In late 1998, Crisis magazine, which I have the honor to publish, ran a series of articles on “the Catholic vote” which unexpectedly led to my involvement in politics. The articles caught the attention of the nascent Bush presidential campaign and I was asked, and agreed, to be part of the team advising on their outreach to Catholic voters.
Our basic advice, as reflected in our articles, was to target Mass-attending Catholic voters, not the larger group of self-identified Catholics, because Mass attendance is the best indication of a commitment to kind of values taught by the Church and represented by then candidate Governor George W. Bush.
This strategy, meshing perfectly with the theme of “compassionate conservatism,” paid off and the candidate’s message connected with Catholic voters: Governor Bush received ten percent more of the Catholic vote than Senator Dole had in 1996.
Happily, President Bush has kept faith with those Catholics who supported him because of his commitment to life and other family issues.
The campaign of 2004 presents a significantly different environment than 2000.
Once Senator Kerry became the Democratic-party nominee the spotlight was suddenly shining brightly again on the Catholic voter. And the controversies began to mount: abortion and Communion, marriage and annulment, the role of the clergy and bishops. At times the Kerry campaign seemed intent on conducting a Catholic-vote strategy that was, in effect, an anti-Catholic campaign with Kerry trying to play the role of persecuted schismatic.
This reinforced my belief that the election of Kerry, an aggressively pro-abortion, secularized Catholic who openly calls attention to his dissent on important Church teachings, would be a disaster for the Church. Indeed, Kerry proudly proclaims his faith would not help guide his public policy–that, in fact, it would be wrong to do so. If his beliefs do not guide his public policy, what would?
How is the Church to react to this? From the beginning I argued that Church leaders should not allow Kerry to use Church institutions for his campaign; parishes, schools, hospitals, etc., should be off limits to Kerry or anyone who wants to use the platform of the Catholic Church to undermine its authority and attack its teachings.
Then I learned that the moderator of the “Catholics-for-Kerry” website was actually a full-time employee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I pointed this out in our Crisis e-letter; Bill Buckley followed with his syndicated column, and within a few days the Kerry campaigner left his job at the Conference.
The next day I received a call from a liberal Catholic publication requesting a comment. In response to the reporter’s question I told him that I thought the Conference had done the right thing.
Within a few days the same reporter asked for an interview, he insisted it need be right away, and I complied. He interviewed me for about an hour; a photographer took pictures, while my son played video games around my feet. None of the questions was personal; the questioning was all political, all about my support for President Bush.
No story appeared. Then people began telling me that this reporter was calling former employees and acquaintances and asking them for information about my personal life. Apparently this reporter was not content with a fair debate of the merits of substantive issues, where, of course, there could be honest disagreement. His target was now going to be my life, my past, and apparently any mistakes that he could uncover to embarrass me.
Like many people, I have done things in my life that I regret.
I have spoken and written about my past mistakes–including in my book about my conversion to the Church–and the role that they played in my conversion and the grace and the forgiveness I have found only through the Catholic Church.
Weeks passed and the same reporter then called me asking for another interview saying his story had taken a “surprising turn.” In reply, my office e-mailed him asking for the questions he wanted me to answer.
The questions arrived and were all targeted at my personal life–not my political beliefs. They dealt in scattershot fashion with a range of topics: questions about past annulments for my marriages before my conversion to the Catholic Church, other Catholic organizations I have been involved with, and allegations from over a decade ago involving a female student at the college where I then taught. At the time, I dealt with this in an upright manner and the matter was satisfactorily resolved long ago. It was now being dug up, I believe, for political reasons–in an attempt to undermine the causes I have fought for: the defense of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics.
I’ve been married seventeen years, my daughter is fifteen, my adopted son from Romania is seven, and my wife and I are happily married. When we entered the political fray in the 2000 campaign we knew the risk of political involvement but considered the issues worth the potential cost. We still do.
No one regrets my past mistakes more than I do.
I thought it important to present these facts at this time–as I have done in the past–because I need to protect the people I love and the causes I believe in. In matters of this nature, exaggeration, half-truths, and rumor often tend to overtake the truth–and I wanted truth to get a head start.
In addition, while I remain fervently committed to supporting President Bush’s reelection, I think it best that I no longer play a role as an adviser in this year’s campaign. While I have no intention of being dissuaded by personal attacks, I will not allow low-brow tactics to distract from the critically important issues in this election.
I hope all of this will not discourage anyone engaged in these debates over religion, the culture of life, and the future of our nation. This election is too important for any of us to allow that to happen.
–Deal W. Hudson is publisher of Crisis magazine.