Neither Liberal nor Conservative

By Raymond L. Flynn
April 17, 2007

The changing culture in American society and problems within the Church, including the sex abuse scandal, declining vocations, and church closings, are areas of concern for the Pope, the U.S. Bishops, and American Catholics in general.

To better understand the political climate in the U.S., let me share with you what somebody recently said to me about politics and the Catholic Church in America today:

Ray, you are starting to sound like a right-winger. Your anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stand, and your support for right-wing judges has really hurt you with the media and the Democratic Party. You are a radical right-winger and nobody will touch you as far as the Democratic Party is concerned.

Ray Flynn, the man who received a prestigious national award for his commitment to fighting racial, ethnic and sex discrimination — a radical right-winger?

The civil rights advocate and a leading Catholic voice for social and economic justice — a right-winger?

The people’s mayor of Boston and Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to the Vatican — a radical right-winger?

The son of a dockworker and a cleaning lady — a radical right-winger?

Once one of the leading U.S. mayors in fighting for affordable housing and funding for people afflicted with AIDS, regarded as the country’s leading advocate for the homeless — a radical right-winger?

Ladies and Gentlemen, does this sound like a radical right-winger to you? Actually, I guess if you believe in God, family and the dignity and respect for all life in today’s secular world, that makes you a radical right-winger.

Can you believe that prior to the takeover of the Democratic Party by powerful special interests during the late 60s, it was unthinkable that a pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker politician would be excluded by party leaders? In fact, such a person was the backbone of the Democratic Party for nearly a century. It was the efforts of people like this in public service, with the same general background, that affected positive and concrete social change for the average working class Americans.

Democratic politicians today are being used as pawns by well financed and well organized special interest activist groups. During the last national election, none of the traditional Democratic issues related to the poor, workers, and immigrants were discussed at all. How can the Democrats win the White House when they don’t even talk about issues and concerns of working class families?

Many American Catholics try to live by the values of our faith, informed by Catholic teachings like the Gospel of Life and Rerum Novarum, which taught me that every person has dignity because of where they came from and where they are destined to go; because each person is unique and unrepeatable. They also taught me about respect for the dignity of human work and that there is something greater than my own good or the good of special interests which is called the common good and pursuing this common good serves God and my fellow humans. My faith was fundamental in developing a conscience, which prevents me from turning away from the weak, the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the aged and infirm, families and children including the unborn. Is that what makes me a radical right-winger?

As an aside, none of what I believe requires religious faith. The things I believe and stand for can be arrived at through reason alone, and are indeed values that are held by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. My faith only helps me find these values and appreciate them more. But it is a little different running for office these days when you are Catholic and have these values.

Leading Catholic Democrats go out of their way to assure voters that they will not take orders from Rome, playing into anti-Catholic perceptions that were dispelled when John F. Kennedy was running for President forty-five years ago. They bend over backwards to avoid any of the fault-line topics that some say intertwine religion and politics. Despite distancing themselves from the basic teachings of their faith, they make sure to let everyone know to the point of tedium that they are practicing Catholics. They go out of their way to be photographed with prominent Catholic clergy. Pope John Paul II’s funeral was the ultimate photo opportunity for them, red carpet treatment and all.

Now we have John Roberts nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court and guess what the issue is? Abortion.

John Roberts is a Catholic. Does that mean he will not support and defend the U.S. Constitution? Does being Catholic mean he is not qualified to serve on the Court?

John Roberts and I are both Catholic. Yet when the secularists and some in the mainstream media choose to vilify us for our Catholic faith, but then praise other Catholic politicians for not following Catholic doctrine, one has to wonder, What gives?

Let me ask two questions: Why do faithful Catholic Democrats get periodically ignored for taking their faith seriously? Why is there so little tolerance of faithful Catholics, especially by the Democratic Party?

Pope John Paul II was so concerned about this growing trend of intolerance against serious Catholics and other Christians almost four years ago, he spoke about it to the entire diplomatic corps assigned to the Vatican from countries around the world.

He said, Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism. The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence.

This is happening today as political correctness has led to a kind of hazy moral relativism that has turned right and wrong into shades of gray with fuzzy lines that move to serve individual interests, passions, and desires.

This has led to the justification of corporate cheating at the expense of workers and retired people. It has led to appeal of powerful interest groups for restructuring marriage to suit the interests of adults not even considering the needs for children for a stable family with a mother and father for a good foundation for life, which by the way is the public interest justification of civil marriage. Publicly funded research for human cloning in California will result in the death of many for the benefit of the few who can afford expensive designer treatments, which may never even materialize.

The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence.

Here is the dilemma for faithful Catholics. If you’re pro-life, the Democratic Party doesn’t want you, if you’re a social and economic justice Catholic like me, the Republican Party doesn’t want you. Oh, they say they do, but they only want your vote on Election Day, not your principles. Democratic leaders want faithful Catholics to leave our beliefs and values at the door, but want our money and support. Republican leaders also want our money and support, but are less interested in our vision of a fair and just society.

John Roberts will get confirmed because he is Republican, not because he is pro-life. But Democrats like Bob Casey (former Governor of Pennsylvania) and Ray Flynn can’t even speak at the Democratic National Convention, not because we are not popular Democrats, but because we are pro-life.

There seems to be little civility and room for dialogue today in the Democratic Party because of strident, intemperate and radical wealthy special interests who are fighting to maintain power and control of the Party. Efforts to stifle debate in the Party by these dominating groups are driving some Democrats into the hands of the Republican Party and are making us a minority party at the national level. Even organized labor’s loyalty to the Party is starting to crack.

I have a friend who is a legal scholar — the Learned Hand Law Professor at Harvard Law School. Two U.S. presidents interviewed her for a federal judgeship, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. The Democratic president didn’t nominate her because she was pro-life. The Republican didn’t nominate her because she was too pro-poor.

Which values should faithful Catholics compromise on to serve the country we love and the Catholic religion we believe in? Must faithful Democratic Catholics be forced to choose between rejecting their faith and joining the Republican Party to serve in elective or appointive public office?

Which political party should my lawyer friend and I belong to? We are certainly at home with the Catholic faith, but seem to be politically homeless in our own country.

It is time for Catholics to stand up and fight intolerance from the left in the Democratic Party of people of faith and particularly faithful Catholics.

It is time for Catholics to use their voices and their votes and their influence to demand that their faith not be used as a convenient political tool when candidates run for office and then ridiculed when it is politically incorrect according to the self-proclaimed powers that be.

It is time to debate the issues instead of marginalizing ordinary Catholics by the use of slurs and character assassination when they speak the truths of their consciences. Political correctness is in and of itself a form of intolerance of thoughts and ideas, which threatens religious freedom in America.

It is time for Catholics to stand up and fight callousness and indifference to the human condition coming from the right in the Republican Party.

It is time for Catholics to use their voices and their votes and their influence to demand that access to quality healthcare be provided to all Americans and to end the inhuman exploitation and abuse of undocumented workers and their families. Their work has dignity and they make significant contributions to the quality of our lives. These undocumented workers must have justice and the same protections as any other person living in the United States.

Today, there is no party in America that quite fits the profile of a serious Catholic voter. Both parties need to earn the Catholic vote by being more open to Catholics and our values. I believe that Catholics, informed by reason, have in the past and can in the future make a significant contributions to American politics. But they are being ignored today.

Raymond L. Flynn is former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and mayor of Boston. He is also a former advisor to Catholics to the Common Good.