Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Catholics and Politics

Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension Between Faith and Power

Kristin E. Heyer
Mark J. Rozell
Michael A. Genovese
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    Catholics and Politics
    Book Description:

    Catholic political identity and engagement defy categorization. The complexities of political realities and the human nature of such institutions as church and government often produce a more fractured reality than the pure unity depicted in doctrine. Yet, in 2003 under the leadership of then-prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life." The note explicitly asserts, "The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility toward the common good." Catholics and Politics takes up the political and theological significance of this "integral unity," the universal scope of Catholic concern that can make for strange political bedfellows, confound predictable voting patterns, and leave the church poised to critique narrowly partisan agendas across the spectrum. Catholics and Politics depicts the ambivalent character of Catholics' mainstream "arrival" in the U.S. over the past forty years, integrating social scientific, historical and moral accounts of persistent tensions between faith and power. Divided into four parts-Catholic Leaders in U.S. Politics; The Catholic Public; Catholics and the Federal Government; and International Policy and the Vatican-it describes the implications of Catholic universalism for voting patterns, international policymaking, and partisan alliances. The book reveals complex intersections of Catholicism and politics and the new opportunities for influence and risks of cooptation of political power produced by these shifts. Contributors include political scientists, ethicists, and theologians. The book will be of interest to scholars in political science, religious studies, and Christian ethics and all lay Catholics interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the tensions that can exist between church doctrine and partisan politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-653-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-8)
    Kristin E. Heyer and Mark J. Rozell

    In early 2003 under the leadership of then-prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” The note asserts, “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility toward the common good.”¹ As the chapters in this volume indicate, the CDF’s call...

  5. PART I: Catholic Leaders in U.S. Politics

    • 1 THE POLITICS OF THE U.S. CATHOLIC BISHOPS: The Centrality of Abortion
      (pp. 11-26)
      Margaret Ross Sammon

      The political activity of the American Catholic bishops has been guided by the words of John Carroll, the first bishop of the United States, who asked that Catholic priests avoid political involvement unless the interests of the Church were in danger. Leaders of the Church adhered to this request, but when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the bishops reacted with an unprecedented political response. Believing that abortion was a grave threat to the Catholic Church, the bishops devoted an extensive amount of time, money, and energy in an attempt to overturn legalized abortion. While abortion is not...

    • 2 POLITICAL MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE? The Evolution of the Conservative Catholic–Evangelical Alliance in the Republican Party
      (pp. 27-42)
      Mark J. Rozell

      In 1995 the Reverend Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, then the nation’s leading religious conservative political organization, announced its launching of a new affiliate group called the Catholic Alliance. Christian Coalition political director Ralph Reed said that the purpose of the new group was to forge a stronger bond between conservative evangelicals and Catholics who, though perhaps unable to agree on theology, could work together in politics to promote common issues. Reed boasted that the goal of the Catholic Alliance was to recruit a million conservative Catholics into the Christian Coalition by the year 2000 and thus build a powerful pro-life...

    • 3 ONE CHURCH, MANY MESSAGES: The Politics of the U.S. Catholic Clergy
      (pp. 43-60)
      Gregory A. Smith

      Roughly one in four adults in the United States is Catholic, making this group a vitally important segment of the American electorate. Accordingly, an important part of the burgeoning research on religion and politics has focused on understanding the political attitudes and voting decisions of American Catholics, which has shed a great deal of light on the religion-politics connection within this group. But while much has been learned in recent years about how their Catholicism shapes the politics of American Catholics, one topic that has been somewhat underexplored is the question of the role played by Catholic religious leaders in...

    • 4 CATHOLICS IN THE POLITICAL ARENA: How Faith Should Inform Catholic Voters and Politicians
      (pp. 61-72)
      Kristin E. Heyer

      Speculation about how the “faith factor” will transform the American political landscape in the 2008 presidential election began nearly two years in advance, in a race that included Catholic hopefuls as diverse as Sam Brownback, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Rudy Giuliani. We recall 2004, however, as the presidential election that reportedly turned on “moral values” and was marked by well-publicized threats to deny Communion to John Kerry and other Catholic politicians whose voting records conflicted with church teaching. These sanctions generated extensive debate over the precise obligations of Catholic politicians and voters, the appropriate role of the...

  6. PART II: The Catholic Public

    • 5 BETWEEN CHURCH, PARTY, AND CONSCIENCE: Protecting Life and Promoting Social Justice among U.S. Catholics
      (pp. 75-92)
      Mark M. Gray and Mary E. Bendyna

      As the statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops above indicates, the teachings of the Catholic Church as well as pronouncements made by its leaders are often at odds with the partisan and ideological organization of the U.S. political system. The Church is opposed to abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the death penalty and supports immigration and immigrant rights, social welfare programs for the poor, and programs to provide affordable and accessible health care and housing.¹ This combination of issue stances cuts across the official platforms of both the Democratic and Republican Parties as well as the more...

      (pp. 93-112)
      Matthew J. Streb and Brian Frederick

      In a june 2006 article in Sojourners magazine, Maurice Timothy Reidy asks the question, “Who owns the ‘Catholic vote’?”¹ “Roughly 40 percent of Catholics are reliable Republicans, and 40 percent are reliable Democrats,” writes Reidy. “The rest could go either way. That makes Catholics the ultimate swing voters.”² Reidy certainly is not alone in his assessment that American elections could ultimately hinge on how Catholics vote.³ It is not entirely clear, however, that Catholics are indeed swing voters, even if candidates and campaign strategists treat them this way. In fact, it is not obvious that a “Catholic vote” still exists....

    • 7 POLITICS Y LA IGLESIA: Attitudes toward the Role of Religion in Politics among Latino Catholics
      (pp. 113-126)
      Adrian Pantoja, Matthew Barreto and Richard Anderson

      The u.s. constitution prohibits government from establishing or promoting a particular religion or intruding on citizens’ religious beliefs or activities. Although the constitutional wall separating church and state was designed to keep religious conflicts and influences at bay, the American political and legal landscape is not free from religious strife and influences. Politicians frequently appeal to voters’ religious sentiments through symbolic gestures or by supporting policies particular to religiously oriented persons. Religious leaders are increasingly active in the political arena through voter mobilization efforts and endorsements of particular candidates. Perhaps none has had the longevity or been as influential as...

  7. PART III: Catholics and the Federal Government

      (pp. 129-154)
      William V. D’Antonio, Steven A. Tuch and John Kenneth White

      Much scholarly attention has been devoted in recent years to the polarization resulting from the so-called culture wars that have wracked American society during the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.¹ According to proponents of the culture wars thesis, conflict over social and moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, affirmative action, and school prayer is so divisive and intractable that compromise is rendered difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. As groups lacking the common ground necessary for consensus stake out increasingly polar positions, the argument goes, the stability of the two-party political system is threatened.


    • 9 CATHOLICS AND THE SUPREME COURT: From the “Catholic Seat” to the New Majority
      (pp. 155-174)
      Barbara A. Perry

      In june 1963 President John F. Kennedy made a sentimental pilgrimage to Ireland, the land from which his family was only three generations removed. JFK, not noted for the public emoting that is seen with annoying frequency from our politicians in the twenty-first century, told a gathering in Limerick, “So I carry with me as I go the warmest sentiments of appreciation toward all of you. This is a great country, with a great people, and I know when I am back in Washington I . . . will not see you, but I will see you in my mind...

      (pp. 175-198)
      Thomas J. Carty

      In april 2005 the Republican president, George W. Bush, knelt in front of the deceased Pope John Paul II, and by doing so, Bush became the first U.S. president to attend a papal funeral.¹ By November 2006 this precedent-setting sign of respect for Catholicism seemed a distant memory for American Catholics. As the Iraq war dominated headlines and required more money and lives, a majority of Catholic voters repudiated the Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections.² Was Bush’s appeal to Catholics worth the effort? This chapter examines the methods, motives, and electoral impact of White House outreach to Catholics in...

  8. PART IV: International Policy and the Vatican

    • 11 THE UNITED STATES–VATICAN RELATIONSHIP: “Parallel Endeavors for Peace,” Competing Visions of Justice
      (pp. 201-212)
      Paul Christopher Manuel

      During his may 2007 visit to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the opposing economic systems of Marxism and capitalism. Benedict bemoaned “the painful destruction of the human spirit” done in the former communist countries, and he was equally harsh regarding contemporary capitalism and globalization, warning people against its “deceptive illusions of happiness.”¹ North American observers were clearly pleased with his remarks on Marxism and its implied criticisms of the economic policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, but they were considerably less sanguine concerning his views on capitalism. To be sure, Benedict’s warning statements on capitalism confront several key assumptions of...

    • 12 REFORMING THE VATICAN: The Tradition of Best Practices
      (pp. 213-220)
      Thomas J. Reese

      Too often, when anyone proposes the reform of church structures, the reformer is attacked for borrowing from the secular political field, as if this were intrinsically a bad thing. Such attacks are theologically unsound and historically ignorant.

      This chapter makes three arguments: (1) the organization of the Vatican through history is not divinely inspired but is the result of the Vatican’s adoption of practices from the secular political world; (2) the governance of the church is more centralized today than at any time in its history; and (3) to make the church more collegial, the Vatican must once again adopt...

    (pp. 221-222)
    (pp. 223-226)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 227-239)