Skip to comments.Can a Democrat be a good Catholic?
Posted on 07/20/2009 8:14:26 AM PDT by presidio9
Nearly 50 years ago Democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy went before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston to reassure them, and the rest of America, that if elected president he, as a Roman Catholic, would not set policy on orders from the Vatican.
"I am not the Catholic candidate for president," the Massachusetts senator said that night in September 1960. "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me."
Given the evolution of American politics since then, few people would worry about that today. Many critics of Democratic politicians who are Catholic such as Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintain that they now insufficiently adhere to the Vatican's mandates.
Marion County Commissioner Barbara Fitos finds herself in that position.
According to Fitos, the Rev. Pat Sheedy pastor of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, where Fitos is a member has recently received letters from local Catholics, including many from outside Sheedy's parish, arguing that she is unfit to receive Holy Communion or to perform her ministry as a communion server.
The letters, Fitos says, are rooted in a misguided presumption that she has taken an extraordinary step to address: that as a Democrat and supporter of President Obama, Fitos must therefore reject the church's teachings on abortion.
"I've been typecast and assumptions are made because I'm a Democrat," Fitos said.
The questioning of Fitos' Catholic bona fides by staunch anti-abortion advocates is neither new to her nor unfamiliar to many Catholic Democratic office-holders and -seekers.
Frequently, many Democratic Catholics receive this criticism because of their public records or positions favoring abortion rights.
But those politicians have created a dilemma for Democratic Catholics like Fitos whose more difficult task often is convincing fellow Catholics that she shares their religious views, rather than convincing fellow Democrats that she shares their political views.
The tone and number of letters was such that Fitos, at Sheedy's recommendation, took the unusual step of publicly defending her commitment to the church's beliefs in a brief written statement to her fellow parishioners.
That appeared in Blessed Trinity's church bulletin distributed on July 5.
"I embrace all the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching including the sacredness and dignity of life all life from the time of conception until we are called home to our Father," Fitos wrote.
"Thus, let me be clear," she added, "I am NOT pro-abortion. My vision as a public servant is one based on that simple yet profound message that life is to be treasured and valued."
Continuing, Fitos called for the creation of a "culture of sustainability" that "enables all to thrive and grow and not one that polarizes and divides and excludes."
"In doing so, may no woman either individually or in conjunction with her family ever have to face what is for me an untenable decision or deem any pregnancy unwanted,' " she wrote.
A deep divide While abortion is anathema to Catholic doctrine, the importance of who gives and receives Holy Communion cannot be understated.
Catholics believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine once they are consecrated by the priest during the Mass.
The church's official doctrine says communion is "the source and summit of the Christian life," and the moment of its ingestion is the holiest part of the service.
At that point, Catholics believe they are one with Christ.
Fitos recalled that she faced similar claims that she did not oppose abortion when she first ran for the County Commission in 2002.
The allegations re-emerged in 2006, when she defeated Randy Harris, a three-term incumbent Republican commissioner and outspoken abortion foe.
Fitos said people regularly sent her letters and e-mails outlining Catholic doctrine on abortion; some even cited the church's canon laws; one gave her a copy of "The Catechism of the Catholic Church," the official doctrine of Roman Catholicism, which declares abortion a "moral evil."
Fitos took these critics in stride, and the correspondence eventually tapered off.
But the allegations were revived not long ago.
And what changed, Fitos said, was that critics were challenging Sheedy for permitting her to receive and dispense Holy Communion.
That hit Fitos particularly hard, considering how she credits Blessed Trinity for revitalizing her faith.
"When they start questioning my parish and my priest, it gets really personal to me. Father Pat is very important to me. This parish is very important and precious to me. That's why I can't let that continue," Fitos explained in an interview.
Sheedy was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
But the uprising against Fitos shows how thorny the abortion issue is for Catholic Democrats everywhere.
Republicans who are Catholic do not seem to face this trouble except perhaps Rudy Giuliani, who ran into some turbulence in the 2008 campaign because he claimed to oppose abortion but to support a woman's right to choose, a mirror image of the position held by many Democrats.
But the same faith that uncompromisingly opposes abortion, defends traditional marriage and denounces the prevalence of pornography in our culture just as strongly rejects the views of many Republicans on the death penalty, immigration, welfare, and military action that does not meet the church's definition of a "just" war.
The tension on abortion, then, appears to be felt solely by Democratic Catholics and it's not something to be taken lightly.
On an overseas trip two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI signaled support for Mexican bishops who excommunicated politicians who pushed through that country's first law to legalize first-trimester abortions.
A moral choice?
In an essay last October that appeared in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Mary Hunt, a liberal Catholic theologian, noted that in 1984 more than 150 Catholic clergymen signed an ad in The New York Times that questioned the church's stance on abortion.
The ad, Hunt recalled, supported the Democratic ticket of Sen. Walter Mondale and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, who was Catholic. Ferraro said publicly she opposed abortion, but the party's position was pro-choice. The ad suggested that abortion "though tragic, can sometimes be a moral choice."
After rejecting the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, Hunt wrote, the signers were forced to recant or face career ruin, which happened to many.
The demand for this fealty has not weakened with time in some Catholic quarters.
In recent years, many Catholics, including bishops, have called for prominent Democratic Catholics such as Biden, Pelosi, and Sens.
Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd to be denied Holy Communion because of their pro-choice records.
(All four scored 100 percent on abortion-rights votes, according to the most recent political scorecard kept by Planned Parenthood.)
But overlooked in this debate are Democratic Catholic politicians who, like Fitos, accept the church's position on abortion but who also support political candidates who do not.
Fitos, who backed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said in evaluating the candidates and platforms last year she relied on a booklet issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called "Faithful Citizenship."
They wrote that a "Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil."
"At the same time," the bishops added, "a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support." Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
Fitos said her support for Obama was not intended to show approval of abortion, but rather to back the candidate's broader social justice platform that was more aligned with Catholic theology than positions espoused by anti-abortion Republican John McCain.
Hunt, in her essay, noted that several bishops and more Catholics are trending this way, despite the adamant views of others who maintain that the abortion issue trumps all others.
Statistics back that: Obama received 54 percent of the Catholic vote.
"It is clear that these bishops have not backed off of abortion, but it is equally the case that they have not so focused on it that they miss the many conditions racism, poverty, sexism, war, among others that form the context in which abortions are necessary, the context that needs to change if the number of abortions is to be reduced," Hunt wrote.
Fitos' attempt to explain this was unconvincing to her critics but did draw some sympathy.
"She just gives us the same old rhetoric Biden gives us," said the Rev. Patrick O'Doherty, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala and a leading figure in the local anti-abortion movement.
"It's very clever. The way the debate goes is either pro-life or pro-choice. She's not saying she's pro-life."
Mabel Ryan, president of Life Education Ministry, an anti-abortion group in Ocala, said she met with Fitos when she first ran in 2006 and did not come away believing Fitos was "pro-life." Last week's statement changed nothing.
"This is just the song and dance I got three years ago, and it's the same song and dance from [Catholic] pro-aborts when pushed in the corner," said Ryan, who added that she advised in the letter-writing campaign but did not pen a letter herself.
Ryan said Fitos' critics are prepared to push this issue to higher levels within the church. "We can't do anything about Joe Biden, but we can do something about our local problems," she said.
However, Bruce Seaman, chairman of the Marion County Democratic Party, disputed the notion that Democrats must cater to abortion-rights advocates.
"Unlike the Republicans, we don't have a litmus test for belief. There is enough elasticity in our values to welcome pro-life folks," said Seaman, who is also an ordained Presbyterian minister.
Steve Krueger, executive director for the Boston-based group Catholic Democrats, suggested that anti-abortion stalwarts should pay closer attention to canon law, citing research by Nick Cafardi, dean emeritus at Duquesne University's law school and canon law expert.
Cafardi wrote in a paper for Catholic Democrats that under the code, "every Catholic is guaranteed a right to their good name in the Church and a right to their privacy in the Church. The proper application of this canon would prevent individual Catholics from opining publicly, say to the media or in any other public way ... about whether or not another member of the Church was in fact a member in good standing."
That, Cafardi added, is between the parishioner and his or her priest.
"It seems to me this is another case where you have politicization of the Eucharist," Krueger said of Fitos. "That is a battle that is not only morally wrong from Catholic teaching, but is a battle that is a futile one. It begs the question: Where's the love?"
In Houston five decades ago, John F. Kennedy noted America faced "far more critical issues" than the "so-called religious issue" he sought to put to rest.
Fitos makes a similar argument for her role on the County Commission, which to her doubles as a ministry.
"I strive so hard by my example to let people know where I am, but sometimes that's not enough," Fitos said. "The sad part is, I don't know you're ever going to stop people from making assumptions or drawing conclusions."
If one lives and practices their faith we should rightly expect to see it manifest in their actions and policies. If one puts career, office and country above God and family they are not fit to serve.
NO because The Roman Catholic is generally Pro-Life and the ENTIRE Dem Party is pro-death.
NO, NO, NO, a thousand times NO!!! Not if they support the entire abortion/euthanasia platform the democratic party embraces right now!!!
Those who proclaim to be democrats AND Catholics ought to be excommunicated IMMEDIATELY. What horrible role models they are to those in their home districts, etc! Top of the list:
Ted Kennedy. John F’n Kerry. Nancy Pelosi. And so on, and so on, and so on!
Well, given the current state of the GOP, this is easily flipped to “Can a Republican be a good Catholic?” One need only open a newpaper to see members from either party not exactly acting like Christians.
The (churchgoing) Catholic members of my family in NJ and PA who vote for the Dems (including the Obamanation) tell me that "the Republicans won't change anything on the life issue" and/or "the Dems are better on all other issues." Its hard to change ingrained attitudes, especially when the GOP is seen increasingly as the (Evangelical) Protestant Party.
Nope.*Absolutely* not.Next question!
Based upon a survey of Catholic Polititians, the answer is clearly no.
It is possible for a Democrat to be a good and faithful Catholic, but it is very difficult for a good and faithful Catholic to be a Democrat. Such a person would have to oppose much of what Democrats write into their platform and vote against many Democrat candidates because of their anti-Catholic positions. I know this from first-hand experience. I was a registered Democrat from April 30, 1970 until March 1993 and found myself wanting to puke when I saw the candidates my party was running. I did not leave the Democrat Party; it left me.
Assumptions have been made,sweetheart,because you openly support Hussein who,very likely,is *the* most despicable,amoral individual to have ever held the title of TOTUS.
Yes, as long as they don’t VOTE Democrat......
Yes but will be at odds with the Democrats the bulk of the time. Think “Zell Miller”
Amen brother sing it.
You can’t promote and/or condone killing babies and be considered “good”...period.
Those who want Fitos removed as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist should be writing letters to the bishop. They should also refuse to drop money into the offertory until she is removed and the pastor disciplined by the bishop.
Zell’s a DINO,bless his heart!
I’ll go you one better, can any democrat be a good “CHRISTIAN?” I for one say, no.
A person can not be a GOOD Democrat AND a GOOD Catholic.
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