Discussions of the Catholic vote have floated around our seminar all semester. Considering I had little idea of what the Catholic vote was before I started this school year, it is safe to now say that it does not exist. Although a cohesive Catholic vote is impossible, Catholic upbringing still influences social and political values that tie into voting and legislation. Catholicism influences and justifies all areas of political opinions. The harm of considering a united Catholic vote is ignoring the abundance of personal interpretations.
On Tuesday of this week, the class took a field trip to Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-Op Bookstore to see Steven Millies discuss his book— Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump. Other than enjoying Hyde Park in the fall, the event provided a well-rounded discussion of ways to view the Catholic vote in the present. To Millies, the Catholic vote is not as prominent as it once was considered. Since using Roe v. Wade (1973) as a starting point for his timeline, Catholics were already assimilated into American society. According to Millies, when the scrutiny became whether a person was communist or not, Catholic assimilation finished embedding into US society. Millies’s discussions connected heavily to our discussions in class that the Catholic vote does not exist. As Millies stressed the importance of ethnicity and other factors in voting, I could not help but think about class discussions of the importance of intersectionality in evaluating a person in society.
However, as intersectionality progresses, religion still takes a part in how a person votes. Although there is not a unified vote, Catholics use religion (knowingly or not) to influence their morals and values in all areas of America’s political spectrum. I see the Supreme Court voting record of Justice William Brennan as an example of how Catholicism can still influence political opinions. Scholar Samuel Mills thought Brennan rejected his Catholic upbringing in his progressive voting record: “Justice Brennan faced a number of cases that forced him to choose between following mandates of the Constitution as he viewed them and following the will of his own religious leaders” (Mills 772). The problem with Mills’ argument was that he assumed all Catholics voted the same. Brennan’s Catholic upbringing directly influenced his morals as much as Catholics who disagreed with his decisions.
Another scholar, William Blake, provided a better opinion: “justices may be right in the sense that they never consciously base their judicial behavior on their religious values, but it would be impossible for a judge to suppress her or his values completely” (Blake 814). Even if the influence is subconscious, religion and upbringing still took part in intersections of Brennan’s and others’ decisions. Although the Catholic vote is not united, the influences in all opinions are legitimate. Additionally, the pronouncement of Humanae Vitae procured a division in the Catholic Church where both sides of opinion used Catholicism in their justifications. The split from Humanae Vitae was explored in a Studs Terkel interview with Father John O’Brien. An anonymous mother in the interview also proclaimed that the writing is “making sinners out of good Catholics.” O’Brien discussed that the Vatican needed to catch up with the Church as a living organism. Also, the birth control issue would not have been an issue if a majority of the hierarchy leaders were married or interacted with women more. I like to think this could have implied giving women a larger role in the Church, but it is not explicit or confirmed. As O’Brien thought that Humanae Vitae contradicted the Catholic Church, Pope Paul VI thought writing benefited the Church. The same foundation provided arguments for and against a political opinion.
Studs Terkel’s interview also discussed the current level of political participation from nuns. Nuns provide a better argument of the drastic changes in how Catholics govern. In the 19thcentury and prior, “nuns were expected to provide the services to which they had committed their lives in a spirit of meekness, humility, and detachment” (Hoy 65). Evaluated in this quote by Sullen Hoy, Catholic nuns were expected to be obedient and not be directly involved in politics. However, by discussions in the 1960s, the opposite was encouraged. O’Brien in the Terkel interview put the modern roles of nuns well when he said they, “do good and serve God by going out and giving bread to the starving, bandaging the wounds of the suffering, cooling the feverish brow of the sick.” The change of nuns in the mid-20thcentury is a product of the call for direct political action in the global climate and the need for the Church to catch up in a rapidly changing society. Catholics, like any other political figures, change how they govern by adapting to their modern values. Humanae Vitae can be seen as an attempt to stay with the traditional, docile expectations by the Church, but the response triggered by the writing proved that the Church can also support the other end of the spectrum. Some areas of the Church will grow faster than others.
This informational video of Catholic Charities provides an example of Catholics who came together in a time of “immense political, social and economic change” to directly interact and help those in need. As I explored a Chicago Catholic Charities Center in the Open House Chicago, it is important to note the influence of nuns not provided in this video. As nuns were encouraged to interact directly with the public, Catholic Charities provided a segway to achieve this modern change.
Blake, William. “God Save This Honorable Court: Religion as a Source of Judicial Policy Preferences.” Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 4 (2012): 814-26.
Hoy, Suellen. “The Journey Out: The Recruitment and Emigration of Irish Religious Women to the United States, 1812-1914.” Journal of Women’s History 7, no. 1 (1995): 64-98.
Mills, Samuel A. “Parochiaid and the Abortion Decisions: Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. versus the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy.” Journal of Church and State 34, no. 4 (1992): 751-73.