Like Ryan and Biden, US Catholics are deeply divided
In just hours, two Catholic candidates for vice president of the United States will square off – opponents in an election year that has seen the Roman Catholic Church flex its political muscle more forcefully than ever.
Paul Ryan and Joe Biden – one a social-values conservative, the other a fierce advocate for social programs – represent the deep divisions among American Catholics, who have been an important swing vote for decades.
A Reuters/Ipsos Poll conducted last weekend reveals the divergent opinions in the Church and shows that Catholics are divided equally between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, with each winning just under 40 percent of voters.
As America’s largest religious denomination, Catholics have long been a bellwether, picking the winner of the popular vote in every presidential election since 1972.
In the 2008 election, Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic vote. But this time, Catholics are hearing stronger advocacy on the conservative side of some issues from U.S. bishops, particularly regarding same-sex marriage and contraception. This troubles liberal Catholics, who feel Church leaders are turning too far to the right.
“There’s a profound wrestling going on in the Church right now over what it means to be authentically Catholic,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group. “I’m worried that the Church is becoming a less friendly place for moderate and progressive Catholics who believe in the social justice mission.”
The two vice presidential candidates, who will debate each starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time, embody the conflicts: Biden has been criticized for his support of abortion rights, while some nuns and bishops have objected to the budget plan Ryan put forth earlier this year because of cuts to anti-poverty programs.
Writer and former priest Robert McClory said the stance of U.S. bishops on issues such as same-sex marriage and contraception is partly to blame for the continuing exodus of non-immigrant Catholics from the Church: Lapsed Catholics have become the nation’s second-largest religious group, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The push on sexual morality comes as the Church leadership is still recovering from the child sex abuse scandal.
“You get the feeling that the Church is a ship and that somebody amongst the crew goes down every week and drills another hole in the bottom of the boat, and eventually it’s going to be a very serious situation,” said McClory. “People are leaving. They’re embarrassed.”
Conservative voices say bishops are stressing sexual morality issues not because they don’t care about poverty or immigrant rights but because church teachings are under attack.
Bishops were enraged over Obama’s healthcare mandate, which required Catholic schools and hospitals to carry insurance that provides birth control, forbidden by Church doctrine, for free.
A Pew Research Center poll in August found that Catholics who had heard of bishops’ concerns over perceived restrictions on religious liberty share them – by a 56 percent to 36 percent margin. But just 22 percent of Catholics say they have heard a lot about them, and 51 percent of Catholic voters say Obama best reflects their views on issues such as abortion and gay rights. [More]