Friday, September 12, 2008

Munus Docendi, Election Desk

He might have seven years of episcopal ministry under his belt, but on his first day as a chief shepherd, Wilmington Bishop Fran Malooly decided to go back to school.

While Malooly's Monday installation is extensively covered in this week's diocesan Dialog, a Wednesday statement from the new ordinary backing up the national response to his most-prominent parishioner didn't make the paper's deadline:
As your Bishop, I want you to understand our Church teaching, embrace it and promote it....

It is my intention to build a supportive and trusting friendship with Senator Biden and as many public officials as I can. I will do my best, with your prayers, to assist him and all public officials as well as all citizens in our Diocese and beyond to understand how crucial the sanctity of human life is to a just society in the State of Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and our entire nation.
Meanwhile, out in the Midwest, the twin prelates of the Kansas Cities -- Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph (Missouri) -- issued a joint election pastoral yesterday:
For generations it has been the determination of Catholic Bishops not to endorse political candidates or parties. This approach was initiated by Archbishop John Carroll – the very first Catholic Bishop serving in the United States. It was long before there was an Internal Revenue Service Code, and had nothing to do with a desire to preserve tax-exempt status. Rather the Church in the United States realized early on that it must not tether the credibility of the Church to the uncertain future actions or statements of a particular politician or party. This understanding of the Church’s proper role in society was affirmed in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor bound by its ties to any political system. It is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person.”(Gaudium et Spes n.76)....

Every Catholic should be concerned about a wide range of issues. We believe in a consistent ethic that evaluates every issue through the prism of its impact on the life and dignity of the human person. Catholics should care about public policies that:
a) promote a just and lasting peace in the world,
b) protect our nation from terrorism and other security threats,
c) welcome and uphold the rights of immigrants,
d) enable health care to be accessible and affordable,
e) manifest a special concern for the poor by attending to their immediate needs and assisting them to gain economic independence,
f) protect the rights of parents to be the primary educators of their children,
g) create business and employment opportunities making it possible for individuals to be able to provide for their own material needs and the needs of their families,
h) reform the criminal justice system by providing better for the needs of the victims of crimes, protecting the innocent, administering justice fairly, striving to rehabilitate inmates, and eliminating the death penalty,
i) foster a proper stewardship of the earth that God has entrusted to our care.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

While the above issues, as well as many others, have important moral dimensions, Catholics may and do disagree about the most effective public policies for responding to them. How these issues are best addressed and what particular candidates are best equipped to address them requires prudential judgments – defined as circumstances in which people can ethically reach different conclusions. Catholics have an obligation to study, reflect and pray over the relative merits of the different policy approaches proposed by candidates. Catholics have a special responsibility to be well informed regarding the guidance given by the Church pertaining to the moral dimensions of these matters. In the end, Catholics in good conscience can disagree in their judgments about many aspects of the best policies and the most effective candidates.

There are, however, some issues that always involve doing evil, such as legalized abortion, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research. A properly formed conscience must give such issues priority even over other matters with important moral dimensions. To vote for a candidate who supports these intrinsic evils because he or she supports these evils is to participate in a grave moral evil. It can never be justified.

Even if we understand the moral dimensions of the full array of social issues and have correctly prioritized those involving intrinsic evils, we still must make prudential judgments in the selection of candidates. In an ideal situation, we may have a choice between two candidates who both oppose public policies that involve intrinsic evils. In such a case, we need to study their approach on all the other issues that involve the promotion of the dignity of the human person and prayerfully choose the best individual.

In another circumstance, we may be confronted with a voting choice between two candidates who support abortion, though one may favor some limitations on it, or he or she may oppose public funding for abortion. In such cases, the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely.

The same principle would be compelling to a conscientious voter who was confronted with two candidates who both supported same-sex unions, but one opposed abortion and destructive embryonic research while the other was permissive in these regards. The voter, who himself or herself opposed these policies, would have insufficient moral justification voting for the more permissive candidate. However, he or she might justify resorting to a write-in vote or abstaining from voting at all in this case, because of a conscientious objection.

In 2004 a group of United States Bishops, acting on behalf of the USCCB and requesting counsel about the responsibilities of Catholic politicians and voters, received a memo from the office of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, which stated: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Could a Catholic in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion when there is a choice of another candidate who does not support abortion or any other intrinsically evil policy? Could a voter’s preference for the candidate’s positions on the pursuit of peace, economic policies benefiting the poor, support for universal health care, a more just immigration policy, etc. overcome a candidate’s support for legalized abortion? In such a case, the Catholic voter must ask and answer the question: What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years? Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.

The number of Catholics and the percentage of Catholics in the United States have never been greater. There has never been a moment in our nation’s history when more Catholics served in elective office, presided in our courts or held other positions of power and authority. It would be wrong for us to use our numbers and influence to try to compel others to accept our religious and theological beliefs. However, it would be equally wrong for us to fail to be engaged in the greatest human rights struggle of our time, namely the need to protect the right to life of the weakest and most vulnerable.

We need committed Catholics in both major political parties to insist upon respect for the values they share with so many other people of faith and good will regarding the protection of the sanctity of human life, the upholding of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman as the foundation of family life, as well as the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights. It is particularly disturbing to witness the spectacle of Catholics in public life vocally upset with the Church for teaching what it has always taught on these moral issues for 2,000 years, but silent in objecting to the embrace, by either political party, of the cultural trends of the past few decades that are totally inconsistent with our nation’s history of defending the weakest and most vulnerable.
For what it's worth, Naumann's last posted column for his weekly remains his May boom-lowering on the state's governor.

...and back East, fresh off a Labor Day meeting with the Republican nominee, the KC clerics' shared mentor -- now the cardinal-chair of the US bishops' pro-life efforts -- got notably pointed in his traditional Thursday column:
If and when “Caesar” in the person of the state or civil authority seeks to harm the common good or go against the natural or divine law, which is superior to all civil law, the Church must speak out as the defender of the truth which Jesus has entrusted to her.

We can find a dramatic example of this in the condemnation of the National Socialist ideology (Nazism) by Pope Pius XI in 1937. For a time, the Holy See attempted to deal with the German government of the Third Reich as a legitimately constituted government because its leader, Adolf Hitler, had come to power by means of a popular vote. However, when that government was clearly seen to be abusing its own freedom and depriving some of its citizens of their own God-given dignity, the Church could not be silent.

In a courageous act, Pope Pius XI wrote an Encyclical, which was smuggled into Germany and read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church on an appointed Sunday. In this document, the Pope condemned the myths of race and blood and the substitution of a false and secular gospel for the Gospel of Christ.

He reminded the German people that: “The believer in God is not he who utters the name in his speech, but he for whom this sacred word stands for a true and worthy concept of the Divinity. This God has issued commandments whose value is independent of time and space, country and race. Rulers and subjects, rich and poor are equally subject to His word” (Mit brennender sorge, 14 March 1937).

We are living in no less dramatic times when it comes to the defense of God’s commands and the dignity of the human person, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our personal responsibility is no less than those confronted by the evils of Nazism in the last century.

Just as the raising of false ideological gods and the exaltation of a false sense of unbridled freedom for the State and the individual led to so many tragedies—among them the Holocaust in which so many innocent Jewish people were killed—so a false sense of freedom and the worship of popular ideologies has led to the terrible Holocaust of millions of children in the wombs of their mothers in our own beloved country.

No lover of freedom or human dignity would criticize Pope Pius XI for raising his moral voice for those who had no voice. In the defense of all human life, we also raise our voices.

If the common good is not well served by the State, the individual is still not absolved from his or her responsibility never to take part, in any way, in what is intrinsically and gravely evil.

The Church and her members know that no earthly state is perfect, just as no citizen is perfect. However, there are issues which are so fundamental to human dignity that we cannot group them into mere matters of policy or individual choice.

No particular platform is ever perfect because none of us is perfect, but a platform that contains a foundation based on what is intrinsically evil can never be supported in any way. Freedom does not absolve us from responsibility before God or before the weak and the innocent....

As creatures of God, we have been given the precious gift of a free will. As American citizens, we enjoy a marvelous freedom. Let us never forget that we are responsible before God, in this life and in the next, for how we exercise that freedom.
As a leading UK daily (enthusiastically) headlined it yesterday, the "Attack of the Killer Bishops" is on in earnest.

PHOTO: Chuck McGowen/The Dialog