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Catholic Left Attack Sarah Palin By: Joseph D'Hippolito
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 03, 2008

In the avalanche of criticism directed at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee, perhaps the most absurd chunks come from a corner that ostensibly concerns itself with tolerance and justice in the name of Jesus Christ. From these progressives, one hears a unique take: Sarah Palin should not be elected president because her daughter is pregnant; worse yet, she committed “apostasy” when she was 12-years-old.


The Catholic Left – notably Michael Sean Winters and Garry Wills – is part of the campaign to destroy Palin. The Catholic Left wants to provide pseudo-theological cover for Catholic liberals who wish to vote for the Democratic ticket of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, since Obama supports legalized abortion and Biden, a Catholic, opposes the Magisterium’s teaching on abortion.


Winters, a writer and political blogger for the liberal Catholic magazine America, declares Palin to be an apostate. The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 30 that Palin was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant in Idaho. Soon afterward, the Times reported, Palin’s family moved to Alaska and attended the Wasilla Assembly of God Church – a Pentecostal congregation in which Palin was baptized again at 12.


“One searches the Code of Canon Law in vain for the term ‘ex-Catholic,’” Winters wrote on America’s blog Sept. 4. “Similarly, the Catholic Church does not recognize the ritual the Times called ‘re-baptism.’ More importantly, it is difficult to see how submitting oneself to a ‘re-baptism’ would not be a renunciation of your prior baptism. And the technical term for renouncing one’s baptism is apostasy.”


Winters’ pomposity becomes more pronounced as his post continues: “The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law … recognizes that in a situation like Palin’s, the severity of the crime could be mitigated by diminished personal freedom: Even a precocious teenager who commits an act of apostasy might be so strongly influenced by familial considerations that the perpetrator’s guilt is diminished.”


“Severity of the crime”? What crime? Since when is it a crime in the United States – which guarantees freedom of religious expression in the First Amendment of its Constitution – for children to attend their parents’ church? Since when are young children responsible for their parents’ decisions? Besides, what is it about Palin’s adolescent act of faith that gives Winters the right to label her “precocious?”


“No one is suggesting that Palin’s apostasy should prevent her from being elected to high office,” Winters continues. “But, while many Catholics may warm to Palin’s moral views, for example, her opposition to abortion, the cavalier way she evidently treats an act of severe sacramental and canonical significance should give pause to those who take their religion seriously. Palin could show her respect for the Catholic Church and its canons by requesting a formal separation from the Church from her local bishop. This might not be good politics but it would be good for her soul.”


Given that Palin’s family changed churches when she was an infant, it is highly doubtful that Palin ever perceived herself as a Catholic. Perhaps if Palin promoted herself as a Catholic or proclaimed that her opinions reflected Catholic thinking, then Winters might have a point. But as the next passage makes clear, Winters’ opinion about the state of Palin’s soul merely obscures his real concern: “[I]t is beyond hypocritical for certain conservative Catholics to denounce Joe Biden because he is Catholic and does not support making abortion illegal while applauding a self-described ‘hockey Mom’ who is skating close to apostasy.”


Garry Wills, a professor at Northwestern who writes on American and Catholic history, raised Palin’s 17-year-old daughter as an issue in his September 2 commentary in the New York Times. Using the voice of false concern as part of his more condescending tone, Wills had the audacity to imply that Palin is unfit for consideration because – among other things – she is the parent of an unwed mother:


[S]he was a director of a political committee in support of Ted Stevens, the Alaska senator now under indictment; an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute.


Perhaps Governor Palin, realizing that and trying to minimize her own humiliation in coming days, should withdraw before she is nominated and let Senator McCain turn again to one of his more experienced options.


What does an unwed daughter’s pregnancy have to do with any candidate’s qualifications and fitness for office? Moreover, why do liberals who criticize conservatives for obsessing about sexual matters in politics suddenly display the same obsession? When former Pres. Bill Clinton faced perjury charges resulting from his non-marital sexual behavior, Wills criticized Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr for pursuing an investigation while reviewing Clinton’s autobiography, My Life, for the New York Review of Books in 2004: “Though Clinton's conduct was inexcusable, it does pale next to the deep and vast abuses of power that Kenneth Starr sponsored and protected.” Wills never bothered to enumerate Starr’s alleged “abuses of power.” Instead, he called Starr “a dimpled, flutily warbling Pillsbury Doughboy.”


Wills handles the facts of Palin’s biography as carelessly as his conclusions. Four days before Wills’ commentary appeared, NBC’s Doug Adams described Palin and Stevens as opponents on a post for MSNBC.com. Adams cited Palin’s defeat of Stevens’ ally, Frank Murkowski, in Alaska’s Republican gubernatorial primary and her public criticism of Stevens when he was indicted on corruption charges.


Yet Wills’ moral outrage does not extend to the current Democratic ticket. He has never suggested that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama – the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee – ask Biden to leave the ticket because Biden once plagiarized the speeches of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Nor has Wills suggested that Obama might be unfit for consideration because of his associations with William Ayers, the unrepentant former Weather Underground terrorist, or Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June for seeking bribes from companies that wanted to do business with the State of Illinois.


Yet liberal Catholics suggest that Palin should not be elected because of her religious associations and views. Consider reaction to this statement Palin made in June at the Wasilla Assembly of God, now her former church:


Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right; also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending (U.S. soldiers) out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan.


The liberal Catholic blog “Vox Nova,” which openly supports Obama and condemns the American military presence in Iraq, accused Palin of being a theocrat and equated her political beliefs with those of Islamic terrorists:


So, when we combine emotional frenzy with a belief that the end of the world in coming and that God will take sides in the coming war – are we talking about Ahmadinejad’s Shia Islam or this American Protestantism that Palin seems associated with? Either way, it’s frightening. And it’s time for Catholics in America to stop defending this nonsense simply because they view these people as part of a common political alliance.


Rod Dreher, a member of the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board, took a calmer view in his own blog:


Is it just me, or does this sound like Palin is praying that the mission will be aligned with God's will? Don't we all hope and pray that whatever this nation does, especially with its military, that it will be in accord with the will of God? There's a vast difference between praying that our actions are in accord with God's plan, and assuming that it is.


On the other hand, “Vox Nova” defended Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor, for such anti-American remarks as blaming the United States for its own victimization by Islamic terrorists seven years ago:


[D]id Wright say, as is claimed, that the United States is responsible for 9/11? That could mean two entirely different things: (i) the policies of the United States led directly to the hatred that took the form of terrorism, or (ii) United States somehow deserved to be attacked, got what was coming to it. Clearly, (i) is supported by common sense, and is in line with Catholic social teaching…From what I read, Wright is supporting interpretation (i), not (ii). He is talking about the faults, hypocrisy, and hubris of the United States as its military might engages the world. He is talking about the blindness of so many Americans who see their country as a beacon of hope and freedom– and yet fomenting violence and supporting regimes around the world that stamp on human dignity. This notion of ‘blindness’ is a very biblical notion, coming out clearly in John’s gospel.

“Vox Nova” views Rev. Wright’s sermons as so politically prophetic that the blog’s writers, including a former Congressional staffer and a theology professor, excuse his proclamation, “God damn America!” “He is using the ‘God damn’ phrase in its modern incarnation of ‘a plague upon’ rather than an invocation of what he sees as divine justice… at the end of the day, this is a minor transgression.”


Wills and Winters also have long-held and deep-seated political motivations for their assault on Palin. In his review of Wills’ book, Head and Heart: American Christianities, Patrick Allitt of the New York Times described Wills’ perspective:


Wills never loses sight of contemporary affairs, and readers will have no doubt where his political sympathies lie. The book ends with a long attack on Bush, Karl Rove and their manipulation of religion in the interest of the Republican Party….By contrast he sees Barack Obama as a candidate whose ideas about the use of religion in politics are just right. A lengthy quotation from one of Obama’s speeches seems to affirm Wills’ views about the different roles churches and politicians should play in confronting problems, like AIDS, that have both moral and political dimensions.


Winters’ attitude is more pronounced, as the title of his latest book makes clear: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats.


In a commentary for The New Republic, Winters suggested to Obama and the Democrats that “Catholic social thought provides Democrats with the kind of moral vision and linguistic clarity that their economic positions have lacked for decades now.” Winters pointedly advocates “government intervention on behalf of the common good.”


Regarding Iraq, Winters wrote that Obama could “go to a Catholic university and discuss how the fiasco in Iraq might have been avoided, not only by reading the National Intelligence Estimate, but also by consulting the 5th century just-war theories of St. Augustine.”


Conservative Catholic commentator George Weigel, who wrote Pope John Paul II’s official biography, has described Winters’ rhetoric as “combining low-grade sourcing, a faux-authoritative voice, and leftist political spin in equally impressive measures.”


Palin’s Catholic critics have a clear goal: to make her alleged “apostasy” at least as much a violation of Catholic teaching as Joe Biden’s acceptance of abortion, thereby allowing them an excuse to vote for a candidate who actively opposes the Church’s Magisterium. Members of the Catholic Left and their secular allies do not criticize Palin for what she has done or might do in office but for who she is, either denouncing her “apostasy” based on her parents’ choices when she was a toddler, or pharisaically condemning her for the actions of her daughter.


By smearing Palin, they reveal far more about themselves and their own morality – or, more appropriately, lack thereof.

Joseph D’Hippolito is a columnist for Frontpagemag.com, whose main focuses are religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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