Barack Obama, Catholic in spirit? That was the tone of "The Catholic Roots of Obama's Activism," Jason Horowitz's fawning front-page Sunday New York Times profile of Obama's brief mid-1980s spell as a Catholic-affiliated political activist in Chicago. According to Horowitz, the young Obama was "steeped in the social justice wing of the church" before becoming an allegedly "pragmatic" politician. The president meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican next week.
Obama's incendiary race-baiting preacher Jeremiah Wright, whose church he attended for decades, is mentioned only in passing, and Wright's controversies, including spouting that the 9-11 attacks were "America’s chickens are coming home to roost," and his "God damn America!" rant, were totally absent.
Horowitz also glossed over Obama's pro-abortion absolutism and quoted liberal Catholics in admiration of the young Obama, "a fast learner" a key player, even crush-worthy (the paper published a postcard Obama sent from Paris to a colleague and admirer).
In a meeting room under Holy Name Cathedral, a rapt group of black Roman Catholics listened as Barack Obama, a 25-year-old community organizer, trained them to lobby their fellow delegates to a national congress in Washington on issues like empowering lay leaders and attracting more believers.
“He so quickly got us,” said Andrew Lyke, a participant in the meeting who is now the director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics. The group succeeded in inserting its priorities into the congress’s plan for churches, Mr. Lyke said, and “Barack Obama was key in helping us do that.”
This Thursday, Mr. Obama will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican after a three-decade divergence with the church. By the late 1980s, the Catholic hierarchy had taken a conservative turn that de-emphasized social engagement and elevated the culture wars that would eventually cast Mr. Obama as an abortion-supporting enemy. Mr. Obama, who went on to find his own faith with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s Trinity United Church of Christ, drifted from his youthful, church-backed activism to become a pragmatic politician and the president with a terrorist “kill list.” The meeting this week is a potential point of confluence.
Horowitz only briefly touched on controversies over the Church's opposition to the Obama-care mandate that employers provide birth-control to their employees, balancing them out with left-wing disapproval of his administration's drone strikes.
The future president arrived in Chicago with little knowledge of Catholicism other than the Graham Greene novels and “Confessions” of St. Augustine he had read during a period of spiritual exploration at Columbia. But he fit seamlessly into a 1980s Catholic cityscape forged by the spirit of Vatican II, the influence of liberation theology and the progressivism of Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago, who called for a “consistent ethic of life” that wove life and social justice into a “seamless garment.”
On one of his first days on the job, Mr. Obama heard Cardinal Bernardin speak at an economic development meeting. He felt like a Catholic novice there, he wrote in his memoir, and later decided “not to ask what a catechism was.” But he was a quick study.
Horowitz credited the environment for prodding "a spiritual thirst" in Obama that led him to Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity Church, where Obama was baptized in 1988.
As Mr. Obama helped expand the program from Catholic parishes to megachurches and Protestant congregations, he felt that need slaked by the prevailing black liberation theology, inspired by the civil rights movement and preached by African-American ministers like Mr. Wright of Trinity. The notion that Jesus delivered salvation to communities that expressed faith through good deeds suited Mr. Obama’s instincts -- and perhaps his interests.
For an ambitious black politician, Mr. Galluzzo said, “it was not politically advantageous to be in a Catholic church.”
Horowitz glided right by Obama's religious cynicism. And no mention is made of the Rev. Wright controversies that dogged Obama in 2008 and 2012, when the Times and other outlets resolutely refused to make Obama's church membership a campaign issue.
The reporter also posed Obama as an abortion moderate, though his record as a Chicago lawmaker protecting partial-birth abortion proves otherwise:
Mr. Obama still won the Catholic vote in 2008. In his campaign, he had held out the goal of finding common ground between supporters and opponents of abortion rights, chiefly by reducing unintended pregnancies and increasing adoptions. Cardinal George quickly dashed those hopes. “The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice,” he said in November 2008 in his opening address as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But there is some good news for the Church: Obama is impressed with Pope Francis as a revitalizing, progressive hero.
But the election of Pope Francis last March seemed to breathe new life into the Catholic Church and, potentially, into the relationship between Mr. Obama and the institution that gave him his start. While far from an ideological progressive, Francis does sometimes appear cloaked in Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment.” His de-emphasis of issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and his championing of the poor and vulnerable -- articulated in his mission statement, “The Joy of the Gospel” -- have impressed a second-term president who argues that income inequality undermines human dignity.