For the first time in more than 40 years, a Catholic politician is about to be nominated for President on a major-party ticket. He’s a Democrat, of course, since the Republicans still haven’t gotten around to nominating anyone who isn’t a white Protestant male.
Yet if modernity, despite all its blinding speed, has not yet caught up with the good old G.O.P., there are striking differences between then and now.
In 1960, the nation’s fundamentalist preachers and kindred reactionaries worried loudly about interference in American politics from the Pope. Today, American “conservatives” are almost uncontrollably eager for bold political intervention by the church hierarchy-but only if the target of this meddling is named John F. Kerry.
Indeed, the right-wing press and the mainstream media alike have lately been filled with gloating over the prospect that Mr. Kerry could be sanctioned by the American bishops because of his votes and views regarding women’s reproductive rights. Headlines suddenly proclaim that the Massachusetts Senator has a “Catholic problem” or a “Catholic conundrum.”
In the Weekly Standard , the publisher looks forward to a “confrontation” between Mr. Kerry and his church, praising the tough-talking archbishop of St. Louis, who warned the Senator not to seek communion in his town. At the National Review , an indignant little Torquemada poses rhetorical questions to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the more hesitant archbishop of Washington, D.C.: Isn’t the pro-choice Senator guilty of “manifest grave sin?” And if so then, “why have you failed to ban Senator Kerry from receiving communion in your archdiocese? And why has Archbishop Sean O’Malley failed to ban the Senator from receiving communion in Boston?”
Two features of these attacks on Mr. Kerry’s faith stand out. The first is the ugliness and unseemliness of a public inquisition by his political opponents, whose zeal befits their 13th-century ideology. What kind of “Christian” would gleefully celebrate the possible excommunication of a brother in Christ?
The other notable aspect of this campaign is its suspicious timing and targeting. Whatever the faults of the old Inquisitions, their flaming depredations had a certain consistent quality. The Holy Office’s clear prosecutorial philosophy was “better for a hundred innocent people to die than for one heretic to go free.”
Today’s would-be inquisitors have adopted a far more selective attitude. They will let a hundred heretics go free, because there is only one whose condemnation suits their convenience. They swiftly dispatch Mr. Kerry to the stake, while ignoring other politicians whose “grave sins” are no less manifest.
How do the devout Catholics at the National Review determine who must burn and who receives an indulgence? Their theological reasoning could scarcely be more transparent: fry the Democrat and free the Republicans.
If that sounds too crudely partisan, consider the long list of prominent Catholic Republicans who advocate abortion rights and civil equality for homosexuals. Like Mr. Kerry, these churchgoing pols have defied church orthodoxy. But unlike him, the Republicans can worship without interference from sanctified busybodies.
Let’s name a few names, in the spirit of the times.
Among the rising stars of the Republican Party is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who happens to be a Catholic parishioner as well as an outspoken advocate of abortion rights and gay liberation. Although he briefly endured some criticism from conservatives for his ultraliberal social views, no one has urged church authorities to deny the sacraments to Mr. Schwarzenegger-and it can be predicted with absolute confidence that no one will.
When the Republicans come to New York for their convention next fall, their hosts will include Governor George Pataki and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Both are Catholics, and both are strong supporters of abortion rights, gay rights, and other such unholy policies. No one suggests that they should be cast out of the church. In fact, both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pataki enjoy the fervent support of Catholic conservative groups and leaders-and the friendship of the “pro-life” President.
Speaking of Mr. Bush, he evidently sees no problem in appointing Catholics who are guilty of grave sin. Paul Cellucci, his ambassador to Canada, strongly supported abortion rights and gay rights when he served as Governor of Massachusetts. Tom Ridge, his Secretary of Homeland Security, was equally notorious for his social liberalism as the governor of Pennsylvania.
Presumably, Mr. Ridge and Mr. Cellucci attend church and receive communion as regularly as they wish, without attempted interference from the sanctimonious precincts of National Review or the Weekly Standard. And since they’re both Republicans, why not?
Power, not piety, dictates the distinctions made by the partisan inquisitors. Next Sunday, they might consider the warning offered by Dante, who believed that such hypocrites are destined to spend eternity in the very hottest place.