Campaign Capers

October 31, 2008

For Catholics attuned to such things, the recent vice presidential debate offered yet another chance to witness the fallout from Vatican II in our environment.  It was as though a post-conciliar cloud overhung the long-winded affair.  Here were two candidates, both baptized Catholics as infants, yet both in some sense estranged from their religious origins.  In the case of Sarah Palin, her mother, like many other confused Catholics during the ‘70s, had defected with kids in tow to an evangelical Protestant church up in Alaska.  As for Joe Biden, a self-avowed, life-long Catholic, he presents a study in self-contradiction.  While politically ultra-liberal, he courts the hard line “ethnic” vote to the point of threatening to ram his rosary down the throat of any jerk who says he is not religious!  Or so goes a quote from the Cincinnati Enquirer, echoed online in an article by Eric Gorski.  But the exact nature of Biden’s faith poses ongoing problems.  While he attends “mass” weekly, his stance on abortion prompts the ire of even Novus Ordo prelates.  According to Gerald Warner of, as many as 55 bishops have denounced him.  Archbishops Chaput of Denver and Burke of St. Louis actually say Joe should not go to communion in their dioceses.  Not that the senator has actually been excommunicated.  Not formally; not in today’s politically correct Church.


Heaven forbid!


In defending himself, Biden tends to hide behind the old barriers separating church and state — a convenient way of circumventing the plain truth.  During a Meet the Press interview early in September, for instance, he told Tom Brokaw that he accepts the Church’s position on abortion, but that this is a personal matter.  Officially he cannot, in a pluralistic society, “impose that judgment” on those of other religions, particularly Protestants or Jews, who could be “equally and even more devout than I.”


To be sure, Brokaw put Biden on the spot by asking when, as a Catholic, he would say life begins.  Asked a similar question by Pastor Rick Warren, Obama had said that from both theological and scientific perspectives, to answer that was above his pay grade.  He, of course, could get away with that.  Not being a Catholic — or much of anything else –– he was not asked to reconcile his views with the Church.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was, however, in her own interview with Brokaw, and her answer annoyed certain bishops.  As an “ardent, practicing Catholic” who has studied the matter for years, she concludes that no one can “tell you when life begins.”  Citing the example of St. Augustine, she said, “Over the centuries the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition.”  What she failed to note was that despite their lack of modern biological knowledge, they universally condemned abortion.


In his own interview, Biden told Brokaw that he accepts the current Church teaching that “life begins at the moment of conception” but that this too “is my judgment.”  Asked how he could then vote for abortion rights, Biden said he had not voted for those, but, rather, against “curtailing the right for others.”  As though following Pelosi’s lead, he also cited a doctor of the Church — Thomas Aquinas this time.  In his Summa Theologica the great doctor said human life began at “quickening,” 40 days after conception.  “There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge,” Biden asserted.


Note his use of the present tense, as though we still lack the scientific means to decide such issues.  Needless to say, this is not the case.  Even some Novus Ordo prelates caught Biden on that one!  In a statement to the press, Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop William E. Lori, chairmen of the U.S., Bishops’ Committees on Pro-Life Activities, and Doctrine, respectively, said Biden was “wrong” to claim that the beginning of human life issue is a “personal and private” matter of religious faith.  Rather it is “first a biological question and secondly a moral question.”  Nowadays embryology textbooks confirm “that a new life begins at conception.”


Nor was this to be the final word.  Just days ago, a letter from Biden’s own bishop, W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, was published in the Wilmington News Journal that calls the candidate’s picture of Catholic teaching on abortion “seriously erroneous.”  It is not true, the bishop says, that “the Church has a nuanced view of the subject that leaves a great deal of room for uncertainty and debate.”  Echoing his confreres, he notes that despite their limited medical knowledge of when human life begins, ancient and medieval theologians “universally condemned all abortions.”


On September 30, Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton published a letter that was circulated throughout his diocese; this states that, given the moral implications, a candidate’s abortion stance supersedes all other considerations.  It also tends to contradict a USCCB pronouncement of 2007 which says: “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.  At the same time, 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.”


Given such ambiguity, no wonder Catholics are confused.  How can the prelates equate whatever is meant by the nebulous term “racism” with something so clear cut as abortion?  While not the only thing to worry about, surely the right to life supersedes other equity issues of the moment.


This brings us to yet another controversy, one the bishops do not address.  Apart from his own views, Biden fails to explain how he, as a Catholic, can share a ticket with a candidate who supports not only abortion but also “gay rights” to the hilt.  Do we detect here a tendency, to waver — or simply to equivocate?


Journalist Terence Jeffrey seems to think so.  Writing for he notes that, during the debate with Palin, when asked about such gay unions, Biden replied that neither he nor Obama “support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.”  More recently, however, on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, when a related matter facing California voters came up, Biden’s words belied any sort of conservative stance.  For, if passed, Proposition 8 would amend that state’s constitution so as to ban same-sex “marriage.”  Presumably anyone against that would advise voting for the proposition.  Asked what he would do, though, Biden told DeGeneres, “If I lived in California, I’d clearly vote against Prop. 8.”


For those who still might not get it, Jeffrey goes on to cite a letter from Biden’s running mate to the Alice B. Toklas Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  In this Obama articulates his opposition to any ban on gay marriage, and his support for “extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law.”  He also favors requiring states which do not allow same sex marriage to recognize the legitimacy of such unions performed elsewhere in the country.


Meanwhile, Republican opponent Sarah Palin, mother of five, including a Down syndrome baby, remains staunchly and vocally pro life.  Ironically, the young girl who was led by her mother from the Church into evangelical Protestantism is now attracting droves of conservative Catholics into the McCain camp.  And, like many of the post-conciliar stamp she also promotes birth control as a component of modern life that is vastly preferable to abortion.  According to a recent article by John Vennari, she is on record as saying, “I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues.”


Does this include public school — and private?  The decades-old battle over sex education wages on, and has invaded, in various ways, the former bastion of the Catholic school.  Here, too, Vatican II proved the catalyst.  John Vennari says in his article that through 12 years of post-conciliar Catholic school, he was never taught that contraception is objectively immoral.  During that entire time, he never so much as heard the term “mortal sin!”  He feels he “was fortunate not to attend a modern Catholic university,” since he was thus “spared the undermining of the Church’s anti-contraception teaching that is now the norm in most Catholic colleges. . . ”


Sound familiar?


While old enough to have avoided much of that in Catholic grade school, this writer did, as a young adult living in Chicago, encounter many graduates of Catholic colleges — I was not –– with similar tales.  While at first skeptical, after hearing their arguments and reading their books, I realized it was all too true.  One eager young Catholic woman I met even worked as a community organizer in the movement inspired by the radical activist Saul Alinsky.  Nor was this incongruous; according to a Wanderer article by Paul Likoudis, the Catholic bishops’ own Campaign for Human Development (CHD) pumped millions into groups using his methods.  These included ACORN and the Gamaliel Foundation, an institute linked to Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).  During the 1980s Barak Obama worked for both –– and for the Developing Communities Project, a “church-based community project originally comprising eight Catholic parishes” on Chicago’s far South Side.


Another quote in Likoudis’ article comes from a biography of Alinsky published in 1992 and entitled Let Them Call Me Rebel.  In this, author Sanford Horwitt says: “Except within certain religious and activist circles, it is not widely known that the (Catholic) Church’s Campaign for Human Development expends most of its $18 million annual budget in grants to community organizing and related grass-roots empowerment efforts.  And many of the CHD largesse are IAF-directed projects.  The embrace of Alinsky’s basic ideas by both CHD and influential Catholic bishops has lead Charles Curran, a leading Catholic theologian, to credit Alinsky with having the most distinctive impact on the American Catholic social justice movement of the last 22 years.”


How do those so-called bishops justify this?  Did Catholics then know where their money was going?  Do they now?  Meanwhile, all those beautiful old churches deemed “unaffordable” continue to be torn down. . .


Is this some kind of scam, or what?


During the late ‘70’s, I myself attended a NOW workshop in Chicago run by Heather Booth, another Alinsky disciple, former SDS activist — and future colleague of Obama’s.  Likoudis reports that the CHD also funded the Midwest Academy that she founded.  While unaware of all this at the time, I did see through her not-so-subtle techniques.  When she said women should blame any bad thing in their lives on a society dominated by men, she obviously wanted us to analyze ourselves according to her rigid dictates –– and those of a socialist agenda.  Never before had I, in the space of a few hours, been force-fed such a pile of collectivist bull.  Sorry, that’s what it was.  Besides lecturing, she coached participants as they practiced doing “actions,” waving their hands while jumping up and down, yelling like bratty kids at imaginary employers or other targets.  Like automatons we were also made to sing the lyrics of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.”  Half-heartedly I joined in, before concluding that the feminist thing was but part of the same radical movement I had already encountered — and rejected — in graduate school.


So I went home, and in but a few months joined Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly’s group.


Also disenchanting was my experience as a volunteer teacher of religion to public school students in a local parish program. Immediately, I found myself being immersed in a watered-down pseudo-theology that contradicted much, if not most, of what I had learned as a child in Catholic grade school.  Whereas I rejected the new stuff, other teachers, new and old, appeared to swallow it.  In this milieu I could hardly teach much.  If I brought books to sessions in order to argue points of doctrine, I would be made fun of.  Indeed, once my co-teacher, along with the kids, threw popcorn at me!


As part of our training, we attended a series of lectures held in a hall adjoining the local cathedral.  For one of these, a monsignor, no less, supervised the showing of a film that distorted Church history by saying the vast cathedrals of the Middle Ages only served to exalt the elite while removing religion from the people.  To demonstrate, it even showed an altar receding back and up into the air!  Having had a history course or two, I contested this point.  Such edifices, I said, required a huge amount of labor, of expertise, from all sorts of skilled artists and craftsmen.  Whole towns must have been involved and thus identified with the result, which hardly alienated the people!


Were my comments appreciated?  No, the only nun in class gave me dirty looks, and the monsignor did not seem pleased.  As soon as we were alone, he said coldly, “What do you think you are, some sort of vigilante?”  Aghast, I said nothing, but thought it strange he should use that particular term, since I had recently read that the English meaning for one of the Irish names on my family tree is “descendant of the vigilant one, or vigilante.”


Yet another time we teachers were lectured to by a local obstetrician with a new take on the abortion issue.  Deploring the surge in those even among fellow Catholics, he concluded that contraception was a viable alternative, and told us so.  This, of course, was a marked departure from Church teaching.  Only a few years before the legalization of abortion, contraception had been the hot topic among Catholics, especially with the arrival of the “pill” in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. Catholics of my age group knew what the Church taught about that.


Back then the U.S. bishops did not hesitate to condemn all artificial contraception, and as a Catholic, John F. Kennedy was made to confront the issue as it affected his presidential campaign.  At one point late in 1959, he actually found himself caught in what the Time issue of December 7 called “a Catholic-Protestant clerical crossfire on the incendiary issue of birth control.”  It seems the bishops had issued a statement denouncing “a systematic, concerted effort to promote the use of U.S. public funds” for birth control in “economically underdeveloped countries.”  Catholics, they said, would support no “public assistance, either at home or abroad, to promote artificial birth prevention, abortion or sterilization whether through direct aid or by means of international organizations.”


In response, Episcopal Bishop James Pike of San Francisco said such a policy would “condemn rapidly increasing millions of people in less fortunate parts of the world to starvation, bondage, misery and despair.”  A “convert” from Catholicism himself, Pike “demanded to know if the Catholic bishop’s policy ‘is binding on Roman Catholic candidates for public office.’”


“Burned at being put on the spot,” Kennedy said that same question “should be directed to all public candidates and to all public men.  Do they call up other candidates when the bishops of their faith make some kind of statement?  I don’t want to be called up every time the bishops and priests make a statement of some kind.”  He added: “If anyone is trying to imply that I reached my decision as a result of what the bishops say, it is not true.”


While Kennedy did apparently oppose the public funding of birth prevention overseas, with Election Day nearing, he felt an increasing need to appease Protestants and others who might see him as an uppity papist out to suppress their constitutional rights.  In a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960, he assured his listeners that if elected president, he would not let ecclesiastical policies affect his official actions.  Significant lines go as follows:


“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote — where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference. . .”


And: “Whatever issue may come before me as President — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”


In 1960, of course, Catholics in the U.S. did not yet have to contend with domestic issues regarding legal abortion or gay marriage.  Today they must, but, ironically, no longer are Catholic candidates put on the defensive the way Kennedy was.  Joe Biden is treated relatively mildly by the mainline press.  No one accuses him of being in thrall to pope or bishops.  On the contrary, in order to get some of that old ethnic vote, he has to insist that no matter how he votes on abortion, he really is personally a Catholic.  Rather than fend off hard-line Protestants, he has to contend with the verbal assaults of the more conservative bishops!


There is a parallel with Kennedy, though, in Biden’s appeal to what amounts to absolute separation of church and state.  Is such a thing really possible, however?  Note that Kennedy said he would make decisions according to what his conscience told him to be the national interest.  Does this not imply, at the very least, the indirect influence of the Church that helped form that conscience?  Exposed as we are now to diversity at every turn, we see that absolute neutrality on basic morality is impossible.  If all religions are to be treated equally, what about God?  How does He fit in?  Can we allow Him to be banished from the public sphere, leaving a vacuum to be filled with who knows what devilish entity?


Is godless government the answer?


When Joe Biden says he cannot in all good conscience impose his views regarding the sanctity of unborn life on others in a pluralist society, we have to wonder.  Does he realize the implications of this philosophy?  Taking it to its logical extremes, how can officialdom forbid any activity that is allowed, much less sanctioned by, someone’s beliefs, religious or otherwise?  Take the matter of human sacrifice: what if there are immigrants out there, legal ones, of course, who, like the Aztecs, believe that ripping out the hearts of live victims prior to eating their roasted remains is the way to appease the gods?  If this is their ancient religious practice, and the victims willing — or unborn — or dying –– how can we forbid it?


But if this sounds weird, what about so-called “same sex marriage?”  How the ancients would have howled over that one!  Seeing marriage as a source of lineage, a form of immortality, would they not have seen the current twisting of the term as the silliest of oxymorons?  Of course they lacked our sophisticated techniques of reproducing via test tube; or of surgically emptying a womb of its unwanted contents without killing the mother as well.  Inevitably, with improvements in cloning, will not old-fashioned methods of reproduction, wombs and all, be rendered obsolete?  Using the latter term in a purely figurative sense, we can see how such scientific updating, properly funded, of course, will enable our government to provide the ultimate in “womb” to tomb security.


And if this doesn’t work, we could follow the lead of Heather Booth and turn to the Cabala, which was actually touted not too long ago by a guest on the Michael Medved show.  Like her mentor Saul Alinsky, Booth is Jewish, but while he is deceased, she is still going strong.  According to an autobiographical statement posted online, she once yearned to be a rabbi.  Later, prompted by what she calls the “Golden Rule,” she helped women get abortions while they were still illegal.  Breaking the state or federal law is okay, I guess, if she thinks it is.  Currently her aspirations are more esoteric: she espouses a dedication to the cabalistic idea of tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world.”  That, apparently, is her ideal kind of “change”.  She says: “If we organize, we can change the world.”  Like Obama?  Is this his kind of “change” too?  Frontline feature The Choice 2008 shows him at one point during his campaign telling a crowd in Iowa how he hopes to heal the nation, and repair the world.


Ah, brave new world that has such activists remaking it!

But rather than listen to us, those who dismiss the specter of godless state as no big deal should heed the words of the late Saul Alinsky.  Generations of bishops and other activists, Obama included, have, after all, idolized him.  As part of his legacy, Alinsky left a kind of bible for his followers called Rules for Radicals.  This features, at the front, a page with quotes from Rabbi Hillel, Thomas Paine, and the author himself.  This last, a tribute to a figure he obviously finds inspiring, goes: “Lest we forget, at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”

(To be continued)

Copyright by Judith M. Gordon 2008