Wednesday, December 19, 2007

God and Country

Today's Election Day in South Korea, and the good sisters turned out to fulfill their civic duty.

Closer to home, as the Iowa Caucuses near -- and, with 'em, the first actual balloting of the '08 Campaign -- the episcopal statements have begun to drop.

In New Hampshire -- where the traditional first-in-the-nation primary takes place on January 8th -- Bishop John McCormack of Manchester issued a six-page Q&A (pdf) along with a summary of the coming cycle's "seven key themes" as highlighted by the USCCB's "Faithful Citizenship" text:
  • The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person: Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.
  • Call to Family, Community, and Participation: The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. Supporting families should be a priority for economic and social policies. How our society is organized—in economics and politics, in law and public policy—affects the well-being of individuals and of society. Every person and association has a right and duty to participate in shaping society to promote the well-being of individuals and the common good.
  • Rights and Responsibilities: Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible. Each of us has a right to religious freedom, which enables us to live and act in accord with our God-given dignity, as well as a right to access to those things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: While the common good embraces all, those who are in greatest need deserve preferential concern. A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us—the unborn, those dealing with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor and marginalized.
  • Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: Economic justice calls for decent work at fair, living wages, opportunities for legal status for immigrant workers, and the opportunity for all people to work together for the common good through their work, ownership, enterprise, investment, participation in unions, and other forms of economic activity.
  • Solidarity: We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Our Catholic commitment to solidarity requires that we pursue justice, eliminate racism, end human trafficking, protect human rights, seek peace, and avoid the use of force except as a necessary last resort.
  • Caring for God’s Creation: Care for the earth is a duty of our Catholic faith. We all are called to be careful stewards of God’s creation and to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for vulnerable human beings now and in the future.
...and in San Francisco -- where presidential elections are, of course, always a toss-up -- Archbishop George Niederauer offered his Election Year pointers, likewise in Q&A form:
Q: Doesn't separation of church and state mean that religion and politics should have nothing to do with each other?

A: Religion and politics, church and state, should be independent of each other. However, both politicians and religious leaders rightly - and unavoidably - concern themselves with many of the same issues. Ethicists and moral teachers address the principles of right and wrong in human behavior, and those principles guide both believers and citizens. For instance, the question of how best to care for the poor and the homeless challenges religious and civil leaders alike, and it is only sensible that they communicate and even collaborate on the answers. A recent Vatican document makes the point that the political sphere has a "rightful autonomy . . . from that of religion and the Church - but not from that of morality."

The United States of America has a long tradition of religious and civil leaders dealing with many of the same issues. Consider two examples: in the 19th century both churchgoers and voters confronted the issue of slavery. Indeed, the abolition movement was easily as much the work of churches as of political leaders. Similarly, in the 20th century, ministers, priests and rabbis, as well as religious women and men, prodded politicians to commit themselves to the civil rights movement.

Q: Why should a Catholic bother with politics at all? It all seems pointless, sordid and " fixed. "

A: The Catholic Church teaches that all citizens should take an active part in public life. Education, public safety and law enforcement, health care, and so many essential matters depend for their quality on the direct participation of citizens in the political process. Shrugging cynically and strolling away from any involvement is not a proper response for a follower of Jesus Christ. Ideally, of course, individual members of a party or movement should transform it by a thoughtful application of moral principles, rather than being transformed by it.

Q: What moves the Catholic Church to teach about political issues?

A: Jesus Christ in the Gospel teaches us about being fully human, about what is true and good in the sight of God. At the foundation of these truths is respect for the dignity of each person, created in God' s image, and the value of each human life. The bedrock of Catholic moral and social teaching rests on the dignity and value of life and personhood. It is appropriate and necessary for Christians to bring and apply those essential truths into the public square. As Catholics we are called to promote the wellbeing of all, to share blessings with the neediest in society, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable and the voiceless.

In addition, Catholics bring important assets to political dialogue: a consistent moral framework based in human reason, the Scriptures and Church teaching, and broad experience in serving those in need.

Q: Don' t critics of the Catholic Church increasingly condemn it for interfering inappropriately in public life and trying to impose its doctrine on the entire community?

A: Such criticism is on the increase. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O 'Connor of Westminster, England, is on target when he speaks of a "new secularist intolerance of religion," a "secular dogmatism and cynicism toward Christians." The cardinal continues: "So when Christians stand by their beliefs they are intolerant dogmatists. When they sin, they are hypocrites. When they take the side of the poor they are softheaded liberals. When they seek to defend the family they are right - wing reactionaries."

In this country we can all name newspapers that applaud bishops who oppose the death penalty as courageous moral leaders, and condemn as intrusive dogmatists those same spokesmen when they oppose physician - assisted suicide. Actually, Catholic social teaching does not fit easily into ideologies of "right" and "left," or the platform of any one political party. We do not trim our teaching of fundamental moral principles to fit the demands of our critics, so they in turn blow hot and cold toward us....

Q: Isn't the Catholic Church really interested only in abortion and euthanasia?

A: No. The Catholic Church teaches that the primary human right is life. Without human life, no other human rights matter. Thus "Faithful Citizenship" concludes that abortion and euthanasia have become primary threats to human life and human dignity because they directly attack life itself. This moral preeminence of abortion and euthanasia must be reflected in the discernment of voters as they seek to form their consciences during the coming election campaign. Such a preeminence does not discard the moral importance of other issues in the 2008 campaign, but it does mean that abortion and euthanasia should exercise a special claim upon the consciences of voters.

Q: Doesn't that answer sound as if any issue except abortion and euthanasia is a second - rate issue, undeserving of the Catholic Church ' s time, energy and attention?

A: In "Faithful Citizenship" the U.S. bishops teach that Catholics should avoid two errors. The first consists in making no distinctions among different kinds of moral issues involving human life and dignity. Such an error would lead someone to conclude that all issues have equal weight. For example, a politician might say in effect to Catholic voters, " Well, I ' m with you on raising the minimum wage, so can ' t you cut me some slack on abortion and physician - assisted suicide? "

The second error to be avoided consists of reducing Catholic moral and social teaching to one or two issues, and refusing to be concerned about a wide range of issues. "Faithful Citizenship " states quite forthrightly: "Racism and other unjust discrimination, torture, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger and lack of health care, or unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns that can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on those issues."

Besides, Catholics don't merely talk about those concerns; they do something about them as well. Catholics have broad experience in serving those in need - educating the young, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, helping women face difficult pregnancies, feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants and refugees, reaching out in global solidarity, and pursuing peace....

Q: May a Catholic vote for a candidate who takes a position directly opposed to Catholic moral teaching?

A: "Faithful Citizenship" gives this answer: "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reason. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests, or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

"When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate, or after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods. "

Q: Doesn' t the moral perspective of the Catholic bishops on the issues facing voters in 2008 simply deny the reality of today's partisan divide and political choices?

A: Yes, the Catholic Church denies the reality and logic of a political structure in which citizens are forced to choose between protecting unborn children and fighting the horrors of global poverty because there are no viable candidates willing to do both. We deny the reality and logic of a political structure that prevents the emergence of candidates pledged to fighting the evil of euthanasia while seeking comprehensive justice on the issue of immigration.
Cardinal Levada has spoken.

In more "extraordinary" San Fran news, Niederauer's also published a set of local norms for the celebration of the 1962 Missal.

Among the rules: public celebrations of the Pian-Johannine Use may not be scheduled on a priest's "own initiative," with the B16-stipulated "stable group" fixed at 30 members; a requirement that local clergy "give evidence of their ability with the Latin language as well as adequate knowledge of the rubrics," while out-of-town celebrants must "'provide an authentic letter of good standing' and assurance of liturgical competency" from their bishop or superior, along with a reminder that altar service "is reserved to males, whether youth or adults."

PHOTO: Reuters/Jo Jeong-ho