Kerry & Religion

Can he reach 'persuadable' Catholics?

It was only a matter of time after Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination that the question of whether he could reconcile his prochoice views with his Catholicism would become a campaign issue. Although the Kerry campaign seems not to have anticipated this eventuality, it need only to have looked to recent history to see the list of Catholic politicians who have dealt with similar challenges-and, at times, threats of sanction-from church leaders over their political views. At the same time, Kerry’s advisers might have glimpsed some trends indicating that this showdown may not end like all the others.

For me, the prospect of a Kerry candidacy brought forth memories of lessons learned from working on abortion policy for a Catholic Democratic senator in the mid-1990s. My eighteen years of Baptist Sunday school were, unsurprisingly, no match for the bishop with whom I exchanged letters on behalf of the senator. With great conviction, I sought to assure the bishop that the senator formed his political judgments only after searching his conscience-I had never heard of the possibility of an “erroneous conscience.” As a good Baptist, I believed “the church” was the building where I attended worship services and potluck suppers, not an institutional authority with a doctrinal tradition that was not optional for adherents. The idea that a church leader could...

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About the Author

Amy Sullivan is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton and a frequent contributor to the Washington Monthly.