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Are our bishops all Republicans?!

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 12, 2009

On the Commentary blog, Eduardo Peñlaver reports that he is uncomfortable with Bishop Tobin's public denunciation of Patrick Kennedy.

Bishop Tobin’s attitude towards being Catholic — accept teachings X, Y, and Z, or go to another institution that does not affirm them — strikes me as nothing if not supremely un-Catholic in its ethos.

Peñlaver's argument is profoundly confused, I think. But it is not an unusual one; you'll find roughly the same reasoning put forward by many other liberal Catholics. And Peñlaver is not an unintelligent observer of political affairs. So the following line caught me broadside:

We on the Catholic left need to face the fact that the Church’s hierarchy simply feels much more comfortable with the political agenda of the Republican Party than it does with that of the Democrats.

Doesn't that sound familiar? Readers on the Catholic Culture site frequently complain-- with very good reason-- that the US bishops seem to be wedded to the Democratic Party agenda. How can intelligent people have such widely divergent perceptions?

Apart from dignity-of-life issues, the American bishops do not side with Republicans on a single major political issue. Whether the issue is capital-gains taxation, welfare spending, foreign aid, climate change, immigration, gun control, or (lest we forget) health-care reform, most bishops seem clearly to disagree with most Republicans. It's only on the life issues: abortion, embryo research, marriage, and homosexuality, that Catholic bishops and Republic loyalists find common ground. Since Republicans (especially those of the "big tent" persuasion) regularly downplay those issues, it's downright absurd to think that the bishops are reflexively supporting the Republicans.

So why does any intelligent commentator feel that way? Because the quest for legal abortion on demand has become so tightly woven into the Democratic Party agenda that anyone who opposes abortion becomes a threat to the Democrats. A threat to Democratic hegemony is presumed to be a Republican, and someone who threatens the Democrats at every turn-- that is, whenever they promote the culture of death, which is nearly every day-- is perceived as a stalwart Republican.

The fundamental point is not that the US bishops have adopted a partisan approach, but that the Democratic Party has become institutionally committed to policies that are irreconcilable with the Catholic faith. In fact for years the bishops have done their utmost to retain their friendly ties with the Democrats, who have traditionally held the sympathies of Catholic constituencies. It's become nearly impossible.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: lynnvinc7142 - Apr. 30, 2010 2:41 PM ET USA

    Another thought. It seems to me, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, people who select a candidate (whether Dem or Repub) due to an issue important to them, tend to find justification for that candidate's other positions that are contrary to Church/own values. (That goes for me too :( ) It's important as Catholics to stick to Church teachings and our own beliefs/values informed by these, and not change these, but rather apprise our candidate of his/her faults & failings.

  • Posted by: lynnvinc7142 - Apr. 30, 2010 1:41 PM ET USA

    I love this post. I was reared Republican, then in 1970 (after the Watergate) switched to Democrat, around the time also becoming a Catholic, having married a wonderful Catholic man from India. We are both very conservative on personal issues, but liberal on "caring & sharing" social ssues. I sorely wish Democrats could at least speak out against abortion encouraging a choice for life, and Republicans speak out & encourage us to mitigate climate change & other enviro harms.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 17, 2009 12:45 PM ET USA

    It should be no wonder that liberals have the positions they do re: the Church. Catechesis went into the toilet not long after Vatican 2, and someone flushed. Theologians by the bushel have been teaching, both in doctrine and morals, things directly contrary to the Magisterium for a long time, and have largely succeeded in drowning out the voice of the Church. Is it any wonder when they teach boldly with no correction that many would follow, and see the Magisterium as stuck in a time warp?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2009 5:43 PM ET USA

    What an asinine statement to make. For years the opponents of the democratic party has demonized and labeled every word and statement made by republicans, and conservatives. However, when you really check them out, they are the most vociferous slanderers on the face of this earth. I particularly dislike them calling me un-american, right wing extremist when I disagree with their dangerous policies This country was founded on public opinion and has survived for over 2 centuries with it.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2009 4:43 PM ET USA

    Separation of Church & State has been believed as misnomer for years. But liberals insist on pushing Christians into their Godless beliefs. Christ's teachings are not political as Pope John Paul tried to differentiate. Libs transpose Christ's Words for their agenda in arrogance. Secularism/humanism is their religion. LIBERAL Catholics do not seem to want to choose Church over what their peers may believe. It's a hard choice for many. Pray for this disease in this Church, country and in minds.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Nov. 14, 2009 10:55 AM ET USA

    I wonder sometimes if our "dominion" over the earth has led us to forget self sacrifice, prayer, and life for the other. What happened to the common good and understanding the common good for building up the community. Building rather than tearing down so any one particular one of us doesn't have to feel so bad. What happened to recognizing that each and everyone of us is a temple of the Holy spirit? We didn't "create" the temple so why is it ok to tear it down?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2009 2:45 AM ET USA

    It bodes well that people cannot peg the bishops to a party - because neither American party presents a Catholic perspective - which is neither right or left, but gets accused of one or the other on particular issues. The difference is the view of man and the world - this view is not shared by either party.

  • Posted by: Eagle - Nov. 13, 2009 7:10 AM ET USA

    The USCCB is the bishops' political arm. It, and the Bishops themselves in their meetings,take positions on numerous political matters like national health insurance, climate control, or any other political issue of the day. As they exempted themselves from the Dallas Charter, so they exempt themselves from the canonical prohibition, c. 287, Sec. 2, from involvement with political parties. Even with abortion, Obama at Notre Dame and the Kennedy Funeral belie their anti-abortion rhetoric.

  • Posted by: sparch - Nov. 12, 2009 1:26 PM ET USA

    People on the left never take offense at your opinions unless they disagree with you. It can not be as simple as they state that the world is made of Democrats or Republicans. Sometimes it must be seen as right and wrong. Truth does not reside in any one party but stands on it's own.