by Matt Spence
“The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated,”Letter to the United States Senate, May 5, 2011.
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
JFK is clearly attempting to balance the two religious clauses of the First Amendment in a time of great fear over a "Papist" in the White House. He sought to draw some clear lines for those who feared outsized influence from the Vatican. It worked well enough to win. Whether it worked in practice is up for debate.
Our current political climate does not have such clear boundaries. Whether that is good or bad is the topic of a different post. What is clear is that what it means to be "Catholic" in the world of politics in 2012 also does not have clear boundaries. Whether it be abortion, mandated contraceptive access, prayer in schools or any other clash of religious tenets and public policy, there are complexities. A majority of Catholic voters supported President Obama in 2008. If Santorum or Gingrich (or Romney for that matter), wishes to flip that around, perhaps instead of bringing on vomit, it would be better for President Kennedy's speech to bring about discourse within the Republican campaigns. If Santorum or any of the others wish to claim the "Catholic" vote, let him clearly outline his policies regarding the poor alongside his policies regarding the defense of human life. How would he promote peace? Is his stance on war in line with that of the Church?
As if there were such a thing as the "Catholic" vote. In truth, the only way to know how "Catholics" are going to vote is to wait until AFTER the dust settles and then use statistics. Even still, I doubt very seriously whether one presidential candidate will receive more than 60% of the "Catholic" vote in 2012. That "Catholic" label isn't as simple as it may seem.