The Catholic Liberal Case for Sanctioning Pro-choice Politicians

I was talking with a good friend who is both a faithful Catholic and a principled progressive the other day, and she said something which (sometimes feeling mildly guilty about how politically convenient calls to sanction pro-choice Catholic politicians are for me) I had not thought of before.

“I think the bishops are partly to blame,” she said, in regards to the difficulties pro-life Democrats have in getting elected. “There are so many fears of seeming like shills for the Republicans that pro-life and pro-choice Catholic Democrats get treated much the same.”

I’d never thought of this, but really: what a slap in the face. If you’ve taken the politically difficult stand of being a pro-life Catholic Democrat in the historically Catholic-heavy regions like New England or the upper mid-west, and the Church leadership treats your candidacy exactly the same as the pro-choice Catholic incumbant you’re running against, how much incentive is there to take the courageous stand?

And so we end up with this kind of situation.

25 Responses to The Catholic Liberal Case for Sanctioning Pro-choice Politicians

  • Jay Anderson says:

    So, is your friend arguing that the Bishops SHOULD impose sanctions against “pro-choice” Catholic politicians? Makes sense to me that a pro-life Democrat would want that distinction to be drawn between those not in line with Catholic teaching and those who, at great risk to their political fortunes, are following Catholic teaching with respect to abortion. Clearly, there being no downside to being Catholic and a “pro-choice” Democrat means there’s little if no upside to being Catholic and a “pro-life” Democrat.

    But, then, that raises the question of why we don’t hear this from more pro-life Democrats. This is a generalization, of course, but we often see pro-life Democrats cautioning (and even railing) against suggestions of the Bishops taking such corrective measures.

    On the other hand, the prospect of Rudy Giuliani winning the GOP nomination for President had many pro-life Catholic Republicans talking of abandoning their party. Many of those same folks also took issue with Rudy receiving Communion at a Papal Mass during Benedict’s visit last year.

  • Gerard E. says:

    Picking up from Jay- Cardinal Egan was right and proper to lay out Rudy. But to concentrate on him is to miss forest for trees. The Dem party its own self is the issue- and the baptized Catholics who conveniently ignore the Church’s teachings on any and all life issues. Agreed, the bishops have not exactly been Profiles In Courage candidates up to this summer. Mostly due to their desire to issue safe, politically correct documents. Trying to win the approval of Dems. Only to get back of hand in return. Slapping escalated after Roe. Therefore a bit of reluctance to endure stinging faces. Much like poor Pope Paul after the firestorm from Humanae Vitae. Never issued another encyclical of such importance again. With a fairly new set of shepherds, who got their marching orders from Pope B last April, we can reasonably expect them to act stronger and bolder. But like the couch potato who orders PS90, hard to break old and bad habits.

    To counter DC’s friend, consider a recent conversation between mineself and a bright young friend, working on her master’s degree. Secular upbring, with all it entails. She had never heard of Humanae Vitae. Thus our dilemma.

  • So, is your friend arguing that the Bishops SHOULD impose sanctions against “pro-choice” Catholic politicians?

    That was her take, though I agree with you that it often seems a lot of people simply stick at complaining that their party is getting beat up too much.

    Her opinion was that as long as the Kennedys and Pelosis of the world get treated as reputable Catholic politicians by their bishops, there’s really no incentive for Democratic candidates to put in the work of bucking their party on the abortion issue.

  • Ian Ransom says:

    Hilarious. My heart goes out to those many, many Catholic Democrat politicians who are persecuted for their “pro-life” convictions by the Roman hierarchy. Is your friend a unicorn, peradventure?

    “Her opinion was that as long as the Kennedys and Pelosis of the world get treated as reputable Catholic politicians by their bishops, there’s really no incentive for Democratic candidates to put in the work of bucking their party on the abortion issue.”

    For one thing, that doesn’t even make sense. According to that line of reasoning, if bishops are treating pro-choice Democrat candidates like “reputable Catholics,” then these mysterious and rarified “pro-life Dem candidates” would have all the more cause to trumpet their life-affirming values within a Catholic political context, if it’s really Catholic approval they seek! No bishop could fail to draw the distinction between a pro-life Dem candidate and a pro-choice Dem candidate. Moreover, if the playing field for pro-life and pro-choice Democrat candidates is equal in the eyes of bishops (as you say your friend opines), then what “incentive” is needed, pray tell, for a pro-life candidate to act according to conscience, all things being equal? What your friend is failing to admit, in all this obfuscation, is that the goal of winning votes is more important than Church teaching on the life issue, one way or the other. It’s astonishingly clear.

    This is all so much smoke-and-mirrors…a Democrat semantic dance-in-the-dark. No wonder so-called progressive Catholics are confused and generally adrift. They can’t even get their excuses straight.

    Episcopally persecuted/unchampioned pro-life Democratic candidates. Yes, that’s GOT to be at the root of the problem. I’ve heard it all, now. Please: there aren’t enough little violins in the entire world.

  • Eric Brown says:

    Well, as a Catholic Democrat, I think there is something to her argument. In a spirit of good charity, I disagree with many of you have find the perspective to be some sort of a joke.

    First, to be a pro-life Democrat is to walk a fine line. It is essentially hell to run in Democratic primaries; elections are usually a cake walk compared to the primary run against the monetary force of pro-choice groups. But there are times in general elections when the party won’t back pro-life Democrats with money, though still incumbent pro-life Democrats generally don’t lose their seats to Republicans in elections; they lose them in primaries. Often times, very principles pro-life Democrats have to drop out of races or they don’t even run.

    Secondly, there is this mentality that you cannot be Catholic and a Democrat, sometimes even if you are pro-life and are working in the trenches. I was reading an article in the Human Life Review, I’m not sure if it was a magazine or if it was online, but either Representative Tim Ryan or Bob Stupak, both of which are pro-life Catholic Democrats with consistent 100% pro-life voting records. Whomever it was, discussed his Catholic faith and his difficulties in public office and one was this mentality that you cannot be Catholic and a Democrat, or kind of mocked the idea of voting for such candidates as if the ethical dilemma was voting for a Democrat not a “pro-choice” candidate — the two are not always synonymous.

    In fact, there was a little bit in the article, which was nearly 20 pages about tension between pro-life Democrats and the National Right to Life, including instances where the NRTL endorsed a single candidate with two pro-life candidates with proven records voting against each other and a quarrel over the NRTL monetarily supporting Republican candidates, but not so eagerly lending that support so readily or abundantly to proven pro-life Democrats (whom they repeatedly give 100% ratings) in close, hard fought elections when what is truly at stake is keeping a seat pro-life. I think any sensible pro-life person would rather two pro-life candidates run against each other than allow the risk of a pro-choice candidate winning at all. If anyone is interested, I’ll look into finding the article — though, I’m not entirely sure if it’s online. I think I might have wrote about it at some point before.

    Now, DC made says that his friend says the Bishops are “partially” responsible for these complications. I am not sure if this means that Catholic bishops are clearly condemning pro-life Democrats. I don’t think it does. I think it is implicit of the fact that certain Bishops who make comments without further clarification almost make statements that voting Republican is non-negotiable and this may inadvertently effect the pro-life Democrats, particularly those who are Catholic. As a Catholic myself, there is always seems to be a question of my orthodoxy even after it becomes clear that I am unapologetically pro-life. So, while some may in good charity disagree, I humbly ask that you not so harshly laugh off such “absurdness” before really considering what it’s like to be on the other side.

    I think it is clear that if we’re going to win the battle for the unborn, we cannot allow the pro-life movement to be locked to one side of the political spectrum; I believe it would be more effective if there wasn’t a war of rolling back pro-life gains and fighting to get them back after a pro-life sweep because really building a “Culture of Life” in my view has been cheapened to a political slogan talked about every election cycle in order to ensure votes. Hence, I don’t think the pro-life movement should be confined to a single side of the American political discourse.

    That’s my two cents.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    As much as I disagree with the democrats on almost every issue, the abortion holocaust so vastly outweighs that I completely agree the your analysis. A pro-life Democrat party might be bad news for the Republicans it would be great news for the unborn, and so I am wholeheartedly in favor of it.

    Ian,

    are you kidding? The US bishops with few exceptions take grand steps to avoid condemning pro-abortion politicians of either party, to the detriment of the pro-life cause and at the expense of pro-life politicians of both parties.

    That being said, there really are only a very small number of pro-life democrats, most of them are just pro-choice lite.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Eric,

    Secondly, there is this mentality that you cannot be Catholic and a Democrat, sometimes even if you are pro-life and are working in the trenches. I was reading an article in the Human Life Review, I’m not sure if it was a magazine or if it was online, but either Representative Tim Ryan or Bob Stupak, both of which are pro-life Catholic Democrats with consistent 100% pro-life voting records. Whomever it was, discussed his Catholic faith and his difficulties in public office and one was this mentality that you cannot be Catholic and a Democrat, or kind of mocked the idea of voting for such candidates as if the ethical dilemma was voting for a Democrat not a “pro-choice” candidate — the two are not always synonymous.

    Who did those 2 pro-life congressmen support for speaker of the House? Nancy Pelosi? Who did they endorse for president? Barack Obama?

    100% pro-life? I think not. I would not suggest it is necessarily immoral for a Catholic to support these candidates, but it is certainly not morally acceptable to give Nancy Pelosi control of the House of Representatives. I believe that completely justifies NRTL’s stance on pro-life Democrats. Look at the example of Casey? So many of these are just providing cover for the abortion pushers.

    I would also be interested to know their stances on other non-negotiable items.

    To be clear, I believe YOU are not in this category.

  • Zach says:

    The Democratic party is opposed to principles. They are relativist to the core. Sure, certain people who fancy themselves Democrats have principles, and may even really want to put them into practice, sort of. But the Democratic politicians, the people elected to office, by and large, do not have any principles, and they actively work against those who do, calling them dogmatic and narrow minded and opposed to change. Democrats, enlightened, appeal to whatever people seem to want at the moment and then try to give it to them. After all, as Keynes said, “in the long run, we’re all dead”. Principles tend to get in the way with what we might want right now.

    In short, the party is a bad match with Catholicism.

  • Eric Brown says:

    I’m not sure on who either of the two voted for in the past election. As far as I know, they did not publicly come out and endorse a presidential candidate. Nor do I know who they voted for, for Speaker of the House.

    As far as voting goes, to the end of the 2008 year, both of these two Congressmen have voted completely pro-life on legislation in regard to abortion and ESCR. As a matter of fact, the Pregnant Woman Support Act which is the Democrats for Life of America’s 95-10 initiative which was re-introduced in both chambers of Congress — supported by the U.S. bishops — has actually become more pro-life. In the House version, I’ve noticed that Ryan removed public funding of contraception as a means of combatting abortion.

    Sen. Casey is not his father, certainly. But I don’t think it is fair to let the failures of some be grounds to withhold approval and/or assistance to honest-to-goodness men of good will, particularly pro-life Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska who has voted consistently with pro-life Republicans his entire career in Congress.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Can’t find anything on the votes for Speaker, but here is Tim Ryan’s record:

    http://www.ontheissues.org/OH/Tim_Ryan.htm

    * Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Jan 2007)
    * Voted YES on allowing human embryonic stem cell research. (May 2005)
    * Voted YES on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions. (Apr 2005)
    * Voted YES on making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime. (Feb 2004)
    * Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother?s life. (Oct 2003)
    * Voted YES on forbidding human cloning for reproduction & medical research. (Feb 2003)
    * Rated 10% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. (Dec 2003)
    * Expand contraceptive services for low-income women. (May 2006)
    * Rated 80% by the NRLC, indicating a mixed record on abortion. (Dec 2006)
    * Provide emergency contraception at military facilities. (Apr 2007)
    * Ensure access to and funding for contraception. (Feb 2007)

    * Voted NO on Constitutionally defining marriage as one-man-one-woman. (Jul 2006)
    * Voted NO on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Sep 2004)
    * Rated 63% by the HRC, indicating a mixed record on gay rights. (Dec 2006)

    * Rated 25% by the Christian Coalition: an anti-family voting record. (Dec 2003)

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Bart Stupak does much better on abortion.

    http://www.ontheissues.org/MI/Bart_Stupak.htm

    * Voted NO on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Jan 2007)
    * Voted NO on allowing human embryonic stem cell research. (May 2005)
    * Voted YES on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions. (Apr 2005)
    * Voted YES on making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime. (Feb 2004)
    * Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother?s life. (Oct 2003)
    * Voted YES on forbidding human cloning for reproduction & medical research. (Feb 2003)
    * Voted YES on funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion info. (Sep 2002)
    * Voted YES on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad. (May 2001)
    * Voted YES on federal crime to harm fetus while committing other crimes. (Apr 2001)
    * Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions. (Apr 2000)
    * Voted YES on barring transporting minors to get an abortion. (Jun 1999)
    * Rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. (Dec 2003)
    * Rated 100% by the NRLC, indicating a pro-life stance. (Dec 2006)
    * Prohibit transporting minors across state lines for abortion. (Jan 2008)

    He appears to be in conflict on other non-negotiables:

    * Voted NO on Constitutionally defining marriage as one-man-one-woman. (Jul 2006)
    * Voted NO on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Sep 2004)
    * Voted NO on banning gay adoptions in DC. (Jul 1999)

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Like it or not the US is a two party political system. It is in the best interest of the nation to have a strong, and healthy (meaning not in favor of abortion and other fundamentally immoral positions) Democrat and Republican party.

    I have a more pessimistic assesment of pro-life Democrats than Eric, but he is entirely right that the a strong stance by the bishops would help pro-life Democrats, and be a good thing for the nation.

    A strong stance by the bishops would force the Democrats to reform into at least being neutral, or face electoral decimation.

  • Now, DC made says that his friend says the Bishops are “partially” responsible for these complications. I am not sure if this means that Catholic bishops are clearly condemning pro-life Democrats. I don’t think it does. I think it is implicit of the fact that certain Bishops who make comments without further clarification almost make statements that voting Republican is non-negotiable and this may inadvertently effect the pro-life Democrats, particularly those who are Catholic.

    I think her point was that too often bishops (in an effort not to seem partisan) congratulate Republican Catholics for what they see as typically Republican Catholic issues (such as protecting the unborn) and Democratic Catholics for what they see as typically Democratic Catholic issues (such as helping the poor) but are afraid to be seen as taking sides when a pro-life Democrat who is Catholic runs against a pro-choice one.

    Specifically, she wished that rather than continuing to give the Kennedys and similar Catholic political dynasties that turned pro-choice respect as Catholic laymen, those politicians’ bishops had explicitly endorsed pro-life Democratic challengers in the primaries.

  • Ian Ransom says:

    Maaaatttttttt:

    ~Read~

    I did not say a word about the amount of episcopal support or non-support of political candidates of either persuasion. I made my remarks based upon Darwin Cath’s contention, i.e. that his politico-pal lamented this perception of bishops as giving no explicit endorsement to one sort of candidate over the other.

    Hence, that would mean the playing field is allegedly equal, and, all things being equal, what could possibly impede a Dem candidate who *already espouses genuine pro-life convictions* from simply following their conscience? Could it be that they require a reward, an incentive, (specifically from bishops!) if they already possess such convictions?

    DEM CANDIDATE: “As a Catholic, I already have pro-life convictions but you bishops need to publicly endorse me or else I’ll lie to myself and my constituents and follow my Party’s most popular opinion. Nyah.”

    What a commedy of errors. One can clearly see that, if a genuinely pro-life Democrat politician whines and deflects some sort of milquetoast blame to bishops, this is a smokescreen. When that politician rejects their own conscience and publicly proclaims a pro-choice allegiance they do not necessarily feel, they do so ostensibly to “get elected,” and in doing so reveal that *this* is their ultimate concern–not any sort of hypothetical approval from the episcopate or, apparently, even from their own consciences. Such a hypocrite does not admirably represent the Church or the Democratic constituency, in this case–and this IS the specific scenario mentioned by Darwin Catholic within this conversation, from the very lips of his political friend.

    Please. You dear rocket scientists need to read between the lines of all this Democrat prevarication and obfuscation concerning the life-issue. We all know the history of the Democratic Party and the RC Church in this country (or we should). We know how that relationship was forged, formed, and changed over the decades based upon the thrust of the Party’s changes, Catholic demographics and sundry. The relationship is changing now, due to the Life-issue, which was not a political issue until Roe v. Wade made it an issue and it took the church, as a whole in the US, a couple of decades to process that development and begin to shift (even a bit) in terms of its political colouring.

    No one is saying that Catholics cannot be Democrats. Let them be Democrats and espouse pro-life convictions and reap whatever reaction they reap within their Party. There is no ~law~ stating that a democrat cannot be a Democrat if they hold pro-life convictions. Let them be Democrats and, for sake of argument, subjugate their consciences for politically expedient purposes, following Party lines and espousing pro-choice convictions and I guarantee they will face some consequences from certain people in the Church, bishops or not bishops. Let them be Democrats and publicly promote genuinely pro-choice convictions, in which case, they are NOT Catholics. The bishops have made this latter point quite clear, at least.

    Moreover, the bishops in the US have been generally quite clear, as a body, that they will not publicly endorse one candidate over another. In fact, to do so poses a potential problem for them, in case you are unfamiliar with tax exemption/conflict-of-interest laws in this nation. Where’s the big surprise in all of this?

    So, no, amid everyone else’s evasive maneuvering around the real issue (personal responsibility and integrity, even for–gasp!–politicians), amid all this self-victimization of Democrat Catholic candidates, I was not kidding. And you, apparently, were not reading.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Iaaaaannnnn,

    I think it’s you who was not reading. I highly doubt that DC or I, or Eric is saying that pro-abortion Democrat politicians would suddenly become pro-life if the bishops supported them actively… but that the pro-life ones would be more inspired to act and they would actually be successful.

    There is no suggestion that the bishops are opposing pro-life democrat candidates or oppressing them, but they aren’t giving them the support that would make them, and potentially the pro-life cause successful.

    Again, don’t get me wrong, I totally oppose most of the positions even pro-life democrats hold, and I think they are mostly pro-choice lite… all the more reason for the bishops to put the whole party’s feet to the fire.

  • John Henry says:

    Ian,

    I think you underestimate the importance of incentive structures. Politicians, like most people (perhaps more than most people), respond to incentives. For the last thirty years, Democratic Catholic politicians who vote pro-choice have received relatively little criticism from the bishops. And when they are criticized, the bishop who criticizes them is often characterized as an extremist or a Republican flack.

    The argument in the post is that this scenario creates little to no disincentives for Catholic politicians to be pro-choice. Arguably, if the bishops were more forceful in their criticisms, these politicians would have at least some disincentive to support pro-choice legislation. After all, Ted Kennedy went from saying abortion wasn’t acceptable in civilized society in 1976 to his current position by around 1980 when he wanted to run for President. Politicians respond to incentives.

    Regarding your point about sincerity, I vote for politicians based on what I think they will do. I’ll take someone who doesn’t care one way or the other about an issue but will do what I want over a politician that sincerely disagrees with me (particularly on abortion) every time. Sincerity is relevant to me as a voter only to the extent it is predictive. I don’t care as a voter whether a politician is sincerely pro-life, conflicted, or sincerely pro-choice; I care about how they will act on the issue. As we have plenty of evidence that politicians respond rather quickly to incentives, the actions of the bishops in providing incentives or disincentives is relevant.

    It may be, again, that bishops do not have enough influence for this to matter. But it’s not crazy to suggest it would in some cases, and bishops have a responsibility in any case to prevent the scandal of public Catholics muddying what the Church teaches.

  • Along the lines of what Matt and John Henry said, but being a Darwin type I can’t help pointing out what we’re looking at is basically a selective pressure. Look at it this way:

    Among likely Democratic voters there exist three groups:

    a) Those who are are actively pro-abortion.
    b) Those who are to some extent pro-life (and to make things simple, let’s assume that they listen to the bishops as well)
    c) Those who don’t care.

    Imagine that two Democratic politicians who are Catholic are running for a nomination in the primary. One is pro-choice and one is pro-life.

    A) will vote for the pro-choice candidate. C) will split unpredictably between the two. Thus if the pro-life Democrat is going to stand any chance of winning, he desperately needs B) to vote for him. In this regard, it might help if the local bishops denounce the pro-choice Catholic loudly and make clear how unacceptable his position is, while allowing the pro-life Catholic to make his case. If instead the bishop treats the pro-choice candidate gently (perhaps because he’s a Kennedy or a member of some other political dynasty), the pro-life candidate is far more likely to lose.

    That does not by any means mean that the pro-life candidate will change his convictions (though he might) but it does mean that the pro-life candidate is unlikely to hold office.

    So the argument is essentially: If bishops don’t give pro-choice Catholic Democrats a hard time, they make it harder for pro-life Catholic Democrats to defeat them in the primaries — and thus those pro-life Democrats there all will almost never win (except in areas that would otherwise go Republican.)

  • Ian Ransom says:

    Have all of you forgotten the situation in which religious leaders find themselves, in this nation, concerning the explicit endorsement of political candidates?

    Gents, please tell me that you understand this much, at least, or all of our discussion is in vain.

    It is pointless to look for excuses within this context. You say that you want bishops to explicitly endorse pro-life candidates, because it would really be an “incentive” for these poor, afflicted, wilting-flower Democrat politicians.

    I will counter by telling you that the bishops most clearly and incontrovertibly endorse pro-life candidates by virtue of their unwavering and unmistakable teaching about life’s sanctity. Period. There’s your unmistakable endorsement. No other incentive is required. My point is that, if “incentive” is required to uphold one of the most clear and basic tenets of Catholicism, then the motives of the one seeking said incentive are patently aberrant, if one is even remotely talking about ethics. And if we’re not talking about ethics, then this conversation is pointless.

    DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE: “I’m not sure I’ll believe what I’m supposed to believe, or what I’m clearly told I’m supposed to believe, unless I have some incentive from Catholic bishops (whine whinny whine whinny).”

    BISHOPS: “Political candidates who publicly espouse or vote for pro-choice legislation should refrain from receiving the Eucharist and consider themselves no longer in communion with the Church. How’s that for incentive?”

    It’s clear, fellas. And, John Henry:

    “As we have plenty of evidence that politicians respond rather quickly to incentives…”

    This means what, exactly, John? That we should encourage, indulge, revere and simply accept the neediness of politicians for their multifold incentives? That Roman Catholic bishops should alter their teaching and orthopraxis to conform to the oft-shady world in which American political incentive thrives so often at the cost of ethics? Really? Are you truly trying to make a case for that?

    That issue is relevant only if you are seriously considering or promoting the notion that Catholic bishops should act in such a fashion. Otherwise, it is relevant only to condemn such an idea as ethically and morally unacceptable.

    Rather, I would urge you to start holding Catholics in-the-pew, as it were, the political and non-political, to far greater accountability when it comes to identifying themselves as Roman Catholic and when it comes to accepting their fellow Catholics as such. There are canon laws regarding scandal, lest you forget. Do not think that this is a negligible point.

    Compared to the Catholic episcopate, evangelical leaders have a much less well-defined doctrine about the sanctity of life, but maintenance of this belief is nevertheless enthusiastic and pervasive in its enthusiasm. Even then, evangelical leaders (like Catholic leaders in the US) must be very guarded about public endorsement of specific political candidates. Very guarded. The brilliance is that, in their churches, they don’t need to publicly endorse or offer “incentives.”

    I guarantee you that a publicly pro-choice Democrat politician who (hypothetically speaking) claimed full membership in, say, Saddlebrook Church, would feel considerable heat, a most considerable degree of discomfort. This discomfort would come largely from the congregation, rather than the pulpit.

    If pro-choice Democratic candidates find it easy to justify their viewpoints and attend Mass simultaneously, it is because they find the ambience and climate in their local Catholic congregations to be quite welcoming and impartial. Why?

    Should not lay Catholics, who far outnumber bishops, and who form the vast majority of political constituencies themsleves (!), be considered far more responsible than bishops when it comes to the giving of certain “incentives” to their fellow-Catholics who happen to be political candidates?

    Certainly you must be able to perceive this reality, at least. The teaching and accountability of the bishops has been and remains clear and unmistakable on the issue of the sanctity of life. The climate in our congregations, among Catholics in general, is ~not~ clear and unmistakable. Lay the blame for this wherever you wish but it remains a fact.

    I believe you’ll find that this is more pertinent to the point, particularly when speaking of large numbers of people who vote, and those who claim to represent large numbers of people who vote, and any and all “incentives” such people may require from the religious sphere, and what sorts of incentives are there to be given from the religious sphere.

    Think about it.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ian,

    the bishops most clearly and incontrovertibly endorse pro-life candidates by virtue of their unwavering and unmistakable teaching about life’s sanctity. Period. There’s your unmistakable endorsement.

    this is where you are wrong. There are precious few bishops who do so, it is rarely or never preached. Most bishops have completely refused to act against pro-abortion politicians. Are you aware of estimates that as many as half of the US Bishops actually voted for Obama? Where have you been?

  • Ian Ransom says:

    Respectfully, Matt, you misunderstand. I did not say nor am I saying that the bishops are out there showing-up by surprise in the churches, patrolling regularly in the bushes, waiting to leap out and pontificate, or standing in the pulpits and hammering away at congregations about the evils of abortion. I think we all agree that this does not happen.

    However, the episcopate’s teaching, its official position about abortion (and thus that of the entire Church) is crystalline in its clarity. Every year, in numerous and often high-profile clashes with various opponents, the bishops have opportunity (and are usually required) to reiterate that teaching in one official capacity or another. People do get frequent opportunity to be reminded of the Catholic position, and reminded that it is an uncompromising position.

    For my own argument’s sake, I believe in the “say it, then say it again” approach.

    The episcopate’s position on abortion is fundamental, clear, and unmistakable. No Catholic needs or should require an “incentive” to publicly uphold that teaching about the sanctity of life and continue to call themselves Catholic, no matter who/what that Catholic may be (animal, vegetable, mineral, politician).

    That being noted, I mentioned above that congregations of Catholics across the nation/world have a very real responsibility to police their own churches, to create and maintain truly Catholic environments at the parish level. This is far more pertinent to the original matter because of the simple fact that large numbers of Catholics = large numbers of voters. If Catholics in-the-pew were enthusiastically adhering to the clear teaching of the Church, teaching of the bishops, etc., then the politicians who represent those Catholics would court them and need no “incentive” to waffle (or not waffle) on the abortion issue, would they? There you have it, and I suspect you would/should quite agree with this.

    Yet, the conundrum (or one of them): we know that the vast majority of Catholic congregations/constituencies are not composed of well-catchetized or enthusiastic Catholics. It was after making this assertion that I was careful to note that one can drop the blame for poorly evangelized Catholics at any number of potential doorsteps. Sure, you can blame the bishops. You can blame the priests. You can blame Catholics themselves. Every Catholic has the responsibility to seek-out and establish their own firm foundation in the Faith–even if bishops and priests are not doing a proverbial bang-up job of teaching.

    But that is a separate issue, this assigning of blame for the poor state of catechesis in general and subsequent correcting of the problem.

    Upholding the most basic and well-known tenets of Catholic doctrine, like the position on abortion, under all circumstances (without the need for incentives and rewards) is quite another issue. After all, I am fairly certain that far more “Catholics” can tell you that their Church categorically condemns abortion and brooks no argument than the number of average Catholics that can give you even a slightly coherent definition of the Trinity, or the Incarnation.

    I’m certain you get my point. I, too, was a little bit stunned by the polling figures of lay Catholics in regard to Obama. I am not aware of any credible polling stats about related episcopal votes and would consider any publicized estimate about how bishops voted to be very speculative and questionable. In any case, Obama is a man who (among other things) basically voted for legislation that favors a form of infanticide. I was aware of that fact, but most lay Catholics, apparently, were not as inclined to inform themselves. Perhaps that was the case? There are other reasons, as well. None of them excusable.

    To finish: I understand your point. We are living in very disturbing times–particularly and peculiarly disturbing times, given the general lavishness of our blessings and gifts and creature comforts and means, etc. (while they last, at this rate). These times require a greater amount of discernment on the part of Catholics, who are not, for the most part, inclined or encouraged to *discern*.

    The issues before us are complex and all of these things merit vigorous discussion, which is exciting to do, and it’s pleasant to have discovered this forum, and I respect the opinions rendered here. Things seem very well delineated and worthy. Though some answers may seem more apparent than others, and even simple at times, the actual solutions are not so. Basically, all things being noted, it seems we are in agreement. Cheers~

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ian,

    The proof is in the pudding. It is a strange contradiction, but the reality is, one of the gravest and most common evils is is rarely preached strongly and sanctions are not made in the many cases where it is called for.

    Look at the other seriously neglected sin… contraception? When did you here a priest or bishop preach against it?

  • Ian Ransom says:

    I don’t disagree with you, Matt. I’ve made that clear. But do look at the complexity of the matter and the responsibility individual Catholics have to root-themselves firmly in their Faith if they are ignorant concerning that Faith, regardless of the disinterest or poor leadership on the part of clerics.

    And, of course, I’ve heard maybe two or three things about contraception from the pulpit in nearly 30 years (!), but in personal friendships with various bishops and priests here in the USA and Europe, it has been discussed. I’ve never, ever met a bishop who allows even a hint of wiggle-room on abortion, but I’ve met several who feel privately that contraception should not be considered “sinful.” But remember: the majority of bishops across the world were once prepared to officially allow contraception before Paul VI thwarted the will of the majority of bishops on this specific matter, as was his prerogative, of course.

    The bottom line is that these matters are currently part of Catholic teaching and, if one wants to be genuinely, fully Roman Catholic, one ought to adhere.

    But, if a lay Catholic knows Church teaching on these matters and chooses to flaunt such teaching, then they have some responsibility for the tepidity of the Catholic dynamic, too.

    Let’s pray that both the episcopate and the laity get their respective acts together. We can do our part in this via strong Catholic witness.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ian,

    but do look at the complexity of the matter

    you need to stop implying that your interlocutors are idiots for not agreeing with your assessment.

    and the responsibility individual Catholics have to root-themselves firmly in their Faith if they are ignorant concerning that Faith, regardless of the disinterest or poor leadership on the part of clerics.

    Nobody here is saying that there is no culpability or responsibility on all Catholics to be pro-life and work hard for the cause of the unborn. This discussion is about the responsibility of Bishops to make sure they do.

    I’ve met several who feel privately that contraception should not be considered “sinful.”

    Which position is materially heretical and is in itself “sinful”. This is precisely why they don’t preach it, because they don’t really believe it’s sinful. In fact I’ve heard priests suggest that they believe if they preached it, then it would become sinful for their flock, so they avoid the subject, trying to protect “innocence”. What a sad state of affairs.

    are currently part of Catholic teaching

    Always and forever. These are definitive and infallible teachings, they don’t change.

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