Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Agony of the Catholic Left

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Agony of the Catholic Left

Article excerpt

In the week prior to the presidential election, I was visiting Omaha. Reading the local paper, I happened upon a column by a former colleague, Creighton theology professor Thomas Kelly. The gist was a criticism of the Archbishop of Omaha, George J. Lucas, in effect accusing him of misrepresenting Catholic moral doctrine.

In his election-season letter to the faithful, Archbishop Lucas had pointed out that Catholics should be especially concerned about social policies that permit or even encourage "intrinsic evils," actions that the Catholic Church deems fundamentally immoral: "abortion, euthanasia, embryonic destructive research, cloning, genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of innocents in war or terrorism." He also emphasized that certain fundamental rights and moral principles are very important, such as religious liberty, as well as the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

There's nothing intrinsically partisan about these moral reminders. No Catholic voter in 1950 or 1960 would have imagined that Archbishop Lucas' letter provided reasons to stop voting for Democrats.

But it's not Jack Kennedy's Democratic party anymore. These days, nobody's confused about which party has an abortion-rights plank in its platform. Or about which presidential candidate expressed support for same-sex marriage. Or about whose activists promote doctorassisted suicide. Or about which administration has taken a narrow view of religious freedom in order to ensure that Catholic universities, hospitals, and agencies pay for insurance that provides free contraceptives and abortioninducing drugs.

Thus the agony of the Catholic left. To think about abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and religious freedom is to bring to mind very profound reasons not to vote for Democrats. This tempts the Catholic liberal to play verbal games to try to deflect attention away from the obvious. "Voting is about more than single issues," we're often told, which is true, but doesn't make the clear moral issues any less important. Or we're told that muddy questions of policy are in fact clear moral issues.

That's exactly what Thomas Kelly did, evoking Guantanamo and insinuating that conservative ideas about economic policy and illegal immigration are intrinsically evil in the same way that abortion or euthanasia are. His rhetorical goal was to create an impression of moral equality, or, more accurately, of immoral equality. The reasons to vote against Democratic politicians whose policies directly support intrinsic evils and undermine basic moral truths such as marriage are no stronger than those for voting against Republican candidates who aren't enthusiastic supporters of the modern welfare state or who insist on enforcing current laws about immigration. …

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