PopeWatch: Francis Effect?





Tom Kingston at Politico believes that the Francis papacy is good news for the Democrats:

As Barack Obama’s foes lined up against him during the mid-term elections, one warring party was conspicuously absent from the battlefield: America’s Catholic bishops, the “culture warriors” who have fought hard against Obama’s health care provisions on contraception and against same-sex marriages.


It could hardly have been a coincidence that, across the Atlantic, the bishops’ boss, Pope Francis, had expressed his disapproval for the politicization of the church, and urged a softer, more accommodating approach to traditionally incendiary issues like gay marriage, contraception and immigration. Or that within days of the midterms, the pope unceremoniously fired Cardinal Raymond Burke—who during the 2004 presidential election said he would deny communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry or any Catholic politician who supported legalized abortion — from his position as head of the Vatican’s highest court and removed him to a largely ceremonial post as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Assuming the pope’s tenure continues, it’s reasonable to think that America’s Catholic leadership will tone down their political activities in 2016 as well.

After replacing protestant preachers as America’s religious watchdogs in the last decade, the bishops’ apparent retreat from the 2014 fray was, for many, the first sign that American politics is feeling the effects of Pope Francis’s less confrontational brand of Catholicism.

“Pope Francis has discouraged conservatives and emboldened moderates – his message is that hurling political anathemas from the pulpit is not a good idea,” said John Allen, associate editor of Catholic news site Crux. “During the mid-terms this year we saw no threats to deny communion to candidates and no pastoral letters from bishops which made it impossible for Catholics to vote Democrat. My sense is the bishops will keep a robust pro-life agenda but with less of a rhetorical edge.”

The demotion of Burke – who had also issued a pastoral letter telling Catholics not to vote for pro-abortion candidates —was an especially jarring message for U.S. politicians because Burke, the former bishop of St. Louis, is an American. And clearly the kind of public stance taken in the past by clerics like Burke has had some impact: One of the striking results of the 2004 presidential election, when the born-again, anti-abortion George W. Bush was running against John Kerry, a Roman Catholic, was that the Catholic vote went against Kerry, 52 percent to 47 percent. In more recent elections the Catholic vote has tended more Democratic—President Obama carried Catholics 50 percent to 48 percent in 2012— and Francis’s influence could accelerate that trend.

Go here to read the rest.  Ed Morrissey at Hot Air dashes some cold water on this Democrat fever dream:

Now, let’s get to some actual data. Kington argues that outspoken bishops like Burke impact American politics, and uses the 2004 presidential exit polling that showed a 5-point win for George W. Bush over John Kerry as evidence. First, though, Kington doesn’t actually provide any particular stance or activism by even one Catholic bishop that led to that outcome, only hinting that pro-life activism may have led to that kind of anomaly. “In more recent elections,” Kington writes, “the Catholic vote has tended more Democratic—President Obama carried Catholics 50 percent to 48 percent in 2012— and Francis’s influence could accelerate that trend.”

Really? That’s pretty easy to test. There has only been one national election in the US since Francis became Pope, and that was last month’s midterms. How did the Catholic vote tilt? According to the exit polls, Catholics made up 24% of the electorate — and voted Republican by a 54/45 split. In 2012, Catholics comprised 23% of the electorate and split narrowly Democratic as noted above. There was no falloff in Catholic voting relative to the general population, and it got considerably more conservative over the last two years. If there’s a trend, it’s going the opposite way that Kington surmises, and the bishops therefore may be a lot more active on cultural issues than he realizes in his facile analysis.

Besides, this overlooks a couple of points. The Catholic vote tends much more to be a weather vane to the overall consensus than a determinative factor any more. On top of that, Kington assumes the Catholic vote and activism by Catholic bishops to be monolithically conservative. That’s very wrong; only on abortion and same-sex marriage would that be the case, which granted have been big issues for Catholics. Kington seems to have overlooked Catholic activism on issues like poverty, welfare, and even universal health care, where the bishops nearly sided with ObamaCare until the mandates and the impact on private institutions became plain (they opposed the bill before its passage, largely on the obvious funding structures for abortion).

The length of this analysis at Politico disguises the fact that it’s merely a long string of suppositions without any real data or insight, and that actual data from the election and from the USCCB’s set of priorities (easily researched) debunk its central hypotheses. Pope Francis is an impactful figure on the world stage, but he’s not silencing anyone on this side of the pond … or on the other side either, for that matter.

Go here to read the rest.  PopeWatch believes that the political attitudes of Popes is only one factor when it comes to the Catholic vote in this country, and it is probably a minor factor.  If it were not, abortion would long ago have been ended in this country.  The American bishops have long displayed a startling ineptitude in the political arena in this country, and PopeWatch does not think that Pope Francis will change that.

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  1. I don’t think the enabling effect effect of Francis’ words works quite that quickly. It will be much more noticeable by the next election. His response to archbishop Cupich will also have an effect!

  2. his message is that hurling political anathemas from the pulpit is not a good idea

    Hmm… Pope “Do As I Say, Not As I Do.”

  3. Well, I know the stance of bishops like Burke and others have effected my sisters vote and my vote. Of course we are actual Catholics not cafeteria Catholics, so that would make a difference as well.

  4. There was no falloff in Catholic voting relative to the general population, and it got considerably more conservative over the last two years.
    –Ed Morrissey

    Almost every demographic appears to grow “considerably more conservative” in midterm elections but that is an illusion. Conservatives tend to turn out to vote more reliably than others. (Maybe that’s due to citizenship, duty, responsibility, and reliability being conservative, not leftist, values.)

    When the next presidential election occurs, the casual voters will turn out again and other partisans in the chattering class will merrily announce that the public has made a sharp swing to the Left. The reality may be that only an insignificant number of individual voters have had any change of mind in the past 4 years.

    As for American leftists hoping that Pope Francis has issued a stand-down order to Catholics in the public square, they are mistaken. No such thing has occurred. The Church’s teaching about the obligation of the Christian citizen of a democratic republic to vote and cast a considered, moral vote remains in the Catechism. A few bishops and a growing number of lay apostolates are taking on the task of awakening Christians to their obligation as citizens. (So perhaps Catholic voting is changing for the better as Ed Morrissey suggests but so far there is insufficient data to demonstrate that.)

  5. One possibility for Burke’s demotion just occurred to me… Maybe His Holiness just doesn’t like people from the United States.

    This would hardly be an uncommon feeling in Central and South America. Deep rooted distaste for their northern neighbors is fairly common. Our brashness, confidence, and perceived “luck” in the world has tended to make enemies of the other peoples in the Americas. Couple the relationship between orthodox Catholicism and a distinctly American revival of social and economic conservativism in the Catholic Church under Benedict and it isn’t hard to imagine that the pope just doesn’t like us.

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