Monday, April 14, 2008

Bush a "Closet Catholic"?

(Hat tip: Eric Pavlat at InsideCatholic)

From The Washington Post:
A Catholic Wind in the White House

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election in 2005, President Bush met with a small circle of advisers in the Oval Office. As some mentioned their own religious backgrounds, the president remarked that he had read one of the new pontiff's books about faith and culture in Western Europe.

Save for one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room. But his interest in the pope's writings was no surprise to those around him. 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.

This isn't as strange a notion as it sounds. Yes, there was John F. Kennedy. But where Kennedy sought to divorce his religion from his office, Bush has welcomed Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings into the White House and based many important domestic policy decisions on them.

"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.

[Read the whole thing]
My Comments:
Stuff like this makes me wince.

For one, is it really appropriate to call a President who is not Catholic "more Catholic" than our nation's only Catholic President? I mean, it's just unseemly to favorably compare the scion of the WASPy Bush family as "more Catholic" than the grandson of Irish Catholic immigrants. If Bush wants to convert to the Faith, then great. But until then, let's hold off on the "more Catholic than" comparisons.

Second, this kind of thing just invites criticism of those policies on which Bush has been out-of-step with the Church and at odds with the Vatican.

Christopher Blosser covers this Post piece and other Bush/Catholic-related stories in an entry titled "Bush & Benedict" over at the Benedict in America blog.

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At 4/14/2008 9:42 AM, Anonymous lwestin said...

Like many many prominent Canadian politicians, including a few Prime Ministers, JFK was not a faithful practicing Catholic. We know this because he was a public man, his life was laid out before us. Many people who call themselves Catholic are in name only. You can't be Catholic and un-Catholic at the same time. Or partly Catholic. Or sometimes, when politically expedient. Or when Grandma is looking.

I have no problem calling Bush more catholic than Jean CHretien or Paul Martin or Pierre Trudeau(3 former PM's)while they were in office (there is always room for conversion post public life).
I can understand that it's hard to give up the'legend',but JFK's example of a Catholic politician is what encouraged people like John Kerry to think he could 'fake it'. It encourages American 'Catholics' all over, to think they can selectively support Catholic doctrine, or be part of the culture without living the life.

Give up the 'legend'. He was handsome and charismatic. (Trudeau was too)But he didn't do the Catholic community any favours by calling himself Catholic.

(a fellow Irish descendant)

At 4/14/2008 10:24 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

What an odd twist of history it would be if both Blair and Bush converted to Catholicism after leaving office...

I don't see it happening, but it would be odd enough to be noteworthy. Perhaps Bush could even be counted on to do something less fluffy with it than Blair's faith foundation.

At 4/14/2008 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the truth that there are growing numbers of what one might call 'real protestants' - people in Christian communities that are not baptized into the Roman Catholic church and are yet baptized - who are not in full communion for reasons of the Ecclesia Domestica (trying to not offend other christian family members) or for reasons of specific doctrine (waiting for the church of rome to rebuff mariolatry) or who stumble over the malignant practices of many unfaithful but 'in communion' clergy and lay Roman Catholics (liberation theology, cafeteria catholics,...) - but who have come to even knowingly embrace large portions of the Church's teachings on topics traditionally at issue between 'Protestants' and 'Catholics' and even look to the teachings of the church for authority on many matters, revere the saints, and so on. In short, they are longing for union, edging towards union, and often more faithful in their practice despite their starvation from certain sacraments than those obese wretches who have feasted at the table and yet polluted the church with their filth.

At 4/14/2008 10:55 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Believe me, I NEVER bought into the Kennedy legend.*

Nonetheless, I have a problem calling the protestant W. "more Catholic" than JFK.

*But neither am I the reflexive Kennedy hater that I once was.

At 4/14/2008 12:04 PM, Anonymous crankycon said...

Yeah, I'm with Jay on this one. Plus there are other questions I would ask before saying that GWB is more Catholic than JFK. For starters, does George Bush believe in the real presence? Hard to say he's more Catholic than JFK if the answer is no.

At 4/14/2008 12:12 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

"For starters, does George Bush believe in the real presence? Hard to say he's more Catholic than JFK if the answer is no."


At 4/14/2008 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is kind of nice that Closet Catholic could be used to describe someone and not meant as an insult. While I think Catholic was more an epitath in the time of Al Smith than Kennedy, I think it was still a real issue. If not in the open, I'll accept them as in the closet. On the Miss America Level, how did that rate?

Personally I don't find the speculation useful. It ranks up there with speculation over Lincoln's sexuality. I think it is enough to say that Lincoln had very close friendships with some men, and I think it is enough to say President Bush has an affinity for some Catholic ideas.

At 4/14/2008 8:11 PM, Blogger Literacy-chic said...

I don't for a moment think that JFK believed in the real presence. Or anything else outside of his charming, charismatic, drug- and sex-addicted, power hungry self. So as far as that goes--no, you can't say that Bush is more Catholic than anyone who is Catholic. Or than anyone who is not Catholic. Because, you see, he's not Catholic. But he may be more Catholic-leaning. Except that he has a kind of Protestant "aura" about him. And was Governor of Texas. Bu tone may have Catholic sympathies and not be Catholic, and that does count for something. Besides, the phrase was just tossed in as an offhanded but of rhetoric. I don't think anyone has one of those Mary Poppins tape measures that says "George Bush: Practically Catholic in Every Way."

At 4/14/2008 8:15 PM, Blogger Literacy-chic said...

Okay... Long day. Excuse the typos.

At 4/14/2008 8:34 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

On a more serious level, what it might be seen as more indicative of is an increasing affinity towards Catholic thought among Protestant groups that used to be actively hostile towards it.

It consistently surprises me how much attention my Baptist boss pays to the pope and his writings. Twenty years ago, that would have been truly bizarre, but these days it seems like (perhaps because of John Paul II's leadership on communism and cultural/moral issues) that's actually fairly normal.

At 4/14/2008 9:04 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I concur with Jay -- however, I think Bush deserves the title of being one of the most "Catholic friendly" Presidents we've had. (More than Reagan? -- I'd actually be curious to see a comparison of how many orthodox Catholics were active in prior administrations).

I hope the trend continues with McCain -- undoubtedly, I expect the opposite under Obama / Hillary'; or at least a considerably different kind of Catholic welcomed into their fold.

At 4/15/2008 5:02 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Smith said...

If he's surrounded by Catholics, it certainly doesn't have any effect on his actions. It's disgraceful to see the president who put torture on the table as an option described as even a "closet Catholic".

At 4/15/2008 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr J. Smith:

I do not like torture either, I hope you are just as harsh with Muslim extremist who torture innocent women and children. In reality, I do not believe that we actually torture terrorists, we just threaten them to make them talk.

At 4/15/2008 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George W's brother Jeb, former governor of Florida is Catholic; so is Jeb's wife. Jeb and W are pretty close.


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