Kavanaugh pleaded guilty to tilting at his share of conservative windmills, but anyone who was paying close attention knew that he was trying to prod the consciences of Catholics on the left as well as the right.
The priest raised eyebrows with a 2002 column entitled "Goodbye, Democrats" in which he argued that America's political culture had collapsed to the point that it would be wise for believers to cut their partisan political ties by registering as independent voters. He stressed that he thought Catholics in the Republican Party needed to bail out, as well.
Writing to his fellow progressives, Kavanaugh proclaimed: "One thing the Democrats really stand for, however, is abortion -- abortion on demand, abortion without restraint, abortion paid for by all of us, abortion for the poor of the earth. I am not a one-issue voter, but they have become a one-issue party. ... If traditional Democrats who are disillusioned with the selling out of the working poor and the unborn simply became registered Independent voters, would not more attention be paid?"
The problem, of course, is that it's sinfully easy for ministers -- once again, on the left or the right -- to keep preaching easy sermons that they know their flocks want to hear, said Kavanaugh when I interviewed him again in 2008. It's easy to keep lashing away at the same familiar straw men, while avoiding topics that could offend the faithful in the home pews.
The Jesuit summed up his message with a quote that rings as true today as it did the final time that I talked with him.
"Whether you are preaching to liberals or conservatives, it's hard to tell people truths that they don't want to hear," he said. "It's hard to tell people to love their enemies. It's hard to tell people to repent of their sins and to forgive others. ... It's hard, but this is what good preachers have to do."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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