As a new program, we are summarizing our lunch events for members who could not make it, and so we can keep the conversation going through comments to this post.
Dr. J. Matthew Wilson spoke about President Obama’s relationship with the Catholic Church, from the cautious optimism of the USCCB in 2008 to the open contentiousness now.
Dr. Wilson described the USCCB’s outlook on an Obama presidency as cautiously optimistic because Obama had said that pro-choice and pro-life people should have a respectful dialogue instead of caricaturing each other’s positions. Obama even took down harsh rhetoric from his website. The USCCB of course knew that substantively Obama was not pro-life at all, but they felt hopeful about his overtures to civility. On other issues the USCCB largely agreed with Obama: immigration, health reform, and torture. And at that time Obama professed the true meaning of marriage.
Things unraveled quickly in the health reform battle. First, the USCCB asked for, but did not receive, an ironclad guarantee that there would be no funding of abortion. The USCCB wanted something stronger than existing law, and the pro-choice Democrats would not oblige. Because of this, the USCCB opposed the Affordable Care Act.
Then Obama “evolved” on the same-sex marriage issue, and has now become a standard bearer for changing the definition of marriage.
Add to this the battles with Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services. HHS denied renewal of funding for Catholic Charities programs assisting the victims of sex trafficking, because those programs refused to refer women for abortion. Then HHS defined the ACA’s required “preventative measures” to include contraception and abortifacients. Even liberal Catholics who had thus far defended Obama felt betrayed by the HHS’s clumsy handling of this situation. The HHS mandate caused a mass of litigation heading for the Supreme Court, and if the decision is unfavorable, the USCCB has pledged not to comply. The USCCB gave an uncharacteristically blunt statement that Catholics must have the courage not to obey the HHS mandate. Such an act of widespread, institutionally-sanctioned civil disobedience would be unprecedented for the Church in America. By the 2012 election even Obama’s overtures towards conciliatory rhetoric were gone. Obama’s campaign labeled Catholic positions on abortion, contraception, and religious liberty tantamount to a “War on Women.”
Dr. Wilson gave his prediction on what would happen if the Supreme Court upholds the HHS mandate. He thinks different dioceses may shut down their hospitals, which would be a major threat to which the Obama administration would need to respond. Dr. Wilson opined that liberals will launch a PR battle portraying the USCCB’s position as out of touch with the Catholic population, who overwhelmingly think contraception is ok. But there are weaknesses in this argument that Dr. Wilson astutely noticed. Many Catholics oppose the HHS mandate, because even if they think contraception is ok, they know the Church’s position and do not support the government forcibly requiring the Church to violate its conscience.
Dr. Wilson also related interesting facts about Catholic voting patterns. In 2004, for the first time ever, a Democratic presidential nominee did not win the Catholic vote, and John Kerry was a Catholic! In 2004 the Democrats were seen as hostile to religion. Democratic candidatesundefinedincluding Obamaundefinedtried to change that perception by speaking about their faith.
Dr. Wilson then delved into the details of Catholic voting patterns. The main determinant is religious observanceundefinedwhether the Catholic goes to Mass regularly or rarely. The observant Catholics were 25% less likely to vote for Obama. Among younger Catholics the gap was even larger: only 26% of young, observant Catholics voted for Obama. On the contrary, 43% of observant Catholics older than 60 still voted for Obama. Dr. Wilson explained that these older Catholics may feel strong cultural ties to voting Democrat.
For Latino Catholics, regular mass attendance is not a big determinant of voting. Latino Catholics seem to vote more based on economic and immigration issues than moral issues. Interestingly, Latino Protestants who regularly attend service vote Republican more.