The recent articles regarding Hillary Clinton have been quite popular. I am following up with a series of interviews with friend, colleague and presidential historian Paul Kengor regarding the role of faith and social policy in the upcoming election. This interview presents Paul’s take on the religious views of front-runners Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, specifically with regard to abortion policy. Would Rudy be denied communion? Does Hillary think of abortion as a kind of sacred right? Read on…
THROCKMORTON: Just a basic question for foundation: Why do you believe that the religious views of politicians are relevant to their campaign for the presidency?
KENGOR: To quote FDR, the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership, and religion is the foundation of morality. George Washington noted that religion and morality are the “indispensable supports” of a successful democratic republic. There is no such thing as a legislator or policy-maker who leaves morality out of his or her decision making. All of our figures impose some kind of personal morality, whether flawed or not. Religion is usually the basis for that morality, and, in American history, typically the Christian religion.
Presidential candidates often point to their faith as justification for the policies they promote during their campaigns.
I believe, the scandal is when you have a liberal Democrat like John Kerry who stated in the final 2004 presidential debate, “My faith affects everything I do, really,” and then cites how his faith influences his desire to end poverty, to clean up the environment, to hike the minimum wage, but then, suddenly, completely separates his Roman Catholic faith from life-death issues like abortion and embryonic research. In my view, that’s outrageous. Kerry does it, Mario Cuomo does it, Ted Kennedy does it, and, most recently, from the Republican side of the aisle, Rudy Giuliani is doing it.
THROCKMORTON: Your new book examines the religious views of the current democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton. How about the Republican leader, Rudy Giuliani? What is his religious background?
KENGOR: He says that he studied theology for four years in college, after completing 12 years at a Catholic private school. By studying theology, I think he means that he was probably required to take some religious education courses at Manhattan College, which was the Catholic college that he attended, where I believe he studied politics and philosophy. He says that at one point he considered becoming a priest.
THROCKMORTON: What are his current religious leanings and how will these impact his policy making?
KENGOR: He has been quite private about that, knowing that any mention of his faith will get him in hot water as the first major pro-choice Republican with a legitimate crack at winning the party’s presidential nomination. The Republican Party has become the Party of Life, and nominating Rudy might well change that image. There are numerous pro-life Christians, Protestant and Catholic, who are going to fight that possible shift, from the likes of James Dobson at Focus on the Family to the pages of the National Catholic Register. They are not pleased that after all of these pro-life gains that have come only because of Republican presidents fighting abortion extermists in the Democratic Party, there is a sudden chance of a course reversal under a Republican president named Rudy Giuliani, no matter what his guarantees about appointing “strict constructionist” judges. They understand that in the real world there will be an untold number of pro-abortion executive orders and initiatives and decisions that would come across a President Giuliani’s desk, and that concerns them. As president, he might at best get to appoint two Supreme Court justices, but he will constantly be dealing with a flurry of pro-life and anti-life legislation.
KENGOR: Hopefully, everyone hates abortion. The burning question in response would be to ask him why he hates abortion. Naturally, one would presume, he would say that he hates abortion because it terminates a human life. That being the case, how can one support the termination of human life? Once he concedes that point, he knows he’s in trouble. His church is very clear on this, from encyclicals like Humanae Vitae to Evangelium Vitae to Veritatis Splendor to the Catechism to the very recent eloquent remarks from Pope Benedict XVI.
Imagine this striking scenario: a Catholic president of the United States who is denied Holy Communion in certain dioceses because of his stance on abortion. That would be truly remarkable.
Non-Catholics have trouble understanding this, so let me try to explain Catholic thinking: Catholics believe that at Holy Communion they receive the literal body and blood of Christ. The recent Vatican document Redemptionis Sacramentum affirms Church teaching that “anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession.” The document restated the church’s position that anyone knowingly in “grave sin” must go to confession before ingesting the consecrated bread and wine that Catholics consider the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Francis Arinze said that “unambiguously pro-abortion” Catholic politicians are “not fit” to receive the sacred elements.The Vatican has spoken on this. It is up to American bishops to decide whether to carry out the policy.
In 2004, a number of Catholic archbishops suggested or flatly stated that if a President John Kerry presented himself for communion in their diocese he would be turned away. Among others, these included Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans, and even Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston—Kerry’s home diocese. Most recently, in Giuliani’s case, Archbishop Burke has spoken up.
THROCKMORTON: Compared to Hillary Clinton, who would be most pro-choice, if such a comparison can be made?
KENGOR: That’s a no-brainer: Hillary Clinton. If you’re a pro-lifer, and if no issue is more important to you than the right of an unborn child to have life, then nothing could be more calamitous than a President Hillary Clinton. I don’t know of any politician who is more uncompromising and extreme on abortion rights than Hillary Clinton. I know this well and don’t state it with anger or hyperbole. Her extremism on abortion rights was the single most shocking, inexplicable find in my research on her faith and politics. I couldn’t understand it. No question. It is truly extraordinary. Nothing, no political issue, impassions her like abortion rights. For Mrs. Clinton, abortion-rights is sacred ground.
By the way, speaking of Catholics, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II saw this abortion extremism in Hillary, and both confronted her on it repeatedly, especially Mother Teresa, right up until the day she died. I have a chapter on this in the book. It’s a gripping story.
THROCKMORTON: Of Hillary and Rudy, who would most likely make abortion rights a litmus test for Supreme Court appointments?
KENGOR: Hillary, no question. She has made that clear. Rudy would not.