Why “Republican” Doesn’t Mean “Catholic”

Theologically-orthodox Catholics tend to be conservative.  That’s sensible. The GOP, as a party, sees more or less eye to eye with the Catholic Church on the major issues of the day: abortion, gay marriage, etc., and Republican small government views work well with Catholic views of subsidiarity (if you’re not familiar, this is, in a nutshell, the Catholic preference for solving problems locally and intimately). Meanwhile, the Democratic party falls on the wrong side on these issues, meaning we Catholics tend to think they’re wrong on the huge issues like when life begins, and what marriage is; and the smaller ones, like how to help those who need financial and medical assistance.

But as I’ve said before, we have to be utterly vigilant that we never fall for the trap that “Catholic” and “Republican” mean the same thing.  Those Catholics a generation or two before us made that same mistake with the Democratic Party, and were brutally betrayed.

There’s plenty of evidence that we’re not being vigilant enough.  For example, Creative Minority Report notes that St. Mark’s Catholic church in Richmond, Kentucky is having former First Lady Laura Bush headline a fundraiser.

Sure enough, the event is promoted in a large banner at the very top of the parish website.  Trouble is, Mrs. Bush is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.  In what possible world is she an acceptable headliner at a Catholic event?

There’s no question that if St. Mark’s had invited the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Nancy Pelosi, orthodox Catholics would have spoken out against the invitation.  And rightly so.  And St. Mark’s probably would have had the good sense not to do something like that.  We should be incredibly wary of any double standard in which pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Democrats are condemned while pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Republicans are given a pass.

Having said all that, we should be slow to attack St. Mark’s for the invitation.  I’m reminded of a controversy involving one of my favorite priests, Fr. Arne Panula at the Catholic Information Center.  CIC, which is a bookstore with a large chapel, had invited Cokie and Steven Roberts to talk about (and sign) their new book, From This Day Forward, a book described in one of the Amazon reviews as “A Salute to Marriage.”  Sounds like a good book, and CIC wanted to promote it.  Turns out, however, that Cokie Roberts was on the wrong side of the Faith on the usuals: abortion, birth control, and homosexuality.

CIC’s invitation was thus presented in the conservative press as some sort of assault on the Faith. For example, immediately after the announcement, the conservative Washington Times wrote a scathing editorial entitled “Opus Dei Sells Out,” all but calling Fr. Arne a heretic, claiming he risked “outing himself as a weak defender of the faith in amoral times,” and that CIC may become known as CINO, or “Catholic in name only.” The editorial was sensationalist, and terribly unfair. Fr. Arne is anything but a “weak defender of the faith in amoral times.” He’s the former head of Opus Dei in America, and currently serves as that group’s spiritual director.  Opus Dei’s been called many things, but “Catholic in name only” is new… and entirely untrue.

Had the Times bothered to contact Fr. Arne, or any of the folks at CIC before publishing their editorial, they would have learned that there was a simple explanation: they simply hadn’t known about Cokie Roberts’ views on these issues. (I hadn’t either, nor would there be reason to suspect as much from the book in question).  What’s more, Fr. Arne had already acted immediately upon learning about these views by cancelling the event, and thanking those who notified him in a mass e-mail in his own name:

In inviting Steve and Cokie Roberts to the CIC to present their book, From this Day Forward, we were unaware that some of the positions held by Ms. Cokie Roberts are inimical to the Catholic Faith and the support of our Holy Father that we hold very dear at the Catholic Information Center. We are grateful for those of you who have taken the time to express your concern and inform us. Our apologies go out especially to all who may have been troubled by the scheduling of this event and the confusion it may have occasioned. The event has been cancelled.

That’s the perfect response. It’s not defiant, it’s not defensive, and it’s not an attempt to sweep the controversy  under the rug or otherwise save face.  Simply: we didn’t know, it was a mistake, we’re sorry, and thanks for letting us know. Situation resolved.  For its part, the Washington Times wrote a follow-up editorial, “Opus Dei Rights Itself” which, despite its title, was mostly a defense of the earlier editorial.

I mention this not to defend Fr. Arne or CIC – I don’t think any defense is necessary to Christians with an ounce of charity in their body – but as a two-fold lesson. To those who find themselves in the position of St. Mark’s, that it’s never to late to do the right thing and correct mistakes; and to those who are criticizing the invitation to Laura Bush, to do so with charity, without rashly judging what the folks at St. Mark’s were thinking.  I’d venture that most Catholics aren’t aware that the wife of one of our more pro-life presidents was so radically pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.


  1. Joe, I disagree with your statement that the GOP mostly aligns with Catholic values on issues and that the Democrats don’t. While recent evidence shows that pro-lifers and protectors of marriage have tended to be in the GOP, that is a correlation and not causational. Certainly on these issues the GOP is, for now and while it suits their political motives, both pro life and for traditional marriage; however, the GOP, or large parts of it (see Tea Party), is also against social programs run by the government at any level. Indeed there is a greater rationallity that underlies Catholic views on these issues, namely the call to charity. I acknowledge that you address this throughout the article, but the first paragraph sets a dangerous tone. Catholics are neither in the GOP or Democrats, rather we are and should be some mixture of both since our philosophy has a basis that is radically different from either of these groups…

  2. Cary,

    I’m not sure how much we disagree.  You say the interest convergence is correlative, not causal, and that some elements within the Republican Party are opportunistic, or openly hostile to Catholic positions on political issues.  All true.  My point in the first paragraph was that the GOP as a party is closer to what the Church teaches.  If the two political platforms ran against each other, it’d be an easy question.  Then, of course, I got to the things you were saying: that “Republican” doesn’t automatically equal “Catholic-friendly” or “morally acceptable.”  

    Given all that, do you areas we disagree?  Do you think that the GOP isn’t closer to the Church’s views?

  3. What is funny to point out is that the term Liberal – as it was originally defined – sprung from the Englightenment (which itself was the second stage of Protestantism) and was actually a condemned heresy. There was never a ‘conservative’ counterpart – only Catholic and Liberal.

    The original definition of Liberal was one who favored separation of (Catholic) Church and State, thus freeing up “informed” society to set ‘social’ and ‘economic’ norms on their own. That roughly translated into the Liberal movement espousing what today we would call Capitalism and (Protestant) Religious Right morals (since Liberalism sprung from Protestantism). Ironically, today we call that platform ‘conservative’.

    Today, “liberal” (little-L) means one who is constantly pushing the envelope on morals and socialism, while “conservative” is merely a rear-guard and ends up being defined as whatever liberal meant 25 years earlier.

    This is why Catholics are neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative’, since both platforms are founded upon the same erroneous foundation (i.e. classical Liberalsim).

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