Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Democrats and Catholics: Is a sea change in the works?

Traditionally, Catholics have been a inclined to vote democrat for a number of social and cultural reasons. Now with the more conservative and outspokenness of American Catholic bishops on the issues of life and marriage and a re-prioritizing of the issues of most concern to Catholics, I think the orientation towards democrats is and will be changing.

This is highlighted by the
recent statement of Archbishop Raymond Burke who said, "At this point the Democratic Party risks transforming itself definitely into a 'party of death' because of its choices on bioethical questions."

He was responding the invitation of the pro-abortion singer Sheryl Crow to sing at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He said that didn't surprise him and went on to say the Democrat Party was "the party that helped our immigrant parents and grandparents better integrate and prosper in American society. But it is not the same anymore."

I think the shift in the stance of Catholic leadership will be very significant over the long term. Of course, lay Catholics don't vote in lock step with the views of their leaders but if Catholic leaders clearly define what the implications are of being Catholic are on voting and public engagement, people will have to decide how seriously they consider themselves Catholic. They'll either shift their views or leave the church.

The article linked above has other interesting things to say:

Burke, who was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to be the head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest internal tribunal in the Catholic Church, has not only consistently opposed the idea that a politician can be both Catholic and pro-abortion, but has done more than any other US prelate to raise the issue in the media.

He was one of the few bishops of the US Conference unequivocally to support the instruction from the former Cardinal Ratzinger that such politicians "must" be refused Holy Communion.

But Archbishop Burke told Avvenire that he was not the only one. "Mine was not an isolated position," the archbishop said. "It was shared by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, by Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte (N.C.) and by others."...

As the head of the highest ecclesiastical court in the Church, which interprets Canon law definitively, Burke indicated there is no wiggle room for Catholic politicians on the issue. "It is not licit to give Holy Communion to one who is publicly and obstinately a sinner," he said. "And it is logical that one who publicly and obstinately acts in favor of procured abortion enters into this category."

Traditionally the US Democrats have been the party of the US Catholic Church. In a 2006 article appearing in the Summer edition of Human Life Review, George McKenna chronicled the history of the US bishops' dalliance with the Democratic party, noting that it started with the party's support for the black Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. By the time the party had moved forward into the leftist program in the 1970s and 80s, first by accepting and then zealously promoting abortion, the US Catholic Church was so entwined with the fortunes of the party it seemed next to impossible to withdraw.

In 1980, when the Democrat convention presented a "right to abortion" as part of the party platform, despite their previous strong statements on the right to life of the unborn, the US Bishops' Conference made no response.

McKenna writes, "The bishops were literally dumbstruck. There was no expression of 'outrage' from them ... Abortion was thrust right in the bishops' faces and they said nothing - not that year, not for the next three years. And when they finally did speak, abortion was no longer their main topic."

Since the 2004 presidential election, however, the scandal of pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians defying or simply ignoring the leadership of the Church has come to a head. Archbishop Burke was one of the few who stated that then presidential Democrat candidate John Kerry would not be allowed to receive Communion in his diocese of St. Louis. Leading up to the visit of Pope Benedict to the U.S. this year, the bishops were again divided and equivocated when pro-life advocates begged them to refuse Communion to pro-abortion "Catholic" figures such as Senator Ted Kennedy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Recently, however, more forceful statements have been forthcoming from the U.S. bishops, with an official statement from the USCCB correcting the pro-abortion stands of Senator John Biden and Speaker Pelosi.

The interview with Avvenire was not the first time Archbishop Burke has stated, in his new position as head of the Apostolic Signatura, that Catholic leadership is obliged to refuse Communion in such cases. In August, he told the Italian magazine Radici Cristiane, that public officials who contravene divine and eternal law such as "if they support abortion, which entails the taking of innocent and defenseless human lives ... should be publicly admonished in such a way as to not receive Communion until he or she has reformed his life."

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