Bad News On the Religio-Political Front

It won’t have any bearing on this election cycle, and isn’t making big headlines. But in the “struggle for the soul of American Christianity” that has long been a subtext of our political culture, the selection of an obscure man to an unimportant-sounding post by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could be a pretty big development. Amy Sullivan explains at TNR:

The appointment of a new executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development doesn’t sound like earth-shaking news to most people. But social justice Catholics (as opposed to the abortion-firsters) have been awaiting the announcement ever since the bishops’ longtime anti-poverty lobbyist John Carr announced in June that he would be leaving after 25 years in the role….

Earlier this week, the USCCB announced that Jonathan Reyes would replace Carr at the conference. Reyes has most recently led Catholic Charities in the Denver Archdiocese. But in Catholic circles, he is better known for having co-founded and served as the first president of the Augustine Institute, an unaccredited Catholic graduate school in Denver that has no women on its faculty. However, the institute does have a number of faculty with degrees from Steubenville University in Ohio, the Liberty University of Catholicism. Steubenville made national news in May when it became the first Catholic institution to sue the federal government over the contraception mandate, even though the school would almost certainly be covered by the administration’s “religious employer” exemption.

Perhaps the most relevant piece of Reyes’ background is his position as a protégé of Archbishop Charles Chaput, who served in Denver until his recent appointment to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Chaput, you may remember, was one of a handful of Catholic clerics who declared in 2004 that John Kerry should not receive communion because of his support for abortion rights. The archbishop gave an interview to the National Catholic Reporter last week that all but endorsed the Romney-Ryan ticket, and he joined a small group of Catholic leaders who have sought to defend Paul Ryan and his enthusiastic support for cutting funds to social programs.

After noting that Reyes has nothing remotely like the stature of his predecessor, National Catholic Reporter‘s Michael Sean Winters commented:

[A]t a time when there are obvious divisions within the hierarchy regarding which public policy issues should be emphasized, and how those issues should be framed, it seems to me imperative to have selected someone who was not so obviously aligned with one wing of the current ideological divisions within the Church.

It’s another step down the road to a political alignment of the Catholic hierarchy–if not necessarily the clergy or the laity–with the political Right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.