Roman Catholics form a large proportion of voters in the United States, around 25 per cent. They’ve seldom been considered a particularly monolithic voting block, however. A report in the Washington Post on October 8, 2008, highlights a new poll that examines the attitudes of older and younger Catholics to traditional Catholic hot buttons associated with the so-called “culture wars”,
The teaching of the Roman Catholic church on contraception and abortion is particularly draconian: they are both forbidden, and in this election the American church hierarchy has gone out of its way to discourage any Catholic from voting Democrat because of the Democrat “pro-choice” policies on abortion.
But attitudes towards abortion in the Catholic church are changing, if the opinions of younger Catholics in a poll from Public Religion Research is correct. Half of all Catholics disagree with their church and say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In younger Catholics (18-34) this rises to 60 per cent.
This comes at a time when, according to a report released by Pew Forums, most Americans are becoming wary of church involvement in politics.
Another factor of interest is the recent intellectual dissent within conservative Catholicism itself, when Douglas Kmiec, a well respected conservative legal scholar, endorsed Obama for the Presidency. Elsewhere, Kmiec argues that the battle to ban abortion has been lost, but Obama’s health policies will lead to a reduction in abortions. This hasn’t made him popular with the Catholic clergy, but there is clear evidence that the laity have become practised at such nuanced judgements for some time, despite the single-issue exhortations of the bishops.
Away from the soundbites and the headlines and the simplistic “child-murder” slogans of the anti-abortionist core, Catholics continue to exercise their judgement in balancing issues of faith with more practical matters of how the world’s most powerful republic is to be governed. Each new generation is more liberal than the last.