Bishop Joseph Martino: "No Social Issue Has Caused The Death Of 50 million People"

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?

27 Responses to Bishop Joseph Martino: "No Social Issue Has Caused The Death Of 50 million People"

  • S.B. says:

    Do I detect a double standard?

    For some people, the Catholic Church and its Bishops are just a convenient tool to be used in support of their pre-existing political ideology.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    It’s interesting that the USCCB had near universal approval, but many (61) bishops have come out to ‘clarify’ the document in their own dioceses. Do the bishops actually read what they approve?

    What is a particular issue with me is that sometimes the USCCB is treated as an alternate or parallel national ‘magisterium’. Nowhere in canon law, tradition, scripture, et al do we have a need or a proscription of an alternate magisterium.

    Is the USCCB a way that some (spine-deficient) bishops use as cover to not use their teaching position to express secularly touchy issues? I think it is used in this way by some.

  • Botean’s statement on Iraq was in continuity with the judgment of the Vatican and the USCCB, and he did not speak against the USCCB. As I said in the quote of mine you cited, what Botean did was to give pastoral weight to the view of the USCCB. Martino’s statement, on the other hand, is simply an explicit rejection of the USCCB. It’s hardly a double-standard. The two situations are entirely different.

    The real double-standard is the one I pointed to in my post on Martino.

  • What is a particular issue with me is that sometimes the USCCB is treated as an alternate or parallel national ‘magisterium’. Nowhere in canon law, tradition, scripture, et al do we have a need or a proscription of an alternate magisterium.

    The USCCB is not an “alternative” magisterium, but it is indeed part of the magisterium because it is comprised of bishops:

    “22. In dealing with new questions and in acting so that the message of Christ enlightens and guides people’s consciences in resolving new problems arising from changes in society, the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference and jointly exercizing their teaching office are well aware of the limits of their pronouncements. While being official and authentic and in communion with the Apostolic See, these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium. For this reason the Bishops are to be careful to avoid interfering with the doctrinal work of the Bishops of other territories, bearing in mind the wider, even world-wide, resonance which the means of social communication give to the events of a particular region.

    Taking into account that the authentic magisterium of the Bishops, namely what they teach insofar as they are invested with the authority of Christ, must always be in communion with the Head of the College and its members,(83) when the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops.”

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/motu_proprio/documents/hf_jp-ii_motu-proprio_22071998_apostolos-suos_en.html

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Michael I.,

    First of all congratulations on your newborn child. This has got to be a wonderful and momentous time in your life.

    Second of all, don’t you think you’re clouding the issue with your double-speak (double-standard). Clearly Botean went beyond the USCCB letter. He put his own opinion and conflated with Church teaching to push his particular agenda. He has every right to do so, but it is just the same still a double standard.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Michael I.,

    By saying that “it is PART of the Magisterium” is to lend it the same teaching authority of the Magisterium.

    If you read Pope JP2′s motu proprio carefully it says, “these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium”.

    So any teaching document that comes out or approved by the USCCB is not part of the magisterium.

  • Second of all, don’t you think you’re clouding the issue with your double-speak (double-standard). Clearly Botean went beyond the USCCB letter. He put his own opinion and conflated with Church teaching to push his particular agenda.

    Yes, he went beyond it, but in continuity with it. What he did was to give specific pastoral guidance to his diocese based on 1) just war teaching and 2) the common view of the Vatican and the USCCB on the specifics of the Iraq War. His pastoral guidance was given in communion with the judgment of the Church. What Martino did was the direct opposite.

  • By saying that “it is PART of the Magisterium” is to lend it the same teaching authority of the Magisterium.

    If you read Pope JP2’s motu proprio carefully it says, “these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium”.

    So any teaching document that comes out or approved by the USCCB is not part of the magisterium.

    Tito, to say that the USCCB does not enjoy the authority of the “universal magisterium” means that its teaching is not applicable to the Church as a whole, but only to the Church in the region under discussion. This is obvious, because that is the entire purpose of bishops’ conferences, to teach authoritatively in a particular context. Not every USCCB teaching has the same weight, but USCCB teaching IS magisterial teaching in the context of the united states and “the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops.” Amazing that you can read the same words I copied there and still say that the USCCB is “not part of the magisterium.”

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Michael I.,

    I agree that Botean’s letter is within Catholic teaching, but so did Bishop Martino’s extended comments on his particular letter did as well.

    I guess we just disagree on the semantics and/or rhetoric that was attached to the respective pronouncements.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Michael I.,

    Likewise. We both read the same motu proprio but come away with different understandings of the late Pope’s document.

    I think we just disagree on what the definition and the utility of what Magisterium is.

  • I agree that Botean’s letter is within Catholic teaching, but so did Bishop Martino’s extended comments on his particular letter did as well.

    Martino EXPLICITLY REJECTED the USCCB document in his comments at a parish session on Faithful Citizenship. Perhaps you missed that part.

    We both read the same motu proprio but come away with different understandings of the late Pope’s document.

    The motu proprio explicitly says that bishops’ conferences are part of the “authentic magisterium.”

    I think we just disagree on what the definition and the utility of what Magisterium is.

    I suggest you do further study on this. The magisterium is the teaching authority of the bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome. The definition is straightforward. It could even be said to be “non-negotiable,” to use language that you could understand.

  • Cathy says:

    I was just wondering. Are they going to show this video in Churches between now and November 4th?

    http://www.catholicvote.com/

    I stumbled upon this video it by accident and I doubt if most Catholics have seen it. Also, will there be a final “push” by priests in their homilies to vote for the “Culture of Life”?

  • Don’t have much time to discuss further, but I do believe Botean — as Michael Iafrate recognized in his original praise — went above and beyond the USCCB with respect to his statement on the war.

    Cardinal McCarrick, March 25 2003:

    Q: One-third of the U.S. soldiers are Catholic. For them, this war represents a moral dilemma.

    Cardinal McCarrick: Certainly. Because of this, as an episcopal conference we have been very careful not to classify their participation in the conflict as immoral, both because we are not up-to-date on all the facts that have led to the conflict, as well as because these young people do not have decision-making power.

    For Botean this was a clear certainty, and it follows — from his perspective — that the episcopal conference’s reluctance to declare participation on the part of US Catholics in the armed forces immoral was wrong.

    Botean didn’t explicitly challenge the USCCB’s statement, but he did go further.

  • I think it’s also important to be clear on Martino’s comments: Read in context (you approve of reading in context, do you not, Michael) he does not say that the USCCB document is wrong, but rather said forcefully that the USCCB document could not be used in order to undermine what he had said clearly and forcefully in his letter.

    I guess one can quibble with the way in which he chose to say that the USCCB document should not be used to undermine his teaching, but saying that he explicitly reject the document is wrong.

  • Gerard E. says:

    We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the USCCB. Both as a formal organization and as a means of our shepherds to speak with one voice. The events of this year are pulling it apart- the presidential election, the likelihood of a radical pro-abortion advocate to the presidency, Pope Benedict’s lectureat their gathering, the babblings of Senator Biden and Speaker Pelosi. If 61 bishops have felt it necessary to make their own statements about abortion, citizenship and the like; if certain stellar prelates like Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Martino have been much bolder than their peers, the usual okey-doke collegiality may now be a thing of the past. Good riddance. The USCCB format may not work in an atmosphere where there will be- not might, will be- direct opposition by Obama Administration officials against the U.S. Church on Issue Number One. Different wars call for different weapons. The usual nuanced USCCB statement might be a popgun when bigger, more powerful weapons are needed.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    I am not particularly a fan of the USCCB. It has ‘some’ useful functions, but in my opinion it has been a joke for quite awhile.

    It will be interesting how much tap-dancing the USCCB will be displaying if an Obama presidency materializes. How much certain bishops will speak up for Obama and not against his anti-life policies.

    The USCCB needs to reform or face futher scrutiny. A post may be forthcoming.

  • I guess one can quibble with the way in which he chose to say that the USCCB document should not be used to undermine his teaching, but saying that he explicitly reject the document is wrong.

    Indeed I am a fan of reading things in context. The “context” was a meeting about Faithful Citizenship in which a variety of views on who to vote for were expressed. Martino said that the USCCB document is “irrelevant.” I don’t see how you can say that this is not an explicit rejection of FS. You seem to be abusing the idea of reading “in context.”

    Tito and Gerard, the USCCB is not going anywhere. Paul VI proclaimed the importance of bishops conferences and JPII affirmed it.

  • Michael,

    Context means looking at more than one word. That he used the word “irrelevant” does not mean that he was rejecting Faithful Citizenship as a document. He has presented it as his judgement that there are currently no proportional reasons for voting for a pro-choice candidate — and has done so in a way which is certainly not contradictory to the structure of reasoning laid out by Faithful Citizenship. (I would disagree with some of the commenters above that there is anything wrong with FC as a document — other than being a bit discursive as a result of being committee written.)

    But I can certainly understand his frustration with people trying to use the document which he himself had a part in writing and approving against what he considers to be the obviousl conclusion to draw from it. (Just as you’ve been known to get a little hot under the collar when those who disagree with you about the Iraq War explain their reasoning via just war doctrine.) And I don’t think his words were in appropriate in that context.

    On the question of the USCCB which some of brought up above — I certainly don’t see reason to expect some sort of “crack up” for it in the coming years. Though the centuries, local hierarchies have always been pulled into the political and cultural turmoils of the day, and I don’t think its surprising that we see similar turmoils in the USCCB as they grapple with how to bring the US back towards something more resembling a culture of life.

  • But I can certainly understand his frustration with people trying to use the document which he himself had a part in writing and approving against what he considers to be the obviousl conclusion to draw from it.

    Actually, from what I understand, Martino decided not to attend the meeting at which FS was voted on.

  • montag says:

    Moral issues and Voting issues do not mix.
    To argue Morality, then to cleanly slip into Politics is an enormous and wrenching step that the Bishop wants us to believe is simple and easy.

    To vote pro-life is no guarantee that the candidate actually believes in the religious and moral import of the notion, nor that he has any intention of acting according to his beliefs.
    The Bishop seems to think that the label of pro-life being attached to a candidate is enough for the voter.
    An entire life does not render a voter capable of comprehending the complexities of God’s world; not to know why evil exists, not to know why we suffer; just dumb brutes pulling voting machine levers.

    Not to vote if a sufficiently adequate pro life candidate is not in the race means running the risk of allowing worse policies to become law under the leadership of elected officials with no input from voters who reflect on moral law.

    The Bishop’s letter is the product of a wondeful mind, which yet is simple to the point of dangerously allowing candidates under the label of pro life to be elected and to quite possibly foster pernicious policies against the general welfare.

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .