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Church and state: Keeping them both seperate

Michael Busk | Thursday, October 14, 2004

A former editor of the Catholic magazine Commonweal described the precarious, strange position of Catholic voters as “political homelessness” at Saint Mary’s Wednesday, and advised the audience to vote based on issues that would have a real effect over the next four years.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal between 1988 and 2002, presented a lecture titled “Faith and Political Responsibility: Voting for the Common Good” at the Stapleton Lounge in LeMans Hall.

“[This] is an election year when a born-again Methodist from Texas is considered the Catholic candidate and a Catholic from Massachusetts is treated as an apostate,” Steinfels said. “If you go to Mass every Sunday, you fit the Republican profile … if you don’t make Mass every Sunday, you don’t fit the Republican profile.”

Steinfels, however, challenged this conception of an unbreakable link between Catholicism and the Republican Party, warning especially against voters who have made abortion the litmus test of their vote.

“There are many life and death issues,” she said.

Steinfels went on to mention the Vatican’s statement that Catholics have the right to vote for pro-choice candidates if they believe other issues outweigh abortion in that election.

“We have to analyze the issues, pay attention to the facts, and consider the ramifications of Catholic social teaching as we think about the candidates and the election,” she said.

After discussing the two parties’ courting of Catholic voters, Steinfels concluded that neither had policies that perfectly reflect the Church.

“None of these templates fit Catholicism as much as Republicans or Democrats like to think they do,” she said.

Steinfels then gave her reasons for the way she planned to vote in the Nov. 2 election.

“What has started out as a war on terror has become a war with the world,” she said. “The Bush administration has badly bungled the fight with terrorism … There is no sign that anything has been learned from the mistakes that have been made in Iraq … What will the world conclude if President Bush is elected for a second time?”

Steinfels also cited the growing national debt as a problem under Bush, but said she was no more convinced about Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.

“About Mr. Kerry, I have come to the following conclusion: he will be no worse than Mr. Bush,” she said. “I don’t claim he will be better.”

Anticipating questions about the importance of abortion and stem-cell research to arise in the campaign, Steinfels said both issues get more than their due of publicity.

“I am opposed to both abortion and embryonic stem-cell research,” she said. “Are these reasons to give Mr. Bush a second term? I think not … Neither candidate will have much if any impact on either issue.”

She also responded to the pro-life hope that a Republican might be able to illegalize abortion through Supreme Court appointments.

“No Supreme Court, in my opinion, is going to overturn Roe vs. Wade,” she said. “The law will only change, if it ever changes, when this culture changes … and women change their minds themselves about abortion.”

Steinfels concluded her speech with a call for Catholics to stay true to their principles.

“I think Catholics need to build up a new generation of citizens, public servants and politicians who will look to the common good rather than only to partisan advantage,” she said.