HARRISBURG, Pa. — Like his father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, Bob Casey Jr., is a Democratic rarity: He’s pro-life and a supporter of the traditional definition of marriage. The Pennsylvania state treasurer is the likely Democratic standard-bearer against incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in this fall’s U.S. Senate election.
But a recent appearance as keynote speaker at a homosexual lobby group’s fund-raising dinner in Philadelphia has caused some Catholics and pro-family advocates to question Casey’s credentials as a family-friendly Catholic politician.
Casey’s father became a hero to pro-life Democrats after he was barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic national convention because of his strong pro-life beliefs. He died in 2000. But while the younger Casey is also strongly pro-life, he took part in a Feb. 18 dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the leading homosexual-rights lobby in the United States.
Associated Press reported Feb.19 that immediately before Casey spoke, “a short film was shown on two large video screens asking for help in beating Santorum and featuring Santorum’s picture beside quotes from an April 2003 interview with the Associated Press in which he compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery.”
In his remarks, Casey promised to “fight discrimination wherever I find it” and criticized Santorum’s positions as “intolerant.”
“I think it’s time we had a senator who wasn’t pushing a narrow, intolerant ideology that says ‘I’m right, you’re wrong ... and you don’t know better,’” Casey said in the AP report.
Santorum, a Catholic who is one of the most prominent pro-life and pro-family politicians in Congress, opposes both homosexual “marriage” and civil unions that would grant same-sex couples many of the rights and benefits of marriage. Casey supports civil unions.
In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document entitled “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.” It states that all forms of homosexual unions are immoral and must always be opposed by Catholics, and it stresses that “Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians” (No. 10).
Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a Michigan-based Catholic advocacy organization, said Casey’s participation in the Human Rights Campaign dinner is one of several recent instances of Casey’s “growing alliance” with liberal lobby groups.
“His partnership with these organizations flies in the face of what he tells voters on the issues of life, faith and family,” Cella said. “He is directly linked to organizations and individuals who are openly hostile to the Church’s teachings on faith and morals.”
Casey has also come under attack from pro-family groups.
“Politicians who are truly pro-family should see the dangerous ramifications of validating the homosexual lifestyle,” Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania said in a Feb. 20 statement.
Pennsylvania psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, co-author of the Catholic Medical Association’s statement, “Homosexuality and Hope,” said that by endorsing civil unions, Casey is ignoring medical and psychological facts.
Fitzgibbons said recent studies in the Netherlands and New Zealand have demonstrated that extreme promiscuity is the norm in homosexual relationships and that individuals who engage in homosexual behavior are far likelier to suffer depression, drug addiction and suicidal tendencies.
“The same-sex lifestyle is associated with severe medical illnesses and severe psychiatric illnesses,” Fitzgibbons said. “Bob Casey wants to deny medical science. Rick Santorum does not.”
In an interview, Casey said that while he “certainly tries” to be a faithful Catholic, he does not believe that his actions as a public official should always conform to Church teachings.
When a conflict between the two occurs, he said, “I think you have an oath of office to fulfill to the people who elected you, and when it comes to a public policy issue, that’s your first obligation.”
Regarding his support for both the traditional definition of marriage and civil unions, Casey said, “That’s a conclusion I reached based upon how I look at the relationship between people and what I think a lot of people believe is the right approach to that issue. But I also think that it’s the right position to support civil unions so that people [of the same sex] who want to make a commitment to each other can have that opportunity within our legal framework.”
According to Casey, his positions on life and family issues are consistent with his father’s political philosophy.
“He was consistent — he was pro-life and he was also pro-family in the real sense of the word, which meant he supported mothers and children before and after birth,” Casey said. “And he also had a very, very strong stance against discrimination. He would not countenance or allow to have happen discrimination based upon any classification, whether it was race or gender or whether someone was gay or lesbian or whether they had a characteristic that someone targeted for discrimination.”
Raymond Flynn, a former Democratic mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Holy See during the Clinton administration, said that he wasn’t aware of the specifics of Casey’s appearance at the fund-raising dinner. But if Casey confined himself while there to opposing discrimination, his attendance was an acceptable action for a Catholic politician who is concerned with the Church’s social justice teachings, Flynn suggested.
The real problem in contemporary U.S. politics, according to Flynn, is the excessive sway that elitist conservative and liberal interest groups hold over both major parties. Said Flynn, “It would be nice if people like Casey didn’t have to pander to these groups.”
The remedy, Flynn said, is for average Catholic voters to mobilize and demand that politicians focus on their key concerns like quality healthcare, instead of things like homosexual “marriage” that matter to only a small minority.
“At some point in time, the Catholic faithful have to get off the sidelines and stop being spectators,” Flynn said. “As I used to hear John Paul II say all the time, ‘A faithful Catholic is an active Catholic.’”
Tom McFeely is based in
Victoria, British Columbia.