Catholic Confrontations in a Pluralistic Society


6 August 2016

Carl Anderson, the thirteenth and Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and a very influential U.S. Roman Catholic said this week that since abortion far outweighs all other issues in the current presidential campaign, American Catholics cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. His meaning is clear: Catholics cannot vote for Hilary Clinton.

At the end of July, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, posted a message on Facebook: “Democratic VP choice, Tim Kaine, has been widely identified as a Roman Catholic. It is also reported that he publicly supports ‘freedom of choice’ for abortion, same-sex marriage, gay adoptions, and the ordination of women as priests. All of these positions are clearly contrary to well-established Catholic teachings; all of them have been opposed by Pope Francis as well.” So good Catholics should not vote for bad Catholic Kaine?

And now, heating up the Catholic political debate, Vice-President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated at a gay wedding on August 2nd, at the Naval Observatory, the vice-president’s official residence. Biden has never officiated at a wedding before, and had to get temporary certification from the District of Columbia to make it legal.

The reaction from leading U.S. Catholic bishops has been swift. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, issued a statement on August 5th, saying: “When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics.”

A few reflections:
(1) Abortion far outweighs other issues:
I have long considered myself pro-life. Nevertheless, I would like to see a well-informed and respectful discussion about abortion. I am not convinced that all procedures done under the term “abortion” are taking human life. Nor am I convinced that it is always the greatest moral evil. If, for example, saving the life of a mother results in the death of a fetus, I would argue that saving the life of the mother is the morally better thing to do. So is abortion always wrong? I think not. I remember a now deceased Roman Catholic cardinal who was a strong public opponent to abortion – until. His sister, who was a Catholic nun working in an African country was attacked and raped. When informed, the cardinal ordered that his sister be taken to the nearest hospital “to be cleaned out so she won’t have a baby.” When I asked him about this, he nervously chuckled and said “questions of morality are rarely clear-cut.”

So abortion is not clear-cut? Are any moral issues ever clear-cut? What about raping adult women and men? What about the sexual abuse of children? What about torturing political prisoners? What about white supremacy and racial discrimination? I find it hard to believe that these actions are ever justifiable.

I find it cruelly ironic, for instance, that so many conservative Christians express their outrage at abortion but ignore and often oppose legislation and aid programs to assist, aid, and educate impoverished children. That is indeed an outrage.

(2) Rights and responsibilities of Catholic politicians: It is an old discussion but never seems to ring home. Sometimes I think it is time for a civics lesson for some religious leaders. The concepts of civil rights and of civil law are both functions of the concept of a pluralistic civil society in which people have the right to live according to their conscience and in conformity to civil laws established to promote the common good and maximum freedom for its citizens. Separation of church and state means that the United States is not a theocracy and religious institutions have no right to impose their institutional morality on civil society. Religious leaders can and should critique what is happening in the greater society but they cannot control civil society. Same-sex marriage is a civil right in U.S. society. Even Roman Catholics have a civil right to officiate at such civil ceremonies. John F. Kennedy understood this very clearly.

When JFK was running for president, people raised concerns about his “divided loyalty,” suggesting that a Catholic chief executive would be torn between his loyalty to his faith and the Catholic hierarchy and his oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. In an often quoted statement, Kennedy replied: “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decisions in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.” Kennedy said he believed in an America “where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners how to vote.”

Yes…..The concepts of civil rights and of civil law are both functions of the concept of a pluralistic civil society in which people have the right to live according to their conscience and in conformity to civil laws established to promote the common good and maximum freedom for its citizens. Separation church and state means that the United States is not a theocracy and religious institutions have no right to impose their institutional morality on civil society.
Representatives and members of religious institutions (like the Bishop of Providence and the head of the K of C can certainly express their ethical viewpoint and engage in conversation – respectful dialogue – with legally recognized leaders of civil society about the most appropriate civil legistaion for the civil state. In the end, if they wish to continue living as members of the civil state, representatives and members of religious institutions must respect civil law.

(3) Clinton and Trump, my only comment about them (I think):  In this blog I have generally tried to avoid taking sides with any political party. I come in fact from a long family line of Republicans. My parents were Lincoln Republicans and very active in the State of Michigan Republican Party. (They were also exceptionally wonderful parents.) I too was a Republican until it came to the 1960 Nixon vs Kennedy election. Change is also part of life. Frankly I have never been a strong supporter of Hilary Clinton – for reasons one need not explore here. For me, however, the key issues in this very strange presidential campaign of 2016 are not Republican or Democratic party politics but questions of personal integrity and trustworthiness (values and morality), intellectual honesty, psychological maturity, and political wisdom, experience, and competence. Based on these criteria, I am ready to vote.

27 thoughts on “Catholic Confrontations in a Pluralistic Society

  1. Jack,
    Please consider the difficulties inherent in voting for Clinton or Trump:
    Clinton is a well established politician entrenched in the ways of
    Washington and American politics. She will give us politics &
    governance as usual which has brought us to the mess we are in. Trump
    is an eminently unqualified demagogue who lacks any coherent plan for
    governance and whose popularity is frightening.
    Dr. Jill Stein is worthy of our consideration. Don’t take my word for it. Check her out yourself:
    http://www.jill2016.com. She deserves to be heard. After considering
    all three nominees, who do you feel would lead us to a more humane,
    productive, and peaceful society? She can definitely win if she gets enough votes!!!!!!
    Jerry

      • Come on, Jack. You know better than that. What you say is only true if one of them gets 270 votes. Dr. Stein can get there if she gets equal opportunity to present herself and her platform. True, it’s a very steep hill to climb but do-able!

      • Jack, Jack, Jack! Doesn’t that depend on how many people vote for that third party candidate?

      • Also, Jack, you may be aware that within the past few days there have been national news reports that Trump may either drop out or be forced out by the Republican party.

  2. Thank you, Jack. Your thoughts always lift my spirits and help me to realize that my heart is not alone within my Church, which I love. God bless you.

  3. Oh, my dear Jerry. We have been under Republican legislation for the better part of the past 30 years. Trickle-down economics. That is what isn’t working. True, Sec. Clinton has been a “centrist” in the past, but the campaign of Bernie Sanders has forced her left, and the majority of us agreed with him. We will hold her feet to the fire.

    • Good intention, Patricia. How do you expect to do that when she holds all the power and influence of the people. No modern day president has ever been held accountable for selling out the American people. Some we have even re-elected! Our political system is broken. We need a new system and we need politicians who come from an entirely different paradigm. Jill Stein and her campaign, like Bernie, is driven by the people. She deserves very serious consideration as do other progressive candidates.

    • Yes….that is what I would strongly say. Nor should church authorities impose sanctions on people about their voting…like threats of excommunication or not being able to receive communion.

  4. I wish that the Hierarchs in the RCC would state that their views are about Matrimony, not marriage.
    Everyone would concede that they can make their own rules for who is eligible to receive Matrimony.
    But the State decides who is eligible for marriage…
    Do they also complain when Catholics serve as Justices of the Peace, who can marry people in civil ceremonies???
    Sloppy language makes for sloppy thinking!!

  5. Thanks so much, Jack. Another insightful reflection on what it means to be a responsible citizen and a Catholic.

  6. I note the bishops and others claiming that Joe Biden officiating at a gay marriage sows “confusion.” No, it doesn’t. Catholics are well aware of the hierarchy’s position on these matter; but many reject it. No confusion there.

    • Absolutely…the only confusion is in the minds of some hierarchs. Most U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage. So we move on…I am absolutely not anti-Catholic hierarchy…just wish they would get with it..

  7. Several things keep coming to mind. 1) though abortion was common in the time of Jesus {Cf. the coins of Cyrene which showed the plant), He was silent about it. I infer that the Republican Party has managed to poiticize a moral issue into a merely political one that outweighs all other issues and requires you to conform 2) passing these laws and the statements of the hierarchy and other Catholic leaders seems to makee laws forbidding abortion into a requirement to conform to a Catholic teachin, one imposed on the political and civil life of our country. I am not sure how this differs from the Sharia law so many Christians are concerned about nor how it manages to keep religious out of being a test for office. 3) the bible itself says a “soul” occurs when God breathes life into the first breathing of the newborn baby (Gen 2): I do not see how this Catholic view changed into an absolute view that science defines the soul, the human being. 4) I am not sure that (as in the case of gun laws) that legislation will really affect anything. Women will still choose, and perhaps as in the case of prohibition, everything will become underground, uncontrolled and ultimately more harmful than the intent of the legislators.

  8. Jack, Your insight in so many subjects is well received. My brother always forwards the articles in Another Voice to me. I will have to subscribe. The comments are all well given and thought out. I wish I could be as well spoken in my comments but it would take me pages to respond. I agree with all you have to say and thank you for your insight and look forward to reading them. I was raised in a Catholic home, Catholic boarding school, my brother a Catholic priest,I am a Methodist now. So much of the Catholic church is a disappointment to me but miss going to mass as it will always be an important part of my life.I will tell you that my brother lives in London. You and he are friends.

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