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Presidential Contenders Tell a Tale of Two Catholic Churches

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Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 04/29/15 - updated on 06/08/17


American Catholic politicians however, are not all conservative. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland is weighing a run as candidate for the Democratic Party. Although he claims an Irish Catholic heritage, O’Malley signed a bill as governor green-lighting same-sex marriage. When the Archbishop of Baltimore challenged him O’Malley replied, "I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as Governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about, and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree.”

While claiming to run on his “Catholic values” O’Malley supports federal funding for abortion, has won a top award from Planned Parenthood in his home state and voted for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Although not in the race for the Democratic nomination, other high-profile Democrat Catholics who might run are former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden. Both take typical progressive views on pro-life and family issues. Despite claiming to be “faithful Catholics” Pelosi and Biden are consistently pro-abortion and in favor of same-sex marriage. While they might appear Catholic on peace and justice issues, they have cheerfully and publicly disagreed with both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Pelosi, Biden and O’Malley reflect the other major stream in American Catholicism: cafeteria Catholicism.

The three Democratic Catholic politicians, like the members of the Kennedy dynasty, are all products of cultural Catholicism in American, whereas the Republicans are either converts or committed reverts to their Catholic heritage. Therefore the level of understanding and commitment to Catholic teaching is of a very different order among the Republican hopefuls than among the Democrats.

The range of Catholic politicians, from Santorum and Rubio to O’Malley and Biden, reveals the true complexion of American Catholicism. Many observers have said that it is as if there are really two Catholic Churches in America: a dissenting “progressive” church and a faithful “conservative” church. With very different understandings of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be American, the conflicting political and social opinions amongst the Catholic politicians will make for a fascinating and contentious national debate in the coming nineteen months.

Read Fr Dwight  Longenecker’s blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com

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