The Catholic perspective on American political life is very much shaped by Catholic Social Teaching, a view of the world developed over the past 120 years through a series of church encyclicals, synods and pastoral letters addressing the dignity of the individual and in particular the plight of the world’s poor.
This book tells the story of Barack Obama’s early exposure to Catholicism, compares the contours of his public life with the Catholic Social Tradition, and explores the reasons why many Catholics will be enthusiastically voting for the Obama/Biden ticket in 2008.
Americans are weary of being pitted against one another over issues of race, disparity of wealth, and religion. Senator Obama has made bringing Americans together to solve common problems the central theme of his campaign, along with restoring the pride Americans once felt about our country’s historical role as a moral leader among nations. The cornerstones of Catholic Social Teaching are justice and reconciliation. The Catholic path takes us away from the divisions and hostilities of the present, and toward a more peaceful future.
In his early career, Barack Obama took a job working as a community organizer for a group of eight Catholic parishes in Chicago, one of the nation's largest cities. With funding from the U.S. Bishops, he worked for three years out of an office in a Catholic church rectory to empower thousands of people who were suffering through tough economic times not unlike what we are seeing now. Reminiscing about his time working in this neighborhood, Barack said in an October 2008 interview with Catholic Digest, "I got my start as a community organizer working with mostly Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago that were struggling because the steel plants had closed. The Campaign for Human Development helped fund the project, and so very early on, my career was intertwined with the belief in social justice that is so strong in the Church."
The abortion issue has become a significant focus of attention for Roman Catholics over the past three U.S. presidential elections. Senator Obama has spoken with unwavering conviction about the moral seriousness of the abortion issue and the need to work constructively to address it, while opposing what he views as counterproductive efforts to criminalize it. He told Catholic Digest in October 2008: “Nobody is pro-abortion. I believe we need to do more to address the underlying factors that may lead a woman to make these heart-wrenching decisions. We should do everything we can to reduce unintended pregnancies and support women who choose to have a child. So we should be focusing on pre- and postnatal care, we should be making adoption far more available
Senator Obama and Senator John McCain hold indistinguishable positions on embryonic stem cell research, which they both support as an avenue toward treating and curing degenerative and other chronic diseases. At one time, this stance appeared to be in conflict with Church teaching about the origins of life. But the technology of stem cell research has changed dramatically in the last four years. In November of 2007, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, wrote: "Studies published this week in the journals Cell and Science offer new hope for advancing stem cell research and therapies while fully respecting the dignity of human life."
Senators Obama and McCain hold indistinguishable positions on the death penalty. Barack told an interviewer for US Catholic, "Throughout my career I have worked strenuously to ensure that the death penalty is only administered fairly and justly. That’s why I joined with law enforcement and civil rights groups to reform a broken system in Illinois that had sent 13 innocent men to death row. But I do believe that there are some crimes that are so heinous that they deserve the death penalty. We also have to work with victims and victims’ families to ensure they are receiving the support and counseling they need when recovering from a violent crime."
The U.S. Catholic bishops have referred to health care definitively as a human right, writing in their November 2007 document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, that "Affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right. During the second presidential debate, Barack described his health plan in detail, including measures that would result in coverage for all American children. In the early October 2008 interview in Catholic Digest, Senator Obama said, "I've tried to apply the precepts of compassion and care for the vulnerable that are so central to Catholic teachings to my work, [such as in] making health care a right for all Americans -- I was the sponsor in the state legislature for the Bernardin Amendment, named after Cardinal Bernardin, a wonderful figure in Chicago I had the opportunity to work with who said that health care should be a right."
Senator Obama's ideals are clearly much closer to those of Catholic thought on questions of war and peace. On this subject, the Church is clear in its teaching. "No man or woman of good will can renounce the struggle to overcome evil with good. This fight can be fought effectively only with the weapons of love. When good overcomes evil, love prevails and where love prevails, there peace prevails," said Pope John Paul in 2005. Senator Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq from its inception and has consistently advocated using negotiation and other peaceful means to resolve conflicts around the world. Whether using inflammatory language with regard to Iran’s nuclear threat or escalating the rhetoric surrounding the August war between Russia and Georgia, Senator McCain has acquired a reputation as someone who acts impulsively and would not hesitate to exert US military force in an extension of the Bush Doctrine on preemptive war.
Taken all together, Senator Obama is a man who is familiar the Catholic Social Tradition, and has striven throughout his life to work for the common good. He chose a Catholic running mate who has similarly dedicated during 35 years in the Senate to a safer America, both at home and abroad. Senator Obama has proposed a new, more constructive approach to solving the abortion problem in a way that brings people together rather than pitting them against one another. On questions ranging from war to environmental stewardship, and from fairness to the alleviation of poverty, he has demonstrated himself to be someone who merits serious consideration by every Catholic voting in 2008.