Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 3, 2008
Catholics long for a political home
One of the most-ignored factors in Canadian political behaviour is the influence of faith on people's voting habits. When this issue is broached, it is often in terms of the influence of "the religious right."
Life is more complex than that. Faith is a motivator for many Catholics, many Christians, who support any political party. If the NDP, for example, has driven out anyone who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, the party still has an historic legacy from the social gospel movement and from Catholic priests such as Fathers Bob Ogle and Andy Hogan on its parliamentary benches.
Christians in all parties, in short, have been led to their political convictions or ideologies because of, not in spite of, their faith commitments.
Following the 2006 federal election, pollster Andrew Grenville attributed the Liberal defeat to "conscience, corruption and the Church." Perhaps for the first time in Canadian history, more Catholics voted Conservative than Liberal – 42 to 40 per cent.
In Grenville's view, the traditional Catholic bias for the Liberals is due to Catholics tending to have a social conscience that leads them to be sympathetic to the party's support for social programs. Indeed, it may even work the other way around –the Catholic preponderance in the Liberal Party may have been a deciding factor in giving that party its social conscience.
Why are Catholics shifting away from the Liberals? It is perhaps due to the party's increasing support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, two "reforms" that fly in the face of Church teaching. One could certainly over-emphasize this factor, but it would be wrong to deny that it is a real factor for some.
Protestants, Grenville said, are more individualistic and have long tended to support conservative parties. In the 2006 election, 64 per cent of churchgoing Protestants voted Tory.
But if there is that tradition of political affiliation tied to one's faith, things are perhaps becoming unglued.
This has been apparent in the current U.S. presidential campaign. The support of non-Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. has swung wildly back and forth between Barack Obama and John McCain in recent months. (Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly support Obama.) In July, non-Hispanic Catholics supported Obama 47 to 44; in late September, it was 52 to 38 for McCain; in early October, it was 54 to 39 for Obama.
John Allen, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, ascribes this to a growing political homelessness among Catholics. Catholics who adhere to the broad spectrum of the Church's teaching do not find a home with either the Republicans or the Democrats.
In Canada, this homelessness is real too. Where, oh where, can one find the full range of Catholic teaching represented on issues as diverse as human life, the environment, immigration, poverty and international development? Look hard and you will find bits and pieces in each of the major political parties, but nothing approaching the full meal deal in any of them.
Just as the homeless are sometimes forgotten, or viewed as a nuisance in our cities, so the politically homeless are forgotten in Canada. We find ourselves grossly under-represented in the nation's legislatures. We also find the Conservatives – some of whom at least have sympathy for Catholic positions on life and family issues – terrified of taking a meaningful stand against abortion or same-sex marriage.
In the U.S., some bishops have lashed out against the Obama-Biden camp's antagonism to life in the womb.
This is understandable.
But what is most needed is Catholic lay leadership that will speak clearly and strongly for both moral order and social justice. It does not seem too much to ask.
- Glen Argan
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