Flock Backs Kerry Despite Bishops: By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday October 19, 2004

A friend of ours has been planning to go to Florida in the next couple of weeks to help with the get-out-the-vote effort. As the date approaches, she’s begun to wonder if it would be more effective to donate the cost of the trip to an organization already working in the field. Trying to help her make up her mind, I offered to poll my several politically astute cousins who live in Florida to see if they thought she should go. Their return emails were a good window on what’s going on in their part of the country.  

Cousin Pete in Tallahassee seems to have inherited the family sharp tongue: 

“I think that Bush may lose in Florida, but Kerry’s and the Democratic campaign are so wishy-washy and ineffectively run that there is little that can be done at this point in time except by Bush…I think that the Democratic party has been poorly organized here for a long time, has not spent its money well, and that Missouri or Colorado might be more sensitive to additional funding.” His follow-up email today reports that things are looking up a bit—Edwards played to an enthusiastic full house over the weekend. 

Cousin Elsa in Fort Lauderdale delegated the reply to her husband Dick, who reports that they’re optimistic about a Kerry win in their area. He expressed considerable annoyance with an attempt to get “the Catholic vote” which he ran into: 

“I encountered a politician standing in front of our church Sunday morning with a ‘pro-life’ sign. He was holding a gigantic American flag, waving it around. I approached him to make sure he was not on church property, and giving the impression that he was endorsed by our parish. I casually mentioned that persons who support pro-life also must support taxation to provide the social programs needed to support life throughout its continuum. When I said the word ‘taxation’, he went ballistic. Nice guy!” 

Dick and Elsa know whereof they speak, since they’re raising an autistic boy they first took as a foster child and then adopted after their own children were grown. “Pro-life” sloganeering rings especially hollow when mouthed by people who shirk their responsibilities to the already-born while crying over the unborn.  

Certain Catholic bishops are among the worst offenders in this department, along with some, though not all, of their clergy. The attempts to cast aspersions on Kerry because of his support of choice have outraged many. One of our correspondents in Missouri deplores the fact that her parish priest is “a big fat Republican”. Those bishops may look back at the flock they think they’re leading and find out that a sizable majority of the sheep are going astray in this election. Many Catholics, especially those who had good church history classes in school, are well aware that the Church over the centuries has made lots of big mistakes, and they think they’re seeing yet another example in this election.  

How do I know this? Well, I’ve got to believe my own mother. Today (Tuesday) is her 90th birthday, and she’s busy revving up her engines to send a stinging letter to the bishops letting them know what a big error they’ve made this time. She says that this time she really will threaten to quit, and she might, but I’m betting she won’t go through with it. The Church has always been home to as many sinners as saints, clergy and hierarchy definitely not excepted, and she knows that. She won’t let a few sanctimonious bishops with bad politics define her religion for her. 

John Kerry said approximately the same thing in the last debate. He alluded, in code which many probably missed, to the central paradox which has pre-occupied Christians since the reformation and before: is faith alone enough, as many born-again Protestant evangelicals now claim, or does the committed Christian also have to ACT in accordance with belief? 

This is what Kerry said: “My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says, “What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.’ And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.”  

Now that’s old-fashioned plain vanilla Catholic doctrine as my mother, my cousins and I learned it in school, along with millions of other Americans. The estimable St. Petersburg (Florida) Times took a look at “the Catholic vote” last Saturday in a news story by Sharon Tubbs, and spotlighted a whole bunch of new organizations in Florida and elsewhere started by liberal Catholics who don’t intend to let a few misguided bishops push them around. Bad-apple bishops to the contrary notwithstanding, and whether they still go to church or not, most people who were raised as Catholics will probably look at the presidential candidates and make up their own minds about which candidate supports policies which are consistent with whatever faith they still espouse, thank you very much.  

—Becky O’Malley