William F. Buckley

There is head-scratching in the political marketplace over a looming contradiction. The candidates for president of the United States include a man identified as a Roman Catholic, and among the voters there are, of course, many Catholics. It would be reasonable to suppose that Candidate Giuliani would get the presumptive backing of the Catholic population.

But there are a couple of caveats.

First, is Giuliani a Catholic other than nominally? Because his name is Italian, one assumes that he subscribes to the faith associated with the Italian people. As a boy, he went to Catholic schools, and he was apparently devout; he even contemplated entering seminary. But is he a practicing Catholic now?

In 1999 the question of his religious faith was put to him directly. His reply: "I don't attend (Catholic services) regularly, but I attend occasionally."

Now, plop! this raises special problems in the Catholic communion. Catholics are not only expected to attend Mass every week, they are bound to do so. In the matter of the Sabbath, you can be an easygoing Episcopalian, or Quaker, or even Reform Jew, and no rule is broken of formal consequences. But that isn't so in the Catholic communion, because there are rules that include attendance at Mass on Sundays. If you're a Philadelphia lawyer you might here smile a bit and say, well ... Christians don't always behave as Christians, so what else is new?

Ah, but that doesn't work. Because the kind of godlessness expressed by a failure to live a life of charity, sustained by faith and hope, is, unhappily, pretty unnoticeable. Everyone excepting the saints is, under such scrutiny, "un-Christian." But a failure to attend church on Sunday is, by Catholic standards, contumacious, an ostentatious rejection of a formal obligation. It is the equivalent of an observant Jew biting into a piece of pork. Penitence, if genuine, can minister to any infraction of the faith. But to violate systematically the commandment that says, "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy," is systematically to reject one's faith.

There are other problems in the matter of Mr. Giuliani. One's sense of things is that the religious communities are understanding in the matter of failed marriages (the divorce rate in the United States has been estimated at about 50 percent), but those who aspire to lead are quite reasonably examined more closely, and in the matter of Giuliani, there is the second and then the third wife, with ugly consequences involving children and living quarters.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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