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Austin Cline

Bush Seeks Vatican Help to Get Reelected

By June 14, 2004

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In a step regarded by many as unprecedented. President Bush has actually asked the Vatican for help in getting re-elected. In 1960 a Catholic candidate assured the American public that he would not govern according to Vatican demands; today, an evangelical Protestant has requested help from the Vatican and made promises about his policies in return.

John L. Allen Jr. writes for the National Catholic Reporter:

During his June 4 visit, Bush asked the Vatican to push the American Catholic bishops to be more aggressive politically on family and life issues, especially a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A Vatican official told NCR June 9 that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, “Not all the American bishops are with me” on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism. Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president’s exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.

Not all American bishop are “with” Bush? Does he actually expect to get the backing of all American bishops?

I’m curious about what sort of “aggressive” political activism Bush would like the Vatican to nudge the bishops into. Naturally they would continue expressing the Catholic position on various topics like abortion and gay marriage, but I don’t think that that is all Bush had in mind. At the very least, I am sure he was thinking about more bishops stating their refusal to give communion to pro-choice Democrats (but not pro-choice Republicans - they should probably continue getting their special dispensation). He might even hope that more bishops will state that people who vote for pro-choice Democrats should not receive communion.

Essentially, President Bush is asking the Vatican to have American bishops wield the sacrament of communion as a political weapon on behalf of the Republican Party and against the Democrats. Anything that distracts Democratic candidates and forces them to talk about things other than the real issues will likely help conservative Republicans. Bush and his supporters seem to be hoping that “culture war” issues like gay marriage will propel them to victory.

Is it appropriate for an American politician to ask the Vatican to take actions in support of his reelection? Is it the place of an American president to ask that divisions among American Catholics be exacerbated? Pundits write about the extreme polarization of the American electorate, but here we have Bush urging that this polarization be made even worse. Even conservative Catholics should regarded such a request with a bit of skepticism and concern.

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