Liberal Catholic Bigotry Against Sarah Palin

The Catholic Left, which ostensibly advocates compassion and justice in the name of Jesus Christ, does not like Sarah Palin, and finds fault with her unwed 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, and even accuses her of apostasy.

Catholic Left notables Michael Sean Winters and Garry Wills are part of a campaign to destroy Palin. The Catholic Left wants to provide pseudo-theological cover for Catholic liberals who wish to vote for the Democratic ticket of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.  Obama supports legalized abortion while Biden, a Catholic, opposes the Magisterium's teaching on abortion.

Winters -- a writer who also blogs on politics for the liberal Catholic magazine, America -- declares Palin to be an apostate. The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 30 that Palin was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant in Idaho. Soon afterward, the Times reported, Palin's family moved to Alaska and attended the Wasilla Assembly of God Church - a Pentecostal congregation in which Palin was baptized again at 12.

"One searches the Code of Canon Law in vain for the term ‘ex-Catholic,'" Winters wrote on America magazine's blog Sept. 4. "Similarly, the Catholic Church does not recognize the ritual the Times called ‘re-baptism.' More importantly, it is difficult to see how submitting oneself to a ‘re-baptism' would not be a renunciation of your prior baptism. And the technical term for renouncing one's baptism is apostasy."

Winters' pomposity becomes more pronounced as his post continues:

"The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law ... recognizes that in a situation like Palin's, the severity of the crime could be mitigated by diminished personal freedom: Even a precocious teenager who commits an act of apostasy might be so strongly influenced by familial considerations that the perpetrator's guilt is diminished."

"A precocious teenager"? What gives Winters the right to make such an audacious judgment? "Severity of the crime"? What crime? Since when is it a crime in the United States -- which guarantees freedom of religious expression in the First Amendment of its Constitution -- for children to attend their parents' church? Since when are young children responsible for their parents' decisions?

Winters continues:

"No one is suggesting that Palin's apostasy should prevent her from being elected to high office. But, while many Catholics may warm to Palin's moral views, for example, her opposition to abortion, the cavalier way she evidently treats an act of severe sacramental and canonical significance should give pause to those who take their religion seriously. Palin could show her respect for the Catholic Church and its canons by requesting a formal separation from the Church from her local bishop. This might not be good politics but it would be good for her soul."

Given that Palin's family switched churches when she was an infant, it is highly doubtful that Palin ever perceived herself as a Catholic. Perhaps if Palin promoted herself as a Catholic or proclaimed that her opinions reflected Catholic thinking, then Winters might have a point. But as the next passage makes clear, Winters' opinion about the state of Palin's soul merely obscures his real concern:

"... it is beyond hypocritical for certain conservative Catholics to denounce Joe Biden because he is Catholic and does not support making abortion illegal while applauding a self-described ‘hockey Mom' who is skating close to apostasy."

Wills, a professor at Northwestern University who writes on American and Catholic history, raised Palin's 17-year-old daughter as an issue in his Sept. 2 commentary  in the New York Times. Wills had the audacity to imply that Palin is unfit for consideration because, among other things, she is the parent of an unwed mother:

"...she was a director of a political committee in support of Ted Stevens, the Alaska senator now under indictment; an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute. Perhaps Governor Palin, realizing that and trying to minimize her own humiliation in coming days, should withdraw before she is nominated and let Senator McCain turn again to one of his more experienced options."

What does an unwed daughter's pregnancy have to do with any candidate's qualifications and fitness for office? Moreover, why do liberals who criticize conservatives for obsessing about sexual matters in politics suddenly display the same obsession? When former Pres. Bill Clinton faced perjury charges resulting from his non-marital sexual behavior, Wills criticized Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr for pursuing an investigation while reviewing[TL1]  Clinton's autobiography, My Life, for the New York Review of Books in 2004:

"Though Clinton's conduct was inexcusable, it does pale next to the deep and vast abuses of power that Kenneth Starr sponsored and protected." Wills never bothers to enumerate Starr's alleged "abuses of power." Instead, he engages in personal invective:


"(Starr) is a deceptively sweet-looking fellow, a dimpled, flutily warbling Pillsbury Doughboy. A man of honor would not have accepted his appointment by a right-wing judge to replace Robert Fiske, a Republican general counsel who was a distinguished prosecutor....The wonder is that Starr got away with all his offenses."

Wills handles his facts as carelessly as his conclusions. Four days before Wills' commentary on Governor Palin appeared, NBC's Doug Adams described Palin and Stevens as opponents on a post for MSNBC.com. Adams cited Palin's defeat of Stevens' ally, Frank Murkowski, in Alaska's Republican gubernatorial primary and her public criticism of Stevens when he was indicted on corruption charges. Yet Wills does not extend his moral outrage to the current Democratic ticket. He has never suggested that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama -- the Democratic Party's presidential nominee -- ask Biden to leave the ticket because Biden once plagiarized the speeches of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Nor has Wills suggested that Obama might be unfit for consideration because of his associations with William Ayers, the unrepentant former Weather Underground terrorist, or Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June for seeking bribes from companies that wanted to do business with the State of Illinois. Yet liberal Catholics suggest that Palin should not be elected because of her religious associations and views. Consider reaction to this statement Palin made in June at the Wasilla Assembly of God, now her former church:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right; also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending (U.S. soldiers) out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

The liberal Catholic blog Vox Nova -- which openly supports Obama and condemns the American military presence in Iraq -- not only accused Palin of being a stalking horse for a conservative Protestant ideology that combines patriotism and fundamentalist eschatology, but also essentially equated her political beliefs with those of Islamic terrorists:

"So, when we combine emotional frenzy with a belief that the end of the world in coming and that God will take sides in the coming war - are we talking about Ahmadinejad's Shia Islam or this American Protestantism that Palin seems associated with? Either way, it's frightening. And it's time for Catholics in America to stop defending this nonsense simply because they view these people as part of a common political alliance."

Rod Dreher, a member of the Dallas Morning News' editorial board, took a calmer view in his own blog:

"Is it just me, or does this sound like Palin is praying that the mission will be aligned with God's will? Don't we all hope and pray that whatever this nation does, especially with its military, that it will be in accord with the will of God? There's a vast difference between praying that our actions are in accord with God's plan, and assuming that it is."

On the other hand, Vox Nova defended Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- Obama's former pastor -- for such anti-American remarks as blaming the United States for its own victimization by Islamic terrorists seven years ago:

"...did Wright say, as is claimed, that the United States is responsible for 9/11? That could mean two entirely different things: (i) the policies of the United States led directly to the hatred that took the form of terrorism, or (ii) United States somehow deserved to be attacked, got what was coming to it. Clearly, (i) is supported by common sense, and is in line with Catholic social teaching...From what I read, Wright is supporting interpretation (i), not (ii). He is talking about the faults, hypocrisy, and hubris of the United States as its military might engages the world. He is talking about the blindness of so many Americans who see their country as a beacon of hope and freedom- and yet fomenting violence and supporting regimes around the world that stamp on human dignity. This notion of ‘blindness' is a very biblical notion, coming out clearly in John's gospel."

Vox Nova views Rev. Wright's sermons as so politically prophetic that the blog's writers - including a former Congressional staffer and a theology professor -- excuse his proclamation, "God damn America!"

"He is using the ‘God damn' phrase in its modern incarnation of ‘a plague upon' rather than an invocation of what he sees as divine justice... at the end of the day, this is a minor transgression. Fundamentally, therefore, there is no evidence that Wright is supporting violence."

Wills and Winters also have political motivations for their bigotry. In his review of Wills' book, Head and Heart: American Christianities, Patrick Allitt of the New York Times described Wills' perspective:

"Wills never loses sight of contemporary affairs, and readers will have no doubt where his political sympathies lie. The book ends with a long attack on Bush, Karl Rove and their manipulation of religion in the interest of the Republican Party....By contrast he sees Barack Obama as a candidate whose ideas about the use of religion in politics are just right. A lengthy quotation from one of Obama's speeches seems to affirm Wills' views about the different roles churches and politicians should play in confronting problems, like AIDS, that have both moral and political dimensions."

Winters' attitude is more pronounced, as the title of his latest book makes clear: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats. In a commentary for The New Republic,[TL2]  Winters suggested to Obama and the Democrats that "Catholic social thought provides Democrats with the kind of moral vision and linguistic clarity that their economic positions have lacked for decades now."  For Winters, that includes "government intervention on behalf of the common good."

Regarding Iraq, Winters wrote that Obama could "go to a Catholic university and discuss how the fiasco in Iraq might have been avoided, not only by reading the National Intelligence Estimate, but also by consulting the 5th century just-war theories of St. Augustine."

Conservative Catholic commentator George Weigel, who wrote Pope John Paul II's official biography, once described  Winters' rhetoric as "combining low-grade sourcing, a faux-authoritative voice, and leftist political spin in equally impressive measures." Members of the Catholic Left and their secular allies do not criticize Palin for what she has done or might do in office but for who she is. Condemning Palin for "apostasy" or dismissing her unwed, pregnant daughter is the same kind of Pharisaical behavior that such "progressives" routinely condemn conservatives for allegedly exhibiting. By smearing Palin, they reveal far more about themselves and their own sort of morality.
The Catholic Left, which ostensibly advocates compassion and justice in the name of Jesus Christ, does not like Sarah Palin, and finds fault with her unwed 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, and even accuses her of apostasy.

Catholic Left notables Michael Sean Winters and Garry Wills are part of a campaign to destroy Palin. The Catholic Left wants to provide pseudo-theological cover for Catholic liberals who wish to vote for the Democratic ticket of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.  Obama supports legalized abortion while Biden, a Catholic, opposes the Magisterium's teaching on abortion.

Winters -- a writer who also blogs on politics for the liberal Catholic magazine, America -- declares Palin to be an apostate. The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 30 that Palin was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant in Idaho. Soon afterward, the Times reported, Palin's family moved to Alaska and attended the Wasilla Assembly of God Church - a Pentecostal congregation in which Palin was baptized again at 12.

"One searches the Code of Canon Law in vain for the term ‘ex-Catholic,'" Winters wrote on America magazine's blog Sept. 4. "Similarly, the Catholic Church does not recognize the ritual the Times called ‘re-baptism.' More importantly, it is difficult to see how submitting oneself to a ‘re-baptism' would not be a renunciation of your prior baptism. And the technical term for renouncing one's baptism is apostasy."

Winters' pomposity becomes more pronounced as his post continues:

"The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law ... recognizes that in a situation like Palin's, the severity of the crime could be mitigated by diminished personal freedom: Even a precocious teenager who commits an act of apostasy might be so strongly influenced by familial considerations that the perpetrator's guilt is diminished."

"A precocious teenager"? What gives Winters the right to make such an audacious judgment? "Severity of the crime"? What crime? Since when is it a crime in the United States -- which guarantees freedom of religious expression in the First Amendment of its Constitution -- for children to attend their parents' church? Since when are young children responsible for their parents' decisions?

Winters continues:

"No one is suggesting that Palin's apostasy should prevent her from being elected to high office. But, while many Catholics may warm to Palin's moral views, for example, her opposition to abortion, the cavalier way she evidently treats an act of severe sacramental and canonical significance should give pause to those who take their religion seriously. Palin could show her respect for the Catholic Church and its canons by requesting a formal separation from the Church from her local bishop. This might not be good politics but it would be good for her soul."

Given that Palin's family switched churches when she was an infant, it is highly doubtful that Palin ever perceived herself as a Catholic. Perhaps if Palin promoted herself as a Catholic or proclaimed that her opinions reflected Catholic thinking, then Winters might have a point. But as the next passage makes clear, Winters' opinion about the state of Palin's soul merely obscures his real concern:

"... it is beyond hypocritical for certain conservative Catholics to denounce Joe Biden because he is Catholic and does not support making abortion illegal while applauding a self-described ‘hockey Mom' who is skating close to apostasy."

Wills, a professor at Northwestern University who writes on American and Catholic history, raised Palin's 17-year-old daughter as an issue in his Sept. 2 commentary  in the New York Times. Wills had the audacity to imply that Palin is unfit for consideration because, among other things, she is the parent of an unwed mother:

"...she was a director of a political committee in support of Ted Stevens, the Alaska senator now under indictment; an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute. Perhaps Governor Palin, realizing that and trying to minimize her own humiliation in coming days, should withdraw before she is nominated and let Senator McCain turn again to one of his more experienced options."

What does an unwed daughter's pregnancy have to do with any candidate's qualifications and fitness for office? Moreover, why do liberals who criticize conservatives for obsessing about sexual matters in politics suddenly display the same obsession? When former Pres. Bill Clinton faced perjury charges resulting from his non-marital sexual behavior, Wills criticized Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr for pursuing an investigation while reviewing[TL1]  Clinton's autobiography, My Life, for the New York Review of Books in 2004:

"Though Clinton's conduct was inexcusable, it does pale next to the deep and vast abuses of power that Kenneth Starr sponsored and protected." Wills never bothers to enumerate Starr's alleged "abuses of power." Instead, he engages in personal invective:


"(Starr) is a deceptively sweet-looking fellow, a dimpled, flutily warbling Pillsbury Doughboy. A man of honor would not have accepted his appointment by a right-wing judge to replace Robert Fiske, a Republican general counsel who was a distinguished prosecutor....The wonder is that Starr got away with all his offenses."

Wills handles his facts as carelessly as his conclusions. Four days before Wills' commentary on Governor Palin appeared, NBC's Doug Adams described Palin and Stevens as opponents on a post for MSNBC.com. Adams cited Palin's defeat of Stevens' ally, Frank Murkowski, in Alaska's Republican gubernatorial primary and her public criticism of Stevens when he was indicted on corruption charges. Yet Wills does not extend his moral outrage to the current Democratic ticket. He has never suggested that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama -- the Democratic Party's presidential nominee -- ask Biden to leave the ticket because Biden once plagiarized the speeches of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Nor has Wills suggested that Obama might be unfit for consideration because of his associations with William Ayers, the unrepentant former Weather Underground terrorist, or Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June for seeking bribes from companies that wanted to do business with the State of Illinois. Yet liberal Catholics suggest that Palin should not be elected because of her religious associations and views. Consider reaction to this statement Palin made in June at the Wasilla Assembly of God, now her former church:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right; also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending (U.S. soldiers) out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

The liberal Catholic blog Vox Nova -- which openly supports Obama and condemns the American military presence in Iraq -- not only accused Palin of being a stalking horse for a conservative Protestant ideology that combines patriotism and fundamentalist eschatology, but also essentially equated her political beliefs with those of Islamic terrorists:

"So, when we combine emotional frenzy with a belief that the end of the world in coming and that God will take sides in the coming war - are we talking about Ahmadinejad's Shia Islam or this American Protestantism that Palin seems associated with? Either way, it's frightening. And it's time for Catholics in America to stop defending this nonsense simply because they view these people as part of a common political alliance."

Rod Dreher, a member of the Dallas Morning News' editorial board, took a calmer view in his own blog:

"Is it just me, or does this sound like Palin is praying that the mission will be aligned with God's will? Don't we all hope and pray that whatever this nation does, especially with its military, that it will be in accord with the will of God? There's a vast difference between praying that our actions are in accord with God's plan, and assuming that it is."

On the other hand, Vox Nova defended Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- Obama's former pastor -- for such anti-American remarks as blaming the United States for its own victimization by Islamic terrorists seven years ago:

"...did Wright say, as is claimed, that the United States is responsible for 9/11? That could mean two entirely different things: (i) the policies of the United States led directly to the hatred that took the form of terrorism, or (ii) United States somehow deserved to be attacked, got what was coming to it. Clearly, (i) is supported by common sense, and is in line with Catholic social teaching...From what I read, Wright is supporting interpretation (i), not (ii). He is talking about the faults, hypocrisy, and hubris of the United States as its military might engages the world. He is talking about the blindness of so many Americans who see their country as a beacon of hope and freedom- and yet fomenting violence and supporting regimes around the world that stamp on human dignity. This notion of ‘blindness' is a very biblical notion, coming out clearly in John's gospel."

Vox Nova views Rev. Wright's sermons as so politically prophetic that the blog's writers - including a former Congressional staffer and a theology professor -- excuse his proclamation, "God damn America!"

"He is using the ‘God damn' phrase in its modern incarnation of ‘a plague upon' rather than an invocation of what he sees as divine justice... at the end of the day, this is a minor transgression. Fundamentally, therefore, there is no evidence that Wright is supporting violence."

Wills and Winters also have political motivations for their bigotry. In his review of Wills' book, Head and Heart: American Christianities, Patrick Allitt of the New York Times described Wills' perspective:

"Wills never loses sight of contemporary affairs, and readers will have no doubt where his political sympathies lie. The book ends with a long attack on Bush, Karl Rove and their manipulation of religion in the interest of the Republican Party....By contrast he sees Barack Obama as a candidate whose ideas about the use of religion in politics are just right. A lengthy quotation from one of Obama's speeches seems to affirm Wills' views about the different roles churches and politicians should play in confronting problems, like AIDS, that have both moral and political dimensions."

Winters' attitude is more pronounced, as the title of his latest book makes clear: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats. In a commentary for The New Republic,[TL2]  Winters suggested to Obama and the Democrats that "Catholic social thought provides Democrats with the kind of moral vision and linguistic clarity that their economic positions have lacked for decades now."  For Winters, that includes "government intervention on behalf of the common good."

Regarding Iraq, Winters wrote that Obama could "go to a Catholic university and discuss how the fiasco in Iraq might have been avoided, not only by reading the National Intelligence Estimate, but also by consulting the 5th century just-war theories of St. Augustine."

Conservative Catholic commentator George Weigel, who wrote Pope John Paul II's official biography, once described  Winters' rhetoric as "combining low-grade sourcing, a faux-authoritative voice, and leftist political spin in equally impressive measures." Members of the Catholic Left and their secular allies do not criticize Palin for what she has done or might do in office but for who she is. Condemning Palin for "apostasy" or dismissing her unwed, pregnant daughter is the same kind of Pharisaical behavior that such "progressives" routinely condemn conservatives for allegedly exhibiting. By smearing Palin, they reveal far more about themselves and their own sort of morality.