Certifiably Catholic: Our Place in the Church Isn't Determined by Politics or Policy

Article excerpt

IF THERE'S ONE LESSON AMERICANS CAN TAKE FROM THE last 12 months of our political life, it's that something called "bipartisanship" is long dead and buried. If the recent national debate on health care is an indication, anyone "reaching across the aisle" is most likely trying to punch the person in the opposite chair.

Bipartisanship among Catholics took a few hits as well, as Catholic groups beginning with the U.S. bishops' conference struggled to stake out a Catholic position on the issue, with federal funding for abortion being the sticking point (along with a minor nod to the fact that neither political party supported access to health care for undocumented immigrants).

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Enter Deal Hudson, who lobbied Catholics for the GOP in the 2004 election and now blogs at InsideCatholic.com. Hudson argued that Catholic politicians must reject any health care legislation that would direct further public funds to abortion because it would directly implicate Catholic taxpayers in abortions. Any Catholic organizations that disagreed, in Hudson's mind, were "fake Catholic" groups, and he pointed directly to two, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, both of which generally supported the Democrats' health care legislation. One was left to wonder if Catholics in those groups were themselves "fake" Catholics.

Here's where "big tent" Catholics should start to worry: It is one thing for Catholics to disagree about how church teaching should apply to civic and political life, and Catholics throughout history have been imperialists, monarchists, feudalists, divine-right-ists, socialists, communists, fascists, anarchists, Whigs, Tories, and, in our own country, Republicans and Democrats. Each group has likely argued that if you're a Catholic you should be (enter political party), through which you should support (enter public policy), to the exclusion of all others.

But it is something else altogether to rhetorically kick one's sisters and brothers out of the church, and that is what many Catholics seem all too willing to do. We have become familiar with the acronym "RINO" (Republican in Name Only); unfortunately its Catholic analogs are appearing as well, especially online.

But here's the rub: No Catholic, not even the pope, gets to determine whether someone is a Catholic. …