It’s one of the potentially decisive voting blocs, and it’s figuring into both sides of the presidential race.

Sen. McCain is trying to get past the problems Rev. John Hagee’s endorsement caused and court Catholic support so vital to his campaign.

The McCain campaign’s Catholic outreach, which has gone
largely unnoticed, is part of a larger effort to build bridges with
religious voters who are key to the Republican’s presidential prospects
– a constituency Mr. McCain has long had trouble with.

“If he can get Catholics and evangelicals together in a coalition,
that would make him very difficult to defeat,” said political scientist
Mark Rozell of George Mason University.

That represents what used to be called “values voters”….probably until the media realized all votes are about some values, and the Democratic party realized it needed to embrace religious dialogue and identity.

But, as that Dallas News article points out, all the candidates are now courting Catholics.

One in four voters is Catholic. Once overwhelmingly
Democratic, they more recently have moved toward the GOP, drawn by the
party’s opposition to abortion and the appeal of Ronald Reagan.

This year, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are
also making appeals to Catholic voters. Mrs. Clinton has fared well
among them in the early primary states, and she holds a substantial
lead among Catholic Democrats in recent polls in Pennsylvania, which
holds its primary [this] month.

But now Obama has the backing of a prominent Pennsylvania Catholic politician, and that’s stirring some controversy.

Noted political scientist and author Paul Kengor says
Senator Bob Casey, Jr.’s, endorsement of Barack Obama is a repudiation
of what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of life.”

This reveals the split between Catholics who follow the teachings of
the Church on matters of faith, morals and faithful citizenship, and
those who follow a personal conscience philosophy that sees all issues
as equal. Which is why Catholics don’t actually vote as one large bloc.

Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City
College in Pennsylvania, says he is a committed pro-life Catholic who
cannot reconcile an endorsement of a candidate who is so radical on the
issue of abortion.

Bob Casey Sr. represented this committed pro-life Catholic
worldview. Bob Casey Jr., though also a self-proclaimed pro-life
Catholic, represents those who choose to consider all issues as equal,
regardless of Church teaching.

“This Casey endorsement of Obama is really a total
betrayal. I know this sounds harsh, but this is a total betrayal of his
and his father’s pro-life Catholic convictions,” he criticizes. “Barack
Obama might be a kind and gentle guy, a good speaker, seems like a nice
person, affable. But on abortion, he is an extremist. Amazingly enough,
he’s actually to the left of Hillary Clinton on abortion.”

So the disappointment among Catholics like Kengor is that Casey Jr.
would endorse any candidate who favors abortion, but since he is a
Democrat like his father, it’s not a surprise that the endorsement
didn’t go to Clinton.

The bad blood between the Clintons and Bob Casey, Sr.,
may have spilled over to Casey, Jr., says Kengor. And he also states
that Casey, Sr. was so angry then with the Clinton’s position on
abortion – particularly since Hillary Clinton’s universal health care
plan in 1993 was going to include federal funding for abortion services
– that he considered running for president himself.

If Catholics practiced the ‘faithful citizenship’ guidelines of the
Church, and/or if the Democratic party fielded a pro-life candidate,
this would be a very different election.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....