Author: David Cloutier

Faithful Citizenship Friday: Questions about “the Catholic Vote”

This series seeks to illuminate the issues of an election year by engaging the US bishops’ document Faithful Citizenship, in a wide range of ways. Rather than take on a specific issue in this first entry, I want to step back and ask a few broader questions about the intersection of citizenship and religious identification. The role of “Catholic voters” in elections has become visible because, as a bloc, Catholics appear to be a “swing” group. As Pew notes, Catholics have narrowly supported the popular vote winner in the last three presidential contests. On the other hand, Catholics are not flocking to Rick Santorum in the Republican primary, despite the extent to which Santorum would appear to be a very powerful candidate for resonating with conservative Catholic tendencies. Yet in the swing states that have voted so far, Romney wins Catholics, and by larger margins than his edge in the overall electorate. The difficulty here in speaking about “the Catholic vote” require us to attend to the demographic complexity of American Catholics. The first and most obvious fact is that more and more American Catholics are Latino/a. White Catholics, Pew reports, only swung 4 points to Obama from Kerry (and Obama still lost them as a group), whereas Obama gained 14 points over Kerry among Latinos, netting a 7 point overall Catholic gain. (Note: the same trend is seen...

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The Mandate: Three Lessons So Far

Word that the bishops are rejecting the Obama administration compromise on the HHS mandate means further conversations. DotCommonweal has a great update, but the comment thread made me think that before we Catholics devolve into the usual, unfortunate camps, I want to highlight three lessons that the events up to now should invite us as moral theologians to develop further: One, the compromise and its rejection display how sorely inadequate our current thinking about “cooperation with evil” is. It would seem the administration has taken advantage of a quirk in the present situation: it may very well be cheaper for insurance companies to offer contraceptive services, and therefore they can be “mandated” to do so, in a separate, “free” agreement between employee and insurer. In principle, given that the institution is not a party to such an agreement, nor is any individual in the organization compelled to enter into the agreement, the problem of cooperation is solved. David Brooks terms this a “polite fiction” – polite, because it does honor the consciences of those who wish not to be party to the agreement, but a fiction, because at the end of the day, the insurance company is simply a pot of money, and so unless the insurer is not providing contraception to anyone, anywhere, premiums are “paying” for contraception. The bishops are objecting to this, and, as Dana points...

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Understanding the Real Issues of the Contraceptive Mandate (UPDATED)

Gail Collins and David Brooks have a very illuminating exchange on the ongoing controversy over the contraception mandate. Brooks is, as you might expect, rather astonished at the “absolutist” stance taken by the Obama administration. He sees it as politically foolish, but he also sees it as substantively mistaken. He says: The truth is that institutions with a strong sense of mission often attract diverse groups of people who want to attend or work there. Those schools and hospitals and charities are strong precisely because of their distinct mission and in the real world everybody involved tries to preserve that mission while respecting the diversity of those who aren’t members of that group. These accommodations are often messy, but they are worth making. We all make accommodations. It happens every day in a pluralistic society. What Brooks recognizes is that this issue, however much Catholics as a whole may follow or not follow the teaching, is central to Catholic identity, and that therefore it is very much a matter of maintaining the “distinct mission” of the institutions. While the “assault on religious freedom” rhetoric can get a little overheated, Brooks correctly recognizes that in a genuinely pluralistic society, religiously-sponsored institutions which benefit the society should be given leeway to maintain their mission and identity. Collins, however, is having none of it. Rarely have I seen such an unguarded, impolitic...

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2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Back to the Ordinary

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42 The return to Ordinary Time offers us an opportunity to get back to the basics of the Christian journey – in this case, the fundamental task of listening for God’s voice in our lives. After all the changes in the liturgy, I suspect it will also be a relief that 80% of U.S. congregations will sing “Here I Am, Lord” this week! Arguably, the most distinctive characteristic of Christianity as a religion is the notion of God’s call. This entails certain other beliefs – most notably, that God speaks to us and is not absent from our lives, and that God’s speech is not merely a set of announcement, but always moves us to participation in God’s mission. As Pope Benedict has noted throughout his writings, early Christian thinkers were deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, but what they never forgot was that the god of the philosophers did not CALL people. St. Augustine, often criticized for his “neo-Platonism,” nevertheless offers us perhaps the most famous description of a life saturated by following (and not following!) God’s call. What do this week’s readings tell us about this call? Two things are readily apparent in the responses. First, Samuel is told by Eli to reply, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God’s call is not automatically heard. God...

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