1. Just because someone calls themselves Catholic doesn’t mean we should automatically take them at their word. We’ve been burned too many times, from people like Nancy Pelosi to Joe Biden to Lisa Murkowski who all claim to be Catholic yet support legal abortion.
2. Given the choice between a pro-abortion Catholic and a pro-life Methodist, I’d vote for the Methodist. This isn’t even a close call. In 2004, I voted for Methodist George W. Bush over pro-abortion “Catholic” John Kerry. And so did a majority of Catholics.
3. If there are two pro-life candidates and one is Catholic — that doesn’t mean I’ll automatically support the Catholic candidate. Newt Gingrich, who is Catholic, isn’t likely to run again in 2016. But let’s say he did and the choice came down to him or Scott Walker (who is Baptist), I would chose Walker because I think he’s the better candidate.
4. All that being said, I won’t say a person’s faith is irrelevant. How could it be? Culture, religion, family, and so much more shape our experiences and our views. So it’s only natural to want to know about a candidate’s life story, his experiences, and his religious background and family life (as much of it as he would like to share, of course).
So we got that all out of the way, right?
Now let’s take a look at the emerging 2016 presidential race.
First, a bit of a surprise: Joe Biden has not made any noticeable steps towards running for president in 2016. This is unusual because he is the sitting Vice President. True, Dick Cheney also did not run for president in 2008. (Would he have got over 30%?). I hope Biden doesn’t run, because he’s pro-abortion and yet claims to be “Catholic.” Democrats have nominated three people for president who have claimed the Catholic faith as their own: Al Smith in 1928, John Kennedy in 1960, and John Kerry in 2004. But the Republican Party has not yet done so. I have to say: I don’t feel the least bit slighted about that fact. Nor should you.
That might very well change in 2016. Three Catholics are considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination: Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, and Marco Rubio. And each of these three men took different paths to the Church.
Rick Santorum was born and raised a Catholic. He freely admits he went from being a “nominal Catholic” to becoming a devout Catholic. “I went to church, I could check all the boxes, but it wasn’t at the center of my life.” Relocating to northern Virginia made a huge impact on his faith life, he said. “We ended up moving into a neighborhood and joining a parish where the priest was just amazing — an absolutely amazing pastor who just energized us and filled us with the Holy Spirit.”
Jeb Bush married Columba Garnica Gallo at the Catholic chapel at the University of Texas in 1974. It would take two decades for him to adopt the faith of his wife. He converted because of the “sacraments of the Catholic Church, the timeless nature of the message of the Catholic Church, and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in and acts on absolute truth as its foundational principles and doesn’t move with modern times as my former religion did.” (Bush grew up Episcopalian.) “As it relates to making decisions as a public leader, one’s faith should guide you,” Bush said in 2009. “That’s not to say that every decision I made would be completely in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it was a guide post that kept me out of trouble.”
Marco Rubio had perhaps the most fascinating journey of them all. He was born in Miami and his Catholic parents were both born in Cuba.* When he was about 8, his family moved to Las Vegas. And for awhile the Rubio family became Mormon. By the time Marco was in sixth grade, his family left the Mormon Church. He received Holy Communion on Christmas Day 1984. When the family returned to Miami a year later, he received the sacrament of Confirmation. His wife encouraged him to start attending an evangelical church in 2000 — and they did exclusively for several years. “I felt called back to Catholicism around 2004,” he said. When Rubio ran for the Senate in 2010, there was confusion about whether he was evangelical or Catholic. I spoke with Rubio’s spokesman JR Sanchez in 2010. Sanchez told me that Rubio went to Mass every Sunday but that he also attended services at the evangelical church. As noted by religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Rubio himself later confirmed this in his memoir. * NOTE: This post initially said “Communist Cuba.” There was a dust-up about Rubio’s story a few years ago. Rubio’s parents actually left Cuba a few years before Castro took power. Thanks to Jim Maney for the heads up.
Now, does this mean that Catholics should rally behind one of these three candidates? Should we prefer one of these candidates because they are Catholic?
My priority in 2016 is to help elect a strong pro-life and pro-family candidate to the White House. If that man or woman is also a Catholic, that would be great. But it isn’t a requirement obviously.