It has become commonplace in American politics: Certain Roman Catholic bishops declare that the faithful should cast their ballots on the basis of a limited number of "nonnegotiable issues," notably opposition to abortion. Conservative Catholics cheer, more liberal Catholics howl. And that is usually the end of the story.
Well, it's usually the end of the story because that's as far as the mainstream media prefer to take the story.And I suppose it hearkens back to those halcyon days when whatever "Father" said was the final word.
For a lot of my fellow Catholics, it's still that way, of course. And for a lot of them, it isn't.
It's just that those of us in the latter group tend not to yammer on about it much because, really, what would be the point? Those who want "Father says" to be the end of the discussion will view it as the end of the discussion; those who prefer to do their own thinking will not.
So that part of the tale is not noteworthy. What is noteworthy, however, is that Catholic bishops as a class seem way less worked up about The Issue than in the past. Oh, there's not a one of 'em who's pro-choice, of course, but there seems to be a lot less saber-rattling in re hellfire and damnation for any candidate who dares deviate from Rome's party line, and ditto for anyone who votes for such a candidate.
Doesn't seem that long ago I had a crazy old lady chew me out in the parking lot of St. Joseph Cathedral forhaving a Tom Daschle bumper sticker on the back of my car:
"You can't be a Democrat and call yourself a Catholic," spews she.
"Yes I can," says I. Touchez!
Anyhow, nostalgia aside, Dionne's next paragraph contains the firecracker:
Not this year. Catholics, who are quintessential swing voters and gave narrow but crucial support to President Bush in 2004, are drifting toward Barack Obama. And this time, some church leaders are suggesting that single-issue voting is by no means a Catholic commandment.
Yikes! Can it be? For as many years as I can remember, the sine qua non, the trump card, The Issue of All Issues for my church has been abortion. You can be the candidate of education, job security, health benefits, liberty and justice for all--hell, you can be the bloody Man of Steel--and none of it counts a tinker's damn if you are in addition to that pro-choice.
Indeed, I know plenty of Catholics--not to mention evangelicals, who are just as rabid--who would unblinkingly vote for Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Count Dracula, just as long as they said they were pro-life. That's how single- (one might say narrow-) minded they are on The Issue.
But now, Dionne reports, we have this:
In an interview yesterday, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said his fellow bishops have long insisted that "we're not a one-issue church," a view reflected in their 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
Excuse me. I have to sit down. Is there any brandy?
"But that's not always what comes out," says Zavala, who is also bishop-president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA. "What I believe, and what the church teaches, is that one abortion is too many. That's why I believe abortion is so important. But in light of this, there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives."
Those issues, Bishop Zavala said, include racism, torture, genocide, immigration, war and the impact of the economic downturn "on the most vulnerable among us, the elderly, poor children, single mothers."
"We know that neither of the political parties supports everything the church teaches," he added. "We are not going to create a culture of life if we don't talk about all the life issues, beginning with abortion but including all of them."
And so, after all these years, it has come down to this: Yours truly finds himself agreeing with an Archbishop on the subject of abortion.
At least, we agree that the world is bigger than just that one issue.
It may be, then, that there is hope after all.
Read the rest of Dionne's column here.