A Catholic in governor’s mansion?

AUSTIN — If Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, is elected, he may be the first Catholic governor the state has had in more than 150 years.

The first Catholic governor of the state was Sam Houston in 1859, and he was baptized into the Catholic Church because of Mexican law requirements before Texas was a state. (He also joined a Baptist church before becoming governor).

Frank Lubbock, who got the governorship in 1861, was baptized into the Catholic Church to marry. He was waiting for the public wedding announcement, or “bans,” to be published when he made his decision.

“My wife’s family were all Catholics,” he wrote in his memoir. “When we waited upon the priest for arrangements to have the bans published in the church, he questioned me as to my faith and certificates of baptism. I told him my father was brought up in the Church of England and my mother was a Baptist, hence it was my opinion that I had never been baptized. “He exclaimed, ‘What! Then you are a heathen! I can not publish the bans or marry you until you are baptized.’ ‘Go on with the christening then,’ said I; ‘the time is fixed for marrying, and marry we must.’ ”

As for Abbott, campaign staff said he converted to Catholicism after the tree fell on him and left him in a wheelchair. All that happened after he had married.

While there may have been tensions between the Catholic church and the evangelical groups of the Bible Belt that dominates Texas, lately there has been a melding of the minds politically.

“What we’ve seen increasingly over the last 20 to 30 years are some real strong alliances between evangelicals and conservative Protestants with Catholics in the realm of politics,” said Andy Hogue, a lecturer at Baylor University who studies church-state relationships.

The biggest tensions came about when President John F. Kennedy ran for president, and some worried that he would take directives from the pope. Kennedy gave a speech detailing his views on the separation of church and state, and he gave it in Texas.

“For a lot of voters, a lot of conservative voters, religious beliefs form the basis on which votes are cast,” Hogue said. “Abortion, same-sex marriage, these often form sort of the cornerstone of a conservative voter’s ethic.”

Abbott, meanwhile, has stuck with a broad tone when it comes to religion. He has campaigned on his success to keep the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol in Austin. His campaign materials state: “Championing the conservative values and religious liberties that define Texans, Greg Abbott fights for the principles of faith, family and freedom to make Texas a better place to live and raise a family.”

That isn’t to say Abbott’s position is in lock step with the political causes of the Texas Catholic Conference, a public policy organization of Texas Catholic bishops. Abbott does not speak to abortion in the issues section of his website, although he has received numerous anti-abortion group endorsements. Capital punishment does not appear as an issue online, either.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, one of Abbott’s opponents in the gubernatorial race, has noted that Abbott has accepted donations from so-called payday lenders, and the Texas Catholic Conference has called for more scrutiny and rules to fight against unscrupulous money lending.

The Texas Catholic Conference doesn’t endorse candidates, however.

“What we really hope for is that all politicians of faith use that faith to guide them,” said Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the conference.


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