If Martin O'Malley hired an army of public-relations pros he could not have produced a better White House campaign slogan than the one offered by Religion News service the other day in an online headline about the former Maryland governor. This short news-you-can-use feature was part of its ongoing series offering background on the religious views of various candidates. It proclaimed:
5 faith facts about Martin O’Malley: ‘A Pope Francis Democrat’
Some folks in pews on the cultural and doctrinal right may want to contrast the tone of that with this selection from another RNS digital newsletter:
Southern Baptist bruiser:
5 faith facts about Sen. Lindsey Graham: religious right spear carrier
The RNS mini-feature -- as is the norm with this handy series -- did contain some direct links to information about O'Malley, while editorially stressing that he is, well, read this:
He’s a pray-every-morning, church-every-Sunday (St. Francis of Assisi in Baltimore) believer who sent all four of his kids to Catholic schools. Democratic Party activist and author Jonathan Miller called him, “the rare progressive to frame his strongly felt policy positions in the language of faith.
And toward the end there is this:
He told Esquire magazine one of his role models is “a Jesuit priest by the name of Father Horace McKenna, who ran a mission out of the basement of Saint Aloysius Church. He gave his entire life to serving the poor, and he truly did see the face of God in every individual that he served.”
In other words, O'Malley is a progressive Catholic in the Maryland tradition, embracing the elements of church tradition that fit his party's platform and personalizing those that do not. You know, kind of like the reverse of most GOP Catholics and Libertarians (yes, I say that as a pro-life Democrat).
The key, in the next few months, is how the mainstream press does or does not compare the actual content of his views -- and those of other candidates, left and right -- with what Pope Francis has actually said and the teachings he has affirmed, as opposed to the news-media coverage of a few papal statements, often yanked out of context.
While never actually quoting Pope Francis on any of the relevant issues in moral theology, the RNS feature notes, of O'Malley:
2. He holds positions contrary to some Catholic Church teachings.
O’Malley is for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research. His website boasts he led the push to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland.
In March, he told The Des Moines Register in an interview that he had no problem aligning this with his religion. O’Malley said, “I found the passage of marriage equality actually squares with the most important social teachings of my faith, which is to believe in the dignity of every person and to believe in our own responsibility to advance the common good.”
O’Malley has described his view on abortion as “pro choice”. Aides have said he supported a 1992 Maryland referendum which stated that abortions should be legal, without government restriction, until the time in pregnancy when a fetus can survive outside the womb.
So O'Malley disagrees with the current pope's public statements on gay marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and what else?
How about physician-assisted suicide? His Catholic past kicks into play on immigration reform, the death penalty and a few other issues. Again, the key is for journalists to quote the specifics. Would he, for example, argue that the Little Sisters of the Poor must cooperate in providing the Health & Human Services mandate list of birth-control products and services to employees who have voluntarily associated themselves with the Sisters and their work?
I will hand it to RNS for even digging into these questions at all, since -- as a Maryland voter -- I am used to hearing O'Malley frame his views in Catholic terms. At least the wire service raised some of these questions. How did others do?
Here is the relevant material from The Baltimore Sun piece when O'Malley announced that he was running for president:
1963: Born in Washington, D.C.
1985: Graduates from Catholic University of America
How about The Washington Post, in its main announcement story? Well, let's say there was less than The Sun.
Then, the New York Times hinted at some of the faith-related issues -- the progressive ones, of course -- in material that included a reference to his alma mater:
... Aides say Mr. O’Malley is a true progressive, one who became involved early on the issue of same-sex marriage, and a scrappy underdog who takes to tough political fights. He staked out early ground on an immigration overhaul in 2014, accusing the Obama administration of heartlessness in deporting children who had crossed the border from Mexico. ...
Mr. O’Malley, who grew up in the Washington suburbs, took time off from Catholic University to work on Mr. Hart’s campaign that year. He later moved to Baltimore, married into a political family, became a city councilman and won the first of two terms as mayor in 1999 in a crowded field. He was credited with a crackdown on crime and on drugs.
So is any of this relevant to the campaign? That depends. Do you think it matters if O'Malley and former Sen. Hillary Clinton manage to pull off some kind of smiling meet-and-greet with Pope Francis, creating another wave of heroic liberal pope headlines atop stories that frequently avoid quoting what the pope has actually taught on half of the relevant issues? Do you think doctrinally conservative Catholics will raise issues about O'Malley and his parish life?
In other words, stay tuned.