Memo to Obama Campaign: Order 100,000 copies of Doug Kmiec’s new book "Can A Catholic Support Him?" and distribute them to the parish council members of every Catholic church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Denver, Colorado and St. Louis, Missouri
Those who have been following this blog will know that Doug Kmiec served in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, was Dean of the Law School at Catholic University, and is a lifelong pro-life activist. They will also know that he endorsed Barack Obama this spring and was subsequently denied Communion at a Mass in California. They may have forgotten, as I did, that Kmiec had endorsed Mitt Romney before he dropped out of the race.
Many will be surprised that a law professor is capable of such easy-to-read prose. After watching a campaign protest, Kmiec laments what the nation’s political life has become: "a nation that chooses up sides readily and considers opposing viewpoints almost never. Rather than seeking ‘a more perfect union,’ we look for reasons to dislike one another. In some cases, we have been angry so long and with such intensity, the idea of finding common ground or pursuing a common good is unthinkable." These are the words of someone who desperately loves his country and wants its politics to embody that love.
Obama is the vehicle to which Kmiec has fastened this love of country in 2008. Obama’s call for change gains much of its strength from the blunders of Bush 43. But, Kmiec sees a more important source in "the hope-filled yearning of the American heart and mind for a revived understand of the human person as committed to one another, and not merely oneself. This tradition of community and social responsibility has long been an aspect of American Catholicism."
Kmiec is clearly a big fan of Obama but his political shift is also a turning away from the GOP. He notes his concern for the bellicosity of Bush 43’s foreign policy and the Republican Party’s failure to interest itself in social justice. But, it is abortion where Kmiec increasingly finds the GOP deficient, arguing that the pro-life movement is deceiving itself when it bets all its chips on "the remote possibility that after thirty-five years, the next president may appoint someone new to the Supreme Court of the United States who in turn – in a case not yet filed, accepted for review, briefed, or argued – might be able to persuade four of the other existing judges to overturn, against the principles of stare decisis, the decision in Roe, and then further persuade the individual legislatures of the fifty states and their governors to sign into law protections for human life." In short, according to Kmiec, both 2008 candidates are pro-choice.
Every prelate who is thinking of denying Communion to politicians or anybody else should read Kmiec’s chapter describing what happened to him in April of this year. Only a Catholic really understands what a traumatizing thing it must have been to be denied communion. Someone in the communion line shouted "Are you judging this man, Father?" to which the priest replied "He has judged himself and been found unworthy." Kmiec refuses to name the priest (or his religious order) but that hubristic judgmental attitude suggests it was a young priest, one who has yet to learn that sympathy with the human condition that the Lord epitomized in His own ministry. Also, a forgetful priest: He forgot that immediately before the taking of communion, the people of God acknowledge our unworthiness by saying, "Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed." We know we are not worthy to receive communion for our own merits but we know, too, that the healing word of God was spoken on a hillside in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.
This book is a great help for those Catholics who are wrestling with their voting decision, not only in this election, but in all elections. While Kmiec focuses on Obama, the issues are perennial and will come up so long as Catholics are engaged in public life. His final chapter on "Catholic Officials and Catholic Voters – When Law and Morality Disagree" is a short, concise introduction to an enormously complicated topic. In short, this book is a must read for all serious Catholics. You may agree with Kmiec or not, but you cannot ignore his arguments.
Michael Sean Winters