Why Catholic Politics?

My interest in this course initially stemmed from the chance to study politics in a unique setting, one in which I could research a topic of my choice in depth. However, the more I learned about the Ramonat Seminar, particularly the direction of study for the 2018-2019 school year, I knew I wanted to apply. Although my knowledge of Catholics and Catholicism is limited, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about their history in America and their significant role in American politics post-1960s. My specific interests revolve around health issues such as Catholic hospitals, contraception, and stem cell research, although I am also interested in the Catholic education system and examining the shifting demographics of who identifies as Catholic in the 21st century.

Many of the political issues that were important in the latter half of the 20th century remain divisive issues in today’s society, and American Catholics may not always adhere to the Vatican’s positions. The most evident issue that fits this mold is abortion. An important political issue for many Americans, Catholics are often portrayed as violently anti-abortion rights. Access to abortions, as well as to other women’s health care such as birth control, has remained a critical issue in American politics that is highly politicized and highly partisan with each new election cycle. In the past, Catholics frequently sided with the pro-life party, but today Catholics are likely more equally divided on the issue, particularly on the debate between access to contraception and freedom of religion.

Immigration is a widely debated political issue in America today with Catholics supporting all sides of the argument. Because of the influx of Catholics from Central and South America, I believe that it is plausible that Catholics may have more liberal views on immigration, yet white Catholics may also support looser immigration laws due to the religious teachings of the Catholic Church. While immigration was definitely an important issue in the past, in my opinion it was not discussed to the extent it is today.

Education has also always been a central topic in politics. Catholics probably supported, and support, increased school choice as that champions their abilities to send their children to Catholic schools or other institutions that they prefer. However, I doubt that they as heavily support the issue today. With Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education, Catholics who voted for and support President Trump might also support DeVos and her policies, which often promote school choice and private schools, while liberal-leaning Catholics may oppose the whole administration including the increase in focus on private schools.

Two political issues that I would like to learn more about regarding Catholic voters’ opinions are gun control and the state of Israel. Both in the 1960s and 1970s these were important political issues, although not to the same extent they are today, so I am interested in understanding Catholic’s electoral history with these issues as well as on which side the majority of the Catholic electorate in America lies today.

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