Religion will likely be an issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential campaign, but it still remains to be seen if candidate Senator John Kerry and his fellow Democrats can address such concerns in a persuasive way, particularly gaining the support of Catholic voters. Writing in Commonweal magazine (June 4), Amy Sullivan notes that Kerry and other liberal Catholic politicians show both promise and problems in reaching American Catholics.
The attempt to target and pressure liberal Catholic politicians for their pro-choice stands–such as in refusing them communion in their dioceses and parishes– may have reached a limit. Surveys show that the willingness of ordinary Catholics–due to the sex abuse crisis– to obey and trust their leaders “is as low as it has ever been” according to surveys. ”
At the same time, pro-choice Catholics in both the House and the Senate have reached their tipping point. Fed up with being targeted as heretics by groups like the American Life League, tired of being told that they’re not good Catholics because they support abortion rights, these politicians have begun to fight back.” Such Democrats as Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill) have responded with impassioned speeches about their Catholicism. This year, a group known as Catholic Democrats in the House have made the claim that their stance on social issues is more in keeping with Catholic social teaching than their Republican counterparts.
These efforts will not convince strongly pro-life Catholics, but they may help sway `persuadable Catholic voters. ‘But Sullivan adds that “Before he can start persuading anybody, however, Kerry needs to significantly rework his stock answer when questioned about his faith…Kerry’s fellow Democrats have so misused the phrase `separation of church and state’ over the years that many religious Americans consider its invocation a code for `I’m not really religious and I don’t want to talk about it, so let’s just assert that it has no place in politics and move on to another topic.’
It is indeed essential to protect the separation of church and state, but Kerry will have to find a way to talk about it while also taking ownership of his Catholicism.” She suggests taking a page from Southern Baptist Bill Clinton, who was able to speak to Catholics about the impact of Catholic social teachings on his political views.
Yet a recent poll suggests that inactive as well as active Catholics may be wary of supporting Catholic candidates who are pro-choice and support embryonic stem-cell research. A Zogby International Poll of 1,388 Catholics shows John Kerry only receiving 20 percent of Catholic voters’ support on issues where he disagrees with church teachings, particularly abortion and stem cell research. Likewise, if a candidate said he would appoint only supporters of Roe v. Wade to judicial positions, 65 percent of Catholics polled would not support him. The National Catholic Register (June 6-12) cites the survey as finding only 16 percent being more likely to support such a candidate.
The poll found that both churchgoing Catholics (71 percent) and Catholics who attend church infrequently (57 percent) held these opinions. It was found that 53 percent of Catholic voters would be less likely to support a candidate who advocates embryonic stem-cell research, whereas only 23 percent said they would be more likely to support such a candidate.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)