E. J. Dionne Jr. has been a Catholic a lot longer than I have, so maybe there’s something here I’m not getting. My understanding is that there is a fading tradition of regarding the editorials of L’Osservatore Romano as reliable guides to papal thinking. In today’s column, though, Dionne seems to suggest that an essay by one of the paper’s foreign correspondents has the same status. Dionne contrasts that essay’s irenic treatment of President Obama’s record on sanctity-of-life issues with that of “Robert P. George, a Princeton professor who is a leading Catholic conservative intellectual, [and who] called Obama ‘the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of president of the United States.’” (Follow the link: Does Dionne dispute any of the factual claims George used to reach that conclusion?)
Later Dionne quotes America, the Jesuit weekly, slamming conservative Catholics: “The divisive effects of the new American sectarians have not escaped the notice of the Vatican. Their highly partisan political edge has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship.”
I’m not sure what the evidence is that the Vatican shares America’s concerns in these matters. That same newspaper essay? Anyway, it does not seem to me that liberal Catholics are less partisan than conservative ones, particularly if partisanship in this context is defined as disregarding Church teachings to serve a political party. It is true that conservative Catholics tend to regard support for the abortion license as gravely wrong and out of step with Church teaching in a way that support for the death penalty, immigration restrictions, or the Iraq war are not gravely wrong and out of step with Church teaching. It is also true that applying these views to party politics very often generates pro-Republican and anti-Democratic conclusions. This may not be a healthy result, but if those views are sound then it is not the fault of the people holding them that they generate this partisan conclusion. It may even in part be the fault of those on the Catholic Left who have not stood up against abortion and urged their allies to do likewise.