Vote and Be Damned

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

October 17, 2004

First Dick Cheney said that supporting John Kerry could lead to another terrorist attack.

Then Dennis Hastert said Al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry presidency than under President Bush.

Now the Catholic bishops have upped the ante, indicating that voting for a candidate with Mr. Kerry's policies could lead to eternal damnation.

Conservative bishops and conservative Republicans are working hard to spread the gospel that anyone who supports the Catholic candidate and onetime Boston altar boy who carries a rosary and a Bible with him on the trail is aligned with the forces of evil.

In an interview with The Times's David Kirkpatrick, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said a knowing vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that would have to be confessed before receiving communion. "If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" the archbishop asked. "Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."

As Mr. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein wrote, Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate, many concentrated in swing states. These bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are organizing voter registration and blanketing churches with voter guides that often ignore traditional Catholic concerns about the death penalty and war - the pope opposed the invasion of Iraq - while calling abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate "nonnegotiable."

"Never before have so many bishops so explicitly warned Catholics so close to an election that to vote a certain way was to commit a sin," the Times article said.

Once upon a time, with Al Smith and John Kennedy, the church was proud to see Catholics run for president. The church was as unobtrusive in 1960, trying to help J.F.K., as it is obtrusive now, trying to hurt J.F.K. II.

The conservative bishops, salivating to overturn Roe v. Wade, prefer an evangelical antiabortion president to one of their own who said in Wednesday's debate: "What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith. I believe that choice ... is between a woman, God and her doctor."

Like Mr. Bush, these patriarchal bishops want to turn back the clock to the 50's. They don't want separation of church and state - except in Iraq.

Some of the bishops - the shepherds of a church whose hierarchy bungled the molestation and rape of so many young boys by tolerating it, covering it up, enabling it, excusing it and paying hush money - are still debating whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion.

These bishops are embryo-centric; they are not as concerned with the 1,080 kids killed in a war that the Bush administration launched with lies, or about the lives that could be lost thanks to the president's letting the assault weapons ban lapse, or about all the lives that could be saved and improved with stem cell research.

Mr. Bush derives his immutability from his faith. "I believe that God wants everybody to be free," he said in the last debate, adding that this was "part of my foreign policy."

In today's Times Magazine, Ron Suskind writes that Mr. Bush has created a "faith-based presidency" that has riven the Republican Party.

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official for the first President Bush, told Mr. Suskind that some people now look at Mr. Bush and see "this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." He continued: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them."

The president's certitude - the idea that he can see into people's souls and that God tells him what is right, then W. tells us if he feels like it - is disturbing. It equates disagreeing with him to disagreeing with Him.

The conservative bishops' certitude - the idea that you can't be a good Catholic if you diverge from certain church-decreed mandates or if you want to keep your religion and politics separate - is also disturbing.

America is awash in selective piety, situational moralists and cherry-picking absolutists.