Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has her own brand of Catholicism

Last week 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated incumbent Joseph Crowley to become the Democrats’ nominee for New York’s 14th congressional district. She will win easily: at least 70 per cent of residents have voted for the Democratic candidate in presidential elections since 1992. But she’s also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. When elected, she’ll be one of two avowed socialists in federal office – the other being Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Ocasio-Cortez (pictured) has published an essay in the Jesuit magazine America explaining how her Catholic faith inspires her passion for criminal justice reform. Her objective is to see the United States’ rates of incarceration – particularly for blacks and Latinos – reduced considerably. “By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself,” she writes. “That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

To be sure, the US bishops’ conference has spoken out repeatedly about the urgent need for reform in the corrections system. But Ocasio-Cortez is at loggerheads with the Church on several other issues. For instance, she says on her website that “reproductive freedom” is “especially essential for all individuals of marginalised genders, including cisgender women and trans people.” She promises to protect access to subsidised birth control, as well as “safe, legal, affordable abortion”.

In a strict, by-the-Catechism definition of the phrase, the Republican and Democratic parties both contain only fragments of the Church’s social teaching. “Left-wing” causes like prison reform and economic justice and “right-wing” issues like abortion and traditional marriage find little bipartisan support. Catholic politicians are generally content to pick and choose whichever cluster conforms to their party’s platform, and either ignore or reject the other outright.

America came under fire for promoting Ocasio-Cortez because she dissents from the Church on life issues, but this only shows the difficulty of finding public figures who embrace the whole of Catholic social teaching. If there’s a way to market the entirety of those teachings to an American market, we’re far from discovering one.

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