There’s a fascinating article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post about the Catholic Church’s local efforts, via bus billboards and radio ads, among other public relations media, to get believers to go to confession. Timed to coincide with Lent, the Church’s traditional period for penance, the campaign is fighting a vast dropoff in the number of Catholics going into the booth on Saturday afternoons, or any other time.Michelle Boorstein’s piece on this subject tends to make it all about how Catholics seek psychological self-relief and self-fulfillment in and out of the confessional, but she doesn’t get into the sticks, as opposed to the carrots, that the Church used to deploy to get people to go to confession. The Big Stick was the tenet that taking communion while in a state of mortal sin–which included a fairly broad array of sins, including defiance of church teachings and just about any sexual transgression–was truly horrendous, perhaps even representing the scriptural “sin against the Holy Spirit” that could not be forgiven. Indeed, this holy terror of communion without confession helped produce a long period of rank-and-file Catholic reluctance to take communion, which endured from the Fourth Century A.D. until very recent times.The failure of the Big Stick of discouraging communion for those not immediately fresh from the confessional led to an big post-Vatican-II effort to get Catholics to take communion as a basic obligation of the faith. But this healthy eucharistic revival wasn’t accompanied by any enduring return to regular confession. And there’s not much doubt that this particular aspect of “cafeteria Catholicism,” in the U.S. at least, owed a lot to popular dissent against the Church’s moral theology, especially in matters of sex. Aside from the widespread practice of contraception among U.S. Catholics, there has been an even more widespread defiance of the Church’s ban on any sort of premarital sexual activity. Asked to choose between the injunction to take communion regularly and the warning to do so in a state of reconciliation with the Church, Catholics have largely taken the former route.It’s interesting that in the Archdiocese of Washington, at least, the Church has chosen to accentuate the positive aspects of confession. But in the long run, the disconnect between Church teachings and Catholic practice cannot help but undermine Catholic discipline, and keep the lines outside the confessional short.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Perusing the polls this week, some good news for Democrats popped up. I wrote about it at New York.
Democrats have been going through a sort of Poll Panic of late, agonizing over the apparent loss of a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and also small but steady improvements in the president’s job approval ratings.
Today, it’s Republicans’ turn to look at poll numbers and freak.
A rare public poll (from Monmouth) of the special congressional election race in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania shows Democrat Conor Lamb within the margin of error of the lead of Republican Rick Saccone. The lead for Saccone ranges from five points (50/45) in a low-turnout scenario, to four points (48/44) in a very-high-turnout scenario, to just three points (49/46) in a scenario based on the turnout patterns in 2017 special elections.
That’s newsworthy because this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election).
Some observers of the race have noted that Lamb, a young former prosecutor with deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, is a more attractive figure than Saccone. But the Republican has been given every bit of help money and power can arrange. Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance with Saccone next week. Mike Pence has been thumping the tubs for him as well.
For poll skeptics, Monmouth has a very good reputation, and it’s not some routinely pro-Democratic outfit (indeed, a January Monmouth poll showing the Democratic congressional generic ballot lead dropping to two points probably started the current Poll Panic among members of the Donkey Party). And for the record, it used the same variable-turnout-model approach in the run-up to December’s Alabama general election, and its 2017 special election model showed a dead heat, even as most pollsters predicted a Moore win.
If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.