Friday, April 25, 2008

Catholic Democrats

On Monday, two friends of mine were in downtown Minneapolis to greet Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (left), who was at the Graves 601 Hotel for a fundraising event for Tim Walz.

One of these friends, Mary, was inside, while the other, Marv, was outside with several other people holding a banner that read: “Impeach Both of Them Now!” – a plea for Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership to show some backbone and begin impeachment proceedings against both President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

It just so happened that at the same time that Pelosi was in downtown Minneapolis, a group of friends and I were meeting at my home in St. Paul with Pat Schafer (right, center) of Catholic Democrats, a grassroots organization of Catholic laity “dedicated to making the link between Catholic values and the choices facing us as citizens.”

Aware that there are some who contend that it isn’t possible to be both Catholic and Democrat,* I was curious to hear from Pat about a group boldly calling itself Catholic Democrats.

Yet like many progressives, I’m also aware of my frustration with the Democratic Party. Indeed, I resonate with Chris Hedges when, in writing in the April 21 issue of the Philadelphia Enquirer about the failure of the American Left, he notes that such failure:

. . . is a failure of nerve. [The American Left] has been neutralized and rendered ineffectual as a political force because of its refusal to hold fast on core issues, from universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans, to the steadfast protection of workers’ rights, to an immediate withdrawal from the failed occupation of Iraq, to a fight against a militarized economy that is hollowing the country out from the inside.

Let the politicians compromise. This is their job. It is not ours. If the left wants to regain influence in the nation’s political life, it must be willing to walk away from the Democratic Party, even if Barack Obama is the nominee, and back progressive, third-party candidates until the Democrats feel enough heat to adopt our agenda. We must be willing to say no. If not, we become slaves.

Political and social change, as the radical Christian right and the array of corporate-funded neo-con think tanks have demonstrated, are created by the building of movements. This is a lesson American progressives have forgotten. The object of a movement is not to achieve political power at any price. It is to create pressure and mobilize citizens around core issues of justice. It is to force politicians and parties to respond to our demands. It is about rewarding, through support and votes, those who champion progressive ideals and punishing those who refuse. And the current Democratic Party, as any worker in a former manufacturing town in Pennsylvania can tell you, has betrayed us.

Well, as true as all this may be, part of me (begrudgingly) recognizes the need for pragmatism. I mean, the reality is that since the U.S. is yet to achieve either a parliamentary system of government and/or proportional representation, then, come November, Americans will have no choice but to chose between either a Republican or a Democrat for president. And as spineless and compromised as the Democratic candidate may be, the bottom line for progressives is that he or she isn't a Republican. Are pissed-off progressives really going to vote for anyone but a Democrat?

But back to Catholic Democrats. What exactly is this group all about, you may well be wondering.

Well, according to Pat, those who align with Catholic Democrats are fully aware that no single political program or party “embodies the entire Christian law of love and justice.” Nevertheless, Pat believes that the platform of the Democratic Party more “nearly reflects the totality of Catholic concern for the common good.”

“As Catholics and Democrats,” says Pat, “we seek to put our faith into practice by supporting policies that will enable more Americans to make a decent living, provide for genuine national security without entangling our military in immoral and unnecessary conflicts, ensure dignity and a path to citizenship to immigrants and their families, reduce abortions by helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies, provide meaningful support for all families and children, and restore honor and integrity to our government.”

Pat is attempting to establish a Minnesota chapter of Catholic Democrats, the mission of which would be threefold:

1. To support Democratic and other progressive politicians in Minnesota and encourage their efforts to enact policies that further social justice and the common good.

2. To promote Catholic teachings concerning social justice and to increase awareness in the media and the electorate of the breadth of the Catholic vision of a just society, resisting efforts to reduce Catholic teaching to one or two issues.

3. To facilitate communication among Catholic organizations, the DFL Party, and other advocates of progressive and moderate values, both by finding common ground and by finding new ways to approach issues on which views diverge.

For more information about Catholic Democrats, click here.


* A contention seemingly refuted by Pope Benedict XVI himself during his recent visit to the U.S. After all, Pelosi and other pro-choice Catholic members of Congress were not denied Communion by the pope at the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C.

Pelosi, who has been described as the government’s highest-ranking Catholic, said she felt very comfortable taking Communion during the Mass celebrated by the pope, who has said in the past that supporters of abortion rights should not receive Communion.

“Communion is the body of the people of the church coming together,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference after returning from the Mass. “I feel very much a part of that.”

Later, she spoke glowingly on the House floor about the pope’s commitment to truth, justice and freedom.

Opening Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a public veterans forum at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Center - Monday, April 21, 2008. (Star Tribune)


Anonymous said...

"The object of a movement is not to achieve political power at any price. It is to create pressure and mobilize citizens around core issues of justice. It is to force politicians and parties to respond to our demands. It is about rewarding, through support and votes, those who champion progressive ideals and punishing those who refuse."

Huh - is this statement supposed to be a) the product of someone's theology or b) the basis for someone's theology? Is THIS what Jesus would say?

crystal said...

I agree that the democratic party is more representative of gospel values. I've been a democrat longer than I've been a Catholic. Tom Reese SJ had some interesting things to say about the wafer wars in a past pew forum talk.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for the link. The site (and discussion) it leads to is certainly worth visiting.



Anonymous said...

One can certainly be a Catholic and a Democrat. Or a Catholic and a Republican. Or a Catholic and a Communist. Or a Catholic and a Mason.

Being a Catholic is not the same thing as being in a state of grace. They are not equivalent things. We progressives should of all people remember that!

So, the question is not whether you can be a Catholic and a Democrat. The question is how graced of a Catholic are you as a Democrat? Et cet.

And, if one object to the refusal of communion to anyone on the grounds such refusal is permitted under canon law, then one should all the more strenuously object to reading the administration of communion to anyone as a mark of permission or approval.

Thus, absolutely nothing should be read into the fact the Pelosi (or Giuliani) were given communion. The moment you start reading into it, the more justification you give for denying communion to people on objective grounds.

See, it works both ways. It stuns me how many progressives don't seem to get that, and thereby get in the way of what they purport to champion.

Anyway, it would greatly please me if more Catholic Democrats were more unapologetically advocating for all of the weakest in society: not just the poor, disabled and mentally ill, but also and most especially those whose lives are deemed unworthy of living by others - those at the dawn of life before birth (including zygotes and embryos - "stuff" accordign to some - as well as fetuses) and at the dusk of life before death. That's liberation theology. The current "don't ask, don't tell" convention on prolife matters in many (not all) parts of progressive Catholicism is not so different as the "don't ask, don't tell" convention on things like torture or the dignity of homosexual persons in many (not all) parts of conservative Catholicism. Those conventions have much in common. They really breathe the air of utilitarian consequentialism rather than Christ-inspired love. Because embryos and gay people are among the canaries in the mines of human dignity: persons whose dignity is liable to be discounted by others who have the power to determine whether and how they are valued.