The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, October 20, 2004  

Bumbling Bishops

Steven Waldman of Beliefnet wonders whether the conservative bishops conserving communion hosts are actually helping Sen. John F. Kerry. Waldman writes in "Please, Don't Throw Me Into the Friar Patch":

Why on earth would being attacked by a Catholic bishop help Kerry among Catholics?

For one thing, many Catholics may not have realized the candidate was Catholic. Now they do.

Second, it gave him the chance to connect his Catholic faith to something positive, thereby making them feel good about the candidate and about themselves. [...]

Third, and most important, it subtly positioned Kerry as the champion of the "bad" Catholics. The Bush campaign and conservative Catholics have pointed out, accurately, that Kerry's positions are at odds with the official positions of the church.

They view that as a slam-dunk argument that Kerry's is a person of weak faith. That may or may not be true but it also happens to position Kerry as in alignment with the majority of rank and file Catholics who are pro-choice and pro-birth control.

On an emotional level, these "cafeteria Catholics" have been derided by their conservative brethren as bad Catholics, too. They resent it when they're considered insufficiently pious so they have a vicarious thrill when Kerry stands up for their position.

It will come as no surprise that I agree, though I still resent the bishops' highly partisan tone, and Waldman goes a step or two farther than I would recommend:

Personally, I think Kerry would do himself a favor by going right into Bishop [Charles J.] Chaput's hometown [the Archdiocese of Denver] and getting himself denied Communion.

That would be a demonstrable step by the church to show Kerry to be a lousy Catholic. And it should help Kerry win the Catholic vote.

There's no need for such a confrontation; I think a majority of Catholic voters, even if slim, will fall in line with Sen. Kerry in the end.

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