The presidential race is full of religious ironies, pitting a Protestant who quotes the Pope against a Catholic who rejects the Pope. The Protestant -- campaigning on opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage -- will likely get the Catholic vote. The Catholic -- campaigning on embryo-destruction, partial-birth abortion, and the alternative lifestyles of pagan antiquity -- will get the mainline Protestant vote.
In one more irony and historical marker of clerical decadence, the Catholic candidate will receive a higher percentage of support from the Catholic episcopate than the Catholic laity -- the very episcopate Kerry has made a point of saying that he will ignore on matters of morality. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter writes that "if the Holy See were to vote in a secret ballot for the American president, Kerry would beat Bush 60-40." Polling of American bishops would even be higher. Priests like Richard McBrien have appeared in clerical collar on national television to justify voting for Kerry. The dean of Notre Dame, which the bishops regard as their Harvard, recently published a piece saturated with third-rate casuistry urging Catholics to vote for pro-abortion Democrats.
Incapable of transcending long-elapsed stereotypes, the secular media cast Kerry's Catholic problem as a conflict with a reactionary hierarchy. Would that it were so. A few bishops oppose Kerry, but many more privately support him and have whispered against the handful of brave bishops who threatened to withhold communion from him.
Kerry's Catholic problem started not with the clergy but with the laity. The Roger Mahonys of the hierarchy are Democratic activists and dilettantes, not guardians of the ancient faith. (For more on Cardinal Mahony, click here.) They have no problem supporting an open heretic like Kerry, because their faith in Catholicism is as ambivalent as his. Kerry is their idea of a good Vatican II Catholic -- liberal on economics, avant garde on morality. Indeed, a loss for Kerry represents a loss for them. He embodies the liberal catechesis they have tried to drill into the laity for decades. If a majority of the Catholic laity vote against Kerry, it will be one more rude confirmation to Roger Mahony and company that their post-Vatican II project to liberalize the laity has flopped.
''We are looking at a broader picture, a more global picture,'' said Bishop Gabino Zavala, one of Mahony's auxiliary bishops, to the New York Times. ''If you look at the totality of issues as a matter of conscience, someone could come to the decision to vote for either candidate.'' For the Democratic bishops, infanticide and minimum wage are weighted the same. Kerry knew early on that most of these bishops wouldn't confront him, given their passivity and weakness for Democratic politicians who make the right social-justice noises from time to time. Kerry's allies in the Democratic Party scrambled to produce a "Catholic Voting Scorecard" to show that he and other pro-abortion Catholics have adhered more closely to the positions of the "U.S. Catholic hierarchy" than to their Catholic Republican counterparts. By highlighting Kerry's support for the liberal politics of the bishops -- on the Senate floor, he once read from their inane pastoral letter on Reaganomics -- the Democrats had hoped to cancel out the perception that Kerry was a heretic no self-respecting Catholic could vote for.
Kerry's plans to hide his heresies under Roger Mahony's Seamless Garment were blown out the water by the lay Catholic equivalent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Numerous lay Catholic groups have exposed Kerry's Catholicism as a fraud and have coaxed out of timid bishops a few words of rebuke toward Kerry.
Not that the bishops aren't still constructing rationalizations for Kerry even after a debate before millions in which he misrepresented Catholicism wildly, managing to reject at least a third of the Ten Commandments. On Tuesday The Drudge Report had one of those blood-red headlines titled, "Vatican Denies It Responded To Lawyer Seeking Kerry's Excommunication." This was a life raft the bishops were trying to throw the Kerry campaign. The story came from the Catholic News Service, the propaganda outlet the bishops use whenever they want to muddy an issue to the benefit of a pro-abortion Catholic.
Kerry has rejected Catholic teachings Martin Luther didn't touch, yet CNS was frantic to dispel the notion that he is a heretic. "One Vatican official contacted by CNS said no church official had seriously approached the point of declaring Kerry a heretic. 'No, Kerry is not a heretic,' he said."
The National Catholic Reporter, which also speaks for many bishops (they advertise in its pages for chancery jobs) even as it wars on Catholic orthodoxy , is advising Kerry "to talk religion." It denounced the "small and narrow" group of Catholic laity opposing him and noted that many bishops support Kerry. But if Kerry takes its advice and campaigns on heretical Catholicism, where can he go without getting booed? Perhaps Roger Mahony, who encouraged his congregation to give Bill and Hillary Clinton a standing ovation on Palm Sunday during Clinton's race against Bob Dole, could arrange a town hall meeting at the Los Angeles Cathedral. But then Kerry had that vote sewn up a long time ago.
George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator.
Read this article on the American Spectator website. Reprinted with permission of the author.