Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Dream That Has Turned to a Nightmare

Archbishop of Boston,Cardinal Sean O'Malley 
greets President Barack Obama at the Funeral
of Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009.
Sean Winters, a writer for the liberal-oriented National Catholic Reporter wrote a scathing attack on the Obama Administration last week over the decision not to exempt Catholic educational and health-care institutions from the mandate to provide employees with insurance coverage for abortions, sterilizations, and contraceptives including abortifacients.  Winters wrote: 
President Barack Obama lost my vote yesterday when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.
Winters is one of the many Catholic liberals whose enchantment with the Obama presidency has “hit the wall” as they have realized that the candidate and Administration they went out on a limb to support has betrayed them.  Catholics have probably not voted as a bloc since the 1960 campaign that put John F. Kennedy in the White House as the first Catholic President.  Certainly by the 1972 election the liberal/conservative split in the Church was reflected in the political choices that Catholics made in the polls with liberals going for Humphrey and conservatives going for Nixon.  The situation became even more divisive with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing constitutional protection for a woman’s “choice” in opting for abortion in an unwanted pregnancy.  By 1980 Republicans had realized that the abortion issue could be used to political advantage in weaning Catholics away from their traditional alliance to the Democratic Party.  Ronald Reagan and the Bushes promised us the sky when it came to ending abortion while they delivered very little.  Yet the gradual shift of many Catholics to the GOP was not so much about “the Right to Life” as it reflected the emergence of American Catholics from labor to management level jobs and from working class to professional class.  As Catholics became more and more educated and Middle Class, and as Democrats moved from being the party of Labor to the party of suburban liberals the political face of American Catholicism began to shift as well.  “We have worked hard,” many thought, “and we want to keep what we have—let those behind us work to get here like we have worked.”   Yet there was a faithful cadre of Catholics left in the Democratic Party.   Mostly they were intellectuals, or at least committed Catholics who took their faith seriously and were familiar with the long tradition of social encyclicals and they could not bring themselves to embrace a party whose economic theories are at such variance with the Catholic Tradition.  Now this group has become disillusioned.  Winters writes:
I accuse you, Mr. President, of treating shamefully those Catholics who went out on a limb to support you. Do tell, Mr. President, how many bullets have the people at Planned Parenthood taken for you? Sr. Carol Keehan, Father Larry Snyder, Father John Jenkins, these people have scars to show for their willingness to work with you, to support you on your tough political fights. Is this the way you treat people who went to the mat for you?
There will be few true-blue Catholics left in the Obama camp but the President need not worry.  I doubt those Catholics will go running to Mitt Romney.  They recoil in horror at Newt.  Santorum, they think, is from another planet all together, and they can’t recognize his Latin Mass Catholicism  as anything other than the ecclesial equivalent of the embalmed (and poorly embalmed) remains of Pope Pacelli.  (See blog entry for April 14, 2011.)   Where will they go in November?  They will be like homeless ghosts wandering in the political underworld seeking some provisional shelter where they might alight long enough to cast their spectral -vote for some obscure pale shadow-candidate of some phantom sixth party who champions all that is just, all that is iconic, all that is virtuous—someone who can replace Obama, not in the White House for sure, but on that pedestal they had constructed for him in their own temple of Feel-Good-American Civil Catholicism.  Obama has let us down But that is our fault not his.  He is intelligent and articulate but he never was the Angel of Democratic Idealism we projected him to be.  We made him into something no man could be.  I have that Jansenist streak that runs through us American Catholics, especially those of us who pretend to a pharisaical orthodoxy, and I know in my heart that no man is pure and God alone is holy.  It just took us three years to realize that Barack is made from the common mud from which God rolled out you and me. 

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