Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Catholic Democrat...

I just finished a great read that I highly recommend. Michael Sean Winters has written what I believe to be a smart and fair assessment of the once remarkable relationship between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church, its demise, and a way forward.

Left at the Altar touches upon themes I often wish to highlight:

1). The bigoted anti-Catholicism that has always been present in the U.S. even to this day.

"In 1853, Italian Archbishop Gaetano Bedini came to America bringing as a gift a large slab of marble for the completion of the Washington Monument. He was met with a riot and cartoons illustrating bishops as crocodiles crawling up America's shores. the marbele was thrown into the Potomac" (41).

"Anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the liberals" (43).

2). The false understanding of "private" and "personal" thanks in large part to Kennedy and subsequent "Catholic" politicians.

"In his effort to reassure Protestant misgivings about Catholicism, Kennedy essentially manipulated his religion for electoral gain. Kennedy was interested in bringing Catholics into the mainstream even if it meant leaving Catholicism itself at the door" (69-70).

A letter to the editor of Look magazine wrote after the speech, "Also, if you are going to continue with this policy, I wish you would stop advertising the fact that you are a Catholic . . . We would rather see a good Protestant than a bad Catholic" (75).

"He [Kennedy] was a candidate first and a Catholic second. That undoubtedly was the case, except he may have been a womanizer second, a sportsman third, and a Catholic nineteenth. It is odd that his listeners in Houston [Protestant ministers] were comforted by this claim that he was in no meaningful way shaped by his religion, given that these ministers presumably were shaped by theirs" (83).

"When he [Kennedy] said, "I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, " he mistook social manners for a philosophic claim and misconstrued the nature of religion. There is nothing private about the Catholic faith. Indeed, the whole point of key doctrines, such as the Incarnation and bodily resurrection, is precisely their claims to historical facticity. Catholic dogmas are a public and material reality" (83-84).

3). The futile attempt at battling abortion primarily by legalistic measures.

"The bishops ended up paying a price for their foray into partisan politics. They had failed to realize many Americans' hostility toward clerics' directly involving themselves in politics, giving the pro-choice advocates an additional arrow for their quiver. Additionally, both within the Church and to the broader society, this political activity made the bishops appear to be just another interest group. Their voice blended into the cacophony of modern politics and lost the distinctive prophetic voice it previously had been" (144).

Just as Peter Maurin said we need to create a society where it is easier to do good, we Catholics need to create a society where it is easier for the woman in a crisis pregnancy to choose life! Changing laws is important but changing culture, hearts, systems of poverty is essential.

I appreciated Winters' assessment that the current Democratic Party has sold itself to a million interest groups instead of focusing on the common good and in the meantime has swallowed whole the false idea that personal views do not affect public policy. This idea, first Calvinistic, but now secular atheistic, has pushed the Catholic voice away, discrediting it. The result has been, for Catholics, to choose a party that borders on hostility toward religion or a party whose understanding of being Catholic is one-issue focused and determined by the likes of Buchanan, Buckley, Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel and Co.

As someone who doesn't feel at home in either party, I appreciate this book.

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