Is the GOP political platform contrary to Catholic teaching?

The president's most influential evangelical advisor makes some surprising claims about many of the party's defining positions.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

Michael Gerson, the devout, born-again evangelical Christian who was one President Bush’s closest advisors until he left the White House in 2006, uses his Washington Post column today to warn his fellow social conservatives about the dangers of electing Rudy Giuliani. In particular, Gerson stresses that Giuliani’s political views, virtually across the board, are squarely at odds with Catholicism, and what is interesting is the list of un-Catholic positions Gerson cites:

Another consequence of a Giuliani victory would be to place the Republican nominee in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. For someone who aspires to be the fourth Roman Catholic to lead a major-party ticket, this is not a minor thing.

Giuliani is not only pro-choice. He has supported embryonic stem cell research and public funding for abortion. He supports the death penalty. He supports “waterboarding” of terror suspects and seems convinced that the conduct of the war on terrorism has been too constrained. Individually, these issues are debatable. Taken together, they are the exact opposite of Catholic teaching, which calls for a “consistent ethic of life” rather than its consistent devaluation.

No one inspired by the social priorities of Pope John Paul II can be encouraged by the political views of Rudy Giuliani. Church officials who criticized John Kerry on abortion are anxious for the opportunity to demonstrate their bipartisanship by going after a Republican. Those attacks on Giuliani have already begun.

In listing Giuliani’s political views which are squarely at odds with core Catholic teachings, Gerson forgot to mention one little issue. From Fox News, two weeks prior to the invasion of Iraq:

Pope John Paul II and top Vatican officials are unleashing a barrage of condemnations of a possible U.S. military strike on Iraq, calling it immoral, risky and a “crime against peace.”

The unwavering stance has made the pope one of the most visible opponents of war in current circumstances, and a rallying point for peace groups and politicians who seize on his words counseling against war.

Indeed, contrast Giuliani’s specific support for the Iraq invasion and his more general mantra about the need to “stay on offense against The Terrorists” with the views on such matters of the Vatican:

[Then-Cardinal-now-Pope] Ratzinger has said, “A preventive war is not in the Catechism.”

Civilta Cattolica points out that an American attack on Iraq would be motivated in large part by political and economic reasons rather than military necessity and rejects the Bush argument that a preventive war should be considered a defensive action. Archbishop Martino said that “a preventive war is a war of aggression.”

Of course, Giuliani isn’t the only politician who supports the death penalty, waterboarding, a “war on terrorism” fought with few if any moral restraints, and “preventive wars”. As it happens, Gerson’s ex-boss enthusiastically shares that same agenda, which Gerson describes, accurately, as being “the exact opposite of Catholic teaching . . . for a ‘consistent ethic of life.’” In fact, virtually the entire bulk of the Republican Party shares this “anti-life” agenda.

Add on to that list of decisively un-Catholic views the GOP’s fervent opposition to anti-poverty programs and borderline-religious support for tax cuts for the wealthiest, policies condemned with equal fervor by the Catholic Church, and what you have is a political movement that on virtually every significant issue other than abortion is one that is at war with the core, defining teachings of Catholicism.

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But that did not stop the media from depicting the Republicans in 2004, and generally, as the party of “people of faith.” Nor did it stop self-professed “Party of Death” opponents from lending their full-throated support to the Republican Party despite its litany of anti-life and un-Catholic positions.

Most significantly, none of this stopped the GOP in 2004 from making John Kerry’s alleged hostility to his own church a centerpiece of its campaign, including the disgustingly exploitive argument in the middle of an election that he should be denied communion. As Reason Magazine documented in 2005:

The contemporary Catholic vote is now the most important swing vote in American politics. . . . Hence, the Republican Party’s “Catholic Strategy.” Bush strategist Karl Rove identified the Catholic vote as central to his long-term plan to convert swathes of traditional Democratic voters, thereby transforming the Republicans into the majority party. Throughout the 2004 campaign, Rove maintained that, if Bush won the Catholic vote, he would be reelected. Rove was right.

It is striking to see one of the nation’s most influential evangelical Christians explicitly acknowledge that the defining Republican policies — the death penalty, unrestrained “terrorism” approaches, waterboarding, and (though Gerson doesn’t mention it) “preventive” wars — are not only un-Catholic, but also hostile to the “ethic of life.” Gerson is right that such policies are decisively anti-life and contrary to Catholic teaching. Beyond that, they are squarely at odds with more general Christian moral teaching as well. Indisputably, there is a “life” and “morality” aspect to the Republican Party’s conduct of the “war on terrorism” and that conduct could not be more at odds with the values they claim to embrace.

Yet our political discourse is sufficiently broken that this is rarely pointed out. The media has decreed that these same Republicans embody the “faith” agenda. Thus the political party that, on one issue after the next, advocates anti-”ethic-of-life” and un-Catholic positions is endlessly presented as the “pro-life” party for “people of faith.” Perhaps now that even Michael Gerson, who bears large responsibility for many of these policies, has acknowledged (in an attempt to hurt Giuliani’s candidacy) that such policies are anti-life and un-Catholic, we can have a a more open and substantive examination of these “faith” and religious influences on our political process.

UPDATE: Related to these issues, Faith in Public Life currently features a debate on the role of religion in politics, and Paul Waldman of Media Matters and TAPPED highlights some of the biases inherent in the media’s treatment of these issues.

On a different note, Open Left is a new website started by Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers and Mike Lux. I have a post there this morning examining the challenges the country faces in recovering from the Bush legacy. The post highlights a rather extraordinary speech delivered on the Senate floor by John Kennedy in 1957, in which he warned of the dangers of American imperialism.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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