Did George W. Bush believe God called on him to invade Iraq? Did he become a "Christian" simply to appeal to the religious right? Was he born with two small horns protruding from his skull? That's a sampling of the kind of questions I hear daily.
What I rarely hear are questions about John F. Kerry's faith, which should be as much of an issue as Bush's faith. Bush's faith is no different from that of the vast majority of this nation's presidents and founders. He is a Protestant who prays daily, reads the Bible, and believes that Providence plays a role in events. "We are not this story's Author," says Bush, who prays to that Author for wisdom and guidance and can't be sure if and when he gets them.
While Bush's faith is not unusual, the same can't be said for John F. Kerry. As the most fanatically pro-choice nominee of any major party ever, Kerry is way out of step with the Catholic Church hierarchy, and with serious Catholics in the pews. And that has caused him a lot of trouble with his own church. So much so that Kerry may lose the presidency in November because of an inability to carry the Catholic vote.
LIBERAL CATHOLICS DEFEND Kerry by pointing to his record on matters of "social justice." They miss the point. Abortion is the big issue to committed Catholics -- the chief moral issue of our time, far more important than the issue of minimum wage. Kerry says that "abortions [should be treated] as exactly what they are -- a medical procedure that any doctor is free to provide and any pregnant woman free to obtain. Consequently, abortions should not have to be performed in tightly guarded clinics on the edge of town; they should be performed and obtained in the same locations as any other medical procedure."
Kerry said that in 1994, and his position has become more rather than less strident. It was fitting that on April 23, 2004, when Kerry was the featured speaker at the abortion rally in Washington, D.C., where protesters held signs that read "If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice" and "Pro-Life is to Christianity as Al-Qaeda is to Islam," Cardinal Francis Arinze, speaking from the Holy See, stated that priests must deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians. Anyone knowingly in "grave sin," says the Vatican, must go to confession before ingesting the consecrated bread and wine that Catholics consider the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. Arinze said that "unambiguously pro-abortion" Catholic politicians are "not fit" to receive the sacred elements.
It was left to American bishops to decide whether to carry out the policy, and some have responded by stating or suggesting that if John Kerry presents himself for communion in their diocese he will be refused. This even includes Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston -- Kerry's home diocese. (At home, Kerry attends not a conventional parish church but instead a kind of theological institute on Beacon Hill called the Paulist Center. The center, which from the outside does not look like a church, is a home for wayward Catholics who disagree with Church teachings. It has long been a hotbed for far-left Catholics, including those who in the 1970s and 1980s held to liberation theology, which played a central role in the Marxist uprisings in Central America.)
JUST AS POLLS HAVE REVEALED Kerry and Bush in a dead heat for the popular vote, the two are likewise neck-and-neck over the Catholic vote. In June, a Time poll found Kerry ahead of Bush among Catholics by 46 to 43%. A CBS poll last week found Kerry leading by 48 to 44%. Time shrewdly broke down the numbers for Catholics who describe themselves as "very religious;" they favored Bush by 23 points.
Kerry will get the vote of the liberal Catholic, maybe most nominal Catholics, and probably the 70-year-old-plus, blue-collar Catholic. He will win my grandmother and Uncle Sam, Italian Catholics from the Western Pennsylvania coalmines and steel mills who do not agree with Kerry on anything, think abortion is evil, but simply cannot cast a ballot for a Republican; they vote Democrat because they always have (or because their union told them to). Kerry will not, however, win over Uncle Sam's children, 20- to 30-somethings who attend Mass weekly or more and who understand that the Democratic Party is the party of Ted Kennedy rather than Jack Kennedy. Kerry will not win seriously devout Catholics; ironically, his abortion extremism will mobilize them to run to the polls to support the pro-life Protestant.
(For the record, Kerry, like Al Gore, will bag the atheist vote. In 2000, Gore won by 61 to 32% among those who said they "never" attend church, whereas Bush took those who attend more than weekly by 63 to 36%.)
SO, A FASCINATING SCENARIO awaits us: The 2004 election may be decided by devout Catholics who vote for a Protestant (Bush) over the Catholic (Kerry) because they perceive the Protestant as more friendly to matters that Catholics hold dear. It's about abortion, stupid. The New York Times and Helen Thomas may be thrilled by the fact that the Democratic Party is now the party for legalized abortion -- you want abortion, you pull the Democratic lever. Yet, by selling its soul to the feminist church, the Democratic Party has lost pro-life Catholic Democrats. Call it a "choice."
Just as Al Gore lost in 2000 by failing to carry his home state of Tennessee, Kerry could lose in 2004 by failing to bring along an easy natural constituency. Thus, religiously speaking, John F. Kerry may be the strangest presidential candidate -- Democrat or Republican -- that the electorate has witnessed in years.
And what if John F. Kerry wins the overall vote in November? This would bring another intriguing spectacle: A Catholic president who, in some parts of the country, is denied communion -- a sacrament in the Church -- because of his position on abortion. Now, that is unusual. Seems to me that perhaps the matter might merit some attention from the media. Nah, let's just talk about George W. Bush's "controversial" faith.
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