When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate in 2008, it was fairly clear that at least part of his reasoning for doing so was that it would gain Catholic voters who might otherwise have rejected his candidacy due to his position on social issues. Mitt Romney, whose record on social issues is far from acceptable to Catholics, experienced the same conundrum that Obama faced in 2008 — winning the Catholic vote without having to be socially conservative. He’s “fixed” this problem, ostensibly, by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, a Catholic who will make the argument along with him that dollars trump everything else in this election. In this, Romney has driven the wedge between Catholics in America even deeper. Any Catholic who is happy about that is not paying attention to the crisis in the West and what it will take to stem the tide of anti-Catholic animosity, not to mention bringing souls to Christ, as is our ultimate duty.
The divide between Catholics who identify as Republican and Democrat is, indeed, very deep, but it is something that we can, and must, seek to heal. With Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, a Catholic who has praised Ayn Rand and who is a “numbers guy” perfectly willing to ignore social issues and focus on economic matters alone, we are seeing a move away from that healing. It drives the wedge deeper into the already deep wound between the “Catholic Left” and the “Catholic Right.”
No one can argue that Obama’s selection of Joe Biden did not pay off in helping him to win the “Catholic vote” four years ago. Certainly, McCain-supporting Catholics would say that only the uneducated and the disobedient Catholics would have voted for Obama. I have taken that side of the argument myself. By the same token, many Obama-supporting Catholics would also question the fidelity of any Catholic who continues to support the Republican Party, which repeatedly fails to advance on social issues and refuses to support the preferential option for the poor.
If you are a conservative Catholic, you may tell yourself that the average “man on the street” Catholic who supports Barack Obama is a Marxist sympathizer who hates the unborn, but this simply is not the case. Most Catholics who voted for Obama did so with good intentions. The failures of the GOP are just as glaring as the Tea Party would tell you they are, and even far more so in regard to social issues. As we struggle with each other on the most important issue of the day — Catholic identity — we would do well to remember what the reality of our situation is — that most of us are doing what we think God wants us to do — and not continue on in fantasies that give us excuses to believe ill of our fellow Catholics who happen to disagree with us politically.
It was Arcbishop Fisichella’s remarks about the New Evangelization that made the scales fall from my eyes in regard to what to do about this division. His Grace explained what is truly at stake if we Catholics do not focus on evangelization and our identity in Christ. We are in “crisis” in the West, and we have to stop putting our eggs into the baskets of failing “structures.”
It is necessary that every form of pastoral support be given to the laity by means of a renewal of the Christian community, which is not something brought about first of all by the reform of structures, but by new relationships of esteem, of trust and of welcome of people’s various gifts.
I would argue that these structures include most especially, first and foremost, the two political parties, but also some of our Catholic institutions.We must stop putting our faith in the Republican and Democratic Parties. They are both abysmal failures as institutions.
At the time of the rise of the Tea Party movement in America, Deal Hudson of Catholic Advocate spoke of the need for a “Catholic Tea Party.” He suggested letting the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hear our voices on the conservative side of the aisle. We did let them hear our voices, and things have changed considerably, but the animosity toward Catholicism has only increased in America. What’s more, America is now, without doubt, “mission territory.” As Cardinal Dolan explains:
True, thank God, we sure do not face the tsunami of current problems Philadelphia does. Our financial picture is tight but solvent, our Catholic population actually growing, and extensive layoffs, shut-down of parishes, schools, and services, hardly anticipated.
But, we are a mission territory, too. Every diocese is. And every committed Catholic is a missionary.
This is at the heart of what Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call the New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization. That brings me back to Archbishop Fisichella’s statement on the New Evangelization, that the West is in “crisis.”
Catholics on the “Left” and the “Right” have become Pavlov’s dog to the two respective parties. We have become conditioned to following whatever they say. It’s time to break this vicious cycle and be Catholic again. I hope you will join me in casting a protest vote in November. Write in the name of the person of your choice, and let it be a “unity” vote — a vote that will reflect the unity of our Catholic Faith. If you can think of no name to write in that would reflect that, then perhaps that fact will help you to see all the more the severity of the crisis this division has placed us in.