It seems as Barack Obama’s polling numbers increasingly come down to Earth, his media apologists get more desperate to hail him as the secular Messiah. Perhaps no effort gets quite so embarrassingly sycophantic as Newsweek’s decision to print this mash note from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on the occasion of Obama’s first visit with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican this week. Townsend argues that Obama is literally more Catholic than the Pope. Here are Newsweek’s alpha and omega:
In truth, though, Obama’s pragmatic approach to divisive policy (his notion that we should acknowledge the good faith underlying opposing viewpoints) and his social-justice agenda reflect the views of American Catholic laity much more closely than those vocal bishops and pro-life activists. When Obama meets the pope tomorrow, they’ll politely disagree about reproductive freedoms and homosexuality, but Catholics back home won’t care, because they know Obama’s on their side. In fact, Obama’s agenda is closer to their views than even the pope’s. …
Notre Dame awarded the president an honorary degree because it saw the need to highlight the best of Catholic teaching as applied to politics: the ability to open the eyes of those who would prefer to keep them closed, and to open the hearts of those who would prefer not to know the pain that their actions cause. The pope has a lot to learn about Catholic politics in America. Barack Obama can teach him.
In between these two paragraphs, Townsend fills the pages with the usual liberal complaints about the church, including gay rights, abortion, and — this is the best part — a complaint that the church hierarchy doesn’t listen to the congregations and change religious doctrine to match public opinion. She lauds Obama for his ability to “listen” to other points of view, apparently missing the months-long repetition that no one had an alternative to Porkulus when Republicans and Democrats both tried to get votes for smaller and more intelligently-crafted alternatives.
Townsend makes the same mistake about religion that many other Catholics (and not just Catholics) make about it. A church isn’t a democracy, nor is it a nation. The Catholic Church serves what its sees as eternal truths about God, Jesus Christ, and the world, and invites those who believe similarly to join. No one is forced to remain a Catholic anywhere in the world, nor are Lutherans, Episcopalians, and so on. Certainly one can disagree on policy and practices, as many Catholics do, but on doctrine, the church does not take polls.
Thus, one can agree on the doctrine of social justice but disagree on the best policies to achieve it. One can agree on the dignity of human life and still disagree on issues like incarceration, executions (which, contrary to popular belief, is not proscribed by Catholic doctrine), charity for the poor, and the economic policies of free nations. But someone who believes that infants born during botched abortions should not be protected by a law requiring the abortionists to seek independent medical help for them is acting contrary to Catholic doctrine, which is and should be immutable.
At least Obama doesn’t claim to be Catholic, even if Townsend thinks he’s more Catholic than Benedict. Townsend wants a church that bends to the will of the mob, which isn’t a church at all but a social club or a political party. Let Obama remain the head of his political party, and perhaps Catholics like Townsend should pay more attention to the church’s teachings — or find a social club to join instead.