The Magazine

John Kerry, in the Catholic Tradition

From the April 26, 2004 issue: He's no Mario Cuomo.

Apr 26, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 31 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Nothing is yet settled. "We've come a long way from John F. Kennedy, who merely locked his faith in the closet. Now we have Catholic senators who take pride in arguing for legislation that threatens and destroys life--and who then also take Communion," Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput declared this week. But on Fox News, McCarrick explained about his task force, "I think there are many of us who would feel that there are certain restrictions that we might put on people. But I think many of us would not like to use the Eucharist as part of the sanctions." Still the sheer fact that a centrist, and generally ameliorist, figure like McCarrick would raise the issue is proof of how far things have shifted from the bishops' old acquiescence to the Cuomoist line.

Kerry has ducked potential discipline so far. Campaigning in Missouri, he attended only Protestant services at African-American churches, and, this Easter, he took Communion at what even the New York Times called "a kind of New Age church," a Paulist Center in Boston that describes itself as "a worship community of Christians in the Roman Catholic tradition." (In religion-speak, "in the tradition of" is code for "not exactly part of anymore.")

Should the bishops decide that this is finally the time to insist on a little more "moral coherence," it's likely that the relief of faithful Catholics would be surpassed only by the delight of the Kerry campaign. The New York Times and other news organs generally favorable to Kerry have been among the most diligent in pushing the story of the bishops and the Democratic candidate. If Kerry is seen to be oppressed by the Church hierarchy, many of his backers would consider it a merit badge. It would, for instance, ease the conscience of pro-abortion groups like NARAL in supporting a Catholic, however much he's publicly pro-abortion. Of course, his defeat would become a higher priority (if such is possible) among pro-lifers, many of whom are Catholics, and the pro-life forces have been equally active in publicizing Kerry's struggles with the bishops.

We have, in other words, a Catholic candidate for president who gains votes from anti-Catholics--and loses votes from Catholics--for the sake of his Catholicism. My grandmother, for one, would have thought his Catholicism makes him worse, not better, than Clinton or Gore, and she would have voted against him precisely because he claims to be a Catholic.

Also because he's a Democrat, of course.

Joseph Bottum is Books & Arts editor of The Weekly Standard.