Today’s big news on Catholicism comes from the NYT/CBS poll, which shows white Catholics in a massive 30-point Democratic shift, from backing George Bush over (Catholic) John Kerry 56-43 in 2004 to supporting Barack Obama over John McCain 53-36. There are still a lot of undecideds, but even if every last one went for McCain, it would be a reversal of major proportions. In any case, the trend casts some light on some doings inside The Church.
There’s that oddity in the Knights of Columbus poll of Catholics, suggesting (to me at least) a decision not to publish the response to a question about whether respondents would vote for pro-choice candidate. And the letter recently sent to diocesan schools by the Archdiocese of Hartford telling teachers not to hold any mock elections this year. (God forbid someone write a story in the Courant about how the students at Our Lady of Aetna voted 8-1 for Obama.) This sort of thing amounts to bishops sticking their fingers in their ears and going la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
Then there’s the hysterical reaction of some prelates and their intellectual epigones to the defection of prominent pro-life Catholics to the Democratic side. For example, Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli’s current pastoral letter identifying Obama with King Herod (executioner of John the Baptist). And (as David Gibson notes), Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt’s effort to get Obama-supporting pro-life law professor Douglas Kmiec disinvited from speaking at Seton Hill University. Not to mention Bill Donohue’s denunciation of the progressive Catholic groups Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United as “apologists for abortion rights.” (Here’s Rocco Palmo’s roundup.)
But nothing better captures the mood better than the uninvited appearance of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino at a forum on the election at which panelists of different persuasions were discussing how Catholics might vote. Taking umbrage at the repeated mention of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2007 statement on “faithful citizenship” without any notice of his own pronunciamento on the subject, he set the assemblage straight:
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
“The only relevant document … is my letter,” he said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
The USCCB statement does seem to have emerged as the casus belli in an emerging civil war within the upper reaches of American Catholicism. Take a look at America magazine’s editorial on voting and you’ll find a powerful argument against just following episcopal orders, constructed as a forthright articulation of the statement. It’s the most popular article of the month.
Meanwhile, abortion ranks well down on its list of the concerns of rank-and-file Catholics, and the social scientific evidence is that a politician’s position on the life issues makes no difference to them. For those interested in an overview of the so-called Catholic vote then and now, you can check out the lead article by Andrew Walsh and me in America‘s the latest issue. Bottom line: The Catholics are voting Democratic this year, whether their bishops like it or not.