Who Are Obama’s Catholic Supporters?

Deal W. Hudson
April 15, 2008

Last Friday, the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama released the names on its Catholic National Advisory Council. The list contains three governors, six senators, and 16 House members, for a total of 25 elected officials. Twenty-two of the 25 is solidly pro-abortion politicians.

Five senators and 13 House members have earned 100 percent pro-abortion ratings from NARAL. Of those remaining, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) gets a 65 percent rating – rather surprising for a “pro-lifer.” James Oberstar (D-MN) is at 50 percent, while only two are pro-life: Jerry Costello (D-IL) and George Miller (D-CA). (Former House member Tim Roemer (D-IL), a committee co-chair, is pro-life as well.)

Notable for his absence is Prof. Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine University’s School of Law, who shocked his friends and colleagues with his endorsement of Obama. Kmiec, who held positions in the White House Office of Legal Counsel under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was considered one of the most important pro-life Catholic jurists in the nation.

Does his name be missing from the list mean Kmiec is having second thoughts, or simply wants to take a lower profile in the campaign? Time will tell.

In the meantime, those who are on the list tell us much about the Catholic advice being received by Obama and his strategists. Just as I wrote in my unsolicited memo to the Obama campaign, the left-wing, and sometimes dissenting, view of the Church is inaccurate and puts him at a disadvantage politically. The composition of the Catholic National Advisory Committee suggests the advice given to Obama will be no different than that given to Al Gore and John Kerry.

Whatever kind of advice Obama receives, however, his campaign has put together a list of respected Catholic lay and religious leaders. These are people who collectively encompass the entire network of middle-to- left Catholic institutions and their leadership. They can give the Obama Catholic outreach tremendous heft and credibility in the eyes of elites, especially the media. These are individuals who, regardless of their politics and theology, can make inroads into the Catholic vote.

Included on the list are prominent academics such as Mary Jo Bane, Harvard; M. Shaun Copeland and Lisa Cahill, Boston College; Cathleen Kaveny and Vincent Rougeau, Notre Dame; Vincent Miller, Georgetown; and David O’Brien, Holy Cross. The religious orders are also represented: Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Congregation of St. Joseph; and Margaret Gannon, IHM, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Several members have strong and recent ties to centers of power in the Catholic Church. Sharon Daly has been described as one of the highest-ranking lay women leaders in the Church and was for many years vice-president for social policy at Catholic Charities USA. Ron Cruz, listed now as a consultant, was, only last year, director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs.

The biggest problem Obama’s Catholic supporters face is the candidate himself. Only a few months ago he was on a charm offensive; now he is mired in one verbal gaffe after another. As the list of regrettable statements grows, it becomes more difficult for Obama supporters to make a case to Catholics. His candidacy is in danger of losing swing voters – many of whom are Catholic – who are starting to see a side of him that is both condescending and extreme.

His now-famous comments at a San Francisco fundraiser are another example of the real Obama revealing himself in the glare of constant media attention. The attitude toward religion is shocking for someone who has made hope the focal point of the campaign message. Describing the bitterness from loss of jobs he meets in “small towns” in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, Obama said, “And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Here Obama explicitly equates religion to gun ownership, nativism, and racism by assigning them a common motive. Wasn’t religion supposed to be about hope in the future, not rancor toward the past? And barely a week earlier, Obama had equated unwanted pregnancy with punishment and sexually transmitted disease.

Catholic outreach will not be helped by Obama’s association with his parish, the Trinity Church of Christ in Chicago. The problems started by Rev. Jeremiah Wright are not likely to be left behind, if only because Wright’s successor, Rev. Otis Moss III, is determined to restore Wright’s reputation. In his Easter sermon, Reverend Moss called the treatment of Wright a lynching – but he didn’t leave it there. What followed was an echo of Reverend Wright’s tirades:

The lynching was national news. The RNN, the Roman News Network, was reporting it and NPR, National Publican Radio had it on the radio. The Jerusalem Post and the Palestine Times all wanted exclusives, they searched out the young ministers, showed up unannounced at their houses, tried to talk with their families, called up their friends, wanted to get a quote on how do you feel about the lynching?

publican is the Jewish tax collector (mentioned in the parable of Luke 18:10-14). The entire statement verges on the anti-Semitic. Reverend Moss could become a bigger problem for Obama than Reverend Wright if he keeps up this line of thinking about who is responsible for the “lynching” of his predecessor.

The Catholic National Advisory Council has some challenges ahead, but they have gathered a notable list of supporters to press Obama’s case among Catholics. They will have to convince Catholics to vote for a pro-abortion candidate whose public comments disparage small town religion and the gift of life, and a candidate whose ministers, past and present, make deeply disturbing comments that awaken the most divisive prejudices and hatred in this country’s history.

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