A fellow at the back of the line yelled out, "Are you judging this man, Father?" Cardinal Mahony, not at my behest, made [the priest] write a letter of apology. Ultimately Catholics did vote for Obama overwhelmingly, [for] the reason I admire: that he does search out common ground.
You are antiabortion; Obama is in favor of abortion rights. But you also see abortion as part of a broader policy position, including issues like the death penalty, poverty and war. You don't have a single-issue test for a candidate.
There is a tradition we trace back to Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, of the seamless garment — all life issues are interrelated: abortion, capital punishment, war, a family wage, the environment. You can't take these things apart. More and more Catholics understand that, but some very important Catholics are resistant.
People on all sides tend to run to get the law on their side and then to say, "See? We're right." That kind of smugness cuts off dialogue. If you have a message about the sanctity of marriage or human life, deliver it to me. Move my heart. Change my mind as I'm sitting in your congregation. Don't run to Sacramento or Washington and put it in some statute and then say, "I'm right because the law is on my side."
Everybody wants to solve [same-sex marriage] with law. I don't need the state to define marriage for me. I need the state to treat citizens equally, to give everyone the benefit of the rule of law and not shape it to favor one side or the other. At the same time, give individual churches the opportunity to define marriage as they read their religious practices.
The president promotes social justice as if he were a Catholic. I get in trouble when I say that. I was fooled by one of my friends in the White House. He called and said, "I want you to be the first to know Barack Obama has converted to Catholicism." He let me talk for 10 minutes about how I knew it was going to happen, and all the while, laughter is building on the other side, and he said, "Isn't it April 1 in Malta as it is in the U.S.?
What are your thoughts on the 2012 campaign?
[Mitt] Romney says 47% won't vote for him because they're dependent on government — it's not that we're dependent on government; we're dependent on each other, and government is one means [to] fulfill our obligation of love and service.
Ronald Reagan at the '80 convention said five words framed what [he was] going to do: family, neighborhood, work, peace, freedom. I think he would be closer to a Democrat [now] than this Ayn Rand notion: the poor are parasites, leave me alone.
We don't want to be left alone. We want to be in dialogue with those who see the world differently, and to live in peace.
Are you still a Republican?
I would view myself more as an independent now, and I suppose the Republicans would breathe a sigh of relief because they wouldn't want me anyway
In May 2010 you were driving two friends, when you suddenly passed out. Doctors don't know exactly what happened — it may have been related to medication for your Parkinson's disease. You survived the crash and your friends didn't. How do you come to terms with that?
When the unexpected, the tragic enters our lives, we can build on that and grow from it. Appreciate the grief, because that commands an understanding that goes beyond yourself. The loss can never be replaced, but not to get beyond it is to magnify it in ways that those who died would not want. You have a greater obligation to live more fully, more responsibly. You can't just float along the surface.
[After] an accident, some people say to God, "Why me?" It is not God sitting there dictating. We can't blame God when bad things happen. There are so many people whose faith is a faith built only on happy times. That's not faith, that's an insurance policy, and a very narrow and thin bargain.
How is your health?
I'm reasonably OK. The Parkinson's manifests itself in a way that after a short period of time on a keyboard I have to go to dictation. [Otherwise] I send lots of amusing emails with either wholly incomprehensible things or insults embedded in them that I don't know I'm saying. I have to go to dictation.
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This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.