I like to read Archbishop Charles Chaput because he has a unique way of articulating the Catholic Identity point of view. He will even flip the other side of the coin occasionally which makes his remarks more powerful. The following excerpts are taken from a speech he gave in Toronto this past Sunday.
"But as Catholics, we at least need to be honest with ourselves and each other about the political facts we start with. Unfortunately when it comes to the current administration that will be very hard for Catholics in the United States, and here's why. A spirit of adulation bordering on servility already exists among some of the same Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists who once accused prolifers of being too cozy with Republicans. It turns out that Caesar is an equal opportunity employer."
I agree with this assessment to some extent, but the Archbishop can not deny that the accusation of pro lifers in bed with the Republican party was dead on true. Caesar was and is an equal opportunity employer.
Archbishop Chaput then goes on to analyze this past election which brought Barack Obama the presidency. In the process he carves out his agenda for the opposition party, which is not necessarily the Republican party, it's true Catholics:
"Second, in democracies, we elect public servants, not messiahs. It's worth recalling that despite two ugly wars, an unpopular Republican president, a fractured Republican party, the support of most of the American news media and massively out-spending his opponent, our new president actually trailed in the election polls the week before the economic meltdown. This subtracts nothing from the legitimacy of his office. It also takes nothing away from our obligation to respect the president's leadership.
But it does place some of today's talk about a "new American mandate" in perspective. Americans, including many Catholics, elected a gifted man to fix an economic crisis. That's the mandate. They gave nobody a mandate to retool American culture on the issues of marriage and the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion in public life and abortion. That retooling could easily happen, and it clearly will happen -- but only if Catholics and other religious believers allow it. It's instructive to note that the one lesson many activists on the American cultural left learned from their loss in the 2004 election --and then applied in 2008 -- was how to use a religious vocabulary while ignoring some of the key beliefs and values that religious people actually hold dear.
First, President Obama has bent over backwards to extend a hand to religious believers to the extent that he is alienating his own base. Archbishop Chaput's insistence that Obama is acting on some mandate to retool American culture, and that it clearly will happen, is not borne out in most of Obama's first month in office. Any democratic candidate would have repealed the Mexico City agreement, just as President Clinton did previously.
Secondly, this almost sounds as if Archbishop Chaput is angling towards a third party, rejecting both the democrats and republicans, based on religious similarities. He further credence's this at another point in his speech.
But as I say in the book, one of the lessons we need to learn from the last 50 years is that a "preferred" Catholic political party usually doesn't exist. The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party takes them for granted and then ignores their concerns. Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism. It's a lethal kind of moral laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end.
I actually happen to think he's right about party loyalty for the sake of habit or family tradition. I also think it's kind of funny that he and I have taken the exact opposite political maturation. He from social democrat to Catholic conservative, and me from Catholic conservative to social democrat. We're the same age, grew up in the same cultural stew and wound up on the exact opposite side of the fence. We must have crossed somewhere in the middle, and I bet it was with Reagan's second term in office.
I say that because, Reagan's second term in office spelled the end of my upwardly mobile path and the Archbishop was just getting launched on his. Someday I'd like to sit down with him and discuss our divergent life and Catholic experiences. I'm sure we'd both find it enlightening.
A great deal of this speech pounds the abortion issue. Sometimes I wonder if he ever takes into consideration his own state completely rejected the life begins at conception notion. If Archbishop Chaput ever wants to make a cohesive argument for his case he needs to seriously deal with the biological reality of which he speaks. The real biology of conception runs counter to his claim. There is no real potential life until implantation in the uterus. In this sense a skin cell has as much life potential as a blastoceol (until implantation) and no rational person would advocate for the sanctity of skin cells. That nasty little biological truth has all sorts of ramifications which go well beyond abortion. Perhaps in this case Archbishop Chaput is falling into his own observation:
"I've learned from experience, though, that Henry Ford was right when he said that "Two percent of the people think; three percent think they think, and 95 percent would rather die than think."