The “Catholics for Obama” Syndrome (cont.)

In 2010, I wrote in TCT on The “Catholics for Obama” Syndrome – a phenomenon that prevailed in the 2008 election, in which 54 percent of Catholics voted for Barak Obama – and that still prevails as we ready ourselves for the November 2012 election.

In that column, I discussed long-standing inclinations of  Catholics to vote Democratic. Even if a mobster or dictator were the Democratic candidate, some Catholics would still not vote Republican. A major reason for this is that many Catholics view the Democrats as the political party closest to Catholic principles of social justice. Abortion, strangely, is not considered an essential issue of social justice. This belief took hold for Catholics partly as a result of the historic 1964 meeting at Hyannisport, where the Kennedys and the Shrivers talked over the subject for two days with dissident Catholic priests and theologians.

The Hyannisport meeting was meant to salve the doubts of Ted Kennedy and others, who had earlier been pro-life. The “experts” they invited included, ex-Jesuit Albert Jonsen, Frs. Joseph Fuchs and Robert Drinan, Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, and the Rev. Giles Milhaven. After much intensive dialogue, they came to the conclusion that a Catholic could vote in favor of abortion.

The change that followed was gradual. In fact, in 1971 Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to a constituent emphasizing the imperative of our generation to “fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.” But during the 1970s Kennedy “evolved” into a champion of “abortion rights,” followed by John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and many other Catholics, some still active in Congress.

The view that the right to life is not included in the roster of rights to be protected caught on and spread to staunch Catholic Democrats. For them, the fact that Obama was solidly for abortion, for example, even to the extent of supporting the killing of a baby resulting from a botched abortion, was no obstacle to regarding him as a champion of social justice.

In addition, there also has prevailed among Catholic Democrats the perception of the Republican Party as the “party of the rich” – in spite of the fact that “movers and shakers” among the Democrats – the Kennedys, the Kerrys, the Pelosis, et al. – have themselves been incredibly rich; seven out of the ten richest members of Congress are Democrats.

But the strangest misperception by Catholic Democrats has to do with regarding Republicans as opposed to civil rights. Every civil rights act up to 1964 had been sponsored by Republicans – including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights act of 1866, the Reconstruction act of 1867, anti-lynching bills, and anti-poll-tax bills; it was the Republican Party that implemented desegregation in public schools and the military, established the 1958 Civil Rights Commission, and sponsored the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Those of us who followed the news during the 1950s and 1960s remember how Democratic governors tried to stop desegregation, and that every senator opposed to black civil rights was a Democrat.

        Sen. Ted Kennedy and Robert F. Drinan, S.J. a decade or so after the Hyannisport meeting.

The reason for the mistaken view regarding Republicans and civil rights may be traced to the creation of “affirmative action” initiatives by President Nixon. In the aftermath, some Republicans began criticizing the use of “quota” systems, and the development of “reverse discrimination,” after minorities were given preference.

Since 2008, unfortunately, the Democratic Party has effectively become the “abortion party.” Until recently, the party has had a cadre of pro-lifers. But in the 2010 election, much to the chagrin of the Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), fourteen pro-life Democrats were defeated. DFLA is now concentrating on the creation of a “big tent” program, including the removal of language in the platform allowing taxpayer funding of abortion. But this might be too little, too late.

How was it possible for Catholics in good conscience to justify voting for someone who supports abortion at any time, even when a baby is born alive after a failed abortion? And supports funding for abortion around the world? And now wants to involve Catholic institutions in indirectly funding contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures?

Contraception is a key factor. Many liberal Catholics have ignored Humanae vitae, and are just waiting for what they consider to be the inevitable concession of the Church to the sensus fidelium (“sense of the faithful”) – a change that will never happen. But a contraceptive mindset carries with it important logical connections. Once one believes in the right to sex without procreation, and contraception occasionally fails, abortion remains as the ultimate, although regrettable, means of exercising that “right.” 

In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the Supreme Court clearly made the logical connection:

In some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception. For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.

The recent defection of a dedicated pro-life Democrat, Jo Ann Nardelli, the Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Women’s Caucus, from the Abortion Party because of her Catholic principles, may be a catalyst for further defections. But for many Catholics, who pride themselves on never voting Republican, and who are still able to connect a commitment to “social justice” with permissiveness about abortion and contraception, no pangs of conscience develop.

They – and it’s likely their family and friends – would never think of abandoning the “progressive” agenda, which somehow is construed as virtually synonymous with the Catholic agenda – while more than 50-million aborted babies may be viewed as “collateral damage.”


Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.