Kerry has tried to wrap himself in the mantle of another president—John F. Kennedy—who famously declared in his 1960 campaign that if he were elected, he would not be controlled by the Vatican. But Kerry is, as they say, no John F. Kennedy: It’s one thing to divorce one’s religious faith from public duties and quite another to pledge that one’s first act in office will be to oppose the Church’s most fundamental moral teaching— the protection of innocent life.

The example of Kennedy opened the doors for a generation of Catholic politicians who have kept their faith in the closet. The worst offenders have become household names: Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., Governor Mario

Cuomo, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, Justice William Brennan, and Justice Anthony Kennedy. But they’re hardly the only ones. Of the 150 Catholic members of the Senate and House of Representatives, more than 70 have pro-abortion voting records. That is the direct legacy of Kennedy’s public disavowal of his Catholic faith.

In the past few years, lay Catholics and their bishops have begun confronting “Catholic” politicians who brazenly ignore the fundamental moral and social teachings of their Church. With the leadership of Bishops Weigand, Burke, Cupich, Chaput, Keleher, Sheehan, Hughes, and Morlino—and the eloquent “Doctrinal Note” on political participation by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger—the tide has been slowly changing.

The arrival of homosexual marriage is yet another wake-up call to faithful Catholics absent from the public arena. (Is it any accident that the first same-sex marriages have occurred in Massachusetts and California where there are so many Catholics and such lax leadership?) And now, along comes Kerry promising to make abortion as widely available as possible—even using your tax money to offer it. What will America’s Catholics do?

Just as the Kennedy election shaped Catholicism in politics in the last 50 years, so too will the Kerry candidacy be an indicator for the next half-century. If U.S. Catholics vote in large numbers for Kerry, the message to present and future Catholics will be clear: You don’t need to believe in or act on Church teaching in public life; Catholics don’t care whether you’re faithful or not.

Catholics make up approximately 30 percent of those who vote in national elections. They are a powerful swing vote, especially in states with large numbers of electoral votes such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and California. It took Bush winning 10 percent more of the Catholic vote than Robert Dole in 1996 to barely beat Al Gore. The loss of the Catholic vote to Kerry would be disastrous to Bush’s reelection.

Kerry supporters are counting on this. Already a “Catholics for Kerry” organization has been created, its moderator a man named Ono Ekeh who—until recently—was an employee in the Secretariat for African American Catholics for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This exemplifies our main political problem: Why should any political candidate seek Catholic support when he or she cannot be sure what we stand for?

In the past, Catholics have lacked political power because they’ve either ignored or apologized for the central tenets of their faith. In November 2004, we’ll see if that sad fact remains true.

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