Last week InsideCatholic.com editor Deal Hudson complained about the use of the Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to justify a vote for Senator Barack Obama — who as Robert P. George persuasively argued, is “not merely a pro-choice politician, but rather as the most extreme pro-abortion candidate to have ever run on a major party ticket”.
According to Hudson, The most egregious “teaching” of the document occurs along the following lines:
Democrats agree with 90% of the Church’s social teaching, Republican’s 10%. So the fact that the GOP is pro-life is offset by the weight of the many other issues –minimum wage, national health insurance, etc. — supported by the Democrats.
Conclusion: Catholics can ignore the pro-life and marriage issues.
Another way the document is being taught is to line up a long list of “intrinsic evils.” Yes, the Republicans hold the line on one or two intrinsic evils, but the Democrats care about measures to eliminate a longer list of “intrinsic evils.” It won’t be mentioned that the latter group of “evils” are not intrinsically evil in the same way as killing unborn life; the former must be opposed in any and all ways, including legislation; the latter opposed by prudential means.
But the conclusion is the same: Catholics can ignore the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the life and marriage issues.
Hudson claims that such a damaging presentation occurs along “middle-management” lines — conveyed by staff, “both at the conference and the chanceries.”
At the same time, a number of bishops have spoken up to “correct the record”.:
We now have 40 bishops who have spoken out individually to correct the record during this election. Add to that the other 21 bishops of New York State, in addition to Cardinal Egan, and you have 61 who have spoken aloud on the priority of life issues.
(See Hudson’s post for the complete list).
On October 17th, at a dinner sponsored by ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, CO criticized the moral reasoning of Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, author of “Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama,”:
“Kmiec argues that there are defensible motives to support Senator Obama,” continued Archbishop Chaput. “Speaking for myself, I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.”
The prelate continued: “To suggest — as some Catholics do — that Senator Obama is this year’s ‘real’ pro-life candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse.
Two days later, Bishop Joseph F. Martino (of the Diocese of Scranton, PA — home of the “scrappy” Democratic VP nominee Joseph Biden), unleashed a blistering salvo at a presidential forum — aimed not only at pro-choice Catholic candidates and those Catholics making the case of voting for them, but the USCCB’s document itself. The Wayne Independent reports:
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) “Faithful Citizenship” statement, approved by the full body of U.S. bishops in 2007, “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. “
Martino, who arrived while the panelists were stating their viewpoints, took issue with the USCCB statement, which was handed out to everyone at the meeting, and also that his letter was not mentioned once at the forum
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
“The only relevant document … is my letter,” he said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
“No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he said, nothing that he no longer supports the Democratic Party. “This is madness people.”
Martino also said that he wanted to persuade Father Martin Boylan, of St. John’s, to cancel the forum.
After his comments, most of the audience stood and clapped loudly while some were angry that the bishop usurped the forum.
His letter, published Sept. 30 and circulated throughout the diocese, states that a candidate’s abortion stance is a major voting issue that supersedes all other considerations due to its grave moral consequences.
“Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does,” the letter says. “Another argument goes like this: ‘As wrong as abortion is, I don’t think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.’ This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. … National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.”
[…] “No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he said, nothing that he no longer supports the Democratic Party. “This is madness people.”
As Rocco Palmo notes, “the Scranton prelate was absent from last November’s USCCB meeting in Baltimore which — in a rare show of (near-)unanimity — passed the Faithful Citizenship statement with 98% approval from the nation’s hierarchy.”
As to be expected, Bishop Martino’s address has been received with mixed emotions. Deacon Keith Fournier and Tito, my colleague at American Catholic, both applaud “The Lion of Pennsylvania”, while the self-styled “progressive Catholic” members of Commonweal are predictably dismayed (“Ugly for the parish, for the diocese, for civil discourse, and for the hierarchy, which seems increasingly divided.”)
Likewise, Vox Nova‘s Morning’s Minion accuses such Bishops as Martino and Chaput of “deliberately distorting [“Faithful Citizenship”] itself (and here I point the finger at the Texas bishops), not only by fudging the theology, but by actually altering the set of relevant intrinsically evil acts.”
And Michael (“Catholic Anarchist”) Iafrate decries the lack of episcopal and ecclesial communion fostered by such outbursts:
Baffling, isn’t it, that these bishops feel the need to “clarify” the content of FC, a document that is revised and updated every four years in order to be as clear as possible in each election’s political context? If the bishops really intended to say that a Catholic may not vote for a pro-choice candidate if there is a “suitable” “pro-life” candidate available, why wasn’t this said in the document itself? Not only was this not said, it was not even remotely implied.
(Personally I find Michael’s criticism of Martino rather curious, given that when a certain Bishop Botean went above and beyond the USCCB’s own collective statement on Iraq to declare “direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin”, he praised the individual prelate as having “the balls to give pastoral weight to the Holy See’s judgment on the war, something that the USCCB was not willing to do.” Do I detect a double standard?
American Catholic contributor DarwinCatholic also weighs in:
As for FC versus the various “clarifications” of it — consider how the thing was written in the first place. The bishops discussed and argued and revised and put forth different versions until they reached something that they were all willing to accept. However, it was doubtless pretty far from what some of the individual bishops would have liked. The nature of a compromise is to not be what many of its authors wished.
So since the bishops are individually tasked to be the shepherds of their diocese — they’re certainly not just regional representatives of the national bishops conference — it’s hardly surprising that those bishops who most felt that FC failed to be sufficiently clear on the application of principles to this particular election would issue their own teaching statements making their judgements clear.
As I noted myself, it would be a worthy effort in connection with this incident to undertake a reading of John Paul II’s in examining the authoritative weight of collective USCCB statements as “Faithful Citizenship” — and the prerogative of individual bishops to call into question such statements when they believe they are being wrongly exploited.
I expect there will be further reaction to Martino’s address in days to come, in which case I’ll update this post.
But for the time being, let’s ask our readers: what do you think?