Sed Contra: The Political Enigma of Catholic Minority Groups

Deal W. Hudson
June 1, 2001

The top priority of Republican Party strategists over the last few years has been winning more support from two groups—religiously active voters and racial and ethnic minorities. In the case of Mass-attending Catholics who also belong to minority groups—Hispanic, Asian, and African-American—this outreach effort poses an intriguing question: Will Republicans succeed in entering minority communities only through the door of the religiously active? The answer is almost undoubtedly yes since church attendance correlates so closely to the traditional values that inform President George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”

This was one of the conclusions reached this past April by a group of panelists at the National Catholic Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. The panelists included Raymond Arroyo of the Eternal Word Television Network, Kate O’Beirne of National Review, William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, and Steve Wagner of QEV Analytics, which has conducted major studies of Catholic voters for Crisis. Given the hairbreadth outcome of the 2000 election, the panelists argued that Bush’s reelection will hinge on his success in appealing to minorities: Catholic minorities, it was added, might be the most receptive to the president’s message.

Of adults in the United States who identify themselves as Catholics, 78 percent are white, 16 percent are Hispanic, 3 percent are African-American, 2 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. This represents a level of diversity significantly higher than that of the country as a whole. The Hispanic population is exploding, and its impact on the Church in the United States can hardly be underestimated. (The cover story of the September Crisis will focus on this topic.)

Hispanic youth presently make up 38 percent of all Catholics born since 1982. This number is made all the more startling by the fact that fewer and fewer Hispanics are identifying themselves as Catholic. In 1970, more than 75 percent of Hispanics called themselves Catholic, while today that number is less than 60 percent.

The drift of Hispanics from the Church surely concerns the bishops more than the Republicans, because Republicans may pick up the support of ex-Catholic Hispanics if they find their way into evangelical congregations, whose members are often politically conservative. The Church, on the other hand, may never get them back.

In 2000, Hispanics voted for Bush (31 percent) at a much higher rate than African-Americans (8 percent). Bush shows a natural affinity for reaching out to Hispanics, but his ability to connect with African-Americans as yet has been nil. In the United States, there are 2.3 million Catholics and 300 priests who are African- American and 1,300 predominantly African-American parishes. Someone will undoubtedly suggest to the president and his party that these parishes are good places to start outreach efforts, as churches have been traditional centers of African-American political power.

It will be an uphill battle. As Steve Wagner’s research for Crisis has shown, the African-American vote is the only vote that does not reflect a correlation between church attendance and openness toward the Republican Party. How difficult this effort will be is also illustrated by the lamentable fact that the majority of African-Americans refuse to embrace school choice, although it is their children who will benefit from it most.

It is easy to see from the U.S. bishops’ 1999 report Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the New Millennium why Bush and his party will initially do better with Hispanics than African-Americans. First, since Hispanics are more numerous, they are much more widely incorporated into the U.S. Church. More than 3,600 parishes have Hispanic ministries; there are more than 2,000 Hispanic priests, and 11 percent of all U.S. seminarians are Hispanic. More importantly, a recent survey of Hispanic bishops reported “family strength and values” as the most important contribution of Hispanic Catholics to their dioceses. Bush’s emphasis on strengthening the family may be his entrée into Hispanic loyalty.

Bush’s track record thus far suggests that he will bring his message, unadorned, to Catholic minority groups and simply take his chances. We will then find out whether those among them who attend Mass regularly areas disposed toward Bush’s message as their white Catholic counterparts.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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