A number of Catholic writers across the internet have been concerned with incoming Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s religious practices. Most recently, I followed Matt Swain’s tweet to GetReligion.org (http://www.getreligion.org/2010/11/got-news-is-marco-rubio-really-catholic/). In particular, several writers seem concerned that Rubio has somehow misrepresented himself (or, equally bad, allowed the mainstream media to misrepresent) as a Catholic.
I have absolutely no inside information about Rubio, his family, or his faith. I’ve been excited about his prospects as a national politician since I first read John J. Miller’s “Rubio Rising,” the cover story of the September 7, 2009 issue of National Review (the full article is not available at NR’s website, but it can be accessed here: http://www.marcorubio.com/082109nationalreview/). As far as I can tell, no national journalist has followed Rubio so closely as has Miller.
Interestingly, Miller makes no mention of Rubio’s Catholicism—one way or another—in his piece from September 2009 or in any follow-up articles. At least not that I can find.
I ask and make the following points here on CatholicVote.org with nothing but open curiosity; I possess no agenda other than extending this discussion.
How much and in what ways does it matter if Rubio is or is not a practicing Catholic?
If he lied about being a Sunday-mass attending Catholic, it would be very serious—for us as well as for him. But, as far as I can tell, this hasn’t been the case.
As someone who is roughly the same age as Rubio, I am a revert. Though raised in a large Catholic Kansas (extended) family, I flirted with various forms of atheism/agnosticism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism in my pre-married adult life. I explored a number of Lutheran, Episcopal, and Reformed (PCA) churches.
Right or wrong, I found the Catholic church in the late 1980s and early 1990s to be lacking in intellectual or spiritual depth. I simply wasn’t “satisfied” with the liturgical practices in the parishes I attended, though I never lost my faith in the real presence of the Eucharist, and I had the utmost respect and love for John Paul II. Simply put, though, I was searching for the place that seemed more Catholic than the Catholic parishes I attended. I wondered how Catholic a place could be when a priest referred to God as “she,” when the congregation yelled “crucify Him” during the Palm Sunday/Good Friday mass, or when the cantor led the parish in tacky and semi heretical Marty Haugen fluff (“Gather Us In” anyone????—“Not in the dark of buildings confining/not in some heaven, light-years away.” Isn’t the mass a participation in the eternal glory of Heaven itself??? Sorry for all of question marks—they’re meant to indicate frustration.)
Throughout all of my explorations, I considered myself a Catholic. Probably most faithful Catholics would not have considered me as such, but I certainly considered myself one. Had someone asked me how I would identify myself religiously in those days, I still would’ve answered “Catholic.” My whole worldview had been shaped by Catholicism, and, I cherished this upbringing—the witness of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my grade-school Dominican nuns. Even at 43, though I’m firmly within the Catholic Church, I still find it very hard to think outside of a Catholic perspective, even when I need to as a professor.
From the best perspective, then, a Catholic might believe that Rubio is merely “exploring” his options. Perhaps he and his family do not have a parish that can get beyond the “Catholic Community” trends of the last several decades. I write this purely as speculation—I have no idea what faith life is like in Florida, at least outside of Ave Maria University.
Most importantly, we must ask, is it possible that Rubio can be an effective spokesman for Catholicism though not living as a practicing Roman Catholic (again, I speculate on all of this)?
It strikes me rather firmly that he can.
Examples for this possibility abound. Catholic colleges, it’s worth noting, often hire non-Catholics (U.D., for example, has a Methodist, William Berry,—a great guy—in a very high administrative position, provost). The only rule should be that the non-Catholics not teach anything contrary to the fundamental positions of the Church.
Additionally, figures such as T.S. Eliot (an Anglo-Catholic) and Christopher Dawson (a Roman Catholic) have argued forcefully that all Christians must unite, putting aside denominational differences, for a Christian polity to persevere in modernity and post-modernity.
Finally, I’ve had to learn the hard way after teaching at Hillsdale College for almost a dozen years, that last names provide very poor indicators of religious affiliation. I’ve never been to a place with so many non-Catholic Italians or non-Catholic Hispanics. Yes, this seems to be the trend for many ethnic groups that once seemed solidly in this or that religious branch or denomination.
Frankly, I hope Rubio has found peace wherever he and his family have landed. We need him, we need his enthusiasm, and we need his ideas. He will be, I predict (and I’m certainly not alone in this), a force for great good in the Senate.
Bradley J. Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair at Hillsdale College, Michigan.