George Bush: "Closet Catholic?" Print
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 12 April 2008 08:09
This will get 'em talking.

In anticipation of the Pope's visit next week, the Washington Post ran a piece this morning on President George Bush as a "closet Catholic" ala Tony Blair while still in office. The title? A Catholic Wind in the White House.

As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush's inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America's first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation's first Catholic president.

"I don't think there's any question about it," says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the "Catholic president" label. "He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."

Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.

"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.

Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.

"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.



If George Bush is a "closet Catholic", then he is a "closet particular-shade-of-American-Catholic" that has is blown along by a very particularly American kind of Catholic wind. A wind that fosters a potent cafeteria Catholicism of both the right and the left.

If you want to argue that Bush has been influenced by and adapted a certain part of Catholic teaching that fits rather easily into his existing worldview - ok. I have no problems buying that. In that, he is very much like average American Catholics all along the political spectrum.

But the Church's teaching calls all of us to account regardless of whether we are "natural" liberals or conservatives. red or blue staters. It is supposed to call us to account. The Tradition judges our natural assumptions and inclinations because the Tradition is derived from realities that God has revealed to us, realities that utterly transcend our fallen human responses or knowledge. The fullness of the Church's Tradition challenges those of us on the right just as much as it does those on the left.

The easy solution, the road that most Americans have taken, is to acknowledge those aspects of the Church's social teaching which reinforce what we already held to be true and important and ignore the rest. But that doesn't make us good Catholics.

Until the President shows signs of grasping that most basic of Catholic moral teachings: - you cannot do evil in order to achieve the good - until we see him coming to terms with implications of the Church's teaching on the life and dignity of every person that call into question his hotly defended stands on issues like torture or the death penalty, I can't take him seriously as a "closet Catholic".

And if I am supposed to draw the conclusion from the WaPo atrticle that Bush's policies ,as a whole, are the fruit of his instruction by a bevy of seriously believing, theologically astute, non-cafeteria Catholics, then all I can say is that his advisors have failed in a dramatic fashion.

A "closet Catholic" President would be someone who trusts the Church's role as teacher and is truly seeking to think with the Church about his responsibilities across the board.

Not just using Catholic intellectual sophistication in this area to make more effective arguments for policies that he already supported while turning a deaf ear to things he doesn't want to hear.