McGurn: The Prez has put “progressive Catholics” in a bind

From William McGurn’s May 28th column, “Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame”, in the Wall Street Journal, about Notre Dame’s involvement in lawsuits against the federal government:

The university’s decision here makes things awkward for progressive Catholics who have long been closer to the Democratic Party than to their own church on fundamental teachings about life, sexuality and, now, religious liberty. For years, they have justified this stance with a scorecard approach. Father Hesburgh explained the approach this way at a 1979 conference on abortion:

“[P]olitical candidates who agree 95% with Catholic principles of social justice in most issues of public policy [i.e., Democrats] have been defeated by their opposition on this one issue and replaced by candidates who, agreeing superficially on the issue of abortion, disagree with us on almost every other issue bearing on justice and equality [i.e., Republicans].”

In effect that meant this: If you are all for food stamps, entitlements and federalized health care, it cancels out support for abortion.

Now, it’s true that Notre Dame’s current president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, has been criticized by some conservatives who think his statement on the lawsuit doesn’t go far enough. In fact, the move required courage, and Notre Dame’s participation renders nonsensical the Catholic left’s charge that these lawsuits are the work of Obama haters, which Father Jenkins manifestly is not. It also augurs more difficulty for Mr. Obama come November.

In 2008, Mr. Obama had a prominent team of Catholics for Obama, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. Perhaps it will rev up again—though “Catholics for Obama” is notably absent from the page on Mr. Obama’s website that lists groups such as “Jewish Americans for Obama,” “Latinos for Obama,” “LGBT Americans for Obama,” “People of Faith for Obama,” etc. The lack of prominence of a similar Catholic effort today points to the obvious: Where can Joe Biden or other Catholic surrogates go where they will not now be on the defensive?

Does this mean that the Catholic answer is to become Republican? To the contrary, the problem Democrats are having with the church today is what happens when those who know better—including organizations such as Democrats for Life and individual Democrats such as Bart Stupak—abandon their principles in the crunch. If with this suit Father Jenkins can help secure a victory for religious freedom and help arrest the Democrats’ drift to an anti-faith party, he would be doing American politics a great favor.

Read the entire column.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.