Friday, April 02, 2004

The Catholic Candidate

Today's New York Times explores the tension between John Kerry, the candidate and John Kerry, the Catholic.

I'm also Catholic, and, like Kerry, I am pro-choice and pro-stem-cell research. Of course, those labels are damning among many true believers because they allow for no nuance. Would I have an abortion? Probably not ever, but especially not now, since I'm able-bodied, educated, and more able to raise a child as opposed to my high school or college self. Would I want to urge someone else to consider alternatives to abortion? Yes, I would. But then again, it's not my job to judge, as the Church is supposed to teach us. That falls to God. And this is a wholly unoriginal line of argument.

But in this normal, oft-repeated exercise of moral examination there exists another level of concern. If one believes, really believes in something, then how can that person remain silent while others betray that belief?

That's what Bishops and other church leaders argue when dealing with Catholics in office:

The task force Bishop Ricard heads was formed last year after the Vatican released a forceful "doctrinal note" on Catholics in public life, which said, "A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."

Kennedy got whammed for possibly following the pope, Kerry will get whammed for not following the pope. If you're Catholic, you can't win (and that's actually a cornerstone of Catholic identity, as far as I can tell. That and the reluctance to express joy at anything for fear you're just asking for bad luck - 'course that may be IRISH Catholic more than just Catholic).

Both Kennedy and Kerry clung to separation of church and state as a way to fend off religious-based attacks.

The article doesn't really answer any big questions - which isn't surprising - but it does highlight some of the fun, malleable issues that ooze around American politics. We try not to be a theocracy, and except for the times when Bush explains his actions by saying Jesus spoke to him, we avoid the common traps. But more than religion, we're a country focused on hypocrisy.

Kerry says he's a Catholic, Catholics believe x, but Kerry believes y, therefore Kerry is not a Catholic. Kerry is textbookishly ironic.

But what do we want from our leaders, as Catholics, as Catholic Americans, as Americans?

Maybe my fault lies in having never attended Catholic school. I'd be classified as a cafeteria Catholic, just like Kerry. Someone's issue is always the decisive one, though, isn't it? If you aren't for labor, if you aren't pro-choice, if you aren't black or white, if you aren't with us, if you aren't 100% in my corner, following to the letter my beliefs . . . .

Do we really want such singularly dimensioned candidates? Counterpoint: do we really want such morally lax candidates?

Who wins this battle? Who should win this battle?

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