A New Kind of Catholic Candidate

The image of a classic Catholic pol is Mayor Richard Daley or someone very much like him. Daley built and ran a political machine that used patronage and politics to deliver government services to his constituents and re-election victories to himself. His son has carried on the tradition and it is a proud one, if not altogether free from certain legitimate objections to its cronyism and occasional corruption. Political machines, and the Catholic politicians who led them, governed most major cities in the Northeast and Midwest. The machine-building Catholic pol, however, is giving way to a different kind of Catholic candidate. In Virginia’s largely rural 5th congressional district, Democrat Tom Perriello is challenging incumbent Republican congressman Virgil Goode. Charlottesville is not Chicago, and Perriello is no Daley. Yet, Catholicism is at the heart of the young activist’s campaign as surely as it was when Mayor Daley went to Mass each morning on his way to City Hall. Perriello’s campaign biography puts his faith front and center, stating: "From and early age, he was taught that a strong faith is a lived faith. His parents raised him to believe that to whom much is given, much is expected, and those lessons have shaped his lifelong commitment to service." Perriello went to Africa after graduating from Yale Law School, where he worked with victims of the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. He went on to work in Darfur and Afghanistan as well. Returning to the U.S., he helped launch the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which aims to bring faith perspectives into the work of socially progressive politicians. This non-traditional resume for a congressional candidate has yielded a notably fresh tone to Perriello’s approach to issues. On health care, he says that "every American deserves access to a doctor." Usually Democrats invoke rights-based legalese, saying that health care is a right. This has always perplexed me. None of us like going to see the doctor, but going to see the lawyer is even worse. His call for "justice-based security solutions" is the most felicitous expression of what Democrats feel about foreign affairs that I have seen, giving voice to the belief that George Bush’s bullying has not, in fact, strengthened our security and that long-term solutions to issues of war and peace must be rooted in a concern for justice. Perriello, like all candidates who are challenging an incumbent, has his work cut out for him. Congressman Goode earned his place in the national consciousness when he tried to forbid the first-ever Muslim congressman from taking the oath of office on the Koran. (Question: wouldn’t it make sense to have some make an oath on a book that the oath-taker considers authoritative, not the observer?) But, he has earned his share of pork for his district and he has an incumbent’s ability to raise tons of campaign cash. Still, Virginia elected a Catholic governor in 2005, with a biography similar to Perriello’s and 2008 is looking like it is not a good year to be a GOP incumbent. In a state with few Catholics, many still see the Catholic Church as a bulwark against any kind of excessive liberalism. The social activism of a new generation of Catholics, built on faith, directed towards the service of others, requiring sacrifice, may be the new ticket to political power. Observers should keep a close eye on Virginia’s 5th district race. Michael Sean Winters
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10 years 1 month ago
Sounds more like the same old kind of "catholic candidate."
10 years 1 month ago
For Bill Collier, I would suggest you go to the website for the organization that Perriello formed.Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. You will find where all the John Kerry democrats went after the election loss. They do not want to talk about the life issues because they do not align with the Church's teachings. This well intended group is loyal to the liberal agenda, not their faith. Please keep searching and don't take my word on this issue. But, you will find the truth on this man and his organization. God willing, he will lose.
10 years 1 month ago
Out of curiosity more than anything else (I live nowhere near Petriello's district), I tried to find out what the candidate's positions are on life issues. His campaign website has a section titled ''The Issues'' that contains position statements on several issues, but there is nothing about abortion,destructive embryonic stem cell research, etc. I googled around for about 15 minutes, and I couldn't find any statements by him about these issues. I'm not the best internet explorer, but it seems curious to me that he might be reticent to express his opinions about these issues.
10 years ago
To Bill Collier: Why is there an immediate reaction to tie the entirety of our faith to abortion and stem cells? These are clearly important issues, but they represent only 1 of the seven key themes in Faithful Citizenship. The way is an issue, racism is an issue, poverty is an issue. You do all American Catholics a disservice when you force people in the media to have such a narrow view of us.
10 years ago
To Bill Roth: I think you’ve greatly overstated the substance of my post. I don’t tie the “entirety of our faith to abortion and stem cells,” and I certainly don’t think I’ve “done all American Catholics a disservice,” or have “force[d] people in the media to have such a narrow view” of Catholics, by merely pointing out that Mr. Petriello, running in part as a proponent of the moral values contained in Catholic social teaching, seems to be avoiding comment on the first of the seven key themes in Faithful Citizenship, i.e., “Right to Life and the Dignity of the Person.” The bishops’ emphasis on the right to life as the first among equals is made crystal clear in their quote from JPII’s Christifideles Laici: “All other rights are false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” I don’t downplay the other issues you’ve mentioned—i.e., racism, poverty, war. I’m a firm believer in the consistent ethic of life, but I find it curious that Mr. Petriello does not even comment at his website on the right to life, which the bishops in Faithful Citizenship state “implies and is linked to other human rights.” Mr. Petriello certainly seems to be a strong advocate of other themes contained in Faithful Citizenship, and I commend him for that. The problem is that he appears to be reticent to set forth his opinion on the right to life issues, the foundation stones of Catholic social teaching, and it is his silence that I find so unusual and perhaps so telling. If he disagrees with Church teaching about abortion and destructive ESC research on the grounds of personal conscience, then I can respect his decision. But if he’s holding his cards to maximize political gain, then in my opinion there is nothing that distinguishes him from run-of-the-mill politicians.
10 years ago
Sorry, Mr. Perriello, not Petriello.

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