A Perplexing Political Potpourri

February 2008

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a new document on November 14, 2007, to guide Catholic voters in the upcoming elections. It is titled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States" -- and if you think the title is long, wait till you get a load of the full text. It has 90 sections, runs 43 pages long, and is exceedingly wordy and verbose (the bane of editors!). As can be expected from a document approved by the full body of the USCCB -- liberals, moderates, and conservatives -- by a margin of 221-4, it runs all over the map, touches on myriad topics, and suffers from information overload -- no easy accomplishment in our information era.

What makes this document so maddening is that it buries the burning political issues of the day under an avalanche of lesser considerations. The bishops say, "Intrinsically evil actions...must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia" (#22). So far, so good. And then, "Human cloning and destructive research on human embryos are also intrinsically evil" (#23). O.K., fine. But then the bishops say, "Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity such as genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war can never be justified" (#23). Wait a minute -- are the bishops saying that racism is an intrinsic evil?

Now, the NOR is opposed to racism, but it cannot be put on a par with intrinsically evil acts such as abortion and targeting of non-combatants, which are murder. Nowhere does the Catechism call racism an intrinsic evil.

Elsewhere, the bishops say, "Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes...a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues..." (#29). Racism, immigration policy, and lack of health care are serious issues, but they are not on the same immoral plane as the death penalty, unjust war, and war crimes, which involve the direct taking of life. The bishops' inclusion of racism only serves to dilute the moral imperative to defend human life.

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New Oxford Notes: February 2008

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"Racism, immigration policy, and lack of health care are serious issues, but they are not on the same immoral plane as the death penalty, unjust war, and war crimes, which involve the direct taking of life. The bishops' inclusion of racism only serves to dilute the moral imperative to defend human life."

Even including the death penalty here is a mistake, since the death penalty is not immoral at all. It could be that a particular application of the death penalty is unjust, but the death penalty is not per se immoral.
Posted by: dcs1128
February 05, 2008 03:04 PM EST
I witness my pastor's attempt "to dilute the moral imperative to defend human life" every Sunday. This Catholic priest who has a high position in the local organization of priests and has greater than average responsibility in the conduct of this large Midwest diocese claims to be interested in the pro-life movement, includes a petition for justice or charity for immigrants, laborers, the pregnant, prisoners, etc. every Sunday at Mass (calling it "pro-life"), but has never been seen at a Life-Chain or has never had the congregation pray directly for and end to abortion or opposition to gay "marriage" or any of the real problems in society. He has never once suggested we could save lives by voting for pro-life officials or that we should vote our consciences. Instead he has said "there is no Catholic political party" (in this context). I agree there is a real problem with the American clergy starting with the bishops and working down. Posted by: joreill
February 05, 2008 03:54 PM EST
Our good Bishops are, indeed, a challenge. There may be no Catholic political party, but there is certainly a party whose platform is antithetical to Catholic teaching. In this year of many candidates, I would guess that the Catholic vote will make a difference in the general election. They could vote republican, against the democrat party and send a message that if you want to win elections, you need to thow out your pro-choice platform (which they practise very well). As for the NOR and it's incessant rant about the Iraq war, get over it. The US has a moral obligation resulting from the decision to go into Iraq that it must, now, fulfill - to do what it can to right the ship of Iraq and it's people.
As for the Church teachings on voting, it seems to me to be reasonably clear on several issues: Abortion trumps others as does objecting to embryonic stem cell reasearch. Catholics can disagree on the Iraq war issue and we must be charitable to illegal immigrants but, nevertheless, are bound to obey the law. Give to Ceasar what is Ceasars. Hopefully, we won't get to the point of having a law, a Catholic cannot obey, before the congress fixes the illegal immigration problem.
Too many people seem to be unable to make decisions because of the PC nonsense that they have been exposed to. By the way, it would help if the Church (our priests and Bishops) would also read the riot act to some of our prominent, so-called catholic, politicians who continue to hold forth in the public domain on support for abortion, gay rights issues, and an irresponsible attitude toward the rule of law.
Posted by: wunsch
February 08, 2008 10:15 PM EST
Who's the wag that said the USCCB is the Democratic Party at prayer? Posted by: danny.muniz
February 09, 2008 01:39 AM EST
Overall a good assesment of the bishop's document.

Of course, blinde by passion in it's own position NOR misjudges this section:

"But the bishops end up fudging their discussion of the Iraq war when they say, "military force can be justified as a last resort" and "this duty demands an effective response to terror" and "our church honors...those who serve in our nation's armed forces" (#67). This could lead one to believe that the Iraq war was justified as a "last resort" and an "effective response to terror," even though from the outset both Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger proclaimed the war on Iraq to be an unjust war. "

The document does not imply that the Iraq war was just (in fact, it implies the opposite elsewhere), only that a war can be just. The implication is that war is not intrinsicly evil, and therefore it is morally acceptable for a Catholic to support a candidate who is in favor of a war without making a definitive judgement on the justness of that war (remember the Church teaching defers that judgement to civil power).

I object to your attempt to intruduce words that have a juridical, doctrinal implication to the Holy Fathers assesments of the war - "proclaim", when they were both careful to be clear they were not making an infallible or even binding statement - NOR specificly uses this language in an attempt to raise the comments to an undue level of authority in the minds of the reader. This is dishonest (although not as dishonest as the USCCB document as a whole).

Posted by: mightyduk
February 26, 2008 10:05 AM EST
Didn't someone once say that "a camel is a horse designed by committee?"

Unfortunately for the Bishops committee who wrote this document, Our Blessed Lord is NOT running for President. What a laundry list!

So... ultimately we will have to choose between two flawed and sinful human beings (or vote for a likewise flawed and sinful third party candidate: which amounts to a vote for one of the two major candidates in our first past the post system). The question is: who can we vote for in good conscience?

If the taking of innocent human life is the MOST serious evil there is, then abortion should top the list of our concerns. I have come to agree with the NORs assessment of the Iraq debacle (though I would not go so far as to say that the war was proclaimed unjust by the Pope... thanks for the clarification Matt) So, if we have a candidate who is lukewarmly pro-life but who LOVES the war, and a candidate who wants peace, but is pro-choice, who do we vote for?

My answer is to go with the lukewarm pro-life candidate. He is more likely to give us decent judges who may, in the long run, help overturn Roe.

However, I WISH the democratic candidate would endorse the 95-10 legislative agenda of Democrats for Life. That would would leave Roe untouched, but would give us concrete action for ending abortion NOW through the democratic process.

Since we have no such pro-life democratic candidate, what choice do we really have as pro-lifers?

The republican primary season has been truly depressing.
Posted by: eakter
February 27, 2008 07:45 AM EST
In answer to Danny Muniz, (February 09, 2008).
"Who's the wag that said the USCCB is the Democratic Party at prayer?"
I don't know but I wish I had said it!
Posted by: jackclough
March 14, 2008 11:27 AM EDT
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