Thursday, May 31, 2012


Many Catholics feel that the USCCB's document on voting, "Faithful Citizenship" is a flawed, limp document designed to keep the Church out of trouble with the IRS and thus not very prophetic.

My recommendation is that the following be placed on the cover of this document as a preamble to make the Church's moral teaching absolutely clear to Catholics who place their political affiliation above their Church affiliation and use limp documents such as Faithful Citizenship to do so:

Cardinal Roger Mahony:

For me there is no other fundamental issue as important as this one as we enter into the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Every candidate must be pressed to declare his/her position on all of the fundamental life issues, especially the role of government to determine what conscience decision must be followed: either the person's own moral and conscience decision, or that dictated/enforced by the Federal government. For me the answer is clear: we stand with our moral principles and heritage over the centuries, not what a particular Federal government agency determines.

As Bishops we do not recommend candidates for any elected office. My vote on November 6 will be for the candidate for President of the United States and members of Congress who intend to recognize the full spectrum of rights under the many conscience clauses of morality and public policy. If any candidate refuses to acknowledge and to promote those rights, then that candidate will not receive my vote.


ytc said...

CARDINAL MAHONEY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Seriously though, good words from His Eminence.

William Meyer said...

I have heard and read much nonsense about what the Church can or cannot do about election issues. But what the Church must do is to properly catechize the laity on their responsibilities as citizens.

It is not necessary to endorse or condemn candidates; it is essential to make plain to all Catholics that no exercise of conscience can open the door to voting for any demonstrably pro-abortion candidate.

It is necessary to offer homilies on core teachings from the CCC: 2241 on immigration, 2271-73 on abortion, for example.

It is also necessary to make plain that social justice and personal sympathies do not trump Church doctrine, nor even secular law. hence, the border is not some abstract concept, but a real feature of sovereignty.

In too many parishes, the message is mild, or even absent. In too many pews, hearts are soft toward sinful and gravely disordered issues, and hardened toward the teachings of the Church. Only proper catechesis can change this.

Finally, there is a pervasive notion that we will survive as a country, no matter the outcome of the coming election. There is no guarantee of any such thing. Countries come and go; the Church is eternal.

rcg said...

We may be trolling for another Poli Sci lesson, but I do think the inculcation of our catechism is key to people making the best group decisions. I have endured politicians speaking during Mass with exhortations from the pulpit to vote for specific tax levies so I am not totally antagonistic the a Burkean *observation* but am adamant in my view of government as the slave of the people.

Similarly, one of the reasons the rupture of Vat II was so abrupt, severe, and successful was due to the inclination of clergy to provide *specific* solutions to specific issues. Populations survive and thrive due to their polyphasic solution sets to issues, even single issues. This prevents a single point of failure and, if necessary, allows natural selection to support the future of that group. So multiple solutions can, and should be encouraged to, exist in a society. This is one of the wonders of the Holy Spirit and is a form of miracle we are blind to everyday. It's like the tension between free will and predestination, people want to feel like they have a choice and that they added their little bit to God's work.

Anonymous said...

Father, thank you for addressing the Bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document, both in this post and in your comments yesterday. It has helped to clarify matters and to identify some important issues regarding the status and value of the document.

I agree that there may be some Catholics who are using this document “to place their political affiliation above their Church affiliation.” However, I respectfully suggest that there may be others who are not doing that but who are trying to use the document precisely as the Bishops urge them to do, namely to “develop well-formed consciences” to be exercised “aided by prudence” when making “[d]ifficult political decisions.”

I have set out the reasons why I remain somewhat perplexed about all this in my answers to comments for yesterday’s post (“Cold Chills Down My Spine, etc.”) (at 4:56 p.m.).

Thanks again.

John Nolan said...

From an English point of view: firstly we have had for over 60 years a National Health Service funded out of general taxation and the taxpayer has no control over it; it promotes abortion and conscientious objection to it can and does result in dismissal for 'gross misconduct'.

Secondly, we are in the process of celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of HM The Queen. In the EF we always sing the 'Domine salvam fac' on Sundays, and the bishops have ordered a version of this prayer to be used at all Masses next Sunday. The Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England and a sincere Protestant (most CofE members are crypto-papists or agnostics). Her views on same-sex "marriages" would not be hard to guess, but as a constitutional monarch her hands are tied.

However, do not underestimate the Tory backbenchers, whose voting record on pro-life issues speaks for itself (contrast this with the Labourite Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism when he left office and now sees fit to correct the Pope).

Two years ago I thought that a change in government might see a scaling-back of 'political correctness'. This has not been the case. In the US you at least have a federal system, so whoever occupies the White House does not have the same dictatorial powers as does the occupant of 10 Downing Street.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father MacDonald and readers, I hope I am not trying your patience too much with this comment. I am struggling to work through a difficult problematic, and need help with it.

John Nolan makes a very interesting comparative point. As we know, the present “coalition government” in the UK is an aberration. Normally, the voters have a clear choice between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party (the Lib Dems are usually not serious contenders), and the victorious Party can be reasonably confident of enacting its program. Admittedly, even then the voter’s choice can sometimes be dilemmatic. However, the combination of a federal and a presidential system in the United States, with the checks and balances such system entails, introduces many more dilemmas and complexities of judgment.

For example, if poll projections indicate that the Republicans will probably win the House and Senate, one might assume that a Catholic voter in good conscience should vote for Mitt Romney on the grounds that abortion is an overriding issue and a President Romney would likely be successful in appointing a pro-life candidate to the Supreme Court (at least if the Democrats have insufficient votes in the Senate to filibuster successfully).

However, couldn’t a second Catholic voter in good conscience vote for President Obama on the grounds that:

(a) he would veto ideologically driven tax cuts that would mainly benefit the very wealthy based on a questionable economic theory and draconian spending cuts that would harm vulnerable populations,

(b) perhaps unlike his opponent, he would not be surrounded by neoconservative foreign policy advisers who might cause us to enter another disastrous and imprudent war, leading to further loss of innocent life (including women and children, born and unborn); BUT

(c) he would be unable to appoint a pro-choice candidate to the Supreme Court in the face of a Republican controlled Senate (and therefore may have to nominate a pro-life candidate), and

(d) the Administration will likely lose in the constitutional litigation challenging the individual mandate in the health care legislation (we should know soon), which might make the entire scheme infeasible, and/or in the litigation challenging the DHSS regulations that offend Catholic freedom of conscience?

If, on the other hand, poll projections indicate likely Democratic control of Congress, could our second Catholic voter still vote for President Obama in good conscience? That would surely be an even closer question. Perhaps it would depend on the strength of the projected Democratic majority (could Senate Republicans successfully filibuster, for example?), plus whatever additional factors might seem pertinent.

Of course, a third Catholic voter might reach a different judgment about the relevant issues. For example, perhaps this third voter does not regard the economic theory underlying the tax cuts as questionable, regards the spending cuts as unavoidable medicine for a very sick economy, and reaches a different judgment regarding the likely consequences of possible overseas military action. So once again this third voter would vote for Mitt Romney even though the voter is taking into account issues in addition to abortion.

If we take the Bishops document at face value rather than as a cynical/hypocritical ploy for tax exemption, then wouldn’t all three of our hypothetical voters be acting as conscientious and faithful Catholics?

Anonymous said...


Clearly, matters are much more complex than I have suggested, as the Bishops recognize, but even this simple example suggests and commends the virtue of prudence in the exercise of responsible citizenship. I identify some other factors that might be relevant to a voter’s decision in my comment to Father’s May 30 post “Cold Chills Down My Spine etc” (at 4:58 p.m.).

If I understand the Bishops correctly, what a faithful Catholic absolutely must not do is to vote for President Obama with the intention of supporting a pro-choice position on abortion. But my hypothetical second voter has no such intention. Isn’t this second voter voting for President Obama for other “morally grave” reasons (to use the Bishops language) and in spite of his pro-choice position, not because of it.

Of course, I could be:

(a) wrong in my analysis of the complexity involved and the need for prudential judgment,

(b) deluded regarding my own motivations; or even if neither (a) nor (b), then nevertheless

(c) foolish in facilitating self-serving and faithless rationalizations by those who seek them.

I hope, however, that:

(d) I am constructively trying to work through what it means to “develop a well-formed conscience” that will be “aided by prudence” when making “[d]ifficult political decisions” as a voter, and

(e) if I am in error in any respect, I will be corrected and forgiven.

And if the Bishops really don’t mean what they seem to say in “Faithful Citizenship,” then once again I pray that they will stop dissembling and speak the Truth they do mean.

Finally, perhaps I am being obtuse, but I do not fully understand Cardinal Mahony’s statement. In particular, I do not know what he means by “the full spectrum of rights under the many conscience clauses of morality and public policy” and whether he is suggesting a realistic possibility of not casting a vote at all.

Thanks again in advance for help in sorting all this out.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Anon, Do you academics want to vote for Obama so badly that you must resort to such twisting and turning in order to make it OK with your guilty, America-hating consciences? Look, we won't think you are racists if you don't vote for him. We will, however, think you are morons if you do...

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Gene, it sincerely saddens me to read your response. You are treating me as the enemy again. And as I said yesterday, I am not. I said then that:

What I am is someone who is trying to explore what it means to take the Bishops’ call to “develop a well formed conscience” seriously in a situation of complexity that requires prudential judgment (practical wisdom) when making choices regarding a wide range of “cut and dried” moral issues (not just one or two) that will inevitably conflict in the context of political decision-making, as the Bishops also recognize. . . .The moral evaluation of each issue taken separately may be cut and dried, but that does not mean the political choice among them is cut and dried.

What I was trying to do in the above lengthy comment to which you respond here was to work out more specifically just what it might mean to take the Bishops’ document seriously. The “twisting and turning” to which you refer is a very limited attempt at the type of prudential reasoning the Bishops call for. I was taking the document at face value and trying to be scrupulously fair and objective in my analysis. Thus, as for wanting to vote for Obama, I hope you noted that two of my three hypothetical Catholics ended up voting for Mitt Romney. I also indicated several ways in which I thought I might be in error. Even though I do not like labels, I have also told you something about my own views (Independent voter, Burkean conservative, admirer of Russell Kirk, etc).

If I have been true to the Bishops guidance, then I am no more America-hating in my presentation of the voter who ends up voting for Obama than are the Bishops. If I have not been true to their guidance, then please show me how. Also please tell me if I have made some other kind of error, such as those I mentioned at the end of my comment. As for Obama’s race, what on earth (or in heaven) has that got to do with it?

And if the only result prudential reasoning can produce consistent with being a conscientious faithful Catholic is a vote for Mitt Romney, then the Bishops should say so clearly and resolutely. Unless and until they do, I am inclined to take their guidance seriously and not dismiss it as a cynical/hypocritical tax ploy. I mean no disrespect to Father in doing so. In fact, I was rather hoping that he would elaborate on his reasons for characterizing “Faithful Citizenship” negatively, and also clarify Cardinal Mahony's statement, so we could all advance the conversation together collectively.

Shouldn’t we be helping one another sort through these tangles instead of attacking each other? Isn’t that part of being a conscientious, faithful Catholic too?

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Well, Anon, it is my impression that a lot of words are being spent here that only serve to complicate and cloud the issue. The Bishops, for the most part, are a disappointing lot of milque toasts. I like Mahony's statement, however. It is probably wise that the Church not take the actual step of telling Catholics for whom to vote, although our enemies certainly do so...unions, NAACP, the media (in effect), certain special interest groups.
As I have said before, Catholic morality is pretty cut and dried. The only issue in this election is whether to vote for a racist, socialist, Muslim, pro-abortion, affirmative action poster child who may not even be a citizen, or a milque toast heretic who talks out of both sides of his mouth at the same time while smiling. In this case I am choosing the heretic because pretending/desiring to be Christian may possibly lead to conversion. Oh, also because he loves the country, has business acumen, and, yes, race has a lot to do with it and if you don't think so you haven't been paying attention.
See, now wasn't that easy? None of this spiel about "developing a well-formed conscience" in "situations of complexity." It is possible to talk yourself in circles to the point you are unable to drive to the polls. (PS I would have preferred Santorum since Francisco Franco wasn't running.)

Anonymous said...

P.S. My wife, who is a very smart lady, asked me this evening: If the Bishops wanted to preserve tax-exempt status, why did they say anything at all? Couldn’t they have preserved that status just by saying nothing?

Now, there may be a good answer, but it struck me as a very good question.

Anonymous said...

That’s fair enough, Gene.

I agree completely that Catholic morality (all of it) is pretty cut and dried. Many very smart people have spent much time and prayer working it out. The issue is how our commitment to that morality determines our political choices as voters. Catholic prudence assumes a commitment to the moral goods and then requires that we choose the best means to achieve those moral goods in complex situations, such as that created by the American system of government. That means we have to make judgments about many relevant factors.

It seems to me that you have proven my point because you have done exactly what I was talking about. You have made your own judgments about several relevant factors i.e., the character of the two candidates, including their honesty, integrity, impartiality, and patriotism; their differing visions of the common good (especially regarding the rights of the unborn and their economic agendas); and their qualifications for office, including basic eligibility and competence.
I assume that you have reached those judgments conscientiously and faithfully, and not, for example, thoughtlessly and from bigotry or fanaticism of any kind. That is what I understand the Bishops to be asking us to do.

The fact that another conscientious and faithful Catholic might reach a different judgment about the relevant factors only proves that politics (not morality) is about indeterminate matters that are not subject to mathematical calculation, as Aristotle taught us over two millennia ago (however much the measuring and counting brigade might like to think otherwise). It does not mean that you are right and the other person is wrong, or vice versa. It means that you both have different judgments.

Admittedly, some relevant matters are susceptible of clear factual determination, e.g., Obama’s pro-choice position or Romney’s Mormonism. For Catholics some other matters have a clear moral resolution as well, e.g., the intrinsic evil of abortion. But many other matters may just be matters of judgment, e.g., judgment about the best means of eliminating or reducing the evil of abortion, judgment about the best way to facilitate economic recovery, judgment about whether Obama is as patriotic as Romney (which also implicates one’s particular understanding of patriotism). And judgments will differ. As long as we seek to reach those judgments as the Bishops urge us to do, however, we have discharged our responsibilities as conscientious and faithful Catholics.

I agree that our choice is not optimal. Just focusing on a couple of salient issues, on the one hand we have an Administration that is threatening Catholic freedom of conscience and the religious liberties of the Church, and one that will nominate a pro-choice candidate to the Supreme Court if given the opportunity (the last phrase is important). On the other hand, we have a candidate who espouses a budget being pushed by someone who claims to be Roman Catholic and yet who is a self-declared admirer of Ayn Rand (whose views many regard as positively satanic). If ever there was a time when good judgment is called for, this is it. I am glad that Father is asking us to pray for America. She, and we, need all the heavenly help we can get.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Well, you know how Ayn Rand really died, don't you? She left her window open and the squirrels grabbed her...

John Nolan said...

Don't just pray for America, although as the only remaining superpower she is the main guarantor of civilized values. But please, please pray for Europe, the cradle of Catholic culture which in the next hundred years will be probably in the thrall of Mahometan obscurantism.

Militia Immaculata said...

I'm jumping in late to comment on this blog entry, but I feel the need to comment. Frankly, I wish the Church would tell her members which candidate(s) they should support! Sure, the Church might lose her tax-exempt status, but what's more important -- paying taxes or saving people's souls? So many "Catholics" these days have this idea that you can vote for politicians who support abortion, gay marriage, etc. all you want just so long as you're not voting for them BECAUSE of their stance on such things. But that's just not true! Yes, the Church has said that one could vote for such politicians for proportional reasons. But the key word here is "proportional." In other words, there would have to be an issue at stake that would be even more serious than abortion (the economy, education, health care, war, etc. don't fit that description). But that doesn't stop some folks from making "proportional reasons" mean whatever they want it to mean! And no, I'm not talking about those who voted for Obama the last time around and later wised up. I'm talking about those who insist on voting Democrat no matter what (and we know that nowadays pro-life Democrats are almost as rare as the California condor! Even worse, some of these Catholics (including a few at St. Joseph's) regularly attend Mass AND confession (not confessing being an accessory to murder or sodomy by their votes), watch EWTN, pray the rosary, and make holy hours. I could probably understand if these were young Catholics who didn't know their faith or aging hippie-type Catholics who prattle on about the "spirit of Vatican II." But those who are (supposedly) orthodox and know their faith? You'd think such individuals would know better! And if you dare to call these people out, it arouses their self-righteous ire.

Sorry for venting, but this whole thing is frustrating.