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Dear Democrats, Part II

[Update 2005-04-08: completed a sentence I had left incomplete at the end of the first paragraph.]

Now that John Paul II has gone to his eternal rest, there’s been a lot of talk about his legacy and the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. There’s been some excellent, serious discussion going on within the Feminist Blogs cosmos over the conflicting strands of deeply compassionate witness and deeply misogynist reaction (e.g., Rox Populi 2005-04-02, Stone Court 2005-04-02 and Stone Court 2005-04-03, Pseudo-Adrienne 2005-04-04, etc.) and the Magisterium’s Consistent Ethic of Life, which for good and for ill John Paul II did more than anyone else to shape and witness through his long years as Pope. And while I think it’s absolutely vital not to forget just how bad some of his positions are for women and just how important that is, with his passing it may also be worthwhile to take a second to remind some folks on the Left about the full dimensions of those positions, and just how far both his conclusions, the reasons behind those conclusions, were from the standard-issue claptrap from the 700 Club crowd. And what that means if those on the Left are worried about the effects of the Catholic Church on our political culture.

Or, to put it another way: hey Democrats, quit wringing your hands and muttering mealy-mouthed excuses for trying to sacrifice women’s rights to control their own bodies in the name of political expediency. If you’re seriously interested in winning more of the committed Catholic vote, you don’t need to betray your commitment to abortion rights. First of all, because most Catholics aren’t against abortion or birth control. The Bishops are, but there are a lot more lay-people than Bishops in the Catholic Church. Of course, you might point out that the leanings of the Bishops still matter: they matter on turn-out, they matter to who feels confident in voicing their views within their community, and they matter because of the guiding role that the Bishops play in Church teaching. All of that’s true, but you don’t have to betray women to get the Bishops, either. Look, John Paul II’s conception of the Culture of Life, for all its deep problems, was still a lot different from the ghastly caricature drawn by the vultures and ghouls in the hard Right political class (most of whom aren’t even Catholic). You want to get the Bishops behind you, or at least get them a bit further from Republistan? Here’s what the Bishops are telling you they want:

The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States plan tomorrow to launch what they are calling a major campaign to end the use of the death penalty.

The bishops, according to an aide, have been emboldened by two recent Supreme Court decisions limiting executions, and by polling that they say shows a dramatic increase in opposition to capital punishment among Catholic Americans.

Their campaign, which is to be announced by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick at a news conference in Washington, is to include legislative action, legal advocacy, educational work, and a new website to be named www.ccedp.org, for the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

We think that, with a lot of work, the time will come, not too far down the road, when the US no longer uses the death penalty, said John Carr, director of social development and world peace at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Because of what we believe, and the leadership we’ve gotten from the Holy See, we ought to be in the forefront of that effort.

Carr said the bishops have been stepping up their activity in opposition to the death penalty in recent years. He cited as examples the bishops’ decision to file amicus curiae briefs in two Supreme Court cases, one last year regarding the execution of juveniles and one in 2000 regarding the execution of the mentally ill. In each case, the court issued rulings limiting the use of the death penalty, and in the earlier case the court majority cited the bishops’ brief.

Traditionally the argument had been that society has the right to defend itself against people who were serious threats to the common good as a whole, but the argument has developed in recent years that there are very substantial ways to protect society that don’t involve taking a life of a person who is guilty of a crime, said the Rev. David Hollenbach, a professor of theology at Boston College. This pope has taken an increasingly vigorous position in opposition to the death penalty, and that opposition is now contained within the catechism.

— Boston Globe 2005-03-20: Campaign set against executions

Check it, Democrats. Quit trying to figure out about how you can be mealy-mouthed enough on abortion to find common ground with the Magisterium. The common ground is already there; it’s just on different issues; you ought to be looking Left, not Right. So quit wringing your hands, grow a spine, and stand up for real against the death penalty, the violent harassment of undocumented immigrants, and the God Damned war on Iraq. That’s at least three things that the Church hierarchy will reward you for politically, and that you damned well ought to be doing anyway if you take yourself seriously as members of the Left. It’s true that you can’t give the Ethic-of-Lifers all they want without sacrificing principles that you shouldn’t dare to sacrifice. But if that has driven them into the claws of the hard Right, it’s because you haven’t even tried to offer them anything they want. Of course, these stances will only alienate the evangelical hard Right even further. But Jesus, who cares? What are you trying to do, win votes from the Christian Coalition?

Look, folks, this isn’t rocket science. It’s not like the Catholic Church has been shy about its stance towards the Bushists’ love affair with bombs, guns, and lethal injection. If you want to show people how the Left can work with the Jesus vote too, then quit letting Randall Terry and Pat Robertson dictate to you what the Jesus vote means. The 1,000,000,000 Catholics in the world have at least as much weight in that decision as the most obnoxious wings of fringe Protestant fundamentalism.

We are talking about low-hanging fruit here. Stand up straight and pick it for once.

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2 replies to Dear Democrats, Part II Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. your name

    RG,

    The first graf of this post seems to end abruptly mid-sentence.

  2. David Mackey

    Good post. The problem, though, is that cafeteria Catholicism works both ways. Just as you note that many lay Catholics are out of line with Magestierum teachings on abortion, contraceptives, etc., there are plenty who couldn’t have cared less about what the bishops had to say about Iraq once Sept. 11 made the deep national urge to kill some Arabs politically acceptable. And when the most prominent advocates of the war have the Man-of-God bullshit down pat, it’s easy for American Catholics to forget that nearly all of their leaders explicitly condemned it.

    Just war and death penalty issues don’t have nearly the resonance of abortion with the culture-of-life crowd. For one, dead Arabs and convicted murderers can’t evoke the same sympathy as a fetus. Also, while every Catholic over the age of 10 knows abortion is considered a grave (automatically-excommunicable!) sin, I doubt 10 percent have an understanding of traditional Just War Theory. It doesn’t get anywhere near the emphasis abortion does.

    True Catholic school horror story: 12th grade (I think), day before Bush vs. Gore election, religion teacher interrupts class and spends 20 unrebutted minutes explaining how, regardless of what you might think on the other issues, Catholics can’t in good conscience vote for anyone who would appoint pro-choice judges.

    My point? I think all the Catholics who want to vote for Democrats already do; the rest are literally single-issue voters on abortion. Only in a Republican primary with two strong anti-choice candidates will they consider anything else. I doubt most of these people can be reached.

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