The increased outreach of the Democrats to Catholics has paid off, with a new breed of liberal Catholic activists and politicians gaining a place in the Obama administration.
The National Catholic Reporter (June 26) notes that “Catholics are visibly more active in the Obama administration than in any other Democratic administration in recent memory.” These Catholics represent the key chunks of the American Catholic population that moved from the Republican to the Democratic Party in the last election. Other liberal Catholics who felt alienated by the Republican resurgence in the last three decades are among the leaders now on the inside track. One-third of the Obama cabinet is now Catholic, including such leaders as Vice-President Joseph Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
President Obama has also made overtures to the Hispanic Catholic community with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sottomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and Latino theologian Miguel Diaz as US ambassador to the Holy See. In fact, some non-Catholic leftists are struggling with the “leverage” that liberal, though often pro-life, Catholics are having on the administration. The Tablet magazine (June 6) provides more details about the new kind of Catholic Democrats in Washington: “Their curricula vitae are likely to include experience as an activist or community organizer.
They are younger and they plug into their constituencies through blogs and e-mails, rather than visits to the union hall,” writes Michael Sean Winters. Representing these Catholics are new organizations such as the Catholics in Alliance, Catholics United, and the interfaith, but sympathetic, Faith in Public Life. Such progressives argue that the Obama administration has been cooperative in working on such issues as reducing abortions, even while eschewing most of the pro-life agenda.
But conservative critics charge that Obama has tried to intervene in Catholic matters and sidestep the church’s leadership by such actions as speaking at the University of Notre Dame commencement and seeking agreement on various issues with the pope. By going over the heads of the bishops, who opposed his speaking engagement, Obama is deploying a strategy of “disintermediating” the church leaders —cutting out the middlemen between the faithful at home and the hierarchy in Rome, writes Joseph Feuerherd in the National Catholic Reporter (May 29).
He notes that the same strategy was used by Ronald Reagan, who was opposed by the more liberal U.S. bishops of the 1980s, but found a hearing among the “Reagan Democrats” and the Vatican.
(National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111; The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)