Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Surprising rhetoric from Denver Arch-Bishop

I am a bit surprised to read this,

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is calling on the group Roman Catholics for Obama ‘08 to convince Sen. Barack Obama to become pro-life, instead of overlooking his support for abortion in favor of other issues of concern to Catholics.

Recalling his own political involvement in the Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968, his support for Jimmy Carter’s first presidential bid and then his subsequent re-election campaign, Archbishop Chaput explains how he came to his convictions about politics and abortion...

Chaput acknowledges that Carter “held a bad position on a vital issue, but I believed he was right on so many more of the ‘Catholic’ issues than his opponent seemed to be. The moral calculus looked easy. I thought we could remedy the abortion problem after Carter was safely returned to office.”


That's an eminently reasonable position. Chaput is telling Catholics to look at the candidate as a whole and to look at the entire range of moral and ethical concerns for Catholics and choose the best candidate. If the better overall candidate is pro-choice vote for him and work to change his position.

Now I will disagree with some of the rhetoric from Chaput in the rest of the article but given Chaput's stand in 2004 this is a stunning turn for the better. In 2004 Chaput told the New York Times,

"If you vote this way [for a candidate like Kerry], are you cooperating in evil? And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."

CNN looked at some the unpublished portions of the interview and they are even more strident,

The archbishop calls on Catholics "to get over this compromising" and deliver "a very clear, collective 'no!' -- a grand refusal to vote for anybody who is pro-choice, so that we have some political influence on this issue."

It appears that Chaput has completely reversed himself since 2004 on the issue of Catholic's voting for pro-choice candidates. Why? No rationale for the reversal is given in the original article instead it merely notes that Chaput himself will not vote for a pro-choice candidate but believes that Catholics can indeed vote for pro-choice candidates so long as:
  • They are not voting for the candidate because he is pro-choice but rather in spite of their position on abortion
  • There are proportionate reasons to support the candidate
  • The Catholic works actively to change the legal status of abortion in America

Catholics have traditionally supported Democratic candidates. That began to change after Roe and with the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980's. Suddenly Protestants and Catholics found themselves on the same side of a domestic political issue and we began to see pressure placed on Catholics who voted Democratic to walk away from the Party and their candidates.

It was an uncomfortable position for many as there are a myriad of issues that a responsible citizen in a democracy should be concerned with and issues that a responsible Catholic should not ignore. What about the Republican Party support for capital punishment? What about Republican Party support for the Iraq War? How much weight should be given to Catholic Canon Law support for social justice when selecting a candidate?

These were and are real concerns for obedient Catholics who wish to participate in our democracy. For too long many Church leaders pushed conflicted Catholics out of the church with their stance on political support for Pro-Choice candidates. Perhaps we are seeing the leading edge of a sea change in American Catholicism? It's obviously too early to tell but Chaput backing down from his previous hard-line stance is a welcome change.

3 comments:

Cheyenne Mike said...

Steam-powered: You give a thoughtful response to Chaput's comments. I read the story in the CNS and it does seem as if the archbishop has somewhat changed his tune, although it sounds more like resignation. I quit going to my Catholic church during the 2004 campaign when homilies became screeds against Kerry and other pro-choice Democrats.

I now find more acceptance in the local United Methodist Church. Did I give up too soon? I'm 57, a product of Catholic Schools (where I learned all about social justice), my kids both baptized in the church. Like you, I'm a left-leaning Liberal; my wife's a lifelong Catholic and a feminist. We just grew tired of the fight.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point of the Archbishop's column. He's calling out the Catholics for Obama and basically telling them that Obama is committed to the pro-abortion position (citing his 100% rating from the abortion special interests), and he's not going to capitulate. Chaput also says, in so many words, that he was wrong to support Jimmy Carter via the flawed "moral calculus" that other issues trumped the life issue.

Steam Powered Opinions said...

I wouldn't disagree with any of that but considering Chaput's behavior in 2004 (and the behavior of a number of other Catholic Bishops) these comments are, in my opinion, surprising and a positive development.