In 1973, nine men in robes did what centuries of prelates could not or would not do: They united millions of Protestants and Roman Catholics. The Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision made leaders of both groups realize that, without putting aside theological differences, they could unite against a common enemy: abortion.
Another common opponent, John Kerry, is performing a similar function this year. In 1960, as Catholic scholar George Weigel writes in the Sept. 27 America, "millions of Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy for little reason other than that he was a Catholic." In 1980 millions of Catholics voted for Ronald Reagan because he was a conservative and was not Jimmy Carter, an overt evangelical. In 2004, according to a recent Pew poll, a sizeable majority of Catholics plan to vote for George W. Bush, an overt evangelical, against John Kerry, a Catholic.
The 2004 vote is likely to go that way for both positive and negative reasons. On the positive side, Catholic social doctrine and President Bush's compassionate conservatism have many similarities. As Mr. Weigel writes, Catholics now teach that "the free and virtuous society is a complex set of interactions among a democratic political community, a free economy, and a public moral culture. . . . The culture is the key to the entire edifice. A culture that teaches freedom-as-license is going to wreck democracy and the free economy, sooner or later."
A decade ago I wrote a book about 18th-century America, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue, that pointed out how evangelicals like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams noted freedom's dependence on morality. They argued, as does Mr. Weigel, that liberty sets loose enormous human energy, and that a free society can survive only if people have "bottom," to use the 18th-century expression; a society, like a ship, needs some weight or it is blown around by the winds.
Most Catholics evidently see George Bush as having bottom on Iraq and on domestic policy, and Sen. Kerry lacking it. The root cause of bottomlessness is always theological confusion, and Sen. Kerry exhibits that big time. Just look at his 1998 interview with American Windsurfer, the journal of a charming sport that has become a Kerry metaphor. The senator said, "I am a believer in the Supreme Being, in God. I believe without any question in this force that is so much larger and more powerful than anything human beings can conceivably define." Sounds more like Star Wars than Christ on the cross.
Is Sen. Kerry a CINO, a Catholic in name only? He does go to Mass, especially when cameras are around. Yet Catholicism has set doctrines, while Sen. Kerry windsurfs: He has "always been fascinated by the Transcendentalists and the Pantheists and others who found these great connections just in nature, in trees, the ponds, the ripples of the wind on the pond, the great feast of nature itself. I think it's all an expression that grows out of this profound respect people have for those forces that human beings struggle to define and to explain. It's all a matter of spirituality."
Does Sen. Kerry speak about sin? Can't find that anywhere in his published speeches, but he did tell American Windsurfer, "So much of the conflict on the face of this planet is rooted in religions and the belief systems they give rise to. The fundamentalism of one entity or another." WORLD looked for a Catholic spiritual advisor who is close to him, but Sen. Kerry's most ardent praise seems to be for "the Dalai Lama who I've spent some time with and who is absolutely intriguing. Extraordinary person. He is certainly telling us there is life from enlightenment-here and hereafter, but I think, whether or not we're going to be [enlightened] is the great test that all of us are struggling with."
Is this Catholicism? No, but it's what is taught at Sen. Kerry's home church, the Paulist Center in Boston. Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard attended a Center service and observed a reciting of an edited version of the Nicene Creed, with the section on believing in only "one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God," dropped out.
Once that ball is dropped other balls-marriage, sanctity of life, and so on-also hit the floor. The noise of all those balls dropping is mixed with the sound of most Catholics fleeing the Kerry campaign.