True story: It is the day before Pope John Paul II’s funeral, a year ago last April. Assembling in Rome are the members of the official delegation of the United States government, including President and Mrs. Bush and a number of Catholic senators and representatives. Two of those Catholic senators are Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
As the two of them walk across St. Peter’s Square, bystanders stop Kerry every few steps to bemoan his defeat in the presidential election just a few months before. Some of these admirers—including a few Italian priests—drape themselves enthusiastically over Kerry’s lanky frame for group snapshots.
Then a single priest stops Kerry and Durbin. He warns Kerry that he will have to answer, perhaps in hell, for his position on abortion.
That priest is from Minnesota.
How did we get here? And are we stuck?
Unraveling the meaning of this vignette requires attention to three interlocking narratives. The first is the story of the once-happy but now troubled marriage between Catholics and the Democratic Party. The second is the history of the fight over public access not to abortion, but to birth control. The third is the emergence of a new generation of bishops, priests, and lay intellectuals,...