United Press International
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October 28, 2004
Analysis: Who does Vatican want in the White House?
VATICAN CITY -- If the leadership of the world's more than 1 billion Catholics could vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections,
which candidate would they vote for?
The question is difficult to answer, but it is clear: Most of the 500 or so residents in what is the world's tiniest country don't support either
"Really, in talking to people here (in the Vatican), you find that they voice their opinions in a way that makes it clear they dislike John
Kerry's support for abortion rights, or George Bush's war in Iraq," the Rev. Alistair Sear, a church historian, told United Press
International. "I don't know if I've heard more than one or two people say they actually supported one man's policies in specific terms."
What it boils down to, Vatican experts say, is that the Holy See is divided -- about as evenly split as the United States is.
Of course, the Vatican never takes official positions on the political races in other countries, and the handful of church officials who
spoke to UPI for this story did so usually in vague terms and always on the condition of anonymity.
But the Holy See has been known to have an influence on non-church politics nonetheless. Italian political leaders have used the real or
implied support of the Holy See to consolidate power dating back to when Mussolini created the diminutive country in return for support
from Pope Pius XI back in 1922. And in the highly Catholic developing countries, political contests are often characterized by a race to
embrace church doctrine and to flatter local church leaders.
In the United States, where there is a long tradition of a separation between church and state, the influence has been far subtler.
During the debates, Kerry, who could become the country's second Catholic president, recalled his experience as an alter boy as a way
to counterbalance the president's very public professions of religious faith, though the reference seems to have made little impact on
In fact, some U.S. bishops and priests have reportedly told their congregations that voting for Kerry would be a sin that a voter should ask
forgiveness for in the confessional, given Kerry's abortion-rights stand. Few U.S. Catholic leaders have expressed support for the
Democrat from Massachusetts, and those did it timidly.
Though everyone in the Holy See agrees that opposition to legalized abortion is non-negotiable, the degree to which that translates into
near-blanket support for the president changes significantly when the debate is seen from a European perspective. According to John
Allen, an author specializing in Vatican issues and the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, Kerry would probably win
a close race if ballots were actually cast inside the Vatican.
"Most of the people living and working in the Vatican are European civil servants and bureaucrats, not theologians," Allen said. "They
come from the same background as the mid-level people working in the government ministries of Italy, Germany and France. And in that
circle, Bush is an extremely unpopular figure."
The closest the church comes to taking a stance is a statement that Catholics in the voting booth should "vote their conscience ... (and)
church doctrine" -- an ambiguous statement at best, considering that church doctrine at once opposes abortion and war, and also
champions causes like tolerance, compassion for the poor, and reflecting upon one's faith.
"Without any doubt, either side (of the U.S. presidential debate) could make a case that they are representing the church's view on key
issues," said Sear.
Among church leaders willing to speak on the subject, the morality of the question about who to vote for comes from the voter and not
from the politician. Several church officials told UPI that if a U.S. citizen voted for Kerry specifically because of the candidate's support for
abortion rights, that would be immoral. But if they voted for the candidate for other reasons and despite his abortion-rights stance, then
that would be acceptable.
"Anyone saying that it is simply a sin to vote for one candidate over the other is looking at the issue in very simple terms," one church
official said. "Rarely is an issue that simple."
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