Catholics Boost Values Talk at Convention: One-Time Reaganite Endorses Obama; Study Links Social Aid to Fewer Abortions

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By NCR STAFF

Denver

As Democrats met here Aug. 25-28, one subtext to their deliberations focused on faith and values, normally the domain of their Republican rivals.

The subject of abortion sat at the center of a good part of that dialogue.

This year, for the first time, the Democratic Party platform, using language that urges the reduction of abortions, specifically addresses ways to provide support to pregnant women who want to carry their pregnancies to term. The platform promotes accessible pre- and post-natal health care, help with parenting skills, income support and adoption programs.

Barack Obama's selection of Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, a Catholic, as his vice presidential running mate also raised the religion's profile and with it Catholic teachings on matters of faith and morals.

NCR senior correspondent John Allen reported on the NCR Web site (NCRonline.org) from Denver that "perhaps the most disappointed group in America over the choice of a Roman Catholic as the party's nominee for vice president may well be the country's Catholic bishops."

The election of a Vice President Biden, a pro-choice politician who supports Catholic social teachings on many public issues but is not in step with the U.S. bishops' efforts to make abortion illegal in America, could touch off a four-year "wafer war," Allen wrote.

In brief, the issue is whether a Catholic politician with a clear record of opposition to church teaching on "life issues" ought to be denied Communion.

Allen wrote: "While the American bishops are compactly pro-life, they're divided as to whether to rebuff pro-choice politicians at the Communion line."

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One Democratic convention participant drawing special interest was Douglas W. Kmiec, professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University, a former constitutional lawyer for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

He also served as dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America, where he taught all nine sections of the course on Catholic social justice teachings because students were required to take it and no one else wanted to teach it.

Kmiec told NCR that as he began to look into Obama's candidacy over the last year, he realized, "If he were in my class on Catholic social teaching, he'd be getting an A."

Obama became the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party Aug. 28, graduated from Harvard Law School and joined the United Church of Christ.

Kmiec's own journey across the partisan political divide hasn't been without repercussions" He said he got a lot of hateful reactions after endorsing Obama in February in a column at Slate.com--even from people who had known him and his wife for decades as pro-life activists.

He was even criticized from the pulpit and denied Communion at a Mass shortly after his endorsement, an event that he says still haunts him. He doesn't want to embarrass the priest by naming him publicly, but he did take the matter up with Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and received an apology from the priest.

As Kmiec made the transition from Reagan Republican to volunteer adviser to Obama, he assembled a substantial list of Obama's-graces and Republican disgraces. At this point, he said, he is taking the Dorothy Day approach--doing everything he can as an individual to create the change he wants to see.

Kmiec isn't the sort of person who dismisses other religions. He began this election cycle working for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and he felt ashamed for his country when Romney seemed to be pushed out of the running because of voter distrust of his Mormon faith. Kmiec faults presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain for trying to use Romney's religion to embarrass him.

Originally a supporter of President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, Kmiec became disillusioned not only because, as it turned out, Saddam didn't have the weapons of mass destruction that Bush said he had, but also because the president showed "lack of understanding of the faith culture" in Iraq, didn't know a Sunni from a Shi'ite, and made bad decisions based on cultural ignorance. …