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Panel discusses role of Catholicism in voting

Katie Laird | Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Abortion, fighting in Iraq, same-sex marriage and the death penalty were identified as issues that will raise the passions of Catholic voters in the 2004 presidential election during a panel discussion between distinguished members of the Notre Dame faculty Monday afternoon. The dialogue, titled “Faithful Citizenship: Catholics and the 2004 Election,” was moderated by Daniel Philpott, an assistant professor in political science. Panelists including Rev. Michael Baxter, a theology professor, Charles Rice, professor emeritus of law, and David Campbell, an assistant professor in political science, expressed varying opinions on the role Catholicism will play when voters make their decisions in November. Campbell, who is neither an American citizen nor a Catholic, first stressed the importance of voting in this year’s elections. “You’re going to hear people tell you how to vote,” he said. “However, my role today is not to tell you how to vote … rather, I’m very concerned with whether you vote.” Campbell compared the upcoming election to the election of 1960, when John F. Kennedy – a Democratic, Catholic, war-hero figure who served as senator in Massachusetts – ran against Republican Richard Nixon, with another Republican, Dwight Eisenhower in the White House. Campbell said John Kerry, this year’s Democratic candidate, holds many of the same distinctions as Kennedy – but not all.While Kennedy was criticized as being “too Catholic” during his campaign for president, Kerry is being criticized as being “not Catholic enough,” Campbell explained.And while the U.S. is “locked in another global struggle,” he said the situation in our country has changed. “Religion has reentered the political arena,” Campbell said. “Catholics today resemble the rest of America.” Campbell explained that the division among Catholic voters is visible in their dedication to their faith and can be detected by how often they go to church. “The divide is along the devotional line,” he said. Campbell urged students to continue debating these issues and vanguard political trends in order to “continue [this] discussion and the vibrant democratic culture.” Rice, however, said there is not only a strong division in our country but also a structural problem. “There really is a moral law,” Rice said. “This is a divided country, there is no Catholic vote or in a sense Catholic principle … you do have a red and a blue,” he said. To Rice, the issues that most divide the red and blue include abortion and same sex marriage. “These issues relate to the most fundamental things,” Rice explained. Rice said Kennedy held a harmful principle when he said that he would not allow his own religious beliefs to influence his decisions in the White House. “It’s all about religion … religion relates to ultimate interim,” Rice said. “You can’t live life, any aspect … especially religion, so that they don’t influence decisions.” Rice claimed the U.S. Constitution does not exist anymore in terms of separation of power. Congress hasn’t declared war since 1917. Rather, it has been declared an emergency by the president, Rice said. “That’s a real problem,” he said. “Congressmen lose that electoral responsibility for the people.” Rice showed his support for President Bush and said that he believes Bush “really believes what he is doing.” He urged young people to take interest in the future of our country and commended the efforts of the current administration to rebuild family – and not just by going to the polls.”The best thing to do about this election is to pray for it. Vote – but pray about this vote and pray for this country because we need it,” Rice said. Baxter did not advocate support for Bush or Kerry. Rather, he emphasized the idea that voters should practice conscientious objection in voting, stating his beliefs that abortion and euthanasia are intrinsically evil. “For many Catholics, opposition for abortion turns into support for a Republican candidate,” Baxter said. Baxter disagreed with the war in Iraq and the death penalties Bush presided over In Texas. “I’m troubled by the idea that Bush claims to pronounce Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher,” he said. “[Bush] presided over 146 death penalties.” However, Baxter also disagreed with Kerry, who holds a strong support for abortion. “I’m opposed to it,” Baxter said. The Church is deeply divided in the U.S. he explained. For every conservative Catholic organization, there is a liberal Catholic organization. Naming “cafeteria Catholics” and people who claim to be “orthodox” Catholic, Baxter said these categories shouldn’t exist. “You’re Catholic,” Baxter said. “That’s it.”Baxter quoted a passage from the Acts of the Apostles saying that we cannot stop supporting Jesus Christ. “Our passions should be calmed [in this election],” he said. “[We need to] look at issues that will inflict us in the future.”