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Issue Date:  October 1, 2004

How Catholic are the candidates?


This year’s election features a president who is not Catholic campaigning hard as the true representative of Catholic values while his challenger who is Catholic faces intense criticism for not representing those values enough. So which candidate is more consistent with Catholic principles? What is a Catholic wanting to take account of the church’s social teachings to do come Election Day?

A good place to start is looking at how the two candidates measure up against the full range of issues the Catholic tradition identifies as important. The following report card compares how President Bush and Sen. John Kerry do when graded according to the principles and positions of Catholic social teaching.

David Carroll Cochran is associate professor of politics at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

2004 Presidential Election and Catholic Social Teaching Report Card

Issues Senator Kerry President Bush
Protecting Human Life

Kerry D Bush C

Supports abortion-on-demand, stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and physician-assisted suicide, all of which conflict with Catholic teaching. Opposes the death penalty (except, apparently, for terrorists). His policies are likely to be more consistent with traditional Catholic just war teaching, but he probably won’t significantly cut the size and scope of the American military. Opposes abortion. Signed partial-birth abortion ban, but thinks the country isn’t ready to outlaw most abortions. Supported some federal funding for stem cell research. Opposes cloning and physician-assisted suicide, but neither was much of a priority in his first term. Enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty. Positions on military matters are all deeply at odds with Catholic teaching.
Economic Justice

Kerry B- Bush D

The very rich should do just fine under a Kerry presidency, but there will be more policies benefiting those across the economic spectrum. Positions on taxes, unionization, the minimum wage, antipoverty programs and Social Security are all closer to Catholic teaching, though unlikely to go as far as tradition calls for. His first term saw government grow larger and more likely to intervene in the economy. Preferential option for the rich, not the poor. Policies on wages, working conditions, unions, antipoverty assistance and Social Security all conflict with Catholic principles. His only real edge is support for faith-based organizations in delivering social assistance.
Health Care

Kerry C+ Bush D+

Longtime advocate of expanding health care coverage and quality of care to those in need, but unlikely to support the dramatic reform Catholic teaching calls for. Keep in mind his support for stem cell research and physician-assisted suicide. No real attempt to address the moral scandal of over 40 million Americans who lack health insurance. Recent Medicare drug coverage reforms are poorly designed and intended primarily to inflate drug company profits.
The Family

Kerry C- Bush B

Opposes same-sex marriage but does not support constitutional amendment banning it and favors civil unions granting same-sex couples the same legal rights as marriage. Positions on wages, overtime, family leave and related issues more in line with Catholic teaching. Opposition to school vouchers, on the other hand, is at odds with the Catholic position. Opposes same-sex marriage and supports a constitutional amendment prohibiting it, though there is little role for the president on this issue. Less supportive of Catholic positions on policies that help families make ends meet -- living wage, overtime regulations, family leave, etc. Supports vouchers giving parents public money to send kids to private schools.
Race, Ethnicity and Immigration

B Bush C+

Civil rights enforcement likely to be stronger, as it usually is in Democratic administrations. Supports affirmative action. Positions on economic issues with racial and ethnic implications are closer to Catholic teaching. Unlikely to make any significant reforms in how undocumented workers, refugees and asylum seekers are treated. Worked hard to repudiate the anti-immigrant rhetoric some Republicans have used in the past. Opposes affirmative action. Positions on economic issues that affect racial and ethnic minorities like wages, housing, public transportation, health care and so on are at odds with Catholic social teaching. Has done little to change stingy refugee and asylum policies.
The Environment

B+ Bush D-

His record as senator is promising, and he is much more likely to pursue an environmental path, though not one as dramatic as that called for by Catholic teaching. It is doubtful he will make a politically courageous case for economic sacrifices in the interest of global ecological health. Has also been willing to sell out environmental priorities for votes on current issues like gasoline prices. His record is at odds with Catholic teaching’s calls for dramatic action to protect the global environment. Has done nothing to address global warming and resource depletion. Has eroded existing standards in clear air, clean water and conservation. Short-term interests of his corporate allies in oil, coal, timber and agribusiness consistently trump long-term needs of environmental health.
Criminal Justice

C Bush D

Less wedded to harsh criminal justice policies of the last few decades, but unlikely to do much to change them either. A bit better on gun control, but not likely to change gun policies beyond a few reforms around the margins like tighter gun show regulations, better background checks and an assault weapons ban. Built his political career supporting “get tough” approaches to crime that recent Catholic teaching has sharply criticized as emphasizing retribution, being harshly punitive, having racially disproportionate effects and swelling prison populations to shocking levels. Strong opposition to any kind of gun control.
Foreign Affairs

B- Bush F

Likely to shift back to the more cautious path of Clinton and the first Bush administration. Has more respect for things Catholic tradition emphasizes such as diplomacy, multilateralism, international institutions and economic development. As a U.S. senator, worked for democracy in Central America and helped heal relationship between United States and Vietnam. More likely to emphasize engagement over confrontation. His foreign policy is marked by an aggressive use of military power without regard for traditional just war principles, by disregard for international treaties and institutions that the United States has worked for a half-century to build, and by the assertion that American interests trump those of any other country. Catholic teaching in this area emphasizes nonviolence, economic justice and the importance of multilateral treaties and institutions.
Final Grades: Senator Kerry C+ President Bush D+

National Catholic Reporter, October 1, 2004


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