Heads or Tails?

Following President Obama’s embrace of same-sex “marriage,” which repositioning has been warmly received in the media (consider that astonishing Newsweek cover that portrayed the president with a rainbow halo), it’s time to ask how this and other social issues may affect his chances of re-election.

(By the way, I don’t believe Joe Biden’s expression of support for same-sex “marriage,” made several days before the president’s, was a gaffe. It was throat clearing. Knowing North Carolinians would reaffirm traditional marriage, the Administration acted to keep the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. A N.Y. Times/CBS poll shows that just a quarter of Americans think it principled, whereas two-thirds consider the move political.) 

Catholic opinion on social issues – to the extent that it determines, whole or in part, an individual Catholic’s choice for president – may be key in November. Catholics live in every state and in very sort of village, town, and city, but we remain concentrated in urban areas and their suburban enclaves. (There are only seventeen states in the Union where Catholics are not the largest religious group.)

Because the president’s re-election plan is an urban strategy – especially in swing states – any significant diminishment of Catholic support may cause his defeat. Mr. Obama received 54 percent of the Catholic vote in 2008; he’s unlikely to receive more this time. It’s possible he’ll receive a lot less, although this depends upon the leadership and credibility of the nation’s Catholic bishops – more about that below.

But after Mr. Obama’s “evolution” on same-sex marriage, his rescinding of prohibitions on embryonic stem-cell research, his termination of the Mexico City Policy (which prohibited the use of foreign-aid dollars in the promotion or procurement of abortions), his ebullient financial support of Planned Parenthood, and his promulgation of abortifacient-contraception-sterilization mandates through the Department of Health and Human Services, it seems fair to say Barack Obama is the most anti-Catholic president ever.

It also seems fair to say that Catholic voters had no idea in 2008 that he’d undertake a frontal assault on Catholicism.

Even so, does any of this matter to most Catholics? Do most Catholics actually and actively oppose stem-cell research, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Polls suggest they don’t. Indeed Catholics are second only to white mainline Protestants in their support of the “progressive” agenda.

It may be that Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi recoil somewhat at their patronage of the culture of death. Though they’ve embraced the feminist and gay-activist arguments as politically enlightened (and expedient) – they probably know quite well that the Church teaches otherwise.

To “progressives,” politics and religion are not different: both may be changed; each is infinitely pliable and may evolve. Doctrines are merely “policies.” And in the bubble in which the vice president and former speaker live, few contradict the premise. Until recently, not even the Catholic bishops did so with much vigor.

But we’re witnessing an uptick in forceful solidarity by the bishops against the policies of the Obama Administration. The hierarchy has almost always been of one voice in opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, and every single bishop has come out against the HHS mandates. Cardinal George has been especially bold. Cardinal Dolan has stated the case plainly and effectively. 

But Biden and Pelosi remain unconvinced. Antediluvian God on the one hand; reformist Caesar on the other.

And here’s the trouble: because nominally Catholic politicians are allowed to publically advocate anti-Catholic policies, and because they are never called to task for it (on several occasions San Francisco’s archbishop, George Niederauer, has spoken without avail to Mrs. Pelosi), we have a situation in which the bishops’ positions (and with them Church doctrine) and the politicians’ opinions (and the laws that follow) appear to be two sides of a socio-political coin that one may reasonably flip.

I understand there are reasons – not least certain IRS rules – prohibiting bishops and other clergy from certain kinds political activity. And yet . . . we have now the example of the very outspoken comments of so many in the hierarchy about the Administration’s policies.

But are the bishops talking about the crimes and ignoring the criminals?

The great Adam Smith said: “Kindness to criminals is cruelty to their victims.” And so it seems to me with the bishops and the politicians. That, in their statements against Church teaching Biden and Pelosi (and Kathleen Sebelius) are blind guides, seems obvious. But I worry that the bishops are too often straining out gnats but swallowing camels. The victims in this case are the poorly catechized Catholics, riven by so much change and controversy within the Church, whose horizons are mostly temporal and who have come wearily to see moral decisions as coin tosses.

Mind you, I don’t believe our bishops are Pharisees about whom we should say: “they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.” Neither do I think any of the various “Catholic” politicians should necessarily be excommunicated, ferendae sententiae. Hardly my expertise, although I suspect some are already excoms, latae sententiae.

But how are we supposed to know unless some “medicinal penalty” is applied? Are we at the point in freewheeling America in which no one is ever to be shunned (vitandus) or tolerated (in the formal sense, toleratus)?

It’s not the policies, stupid. It’s the persons.




Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.