On June 16, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush — a self-proclaimed devout Catholic — delivered some harsh words to an unexpected ideological opponent: the pope. In response to Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, which frames environmentalism as a Catholic issue, Bush declared that:
I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. … I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.
Intriguingly, Bush hasn’t actually read the encyclical — but because it may contradict his own views, he feels entitled to dismiss it out of hand. As the American Conservative’s brilliant and irascible Rod Dreher points out, the statement reveals Bush to be a “cafeteria Catholic,” one who refuses to take the church’s view seriously “if it conflicts with what he already believes”:
Jeb Bush, as a Catholic, is not free to discard the social teaching of the Catholic Church … because it doesn’t suit his personal beliefs. Note well that Bush doesn’t even know what Francis is going to say in the encyclical, but rejects out of hand that the Church has anything binding to say to him about economics. …
[H]ow is it that Jeb Bush has been a Catholic convert for 25 years, and doesn’t grasp that Catholic Christianity is not focused only on personal piety, but has a broad social dimension as well? … Bush is no better than liberal Catholics who reject the Church’s teachings on abortion, marriage, and other areas that inconvenience their consciences.
Dreher, of course, makes an excellent point — especially on the marriage front, where Bush has been consistently anti-gay for his entire political career. As governor of Florida, Bush vigorously supported his state’s ban on gay adoption, preferring to leave children orphaned than to let them be adopted by a gay couple. He unwaveringly defended Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, informing one gay man who wished to get married that the “institution of marraige [sic] is under attack in our society and needs to be strengthened.” And he has championed anti-gay “religious liberty” laws, asserting that homophobic businesses should receive a special right to discriminate against gay couples.
Bush has described his opposition to marriage equality as being “at the core of the Catholic faith.” His retort to Pope Francis, however, reveals that he’s quite eager to repudiate his church when its views are politically inconvenient. Bush has already simply ignored Catholic teachings on the death penalty, overseeing the execution of 21 prisoners during his governorship. Now, even while citing Catholicism to degrade gay people, he’s rejecting the church’s active engagement with the world today.
How does Bush choose which Catholic dogma to observe and which to ignore? Oddly enough, the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t. Bush may have a serious, sincere reason for opposing marriage equality. But until he explains what that is, his justification for disadvantaging gay people looks like little more than a pious patina over raw animus.