Religious Freedom and the election: George Weigel

George Weigel has written another fine article in National Review Online: Catholic Reflections on the Endgame of 2012.  A few key excerpts:

On Vice President Biden’s understanding of Catholic teaching, on display at the VP debate:

The vice president of the United States, for example, is not just a man whose natural exuberance makes him prone to gaffes. He is a national embarrassment, and from the point of view of his fellow Catholics he is an ecclesial embarrassment. Biden’s moral incoherence during the VP debate was a disservice to both church and state. For he not only misrepresented the sources of Catholic teaching on the inalienable right to life by suggesting that this conviction was some sort of weird Catholic hocus-pocus; he also distorted the public-policy debate by claiming that moral judgments could not be “imposed” on a pluralistic society (a nonsensical claim that is flatly contradicted by his defense of Obamacare).

On Biden’s erroneous statements about the HHS mandate:

Worse, Biden either lied or exhibited grotesque misunderstanding of the policy of the administration of which he is the putative second-in-command — and he surely boggled Paul Ryan’s mind (and the mind of any Catholic who has been paying attention for the past ten months) — when he claimed that the HHS “contraceptive mandate” did not require Catholic institutions to include coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs in the health-care benefits they provide their employees. The next morning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying flatly that the vice president was wrong — a point underscored the previous night by Congressman Ryan, who quite rightly asked the clueless (or mendacious) Biden why he thought more than 40 Catholic institutions and employers were suing the administration over the HHS mandate.

 

 

What impact will the HHS mandate have on the vote of Catholics?

Where some marginal, but not inconsequential, difference along this scale might show itself on November 6 is among those less-than-regular Catholic Mass–goers who might normally incline Democratic but who in this instance will react against “my Church” getting muscled by the administration (as in the HHS mandate) and will thus vote Republican. That this could make a considerable difference is illustrated by the 2004 election in Ohio, where several hundred thousand angry Evangelicals registered to vote in order to cast a ballot against gay marriage and, while they were at it, voted for George W. Bush — decisions that explain, in retrospect, why we are not living at the end of the second John Kerry administration. Might Catholics who are unhappy over the administration’s ham-handedness with the Catholic Church make the difference in Ohio? Wisconsin? Other battleground states?

 

They will if they’ve been paying attention. There is little room for doubt, now, that a continued Obama administration — however agenda-free it might otherwise seem at the end of October 2012 — would be the most aggressively secular in American history. With Obamacare set in concrete, the current “HHS mandate” battle (which the Church may well win in the courts, thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) would almost certainly be a preview of distractions to come as the administration used the incredibly loose language of the Affordable Care Act to “mandate” any number of other “services” that would jeopardize the integrity of Catholic institutions and the consciences of private-sector Catholic employers. Obama Supreme Court nominees would certainly take a gimlet-eyed view of the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, further whittling away the free space in American civil society for religious communities and their institutions. Those same Obama Supreme Court nominees could lock in a pro–Roe v. Wade Court majority for the next quarter-century, thus dealing a severe legal blow to the pro-life cause. 

What should Catholics consider as they make their choice in this election?

Catholics who are still pondering their presidential vote will have heard, endlessly, that no political party fully embodies the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. That is certainly true. And it is also largely irrelevant. For the choice in 2012 is not between two parties that, in relative degrees, inadequately embody the Catholic vision of the free and virtuous society. The choice is between a party that inadequately embodies that vision and a party that holds that vision in contempt, as it has made clear in everything from the “HHS mandate” through the Charlotte convention votes against God to the Lolita ad. Catholics who do not like their Church, or their vote, or themselves to be held in contempt could make the decisive difference in 2012 — not so much as a “Catholic vote” bloc, but as a community of American citizens determined to restore the decencies to public life and American culture.
 

How has this election, and this administration, changed the Church?

Whatever happens on November 6, though, the Catholic Church in America has been changed, likely in irreversible ways, by the experience of this campaign year.

 

A critical mass of U.S. bishops now understands the challenge of this cultural moment, and these bishops are prepared to exercise their pastoral office in the prophetic way that the challenge of the culture requires.

 

The utter incoherence of the Pelosi/Biden/Sebelius form of Catholicism has created a situation that those prophetic bishops will not likely fail to address. For while it is true that the Catholic Church is big enough for Paul Ryan and Joe Biden (and Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius), it is also true, and far more urgently true from a pastoral point of view, that there are different pews within Big Church Catholicism. Many of those in the more distant pews are grievously uncatechized, which causes them to lead lives of spiritual and moral incoherence. That situation will not be tolerated indefinitely.

What does the future hold for the Church in America?

Should the Republican ticket prevail, Vice President Paul Ryan will be the new face of public Catholicism in America, and a bracing new debate will unfold about embodying the principles of Catholic social doctrine in American public policy, and in joint work by the public and private sectors, to empower the poor, reform health care and education, and build a cultural and legal architecture of life. This debate will set the intellectual pace for the Catholic Church throughout the Western world.

 

Should the Democratic ticket prevail, the Catholic Church in the United States will be compelled to confront the federal government as it has never done before in the history of the Republic. The Church will do that to defend its own. But it will also do that for the sake of American constitutionalism. For what prickly John Adams once facetiously referred to as “Grandmother Church” has, in 2012, become the lead church in the defense of the constitutional order for which Adams and his contemporaries argued, fought, and bled.

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