Cal Thomas ponders on this same issue in his article at Real Clear Politics, entitled Catholics & Abortion (Again).
As much as 23% declare themselves as Catholics, out of a total US population of 300 million. This translates to about 70 million Roman Catholics, owing loyalty and obeisance to the Pope and the Papacy seated in the State of the Vatican.
In a couple of states Catholics are the huge majorities like New Mexico (84%) and Rhode Island 63%). Massachusetts sits at 47% and the populous state of New York at 38%. But California with its over 35 million inhabitants, 34% declare themselves as Catholics. In numbers that would be about 12 million people. And other states like New Jersey, Vermont, etc., also boast of large considerable segments of Catholics.
With this huge bloc of devoted followers to a religion steeped in traditional practices and doctrines, can we say that there could be a Catholic voting bloc, given that many of the defining political issues partake of a religious or moral nature like abortion, just wages, stem cell research, and even lately the moral ramifications of the continued stay of illegal immigrants in the country?
Traditionally, the religious convictions of certain candidates for political office rightly or wrongly had always been given sufficient notice and evaluation by the pundits and the electorate, with certain religions, or the lack of it, being adjudged more politically viable than others. The less openly religious the candidate generally the better before the discerning eyes of the electorate. And in this slanted climate, the very traditional and at times archaic practices of Roman Catholicism had been more a disadvantage than anything else.
But the late JFK broke that stubborn religious ceiling by having himself elected as President while openly declaring that his allegiance to and practice of his religion would not in any way influence his governance of the country. He stands as still the one and only Catholic to become a US President. John Kerry came close, but no cigar. Currently many Catholics populate the congress and other appointive/elective offices, both federal and state. The SCOTUS has 5 members who are Catholic, out of a total of 9, thus constituting a majority.
In the current milieu, VP candidate Joe Biden is a Catholic. Sarah Palin was baptized Catholic as an infant, but changed religion as a teen in Alaska. The honorable Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is an avowed Catholic, I suppose in the grand Italian tradition.
In the past, Church authorities had been somewhat ambivalent in shepherding their faithful, most especially those in very visible public office, to the strict observance of their tight-fisted dogmas and doctrines. Thus, many Catholic politicians even on the national level could publicly contravene doctrine without much repercussion. Some may even say, could resist Catholic doctrine with impunity. Of particular contention has been the issue of abortion, which according to strict Catholic doctrine is legalized killing of human life.
But of late, certain interesting developments may bring out this issue more contentiously in the current campaign and may even draw deep and distinct, though under the surface, political lines, depending on how Catholics at present view their religion and its practice.
It was this Pope who as Cardinal finally laid down more unequivocally how Catholic politicians should regard their offices and their religion. It was this Pope who postulated that the public actions and policies of Catholic politicians should be congruent with their private religious beliefs. Should they espouse policies and programs that are incoherent with Church doctrine, the Church rules against them. Which may be interpreted to mean that if a politician cannot change his political choices, then he cannot continue to be a member of good standing in his church?
On the other side of the spectrum, with the weakened state of the Republican party, which traditionally has been pro-life or anti-abortion, the other party the Democratic, which has historically been represented as the vanguard of abortion rights, has of late become more publicly assertive about its stances on abortion, again openly defying those whose faith does not look kindly on those questioned practices. The party has wrested this golden opportunity to rally its people using the feminists’ clarion call of abortion and reproductive rights, or in the more nuanced pro-choice lingo, of women’s right of choice.
I foresee a clash between the two sides, though I cannot tell how it can develop sufficient legs given the very limited time frame between now and the November election.
This much we can deduce that the resurgence of the McCain campaign, who is himself a declared pro-choice candidate, can be attributed to the selection of Sarah Palin, his opposite on the abortion issue. With her in the ticket, the GOP is suddenly competitive. She is strictly anti-abortion, and as we have seen very traditionally so – like allowing the birth of her last son who had been early on diagnosed as suffering from Down syndrome; and allowing the continued pregnancy of his teenaged but still unmarried daughter. Her large family also helps solidify this qualification, a large family that is ever visible in her political sorties.
So we can then surmise that in the quiet of their solitude, whether at home or in the voting booth, earnest Catholics agonizing as they are with the difficult current choices of candidates, will also introduce in their inquiring minds the issue of abortion which clearly is against their Church’s teachings, emphatically brought to the fore by a Pope who has been unequivocal about it.
On the Democratic side you have a non-Catholic Christian Obama who is not only pro-choice but has taken positions considered more extreme compared with the mainstream of those espousing the same cause. Then you have Catholic Joe Biden who favors abortion and even through public pronouncements continues to deny or is unaware of the teaching of his Church on this issue.
On the Republican side, we have a John McCain, forever a maverick in his party taking the opposite stance on this issue. Then you have a Sarah Palin, once a Catholic but now a member of a Protestant denomination(s) but who is staunchly anti-abortion and presents unapologetically and unashamedly her large family as proof positive of her firm stance.
So where will the earnest Catholic vote stand, if indeed they could vote as a bloc?
Acknowledgment: Graphics from One Nation Under God site.