The Presidential Questionnaire from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is dead. But do not mourn. Its death is a good thing, and is important not just for Catholics but for all who were concerned that candidate Kerry was about to get official Church cover for his pro-abortion position.
The questionnaire is presented every four years by the USCCB to the major party candidates. It is supposed to help Catholic voters determine which candidate best reflects the teachings of the Church. What has happened is that, through it, some candidates have been able to show that even though they support abortion they still merit the votes of faithful Catholics because they happen to be good–that is to say liberal–on gun control, the environment, immigration, and the minimum wage.
The problems with the questionnaire are many. First, the document is almost guaranteed to confuse the typical pew sitter as to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
One question asks whether the candidate supports or opposes child-safety locks on handguns. Well, what is the Catholic position on that? Is it the Catholic position that you want to ensure that kids do not accidentally blow away their playmates? Or it is the Catholic position that the householder should have quick access to draw down on an intruder that is threatening said youngster?
Another question asks whether the candidate supports or opposes increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.00 per hour. Certainly, the Church supports workers being paid justly for their work. But why does that translate into this increase in the minimum wage to $7.00. Why not $6.99?
Another question asks if the candidates support cutting government subsidies to “corporate farms” and redirecting the money to low-income “new farmers and ranchers.” Does the Church really teach a preference for new farmers and ranchers and not old farmers and ranchers? Does the Church teach a preference for small farms over big farms? How small? How big?
Of course, we know the “correct” answers to these questions, at least according the politically liberal laymen at the USCCB. Yes to gun control, yes to a higher minimum wage, yes to government subsidies for small farms. But, really, who cares?
Before I proceed, I want to make something crystal clear. I am not criticizing the bishops. The bishops did not create this questionnaire. The bishops did not edit it. It is likely that hardly any bishops even saw it before or after the fact. Why the bishops have allowed this to happen is an open question. But the fact remains that a cabal of mostly left-wing laymen–who staff the government-relations office of the USCCB–created it.
But Catholics are free to disagree with the USCCB staff on each of these issues. Catholics may licitly favor even a lower minimum wage than the current $5.15. Catholics may support an ever-widening availability of handguns. And Catholics may heartily support federal funds going only to “corporate farms.” To suggest otherwise, as the questionnaire does, is to confuse the ordinary Catholic about official teachings of the Church. But that seems to be part of the project, somehow to equate these judgment calls with things that Catholics have to believe.
There is a difference between teachings that a Catholic must believe, called doctrinal, and those issues which are up for debate, called prudential. It is doctrinal that Catholics must serve the poor. But it is prudential and therefore debatable which policies serve them best. Tax cuts or raising the minimum wage? Catholics are free to decide. But tax cuts are not part of this questionnaire. What is reflected in this questionnaire are policy choices favored mostly by Democrats.
The lay staff says that these questions reflect the legislative priorities of the bishops and that these grow out of Catholic teaching. But if a few good conservatives ever got hired by the USCCB, these questions would be different–yet still reflect Catholic social teaching.
Besides the confusing nature of these questions vis-à-vis official Church teaching, there is also the question of how the questionnaire would be used. Not long ago, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin prepared a legislative scorecard drawn up using these same legislative priorities of the USCCB lobbyists. The list included all and sundry Democratic proposals and Durbin discovered–voila!–that John Kerry was the best Catholic in the Senate. John Kerry is openly hostile to doctrinal teachings of the Church regarding the sanctity of life. He supports abortion on demand, partial-birth abortion, destructive embryonic-stem-cell research, and human cloning. One can practically hear the Lefties at the USCCB say “even so, we must find a way to work with this otherwise good man.”
The fact is that it seems the USCCB liberals do their darnedest to undermine the life issues. They do this by consistently lumping them in with issues that are frankly not that important. Child-safety locks on hand guns? Please. Next to abortion, the comparison is laughable.
The good news is that something is going on. The dreadful questionnaire has been pulled. In the past few years more and more of the bishops have begun speaking out against the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The bishops as a body overwhelmingly voted in June that pro-abortion politicians must not present themselves for communion.
Cracks are appearing in the Soviet-like façade of the lay bureaucracy at the bishops’ conference. Some bishops are getting uppity. Like peasants revolting against their masters, a growing number of mostly young, energetic, and orthodox bishops have begun to scale the walls.
And the Kerry candidacy has given them an unexpected toehold. The Kerry candidacy is a gift from God to the Catholic Church. A bad Catholic running for president has brought into high relief the internal contradictions of the USCCB Lefties who support pro-abortion Democrats who happen to be good on gun control.
Faithful Catholics and others may applaud that the presidential questionnaire is dead, at least for this election cycle, and may also hope that its death portends more profound changes at the USCCB, what Henry Hyde once called “the Democratic party at prayer.”
–Austin Ruse is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Culture of Life Foundation.