A bipartisan group of six former US ambassadors to the Holy See, it was reported two weeks ago, has joined together to support Mitt Romney as presidential candidate and is now calling on other Catholics to do the same.
The former ambassadors said that despite their own political differences, they all believe that Mitt Romney “can be a great force for good in this nation”. All Catholics, they said, are “called to advance the moral teachings of Christianity in the life of our country… Where the stakes are highest – in the defence of life, liberty, and human dignity – we have a duty to act that is greater and more urgent than allegiance to any political party … our concerns lie with fundamental rights, beginning with religious liberty.”
What they were saying, in effect, was that Catholics should vote for Romney because he is not Obama: the Obama administration, they said “has brought our first freedom under direct assault by imposing government mandates that completely disregard religious conscience”, because of the requirement imposed by “Obamacare” forcing employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilisation and abortifacient drugs.
Not only that: “the current administration”, they said, “has now put its weight on the side of those who propose to redefine the meaning of marriage itself.” Romney, however “stood firm in defending this sacred institution” during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
Now there is another reason for Catholics to vote for Romney: it’s not simply that he says he will reverse the most objectionable features of Obamacare: he appears, in his choice of vice-presidential candidate — the outspoken pro-life Catholic Rep Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — to be making it clear that when he says he is pro-life, he actually means it. Not only that: he wants Catholic votes. He introduced Rep Ryan pointedly as “a faithful Catholic” who “believes in the worth and dignity of every human life”. Unlike Governor Romney, the liberal media seems to be de-emphasising Ryan’s Catholicism: according to one of these, the BBC, “correspondents say the selection of Mr Ryan appears to have reinvigorated the Republican campaign. But they caution that Mr Ryan is known for radical proposals to reform government social spending, including on health care programmes, that could prove deeply unpopular among some American voters”. Traditionally, Catholics tend to vote for Democratic candidates: so Obama and his supporters will want to keep away from Catholic issues. But mainstream Catholics (I say nothing of the Pelosi tendency) will surely not only remember these issues, but consider them as central.
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, and Cathy Ruse, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, are reported as saying: “Governor Romney could not have chosen a better person to run with than Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan is not only 100 per cent pro-life, he is a full spectrum conservative and thoroughly unafraid in expressing conservative and pro-life views. We cannot wait to see him debate Vice-President Biden.”
Me, too: Biden, of course, is one of the dodgy Catholics who are 100 per cent behind Obamacare with all its blatant disrespect for religious independence. He supports Roe v Wade and unhesitatingly backs gay marriage (at one time, the White House even told him to downplay this). In sharp contrast, Ryan is, as the Ruses put it, “a Catholic who takes his faith seriously”: he is, they say, “perfectly situated” to defend religious freedom “in this season of easy anti-Catholicism”.
The choice of Representative Ryan is also, incidentally, a neat way of sidelining the issue of Romney’s Mormonism. Personally, I find Mormonism a creepy religion, and can’t imagine why anyone would believe it. But then, that’s what lots of people think about Catholicism. Cardinal Dolan had already dealt with the issue, when he said during a meeting of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League a couple of months ago that Catholics wouldn’t have a problem voting for a Mormon in the White House; and nobody seems to have questioned that since he said it. The simple fact is that Catholics need someone to vote for who rejects the attack on religious independence implicit in the Obamacare legislation. Romney does; end of problem.
Many evangelicals still have problems with Romney’s Mormonism. But even they, it seems, are beginning to see they have nowhere else to go. As Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, puts it: “One should never underestimate President Obama’s unique ability to rally people behind his opponent. Whatever lingering doubts some evangelicals may have about Romney, or discomfort about his Mormon faith, they pale compared with their fears of a second Obama administration”.
One final thought from across the pond: I envy American Catholics for being able to vote for someone who, if elected, will give them the possibility to opt out of funding a healthcare system which provides abortion and contraception. For all that I am, like most other English conservatives, a supporter of our own National Health Service — which many Americans think quite wrongly is a form of Communism, despite the fact that state-funded healthcare has never existed in any Communist country — I am painfully aware that my taxes (for our so-called National Insurance is nothing other than a form of general taxation) fund a system which provides, on demand, both contraception and abortion, even to underage girls, whose parents they do not inform.
That is an abomination, the possibility of which conservative Americans (unlike conservative Englishmen) still have a chance to vote against within their political system. In a democracy, we all have to take the rough with the smooth, of course. Most have a choice of two or at most three viable political parties within which a spectrum of sometimes opposing views exist (in England, at the next election, it will be down to two again; the Lib Dems will be wiped out, and good riddance).
There is a real dilemma for us. What is one to do, in this country, now? Both viable political parties believe in gay marriage, and abortion virtually on demand. What is one to do? Does one simply remove from the electoral equation issues on which there is cross-party agreement, and vote on the rest? I have always believed that one has an absolute moral obligation to exercise one’s vote: but for whom, here, now? That’s a non-rhetorical question; I am open to guidance.
Meanwhile, let us praise the land of the free, where such issues may still be voted on, and where a Catholic must now, surely, vote for Mitt Romney (who is, incidentally, a descendant of the great and splendid English portrait painter George Romney; that gets my vote, Mormon or not).