We’re sending out a special post-election edition of the Washington Word tomorrow about the most important religion and politics stories in the race. Here are some of the results I’ll be watching closely tonight and writing about in the morning:
- Catholic voters nationwide and in key states such as Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Pennsylvania. Between the US Catholic bishops’ strident criticism of the President, the overwhelming popularity of Nuns on the Bus, and Catholic leaders’ strong rebukes of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, the Catholic vote has made headlines all year. The presidential exit polls could reveal whether voices for social justice have been more resonant than appeals to social conservatism among Catholics.
- White evangelical voter turnout in key states. Ralph Reed’s “Faith and Freedom Coalition” voter-registration and get-out-the-vote operation has received extensive media coverage, and he claims socially conservative Christians will deliver a Romney victory. I have my doubts, but we’ll see.
- A state constitutional amendment in Florida, Question 3, that would hamstring the state’s ability to fund education, health care, infrastructure improvements, and critical social services. Florida faith leaders have led a massive mobilization against this dangerous legislation.
- The changing face of social issues, most notably same-sex marriage ballot measures in Maine, Washington state, Maryland, and Minnesota. Supporters of marriage for same-sex couples have done extensive outreach and messaging to the faith community, but religious opponents have also sunk millions of dollars into these campaigns. Support for same-sex marriage has increased among every religious demographic in recent years, but opponents have won every state-level ballot question on the issue in the past. We’ll see if that changes.
Please vote today if you haven’t already!
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It’s no secret that many bishops, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, are incensed with the Obama administration over contraception coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Bishops have missed few opportunities to blast the president as hostile to religious liberty – a meme that Mitt Romney has eagerly picked up on in a campaign ad that depicts President Obama as waging a “war on religion.”
But the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan – an intellectual darling of the conservative movement who embraces Catholic teaching to defend his policies – has complicated the Catholic narrative during these final months heading into the election.
In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a flurry of letters to the House of Representatives criticizing Ryan’s GOP budget proposal for its “unacceptable cuts.” Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop Richard Pates, chairmen of the domestic justice and international justice and peace committees at the U.S bishops’ conference respectively, told Congress that “a just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.” The House budget proposal “fails to meet these moral criteria,” they wrote.
“Catholic bishops say GOP budget proposal fails moral test,” read a Religion News Service headline picked up in several national publications. Catholic theologians and justice leaders also weighed in with a strong critique of Ryan’s Tea Party-inspired ideology. When Ryan gave a major speech at Georgetown University, a letter from nearly 90 faculty and priests at the Jesuit university challenged Ryan for his continued “misuse of Catholic teaching” and said Ryan’s budget “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Since Mitt Romney tapped Ryan as his vice presidential pick there is renewed attention on Catholic voters. So what are bishops doing now that the stakes are raised, and the Catholic author of a budget blueprint they have denounced in unambiguous terms could be a heartbeat from the presidency? Three bishops, including the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have essentially defended Ryan in glowing terms.
“A great public servant,” Cardinal Dolan gushed in the conservative National Review. Praising Ryan’s “solicitude for the poor,” the U.S. bishops’ president waxed eloquent about the lawmakers’ command of Aquinas and their intimate conversations over dinner. Cue the violin? Moderate and progressive Catholics who in recent years have worried that bishops are in danger of being perceived as the “Republican Party at Prayer” aren’t sure whether to chuckle or cry about Cardinal Dolan’s upcoming benediction at the Republican National Convention.
Bishop Robert Morlino, Ryan’s bishop in Wisconsin, defended him as a good Catholic family man victimized by those who have “unfairly attacked his reputation.” A strange response given that Ryan’s many Catholic critics are challenging his policy ideas, not taking gratuitous swipes at his character. Bishop Morlino also went on to offer some curious interpretations of Catholic teaching by enshrining the “right to private property” as among the “most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience.” Is this the Donald Trump version of Catholic teaching?
According to the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:
Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone… this principle is not opposed to the right to private poverty but indicates the right to regulate it.
Bishop Morlino also throws in a favorite right-wing scare word – socialism! – to a list of “intrinsic evils” that voters must confront. Who besides the most reactionary of ideologues on the right consider socialism a grave threat to our nation today? (For a more detailed theological critique of Bishop Morlino see David Cloutier’s piece at Catholic Moral Theology).
Plenty of Democrats and President Obama are surrounded by former Wall Street titans who now serve as economic advisors. Despite conservative demagoguery over the Affordable Care Act, the law provides a vast new market for insurance companies. One expects Rush Limbaugh to hyperventilate about the bogeyman of socialism, but Catholic bishops should not be wading into these paranoid waters.
Don’t forget this is the same bishop who caused a stir back in April when he defended a group of ultra-conservative priests facing criticism from parishioners by warning the critics that they risked formal church censure unless they stopped spreading “rumors and gossip.”
Adding his voice to the Ryan fan club, Archbishop Aquila of Denver wrote that those who have corrected Ryan on the grounds of Catholic teaching are making claims that are “unfounded and unreasonable.” The archbishop went on to conclude:
Paul Ryan is concerned that America will soon be bankrupt, and so we must make hard choices. If he is right, and we ignore the message because the consequences seem compassion-less, our sentimental affections may cripple the ones our Lord loves the most — our children.
Funny, I don’t remember these dire warnings from bishops when debt ballooned under President George W. Bush as Iraq war spending rose.
In all of these cases, there is the obligatory reference that the bishops are not backing any candidate and would not dare engage in partisan politics. It seems that some bishops are either tone deaf to how their cheery defense of Ryan is interpreted by reporters and Catholic voters or their disgust with President Obama is so strong that they are comfortable making quasi-endorsements in this election. Either scenario is distressing.
It’s not unreasonable to ask if bishops will spend even half as much institutional energy educating Catholics about Ryan’s deeply un-Christian economic plans as they have on flogging the Obama administration over contraception coverage.
Letters to Capitol Hill are important, but most voters don’t read them. Unlike the two-week “Fortnight for Freedom” religious liberty campaign, launched with special Masses and great fanfare in dioceses across the country, I’ve seen little effort to amplify the bishops’ documented concerns about Ryan’s plans to slash government programs that protect the most vulnerable.
At the bishops last national meeting in June, they punted on a statement about the economy and poverty until after the election. Catholic bishops have used parish bulletin inserts and national postcard campaigns to warn about perceived threats to religious liberty and a supposed expansion of abortion rights in recent years. How about one bulletin insert to educate parishioners about economic proposals that are deeply hostile to Catholic teaching? There is nothing pro-life or Christian about Ryan’s plans to slash programs that help pregnant women, feed hungry children and protect the elderly.
The chasm between the U.S. bishops’ conference clear moral critique of the Ryan budget and the cozy embrace some bishops are now giving Ryan is not unexpected given the hierarchy’s conservative drift and increasing reluctance among some prelates to speak boldly on matters besides abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception. However, it does send mixed messages to Catholic voters.
In 2008, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, PA (now retired) stormed into a civil conversation about the election that focused on the U.S. bishops’ Faithful Citizenship election year statement and thundered: “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.” Bishop Martino issued his own election year statement focused on abortion.
The “prince-in-every diocese” nature of episcopal politics makes it challenging for bishops to always speak in consistent tones. But those bishops now offering a veneer of political cover to Paul Ryan – while helping to fuel a meta-narrative that President Obama is hostile to religious liberty – should think carefully about how they could be sacrificing the church’s moral credibility in public life on the altar of partisan politics.
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Long before Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, faith leaders extensively rebuked his immoral federal budget plans that, among other things, slash taxes for millionaires while putting affordable healthcare out of reach for millions of children, families and seniors.
Some efforts, such as the Nuns on the Bus tour, have specifically called out the harm Rep. Ryan’s budget plan would cause. Others, such as the Circle of Protection, speak more generally about the moral imperative to protect crucial programs for poor people that Ryan would decimate.
Ryan, a Catholic, notably bristled when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said his budget plan “fails a basic moral test.” Following hard-hitting criticism of his devotion to author Ayn Rand (who denounced Christianity and exalted greed), he claimed to reject her philosophy but didn’t change his political agenda that reflects her embrace of selfishness and rejection of compassion.
Below is a rundown of blog posts FPL has done about Ryan’s budget priorities and his ill-informed religious justifications of them.
April 5, 2011: Paul Ryan’s Cowardly Budget, A reaction to Ryan’s release of his 2012 federal budget plan.
April 11, 2011: Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: A Love Affair Against the Common Good. Noting the deep and pervasive connection between the Ryan budget and the work of Ayn Rand, who explicitly rejected the religious principles of compassion and altruism.
April 12, 2011: Senator Begich and Faith Leaders Speak Out on Moral Budgets. Summarizing a press conference in the wake of Ryan’s budget release featuring Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and faith leaders from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish backgrounds stress that the budget is a “moral document” with serious human consequences.
April 15, 2011: Paul Ryan’s Distorted Definition of Compassion. Debunking a Washington Post op-ed by Ryan claiming that his budget is compassionate toward the poor.
May 13, 2011: Rep. Ryan: Actions Speak Louder than Words on Pro-Life Values. Highlighting Christian radio ads Rep. Ryan’s home district in Wisconsin run radio ads condemning his budge as inconsistent with pro-life values.
May 19-23, 2011: A series of posts debunking Paul Ryan’s inaccurate Catholic theological defense of his budget plan, and correcting of erroneous media coverage claiming that Archbishop Timothy Dolan agree with Ryan’s argument.
May 25, 2011: 30+ Protestant Bishops: Budget is Morally Indefensible, turns Back on Vulnerable. Highlighting a rebuke of Ryan’s budget by more than two dozen Protestant bishops. That same day, 12,000 Faithful America members launched a petition asking Ryan to choose Biblical values over Ayn Rand’s ideology.
June 3, 2011: Faithful America Member Offers Paul Ryan a Bible. A video of a Faithful America member offering Rep. Ryan a Bible and asking why the congressman chose to model his budget after “the extreme ideology of Ayn Rand rather than values of basic economic justice in the Bible.”
July 13, 2011: Paul Ryan Still Trying to Baptize his Immoral Budget. Noting and responding to a column by Ryan in the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor in which Ryan sought to portray his budget plan as consistent with Catholic Social Teaching.
July 14, 2011: Paul Ryan Still Trying to Baptize his Immoral Budget, Ctd. Highlighting a column in Our Sunday Visitory by Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, responding to Ryan’s column in Our Sunday Visitor.
October 28, 2011: Why Pope Benedict Disagrees with Paul Ryan on Income Inequality, Economic Principles. Video of Ryan evading questions about whether Pope Benedict is promoting class warfare by suggesting that the “wealth creation of the market should be balanced by…redistribution,” and accompanying analysis debunking Ryan’s arguments about income inequality.
November 23, 2011: Rep. Ryan Tries His Hand at Occupy Wall Street. A roundup of hard-hitting refutations to Ryan’s misleading arguments about the causes of economic inequality.
March 21, 2012: Paul Ryan blows off Catholic bishops. How will they respond? After Ryan introduces the second version of his budget plan, asking how Catholic bishops will respond to his complete disregard of the concerns they raised in a recent letter to Congress.
March 27, 2012: An Immoral Budget That Shuns Social Justice. Flagging an op-ed by FPL’s John Gehring and Marquette University Professor Bryan Massingale commenting on Ryan’s budget plan in light of the Catholic bishops’ critique.
April 10, 2012: Rick Warren, Paul Ryan and budget priorities. Debunking rhetoric claiming that Ryan’s budget cuts are helpful to low-income people.
April 13, 2012: Catholic Leaders to Rep. Paul Ryan: Stop Distorting Church Teaching to Justify Immoral Budget. Breaking the story of 60 prominent theologians, priests, nuns, and national Catholic social justice leaders releasing a letter calling Rep. Ryan’s budget a “betrayal” of “Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.”
April 17, 2012: Catholic Bishops Rebuke Ryan Budget. Highlighting a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling out the Ryan budget for “making harmful cuts that flout church teaching about protecting poor and vulnerable people.”
April 18, 2012: Immorality of Ryan’s Budget Called out by House Catholics. Pointing out that House Catholics such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) echo the USCCB’s critique.
April 19, 2012: Paul Ryan Dismisses USCCB Criticism: “These are not all the Catholic bishops.” Showing Ryan’s dismissive response on FOX News to the Catholic bishops’ criticism of his budget.
April 24, 2012: Georgetown Professors to Ryan: Stop Distorting Catholic Teaching on Budget. Revealing a letter from 90 Georgetown faculty to Ryan concerning his misuse of Catholic social teaching to defend his immoral budget plan. Released shortly before Ryan gave a lecture at the university.
April 30, 2012: Paul Ryan’s not-so-fact-based conversation. A fact-check detailing the numerous inaccuracies in Ryan’s response to Catholic leaders who rebuked his theological argument in favor of his budget plan.
June 7-20, 2012: A series of posts covering the successful Nuns on the Bus tour, which, traveled 2700 miles through nine states to protest the Ryan’s budgets cuts to programs for poor and working families.
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I’m not surprised that Rick Santorum is failing to persuade Catholic voters in Ohio, a key Super Tuesday state with national political implications. As commentators have noted for a while, Santorum’s culture warrior style has been embraced more by conservative evangelicals than Catholics.
While Santorum’s focus on sex, the ‘60s and traditional families is gospel for a culturally conservative segment of the Catholic vote, his anti-government demagoguery and lecturing of low-income families and minorities sit uncomfortably with many Catholics whose religious tradition helped lay the moral groundwork for the New Deal.
Back in January, I argued that Santorum had a lot of nerve casting himself as a standard-bearer for Catholic values in politics given how frequently his conservative ideology clashes with traditional Catholic social teaching. Simply put, Santorum is out of step with Catholic bishops and Pope Benedict XVI when it comes to moral issues like immigration, torture, war, economic justice and environmental stewardship.
This has not stopped conservative Catholic commentators and influential media outlets from perpetuating a simplistic narrative that Santorum is a poster boy for traditional Catholic values. From a front-page New York Times profile on Sunday:
Unlike Catholics who believe that church doctrine should adapt to changing times and needs, the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops. “He has a strong sense of that,” said George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where Mr. Santorum had a fellowship after losing his bid for re-election to the Senate in 2006. “He’s the first national figure of some significance who’s on that side of the Catholic conversation.” The Santorums’ beliefs are reflected in a succession of lifestyle decisions, including eschewing birth control, home schooling their younger children and sending the older boys to a private academy affiliated with Opus Dei, an influential Catholic movement that emphasizes spiritual holiness.
I don’t question the sincerity of Santorum’s spiritual journey and have little doubt that he takes his personal faith seriously. But home-schooling your children and denouncing birth control isn’t enough to qualify you as an orthodox Catholic. The “teaching authority of popes and bishops” also has a lot to say about the “idolatry” of the free market, the “intrinsic evil” of torture, the positive role of government and a consistent ethic of life principle that doesn’t reduce Catholicism to bumper-sticker platitudes on a few divisive social issues.
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When the Republican presidential primaries began I didn’t think we’d be locked in a heated culture-war debate on Super Tuesday. But here we are in an intense conflict over contraception coverage, health care and religious liberty that’s laden with misleading and offensive charges.
Almost forgotten amid the fallout of Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attacks against Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke last week was the fact that Senate Republicans (along with three Democrats: Senators Bob Casey, Joe Manchin and Ben Nelson) voted in favor of the Blunt Amendment, which purported to protect religious liberty but in reality would have allowed any employer to refuse to cover any health care service based on any moral objection. While Republicans treated the legislation as necessary to protect religious employers from being forced to cover contraception, in practice it would have given corporations the power to come between families and the health care they need.
Unfortunately, many conservative religious leaders have offered misleading defenses of this extreme bill and attacked the contraception coverage requirement despite its exemptions and accommodations for religious institutions. Leaders ranging from Richard Land to Chuck Colson to Cardinal Timothy Dolan insist that A) this debate has nothing to do with contraception, and B) the Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to pay for contraception coverage. Their argument is factually incorrect and out of touch with real families. Churches and faith-based institutions such as religious schools, hospitals, charities, health care providers and universities do not have to pay for coverage of contraception if they object to it. And asserting that this debate has nothing to do with contraception doesn’t change the fact that their preferred policy would jeopardize access to birth control and other health services for many families. Ignoring the real-world consequences of a political debate isn’t a sign of commitment to principle, it’s a symptom of extreme ideology.
Meanwhile, a pivotal moment in the GOP presidential contest looms today, and the culture-war debate has obscured how extreme the candidates’ economic platforms are. Last week, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center revealed that Mitt Romney’s economic plan would raise taxes on the working poor, gut Medicaid for struggling families, give the wealthiest Americans a tax cut of more than $1 million per year and increase the deficit. If Romney gains a decisive lead today, as many are predicting, I hope the media pays more attention to his very real economic radicalism than to President Obama’s imaginary war on religion.
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