July 28, 2004


Nation's Catholics have largely evolved into conservatives (Jimmy Patterson, 07/28/2004, The Midland Reporter-Telegram)

In 1960 America elected John F. Kennedy, its first Catholic president, largely behind the strength of the Roman Catholic voting block, which voted for him by 83 percent.

But in the 40-plus years since, Catholics have become increasingly conservative in their politics. Coincidence or not, in almost the same time span, since 1968, Democrats have occupied the White House for just 12 years; Republicans have wrested occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for two-thirds of the lifetime of a 36-year-old American voter who was born in one of the country's most tumultuous years.

During much of the same time period, Pope John Paul II, one of Rome's most conservative, beloved and controversial leaders ever, has been head of the world's largest Christian church.

Bishop Michael Pfeifer, of the Diocese of San Angelo attributed the change in Catholic voting trends to the changing times.

"Back in the 1960s, if we look at the cultural pattern, there was a new spirit of freedom," Pfeifer said. "There were a lot of new things happening. Yet at the same there was a lot of breakaway from established principles and values."

Pfeifer said today, people are "more Catholic and better Catholics than in the 1960s."

"Back then, there was a lot of experimentation in culture, but today there's a shift back to being more principled and people being more in tune with the basic principles of the church."

Which is one reason why it is so short-sighted of conservatives to try to keep Catholic immigrants out of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 28, 2004 10:55 AM

More than likely the following three things
have happened...

a) Those catholics that couldn't get with the
program have felt freer to get out.

b) The definition of conservative has moved leftward so that it is likely that JFK was
possible more conservative in most policy areas
than GWB.

c) The social democratic impulse used to mean
helping out other white catholics and therefore
was far more inline with conservative catholic
worldviews. This is no longer the case.

In addition JFK was not necessarily a model
Catholic candidate. The far right strains
of Fathers Feeney and Coughlin were still quite
powerful at the time. A more rightest candidate
could have taken the Catholic vote in 1961, but
probably would not have carried the mainstream
protestant vote.

Posted by: J.H. at July 28, 2004 11:32 AM


The Pope happened.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2004 1:35 PM

You have to distinguish between economic and social conservatism. Most catholics in the 1960s were probably union members in the Northeast and grew up with the Democratic tradition of ethnically based political patronage. The Protestant/Catholic split was pretty much a class split of managers/professionals and labor. The values split that we see today was not there - in many ways WASP Republicans were more socially liberal than working class Catholics, on birth control and divorce. Catholics had large families, and Protestants had small families.

The 60s peeled off young people from most of the religious traditions, not just Catholic. The prosperity of the Catholic baby boomers broke their tie to labor and class based politics. The economic differences between Protestants & Catholics evaporated. Catholics, or those who decided to remain Catholics, are just reestablishing the social conservatism that they originally had.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 28, 2004 2:02 PM

The Pope conservatized the Church on economics too:


Posted by: oj at July 28, 2004 2:11 PM

Conservatized!? Orrin, go play with your kids for a bit, please.

Posted by: Peter B at July 28, 2004 3:51 PM

Um, the Democrats seem to stand for slightly different things in 2004 than they did in 1960...

Posted by: brian at July 28, 2004 6:30 PM

Man, Catholics were pretty conservative when I was one in the '50s and '60s. It wasn't easy to get right of Bishop Sheen.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 28, 2004 10:44 PM