Getting Rudy's Catholicism right (well, mostly)

rudy At the risk of not offending GR readers and generating few comments from said group, I offer a qualified endorsement of two stories about Rudy Giuliani's Catholicism. A recent cover story in The New Republic linked Giuliani's political outlook to his education in Catholic social teaching. Meanwhile, the latest Newsweek reports that Giuliani's pro-choice stand will continue to draw outspoken opposition from traditional Catholics. While neither story offers sufficient perspective, each grasps an important truth about Giuliani: his Catholic upbringing continues to define him.

John Judis of The New Republic wrote the more intriguing of the two stories. Part of his thesis is that Giulianis' lifelong efforts to combat crime and disorder with his Catholic education:

There are two aspects of Catholic philosophy that show up clearly in Giuliani's political outlook. The first, which he would have found at almost any religious school, is a tendency to view politics and history as a moral contest between good and evil. That is sharply in contrast to a secular post-Enlightenment view of individuals--from presidents to petty thieves--as products of historical forces greater than themselves. The difference between Giuliani's view and the secular one would show up in his attitude toward crime and criminals.

Second, Giuliani was exposed to a specifically Catholic (as opposed to Protestant-individualist) view of the relationship between authority and liberty--one that dates from Aquinas's Christian Aristotelianism, was spelled out in Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical on the Nature of Human Liberty, and still enjoys currency today, even in the wake of Vatican II. Catholic thinkers do not see liberty as an end in itself, but as a means-a "natural endowment"--by which to achieve the common good. For that to happen, individuals have to be encouraged to use their liberty well; and that is where authority comes into play. Authority, embodied by law and the state, encourages--at times, forces--free individuals to contribute to the common good. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms:Authority--by creating a just order--encourages liberty over license.

Judis' point is well taken. It's no accident that while mayor of New York that Giuliani cut crime and disorder. His Catholic schooling paved the way for his interest in the topic. Just think of his mayoral predecessors: Abe Beame, Ed Koch, and David Dinkins. None of them were educated at a Catholic high school and college as Giuliani was.

If Judis were an expert in Catholicism, he might have teased out how Giuliani was educated not just in Catholic philosophy but that of the Christian Brothers; Giuliani attended Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn and Manhattan College, both of which are Lasallian schools. ("St. John Baptiste De La Salle, pray for us! In our hearts forever!"). The Christian Brothers' charism is aimed more at educating the working and middle classes, as opposed to the professional classes that the Jesuits aim to teach. But that's asking a bit much of any writer.

My main criticism of Judis' story, which is one I have of every story about Giuliani, is its failure to explore why Giuliani switched in 1989 from pro-life to pro-choice. While Judis notes that Giuliani changed his views in order to win the endorsement of the Liberal Party, this begs some serious questions. Did Giuliani believe he was making a pact with the devil? Or did he consider abortion a fringe issue?

While some readers will no doubt wonder why these questions should be asked in the first place, Newsweek ran an interesting story about the consequences of Giuliani's pro-choice position:

Rudy's Catholic problem is this: he is pro-choice, and 63 percent of white Catholics who go to mass weekly are not. This is a small activist group, yet they are determined, it seems, to see the former mayor fail. Before the Iowa straw poll in August, Fidelis -- a Chicago-based conservative Catholic group -- ran anti-Giuliani ads in Iowa pointing to the candidate's longstanding pro-choice record.

... Now the U.S. Catholic bishops are raising their voices against Giuliani as well. Last week a number of activist bishops told Newsweek they would deny Giuliani communion for his views on abortion—if, after counseling, he continued to hold them. Their rhetoric emphasized human rights and first principles: almost every bishop interviewed by Newsweek called abortion an "intrinsic evil."

Newsweek reporters Lisa Miller and Jessica Ramirez not only get religion, but they also broke ground in doing so. No other journalists have noted that Giuliani's support for abortion rights has already drawn and will draw vigorous opposition from traditional Catholic leaders and activists.

The main weakness of their story is one of context. Like seemingly every story about religion and politics nowadays, it cites Pew for the statistic that Catholics have been moving right since 1992. Try 1972, when Richard Nixon became the first Republican to carry the Catholic vote since Calvin Coolidge. While some GR readers may protest that I am nitpicking here, I am not at all.

In any event, these two stories are to be praised, not condemned.

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