The Vatican Connection: How the Catholic Church Influences the Republican Party

By Swomley, John M. | The Humanist, November-December 1996 | Go to article overview

The Vatican Connection: How the Catholic Church Influences the Republican Party


Swomley, John M., The Humanist


At first glance, the 1996 November election is a battle to determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the White House and Congress. In reality, the political battle is between a religiously led party, the Republicans, and a traditionally secular party, the Democrats. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis said: "What matters is the rise of a religion-based party, one in which the dominant forces see all issues through the lens" of religion. He deplored the idea of a "single religious outlook . . . dominating a major party."

Although the religious outlook appears to be that of the Christian Coalition, it is actually the Vatican's program that dominates the Republican platform and presidential candidate Robert Dole's speaking.

Dole knows this. After winning the Republican primaries, he made a major speech to the Catholic Press Association's annual convention in Philadelphia on May 23, in which he endorsed "school choice," which involves the funding of parochial schools through tuition tax vouchers. He also attacked President Clinton's late-term or "partial birth" abortion veto and, in the context of abortion, said: "Though not a Catholic, I would listen to Pope John Paul II."

Immediately following that speech, Dole had a 20 minute meeting with Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia. On June 2S, Dole had an hour long private meeting with Cardinal John O'Connor of New York City in which they discussed Dole's commitment to the papal position on abortion (and presumably family planning) as well as his strategy to persuade moderate pro choice Republicans to accept an antiabortion platform. When a reporter asked O'Connor if he was comfortable with Dole's efforts to seek tolerance for pro choice Republicans, the cardinal endorsed Dole's plan by saying: "I cannot imagine that Senator Dole will deviate from his commitment on abortion" He also said, "I think that Senator Dole has a wonderfully pro life record and I doubt very much that that's going to change in any significant way."

Although Dole did not request a joint photo, the cardinal posed with Dole for a picture for the New York Times which appeared the next day on the front page as an obvious endorsement.

On July 18, Dole spoke to a Catholic audience at Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee where, according to the New York Times, he emphasized his proposal for "vouchers paying $1,000 a year in tuition for pupils in grades one through eight and $1,500 a year for high school students. States that had adopted voucher programs would apply for federal assistance" and the "federal government would provide $2.5 billion a year to be matched" by the state.

Bob Dole chose Representative Henry Hyde as head of the Republican platform committee. Hyde is generally regarded as the Catholic bishops' spokesperson in Congress. Hyde, in turn, according to the National Catholic Reporter, invited Catholics to help him develop the party's 1996 platform. In an open letter to Catholics, he wrote: "Catholics are a powerful voice of moral authority and fulfill a growing leadership role in the Republican Party," noting that there are nine U.S. senators, 55 members of the House, and nine governors who are both Republican and Catholic. His letter also said, "As a Catholic, I believe the basic principles of Catholic teaching are philosophically and morally aligned with those of the Republican Party."

However, although Dole's endorsement of the Catholic political agenda, along with a similar endorsement by the Republican Party platform, makes the Republican Party in effect a religious or sectarian party, it is even more significant that the Catholic bishops have taken action that will aid the Republican Party. The president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Anthony M. Pill of Cleveland, departed from custom to tell the 250 bishops that, although they should not engage in partisan politics, they could address political issues that might be closer to the views of one party. …

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