President to Catholic Press: On the Catholic Divide

The divide in practicing versus non-practicing Catholic voters (Gallup).
The divide in practicing versus non-practicing Catholic voters (Gallup). (photo: Gallup)

Another questioner asked the president if he felt as if he had been dragged into a longtime family feud among Catholics, liberal and conservative.

For the second time during the discussion, President Obama mentioned the influence of Cardinal Bernardin.

“When I was first becoming interested in social justice issues, the American bishops were talking about nuclear freezes and sanctuary for illegal immigrants and protesting U.S. policy in Latin America,” said the president. “And there was, I think, a very different set of perspectives that were represented, arising out of the Second Vatican [Council]. And then there was a decided shift that I think took place within — among Church officials. And, in some ways, that tracked changes in American society at large, or at least American politics.”

Furthermore, the president said, “I think responses to my administration mirror tensions within the Church as a whole.”

“Cardinal Bernardin was strongly pro-life, never shrank away from talking about that issue, but was very consistent in talking about a ‘seamless garment’ and a range of issues that were part and parcel of what he considered to be pro-life, that meant that he was concerned about poverty; he was concerned about how children were treated; he was concerned about the death penalty; he was concerned about foreign policy,” said the president. “And that part of the Catholic tradition is something that continues to inspire me. And I think that there have been times over the last decade or two where that more holistic tradition feels like it’s gotten buried under the abortion debate.”

“Now, as a non-Catholic, it’s not up to me to try to resolve those tensions,” he added. “All I can do is to affirm how that other tradition has made me, a non-Catholic, I think reflect on how I can be a better person and has had a powerful influence on my life. And that tells me that it might be a powerful way to move a broader set of values forward in American life generally.”