Catholicism and American politics

Catholicism and American politics

Catholics represent the largest Christian denomination in America with about 65 million professing the faith in 2003. The 2001 census bureau estimates that 25.9% of the population of adults identify themselves as Catholics (see Demographics of the United States). 85% of these Catholics find their faith to be “somewhat” or “very important” to them. It is even said that Catholics have represented up to 30% of the voting population in recent elections. [ [ CARA's New Book Identifies Trends in U.S. Catholic Church ] , Catholicism USA] [ [ Secular and Security-Minded: The Catholic Vote in Summer 2008] , A National Opinion Survey of Likely Catholic Voters, Executive Summary, BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART, August 2008]

In recent decades, with civil rights for Catholics playing a lesser and lesser role, the Catholic vote is less uniform, and many voters are influenced through issues of abortion and gay marriage. This is coupled by the drifting apart of some Catholics from the church through questions of birth control usage and feminist issues. When it comes to personal issues such as marriage and the family, Catholics are generally considered conservative, but on issues concerning social justice they are generally considered liberal. This has created a divergence in the Catholic vote, thus making it a good demographic target around election time. Unlike other countries with large Catholic populations, there is no major Christian Democratic Party in the United States.


Catholics were somewhat late-comers in American history at large. There were small populations that existed and even discovered America, but for the most part Catholics suffered much anti-Catholic sentiments. During the American Revolution until the late 18th century, only about 1% of the American population (about 30,000) was Catholic.

Catholics have been in the US Congress since the First Congress, with Representative Daniel Carroll serving as the first representative from Maryland's 6th congressional district, [cite web | url= | title=CARROLL, Daniel, (1730 - 1796) | publisher=United States Congress | work=Biographical Directory of the United States Congress | accessdate=2008-10-3] and Senator Charles Carroll of Carrollton serving as the first class 1 senator from Maryland. [cite web | url= | title=CARROLL, Charles (of Carrollton), (1737 - 1832) | publisher=United States Congress | work=Biographical Directory of the United States Congress | accessdate=2008-10-3]

Then, there was mass immigration of Catholics from Europe, especially Ireland and Germany. By 1830, there were about 600,000 Catholics in the United States. 200,000 Irish had immigrated in the 1830s due to poverty in Ireland. The Irish Potato Famine in 1845 caused the Irish population in America to reach 962,000, the number doubling in the next ten years [ [ Immigrants and Immigration] , Americans at War, Macmillan Reference USA] . The Know Nothings party was active in the mid-1850s demanding a purification of politics from Catholic influence. The "American Protective Association" was active in the 1890s, focusing its attacks on Catholic politicians.

By 1900 Catholics represented 14 percent of the total U.S. population, and by the early 1900s, Catholicism was the single largest religious denomination in the country [Terry Matthews: [ Catholicism in Nineteenth Century America] , Lectures for Religion, Wake Forrest University] . Still, Catholics did not hold many high offices in politics. Of the first 54 justices on the United States Supreme Court, only one was Catholic, Roger B. Taney, appointed in 1836.

In October 1960, John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic elected president, drew the line as to how he would deal with his religion as president.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate who happens also to be Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the Church does not speak for me.” [John F. Kennedy: [ Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association] , delivered 12 September 1960 at the Rice Hotel in Houston, TX]

The Echo Boom, led by the offspring of Irish and Italian immigrants in the northeastern United States, has allowed the Catholic vote in America to become more complex and hard to forecast. Continuing Filipino and Latino immigration will continue to prevent prognosticators from anticipating the Catholic vote in future elections.

Catholic Answers voting guides

In 2004, Catholic Answers tackled the job of reminding Catholics of their duties as voters who happen to be Catholic. It did so by publishing its " [ Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics] ". It also reached out to non-Catholic Christians with its " [ Voter's Guide for Serious Christians] ". In 2006 it revamped the "Guides" and published them on its Catholic Answers Action web site. []

Recent politics 1965-present day

Today, Catholics represent 28.8% of Congress.

*demographic table… [ [ Religious Affiliation of the U.S. Supreme Court] , National & World Religion Statistics]

Religion plays an important part in American politics, and it will continue to shape policies in the future. Specifically, the emergences of gay rights, abortion rights, and current immigration issues have a huge impact on voting patterns. Both gay rights, abortion rights, and even Terry Schiavo’s “right to die” case have not only tested the values of the Catholic Church, but united the evangelicals and Catholics. This is remarkable considering that National Association of Evangelicals formed in the 1940s was anti-Catholic. At the same time, some Catholics question the church stance on birth control and the role of women. According to Dr. John Green of University of Akron,

"There isn't a Catholic vote anymore; there are several Catholic votes."

Unreferenced|date=June 2008

In the early 1980s, there was only one Catholic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. This changed in the mid 1980s when President Ronald Reagan appointed Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy to the court, both Catholic. The first President Bush appointed Clarence Thomas (a Catholic who at the time of his appointment was attending Episcopalian services, though he has since become an active Catholic) along with David Souter, an Episcopalian. President Bill Clinton appointed two Jewish Judges: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. The second President George W. Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both Catholics. As of 2008, the Supreme Court has a Catholic majority. Regarding Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his views on being a Catholic in the Supreme Court, he states that, "Be thou perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect, and Thou shalt not lie”. He later states that this view holds him to a strict constructionist view of the law, and that he does not distort prior cases or the Constitution in order to claim that particular rights are assured under the law.

The four Catholic Supreme Court justices nominated in the last decade have become reliable votes for abortion restriction. In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health (1990), Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990), and Rust v. Sullivan (1991), Scalia and Kennedy upheld the restrictions in question . This is not to say that all Catholics vote a certain way, the majority of Catholic judges have been appointed by Republicans, while Protestant and Jewish judges have been appointed by Democrats, but there is still a great difference between Catholic judges and Protestant judges. While many Protestant judges were pro-choice, only one Catholic judge has ever ruled against abortion restrictions, and that was in one of six cases. This makes for very reliable voting patterns in the Supreme Court, when it comes to abortion issues at least [William Saletan: [ The political advantages of Catholic justices.] ,, Nov. 1, 2005] .

Foreign Policy

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is an organization comprised of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States (bishops and archbishops) and the mission of these men is to, “support the ministry of bishops with an emphasis on evangelization, by which the bishops exercise in a communal and collegial manner certain pastoral functions entrusted to them by the Lord Jesus of sanctifying, teaching, and governing” [ [ About Us] , United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] .

This mission has often included bishops publishing statements on American foreign policy that have in turn helped change the way policy makers acted and governed. One example of this was the contribution that the USCCB made in the form of a 64 page document concerning nuclear proliferation in the 1980’s. This document was an example that the Catholic bishops of America could unite as one teaching body, or magisterial, in order to educate the faithful and the public about the devastation of a nuclear arms race (Lang, 2002).

This publication was one of the more famous 20th century releases that demonstrated the Catholic influence not just on theology, but on issues regarding foreign policy. A document of this magnitude that had the backing of all of the Catholic hierarchy around the world, demonstrated the USCCB’s ability as an institution to provide a moral and ethical basis for how Catholic and non-Catholic policy makers should view the nuclear arms race in the 80’s.

The question could now be if this release even played a pivotal role in any foreign policies or was it just pushed to side by policy makers? According to Anthony Lang, the Senior Lecturer in the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, the letter impacted both sides of the political spectrum because it tried to find the middle ground between pacifism and the just-war theory. He also stated that this statement is one of the most influential by the American Catholic Church in shaping American foreign policy (Lang, 2002).

The institutional influence that the Vatican has in foreign policy is limited in the sense that the Vatican only provides a Christian based moral response to certain events in history. Some anti-Catholic organizations will say that the Vatican has its hand in much more world politics than it actually does, thus stating the Vatican controls policies rather than providing a Catholic faith based answer to world problems. Throughout the ages the Vatican has used its spiritual authority to administer decrees to answer the problems of society.

In example Pope John Paul II’s speech in Warsaw to overthrow communism in Eastern Europe, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (On the Conditions of Labor) to combat rise of unfair socialist labor conditions in the 1890’s, and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (The Hundreth Year) which was a commemoration of the Rerum Novarum and stressed the importance of just distribution of wealth (Lang, 2002).

These three documents are just a small number of the examples of the Vatican issuing statements in hope of providing a moral basis on how Catholics should view these societal problems. The Vatican exercises its authority through the Pope as the oldest living Christian Church that contains an unbroken line of Popes dating back to St. Peter (died A.D. 64).

On a congressional level, the relationships of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, Senator Joseph McCarthy and Cardinal Spellman undoubtedly influenced American foreign policy on communism in Vietnam during the 50’s. All three of these men were Catholics, and with Senator McCarthy’s McCarthyism on the rise, Diem received the support of the Senator to fight communism under his wing during the 50’s (Jacobs, 2006).

Cardinal Spellman who was regarded as a very important figure in the clergy was a very strong advocate of Diem, and managed to even get Diem an audience with Pope Pius XII. Because of these relationships with prominent figures in America, Diem’s popularity rose among policy makers, and the issue of communism in East Asia was looked at more diligently (Jacobs, 2006).

This increasing popularity helped Diem gain worldwide support, and ended up helping Diem get elected as the President of the Republic of Vietnam. Towards the end of his reign there began to be large unrest against Diem because of his supposed bias towards Catholics in Vietnam, the large Buddhist population was very angered by this and felt much resentment against Diem (Jacobs, 2006).

In the end Diem ended up losing popular support among his American Catholics politicians, and was assassinated by a coup in 63’.

President Kennedy who was angered at Diem’s policies and behavior during his reign, knew about the coup before hand and told the generals leading the assassination that the U.S. would not interfere.

In the beginning Diem being a Catholic aligned himself with the right Catholic politicians in the U.S. which helped him push his anti-communist policies for Vietnam, which helped get him elected because of his support from the U.S (Jacobs, 2006).

#Jacobs, Seth (2006). “Cold War Mandarin”. Jacobs, 2006, 1950–1963. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
#Lang, Anthony. "The Catholic Church and American Foreign Policy." Carnegie Council 10-11-2002 30 Jun 2008 [ [ fn12] , In: Anthony F. Lang, Jr: "The Catholic Church and American Foreign Policy", October 11, 2002, Carnegie Council]

Gay issues

The traditional view of family is what most Roman Catholics defend today: a father, mother, and children. The Roman Catholic church teaches that although it is not sinful to be a homosexual, sodomy is a sin, and that practicing homosexuals are sinners like other sinners: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2358) Some Roman Catholics take this to mean that voting in favor of "benefits for lifelong partners" is a compassionate act, whereas others vote against this as promoting these issues, which is the Church teaching on responsible voting.


The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion. Archbishop John Francis Donoghue (Atlanta, GA), Bishop Robert Joseph Baker (Charleston, SC), and Bishop Peter Joseph Jugis (Charlotte, NC) wrote that "Catholics in political life have the responsibility to exemplify in their public service this teaching of the Church, and to work for the protection of all innocent life" and that politicians who support abortion rights are "cooperating with evil. [Kathy Gill: [ Catholicism and Politics. Abortion and Iraq] ,, August 2004] " This issue was highlighted when Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke of St. Louis, Missouri said he would deny Senator John Kerry communion because of his stance on abortion rights, even being a supporter of partial-birth abortion. Most recently, with the nomination of Alito, a Catholic-based political advocacy group warned liberals that, "Given the likelihood of a vigorous debate, we remain steadfast in our insistence upon a fair and dignified process free of any attack on Judge Alito's Catholic faith and personal beliefs, early attacks by left-wing interest groups are particularly worrisome." There were many questions related to Alito's Catholicism and how that might effect his interpretation of law, particularly on his known anti-abortion sentiments.

The Vatican and the American Bishops as well as others world wide have issued orders that Catholic government officials must protect the value of life at the pain of excommunication, committing mortal sin and possible eternal damnation. It reported that on March 13, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued "Sacramentum Caritatis" a warning that respect for life is a "non negotiable value" and one who receives communion but is "unworthy" to do so, is guilty of the blood of the Lord and "eateth and drinketh judgment to himself." This has been interpreted much more specifically, as in an article at, dated May 223, 2005 (edited on November 10, 2007) and authored by Ronald l. Conte, Jr. who writes: "Any Catholic Judge who rules in favor of abortion commits an objective mortal sin. Any Catholic judge who uses his legal power to permit a woman to obtain an abortion, or to permit someone to pay for an abortion, or to permit someone to assist a woman in obtaining an abortion, or to permit someone to perform an abortion, when it is in any way, shape, or form within such judge's power to prevent or restrict abortion, commits an objective mortal sin. Furthermore, any Catholic judge who, in work or deed, expresses his belief that abortion is over ethical or moral, or that it should be legal, is a heretic and is automatically excommunicated under Canon Law. All Catholic judges are morally obligated to deny or restrict abortion whenever it is within their capability under the moral law."

It must be noted that some Catholics in the predominant Catholic northeastern United States oppose restrictions on abortion, led by such representatives and senators such as Senator Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, Rosa DeLauro, and Carolyn McCarthy Fact|date=February 2008. Only one of the four Democratic pro-life senators is Roman Catholic, Bob Casey, Jr., which seems to indicate a strong Catholic secularization in the American political left. Compared with that, there is a tendency in some conservative sectors, to portray the Republican Catholic senators, who are mostly pro-life as the "real" Catholics Fact|date=February 2008.


The immigration debate has also changed relations between Republicans and Roman Catholic voters.

On the one hand, there is the fact that the Roman Catholic leadership in the U.S. seems to oppose many restrictions on immigration, where most immigration to the U.S. is from predominately Roman Catholic nations. Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke has been involved in rallies to allow undocumented workers a chance at citizenship. By welcoming migrant workers, many of whom are Catholic, Burke says, "we obey the command of Our Lord, who tells us that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ Himself."

In 2006, Roger Cardinal Mahony controversially announced that he would order the clergy and laity of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to ignore H.R. 4437 if it were to become law.cite news | url= | title=Immigration reform: what the Catholic Church knows | author=Donald Kerwin | date=2006-05-08 | accessdate=2007-05-11 | publisher=Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. ] Cardinal Mahony personally lobbied senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to have the Senate consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill, rather than the enforcement-only bill that passed the House of Representatives.cite news | url= | title=Mahony on immigration | author=John L. Allen, Jr. | date=2006-04-14 | work=National Catholic Reporter | accessdate=2007-04-11 ] Cardinal Mahony also blamed the Congress for the illegal immigration crisis due to their failure to act on the issue in the previous 20 years, opposed H.R. 4437 as punitive and open to abusive interpretation, and supported S. 2611.cite news | url= | title=Cardinal Mahony speaks out on immigration reform | work=Day to Day | publisher=National Public Radio | date=2006-03-29 | accessdate=2007-04-11 ] cite news | url= | title=Catholic Church officials spurn immigration reform plan | date=2006-03-29 | accessdate=2007-04-11 | work=American Morning | publisher=CNN ]

Roughly 30% of the Roman Catholic population is Hispanic. Pope John Paul II advocated that countries should accommodate people fleeing from economic hardship if they are able.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic laity may be out of step with the "high" priestly leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. on this issue. Many prominent opponents of mass immigration to the U.S., such as, most notably, Pat Buchanan, are Roman Catholics who base their "conservatism" in their faith. Since, for one, immigration is a sensitive issue for many, it is difficult to gauge the effects of conservative Roman Catholic thinkers on the immigration debate. One can note that the mainstays of the so-called "paleoconservative" and related immigration-reform movements are largely Roman Catholic: Pat Buchanan, Thomas Fleming, Russell Kirk, William Buckley, etc.


External links

* [ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]
* [ NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Catholicism and Freemasonry — The Roman Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic of Freemasonry, and has continually prohibited members from being Freemasons since In Eminenti Specula in 1739. Since the early 1700s, the Vatican has issued several papal bulls… …   Wikipedia

  • The Paranoid Style in American Politics — is an essay by the American historian Richard J. Hofstadter, first published in Harper s magazine in November 1964. Written at a time when Senator Barry Goldwater had won the Republican Presidential nomination over the more moderate Nelson A.… …   Wikipedia

  • American Federation of Catholic Societies —     American Federation of Catholic Societies     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► American Federation of Catholic Societies     An organization of the Catholic laity, parishes, and societies under the guidance of the hierarchy, to protect and advance… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • American Protective Association — The American Protective Association, or APA was an American anti Catholic society (similar to the Know Nothings) that was founded in 1887 by Attorney Henry F. Bowers in Clinton, Iowa. It was most active between 1891 and 1897. Many members were… …   Wikipedia

  • Roman Catholicism in the United States — has grown dramatically over the country s history, from being a tiny minority faith during the time of the Thirteen Colonies to being the country s largest profession of faith today. With 76.9 million residents professing the faith in 2003, the… …   Wikipedia

  • Spanish-American Literature — • The literature produced by the Spanish speaking peoples of Mexico, Central America, Cuba and adjacent islands, and of South America with the notable exceptions of Brazil (whose speech is Portuguese) and the Guianas Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The American Protective Association —     The American Protective Association     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The American Protective Association     Usually known as the A.P.A., a secret proscriptive society in the United States, which became a disturbing factor in most of the… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Roman Catholicism — the faith, practice, and system of government of the Roman Catholic Church. [1815 25] * * * Largest single Christian denomination in the world, with some one billion members, or about 18% of the world s population. The Roman Catholic church has… …   Universalium

  • Anti-Catholicism — The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer, by Jean Léon Gérôme (1883) …   Wikipedia

  • Separation of church and state — Part of a series on Freedom Concepts …   Wikipedia