Good Catholics and Good Democrats

Our friend Matt Cunningham raised this issue over at Red County with this post that says Democrats don’t seem to understand Catholic voters.  He brings up that old pro-choice Democrats should be denied Communion argument (they brought this up with John Kerry in 2004.  What this is plainly is a further attempt at division.  Divide Catholic voters, which make up about 25 percent of all voters, against Democrats becuase of positions held by many Democrats on the issue of choice.

Matt writes: And Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver expresses his opinion that Senator Joe Biden should refrain from receiving Holy Communion due to his pro-choice stance and record. Not that Biden will listen, but one can hope that if the priest or Eucharistic minister at the scene recognizes the Senator from Delaware, he or she will act accordingly.

The LA Times Tim Rutten weighs in on the issue this morning with this column.

Tim writes: In the last few weeks, commentators began a campaign over the Democrats’ failure to invite to Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to their convention. Chaput was one of the handful of bishops who argued that Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. More recently, Chaput’s book, “Render Unto Caesar,” argues that Catholics may not vote for pro-choice candidates. Under the circumstances, the Democrats’ snub was graceless but understandable.

Tim says what Pelosi should have said:

If Pelosi had half a wit about her, she might have done what most U.S. Catholics instinctively do, which is to rely on a tradition of moral reasoning that stands athwart Chaput’s novel reductionism. Nearly five decades ago, the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray offered this classic appraisal of the real matter at issue:

“The American Proposition makes a particular claim upon the reflective attention of the Catholic … in the matter of the ‘pluralist society … ‘ ” Murray wrote. “By pluralism here I mean the coexistence within the one political community of groups who hold divergent and incompatible views with regard to religious questions — those ultimate questions that concern the nature and destiny of man within a universe that stands under the reign of God. Pluralism therefore implies disagreement and dissension within the community. But it also implies a community within which there must be agreement and consensus. There is no small political problem here.”

Murray went on to argue that the “working out” of that political problem is itself “an exercise in civic virtue” — and a theological imperative.

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo gace perhaps the best explanation of this issue in a 1984 speech.   Cuomo said:

In addition to all the weaknesses, dilemmas, and temptations that impede every pilgrim’s progress, the Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy—who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics—bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones, sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control, and even to choose abortion.

In fact, Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees his freedom. And they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.

The Catholic public official lives the political truth most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom, even if occasionally it produces conduct by them which we would hold to be sinful.

I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or nonbeliever, or as anything else you choose.

Pretty powerful stuff, because it makes the case for how Democrats regard religious freedom for all.

  30 comments for “Good Catholics and Good Democrats

  1. anon
    August 27, 2008 at 11:51 am

    My question for Jubal would be does he agree with the Catholic church’s “consistent ethic of life”? In other words, is he against the death penalty?

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Catholic doctrine allows for the death penalty.

    But it doesn’t mean you have to. The death penalty is no deterrent but it does stop that one person from ever killing again. Its also more expensive for taxpayers to executive someone than imprisioning them for life.

  3. anon
    August 27, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Well let me rephrase the question…does Jubal support the death penalty in the form that, say, Texas practices it?

    Current Catholic doctrine is opposed to the death penalty except in very extreme cases. The vast majority of US Catholic Bishops oppose it outright, and recent Popes have gone on record opposing the extradition of criminals to the United States when they would face the death penalty.

    The point is that when you start using religion to score political points, you can find enough hypocrisy and inconsistency to apply to ANYONE.

  4. Don't forget...
    August 27, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    …the war in Iraq. The Catholic Church has been steadfastly against the war, but many Republican Catholics support it. Those Catholics should also be denied communion as well. Any more hairs we can split?

    It is not just the Catholic religion, but many religions that use these divisive issues in the name of Christ. Let’s condemn, but not mend.

  5. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I’m just pleased to bring Mario Cuomo back into this debate.

  6. lilly
    August 27, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    first , the removal of an unborn child in the womb for the reason the mother doesnt want to be pregnant, is considerd , killing the life of the unborn child,the church has always stood firm on this, that it is killing the unborn baby, and that is a major sin. but just like many centuries ago not to many, it was legal to sell , to own, to even kill a slave and yes catholics said it is the law and it is ok , but the church never agreed to that law and the church does not agree to the law of abortion either. yes many catholics took Communion during the slavery days went to chruch, did all the things that they said was in good standing with the law and they felt they were ok, except the church never condoned slavery or killing unborn children, and as far as war, pope pius the 6th mounted his horse and went out to battle against the muslims who were coming to take rome , and yes he himself killed in the defense of what was defending the church back then, kill or be killed, they were on there way., the muslims, just as they the radical muslims are on there way to destroy what is america, so as far as killing goes, the unborn need a voice and the church is there voice , the slaves needed a voice and the church was there voice and the muslims were told to back of and they chose to fight so the fight goes on. and the church will always have catholics in it like the catholics who say iam not for abortion but iam not going to stand in the way of anyone chosing to do it. , or the catholics who had slaves saying they were within there rigths because of the laws and the pope fighting the muslims before they slaughtered all the chiristian they could get there hands on.

  7. August 27, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Y’know, Lilly, it’s asking a lot of us to wade through that Molly Bloom soliloquy with no paragraph breaks, punctuation or capitalization. I know I’m putting it off.

  8. Jubal
    August 27, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Dan, I appreciate the effort, but your post is entirely beside the point of whether a pro-choice Catholic elected official — regardless of party affiliation — should be given Communion.

    Let me put it another way: if a Catholic elected official supported the legalization of euthanasia, that person should also be denied Communion. It’s not a matter of being “divisive” or inserting the Church into politics. It is bishops exercising their duty as shepherds to their flocks, and priests safeguarding the sanctity of the Eucharist.

    Catholics are supposed to be free from grave sin in order to receive Communion. Advocating legal abortion or euthanasia, for example, puts a Catholic in that territory because he or she is “obstinately persisting in grave sin.”

    Obviously, a bishop, priest or Eucharistic minister cannot peer into a person’s soul when they approach for Communion and ascertain the state of their soul. But if he knows the communicant is an pro-choice elected official — someone who publicly advocates the legalization of abortion — then they ought to refuse that person Communion on the grounds already laid out — not to mention that failure to do so sends a wrong, confusing message to the rest of the faithful.

    Archbishop Chaput and the other bishops who have come down on Biden are simply exercising their 1st Amendment freedom of religion. Democrats don’t like it because it interferes with their charade that being pro-choice is compatible with fidelity to being Catholic.

  9. Agellius
    August 27, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    The fact is that for serious, committed, orthodox Catholics, nothing compares with the evil of abortion when you look at the sheer numbers: On average over a million human beings killed in this country alone every year since Roe. The only way this cannot shock you is if you don’t believe unborn children are human beings. But the Catholic Church does believe they are, and so do orthodox Catholics. Thus, the divide.

    Sure, a lot of Catholics are Democrats; I can only assume that for whatever reason, abortion doesn’t bother them very much. Presumably it’s because they don’t believe unborn children are human beings. But then, the Church does. Therefore I can only conclude that they are somewhat less than orthodox in their Catholicism.

    The pope himself has said that whereas Catholics can legitimately disagree on various issues, such as the justness of a particular war or the application of the death penalty in particular cases, abortion and euthanasia are not among those issues.

  10. Jubal
    August 27, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    And “Don’t Forget” really should familiarize herself/himself with the nuances (because Ii know you Dems love nuances) of Catholic doctrine and teachings.

    For example, I can disagree with the Pope on the War and remain within the communion of the Church. But Church doctrine on abortion is non-negotiable, and dissent from it puts one outside the faith.

  11. Agellius
    August 27, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Jubal mentioned something that maybe needs to be emphasized: Possibly one thing people are missing in this discussion, is the understanding of worthiness to receive communion. The Church didn’t invent the withholding of communion just to mess with Democrats. Receiving communion has always been considered a very serious matter. Catholics are required to examine their consciences carefully and decide whether they are worthy to receive. If you have committed any serious sin, after your last confession, you must abstain from communion. Otherwise receiving communion becomes a grave sacrilege and a mortal sin.

    Since the offical Catholic position is that abortion is among the gravest of all evils, those who procure abortions or help someone else to do so, automatically excommunicate themselves. And since the act itself is so gravely sinful, anyone who publicly advocates doing so is also committing a grave sin — just as someone who publicly recommends robbing banks would also be sinning.

    It is for this reason that pro-abortion Catholic politicans cannot receive communion. If they do, they are committing sacrilege against the Body of Christ (which we believe communion is) and in fact are endangering their own souls — thus it’s for their own good that they need to abstain from communion, aside from the other reasons already noted.

  12. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Matt —
    Since Joe Biden and John Kerry haven’t personally performed any abortions, then I’d say they are free of grave sin. And you fail to recognize that being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. The pro-choice position is every child should be a wanted child and adoption is an option in th epro-choice platform. Outlawing abortion will not end the practice but will make it unsafe where women and babie will die. Taking a position that abortion should be rare, but safe and legal with the decision being made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, is not advocacy.

  13. Agellius
    August 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm


    You are mistaken: Publicly advocating grave sin, and attempting to persuade people that it’s not a sin, is itself a sin. Just as it would be a sin to publicly advocate that people rob banks.

    You try to avoid that pitfall by saying that being pro-choice is not advocating abortion. But if you say that the decision whether to abort ought to be left to the mother, you’re saying it’s morally neutral. After all, we don’t say that the decision whether to rob banks ought to be left to the bank robber.

    And when you try to justify it by reason of the safety of the mother, that’s like saying we should legalize bank robbery so that bank robbers don’t risk getting shot when they rob banks.

    Your arguments only make sense if you assume that unborn children are not human beings. If you believe they are, then your arguments come across as shockingly callous.

  14. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    While Catholics believe life begins at conception, the federal government does not. You get that little tax deduction after the baby is born not once its conceived. And I’ve read that between a third and half of all pregnancies are miscarriages, so how might we account for that on a 1040?

    I don’t see Biden or Kerry advocating grave sin. But the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not for me to decide. It is for the woman, her male partner and doctor to decide.

    I recognize this is a serious issue, but does this mean our Catholic elected officials must uphold the Bible or the Constitution? Which comes first?

  15. anon
    August 27, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    How convenient that being pro-choice would be considered a “grave sin” yet advocating the killing of another human being through the death penalty would not.

    You simply cannot escape it…being pro-life and also pro-death penalty is morally inconsistent.

  16. Agellius
    August 27, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Dan writes, “I recognize this is a serious issue, but does this mean our Catholic elected officials must uphold the Bible or the Constitution? Which comes first?”

    Yes, that’s exactly the question, isn’t it? For a Catholic, God must always come first. When you put anything else above God, you are a bad Catholic. Which, again, is why you can’t receive communion, when a matter of grave sin is concerned.

    In this country, Catholic politicians are free to put civil law or the government or the Constitution above God. But in the Church you’re not. So you’ve got to make a choice.

  17. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    So while Cardinal Mahoney accepted and gave communion while protecting the child molesting priests, was he advocating grave sin by covering up the crimes and allowing it to happen while moving these pedophiles from parish to parish?

    And since Catholics only represent one forth of all voters, Catholic politicians should enforce their views on the other three-forths — perhaps get them to convert? Or perhaps Catholics shouldn’t hold office at all?

    Catholic politicans have obligations to all they represent; even the agnostics.

    Did you read the excerpt of the Cuomo speech I posted?

  18. August 27, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Jesus Christ, what kind of Catholic-apologist blogger calls themselves “Angelius?”

    Is this parody?

    I’m sorry for not following the details of your disputes, but I am put in mind of the Pharisees who stood in front of the masses crying “Lord, Lord….”


  19. Jubal
    August 27, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    I’m sorry for not following the details of your disputes, but I am put in mind of the Pharisees who stood in front of the masses crying “Lord, Lord….”

    Vern, that passage has absolutely no application to Angelius\’ comments.

  20. Jubal
    August 27, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    While Catholics believe life begins at conception, the federal government does not. You get that little tax deduction after the baby is born not once its conceived.

    Dan, a person’s humanity isn’t contingent upon whether they qualify for a tax credit.

    I recognize this is a serious issue, but does this mean our Catholic elected officials must uphold the Bible or the Constitution? Which comes first?</I.

    You present a false choice, Dan. There’s no conflict between adhering to Catholic doctrine and upholding one’s oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

    This is a very simple, straightforward issue of worthiness to receive Communion. Advocating that abortion should be legal — and that is what the pro-choice position is — is a grave sin. There’s no exception for being a pro-choice Democratic Senator.

  21. anon
    August 27, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Right. And any Catholic who advocates for the taking of life through the death penalty is going against the overwhelming tide of current church teaching. But then, when you’re coming forward for communion, you can keep that viewpoint secret, can’t you?

  22. Jubal
    August 27, 2008 at 9:54 pm


    It’s a good thing for your obstinate ignorance isn’t a grave sin.

    I’ll make this as simple as possible: Church doctrine makes allowance for the death penalty. It makes no allowance — none, nada, zero — for direct abortion.

  23. anon
    August 27, 2008 at 10:43 pm


    Well have fun keeping your advocacy for the killing of another human being through the death penalty a secret as you go forward for communion.

  24. Dan Chmielewski
    August 27, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Matt – i take issue with the definition of “advocacy.”. Being pro-choice is about supporting options for those women of any faith who have an unwanted pregnancy.

    Is birth control a grave sin? Is pre-marital sex a grave sin? When I got snipped a few years ago, my priest told me I was committing a mortal sin by denying the possibilty of life. Sorry, but under your definition, pro-choice Elected Democrats are not fit for communion and that just doesn’t pass muster.

  25. August 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Church doctrine also doesn’t allow priestly pedophilia, Matt, yet look where your leaders have stood (or should I say hidden) on the issue!

  26. just...asking?
    August 28, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Jubal and others continue to confuse church and religion with politics. Faith shouldn’t be used to whip candidates. Upholding the constitution should not be the test of whether or not one is a good catholic. I believe I and many others can do both.

    If you want to persecute Biden for being a bad Senator go after his record, but as for his religion that is between him and his god. I’ve known great men who are priests, and some priests who are not so great. While I receive sacraments via my priest, it is my relationship with my god that matters most not their politics.

  27. Agellius
    August 28, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Vern: It’s “Agellius”, not “Angellius”. Nothing to do with angels.

  28. Agellius
    August 28, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Dan writes, “And since Catholics only represent one forth of all voters, Catholic politicians should enforce their views on the other three-forths . . .”

    All politicians “enforce their views” on society. That’s their job, it’s what they get elected to do. The people vote for the policitian whose views most closely represent their own. If people elect a Catholic politician, they should expect him to act Catholic. If they don’t want him to do so, they shouldn’t vote for him.

    You can’t represent the views of all your constituents, that’s impossible because your constituents disagree with each other. So you tell people what your own views are, and if they like those views they’ll elect you.

    That’s the way democracy works.

  29. Dan Chmielewski
    August 28, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    So if your eelcted official is a Muslim, then you’re OK with him or her enforcing Islamic viewpoints on you?

    Tell me Agellius, have you had any shellfish or pork recently?

  30. Agellius
    August 29, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Dan writes, “So if your eelcted official is a Muslim, then you’re OK with him or her enforcing Islamic viewpoints on you?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “enforcing Islamic viewpoints”. But let’s assume you mean that he tries to institute Sharia law or something.

    First of all, no single politician can do that, without getting a lot of other politicians to agree with him. If enough devout Muslim politicians get elected, to provide a legislative majority, that would indicate that a majority of the people want to be governed by devout Muslims. If that’s the case, then the people should get what they want.

    Of course, there would be constitutional issues to deal with. Nevertheless, a majority of the people could one day decide that they want it to be illegal to eat pork, whether for religious reasons or for other reasons. In a democracy, the will of the people is supposed to be carried out. As long as they are not trying to make Islam the established religion of the State, I don’t see any constitutional problem with outlawing pork.

    There is one difference, however: opposition to abortion is not a specifically Catholic position. You don’t have to be Catholic to recognize that unborn children are human beings at an early stage of development. That’s simple common sense. And if you recognize that they are human beings, it’s a very small step to deciding that they should not be killed. Religious teaching does not have to enter into it at all. So again, there is no constitutional issue involved necessarily.

    If you don’t want pork outlawed, or abortion, your job in a democracy is to try to peacably persuade people of your viewpoint. Those who want those things outlawed have to try to persuade people to outlaw them. Then we vote on it. That’s democracy, man, I don’t see the problem. If you want to make summary decisions that the wishes of the people should not be carried out in certain areas, OK, but that’s not true democracy.

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