Geraldine Ferraro's Catholic side

Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate on a major party presidential ticket, died today, and we're scanning the obituaries for evidence of her faith. For instance, if you read Politico, you wouldn't know that she was Catholic or struggled with religious leaders over her pro-choice stance.

The lengthy New York Times obituary (which I assume has been ready to go for a while now), makes room for that angle.

The abortion issue, magnified because she was Roman Catholic and a woman, plagued her campaign. Though she opposed the procedure personally, she said, others had the right to choose for themselves. Abortion opponents hounded her at almost every stop with an intensity seldom experienced by male politicians.

Writing in The Washington Post in September 1984, the columnist Mary McGrory quoted an unnamed Roman Catholic priest as saying, "When the nuns in the fifth grade told Geraldine she would have to die for her faith, she didn't know it would be this way."

I suppose that quote from the Catholic priest seemed too good to pass up, but why quote an anonymous source from 1984? No one currently could address the tension between her public and private stance on abortion? The obituary notes some comments she made about President Reagan's faith. "Ms. Ferraro's words raised hackles as well. She was criticized for suggesting that Reagan was not a 'good Christian' because, she said, his policies hurt the disadvantaged."

The Los Angeles Times does a nice job of explaining how Ferraro ended up becoming pro-choice and used a specific example of how she was singled out for her political stance.

Her years as a prosecutor transformed her from a "small-c conservative to a liberal," she would later say. And it would lead her to adopt a view of abortion that would bring damnation from a mighty pulpit.

"You can force a person to have a child, but you can't make the person love that child," Ferraro wrote, reflecting on the child abuse cases she prosecuted. "I don't know what pain a fetus experiences, but I can well imagine the suffering of a four-year-old girl being dipped in boiling water until her skin came off and then lying in bed unattended for two days until she died. And that was only one of the cases seared in my memory."

...In early September, Ferraro began fending off attacks on a new front. New York's Archbishop O'Connor lashed out at her pro-choice stand and said she had misrepresented church teachings on abortion. He even held open the possibility of excommunication. Anti-abortion and pro-choice groups clashed at her rallies.

Time has an archived 1984 article on how abortion became a pressing issue in the campaign for her. Similarly, National Journal looks at her public vs. private faith.

In a 1984 vice presidential debate, Ferraro was closely questioned about her pro-abortion stance. While Ferraro said she would not get an abortion herself, she could not require others to follow her religious views.

"I did not come to my position on abortion very lightly. I am a devout Catholic," said Ferraro. "But I cannot impose my religious views on someone else."

Ferraro said she would resign her position if she could not reconcile her religious views with public office.

Most of the obituaries note that Ferraro was singled out for her pro-choice stance, but few of the stories suggest how much faith factored into either her private or public life. Of all places, we get this from People magazine:

It was after her second loss, in 1998, that she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. The original diagnosis gave her only a few years to survive, but she kept on. "What are my sources of strength? My husband and my three kids [Donna, Laura and John Jr.], my health-care team, and my religion," the Catholic Ferraro once wrote. "My desk drawer is filled with all kinds of prayers."

Maybe she became more vocal about faith during her more recent sickness, but we'll be watching for how further coverage explores her Catholicism on a more personal level.

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