Once again the USA is a bitterly divided country going into a presidential election, and once again the Catholic Church reflects the same divide. One of the things that adds to the confusion, the controversy and the fun is the weird American idea that a.) we all have freedom of speech b.) but priests and pastors are not supposed to talk about politics.
At least this is the perception and of course, those who are most strict about priests not speaking about politics are those who are annoyed when a priest speaks out against their favored politician or party. My own political party is the Mercutio Party….(Mercutio is the character in Romeo and Juliet who curses, “A plague on both your houses!”) Therefore, when I’ve written in the past exposing Donald Trump’s fraudulent past, his immature braggart strutting, his Playboy lifestyle, his history of crooked business deals, his wealth built on casinos and strip joints and his essential lack of any qualifications for the job of president I’ve had gung ho Trump supporters tell me to shut up and mind my own business and stay out of politics.
Likewise, when I’ve poked fun at the fake Catholic Joe Biden–a man who boasts of his Catholicism publicly but officiates at gay weddings and openly supports abortion–a man whose nearly fifty years in politics seems only to have served to enrich himself and his family as they all put their snouts in the trough–a man whose intellectual dullness is only exceeded by his phony charm–I’ve had Democrats tell me to shut up and mind my own business.
Must priests and pastors shut up and keep their nose out of politics? I don’t find anyone suggesting that the courageous Pastor Bonhoeffer, who participated in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, should have stayed out of politics. No one suggests that Fr Jerzy Popieluszko–the Polish priest beaten and killed by Communist thugs should have stayed out of politics. I don’t hear anyone saying the Rev Martin Luther King should have stayed home and been content to teach Sunday School. Priests and pastors should get involved in politics, but when they do they should remember Bonhoeffer, Popieluszko and King…not to mention St Thomas a Becket, St John Fisher, St Oscar Romero and a host of other we could name who got involved in politics.
The much reviled Johnson Amendment doesn’t actually say priests and pastors should shut up and stick to religion. Here is the exact wording:
(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
This should only mean that charities and churches may not participate or intervene in a political campaign. People have extended to mean that priests and pastors should not speak up and be involved in politics at all. Recently the Jesuit Fr Thomas Reese violated the Johnson Amendment by openly campaigning for Joe Biden. Fr Altman published a video denouncing Biden and supporting Trump. I think they should be free to do so, however when we speak about politics we should focus on policies not personalities. We should speak firmly about Catholic teaching and Catholic values but we don’t have to sling mud and we don’t need to condemn individuals or whole groups of people.
The idea that priests and pastors are supposed to shut up and mind their own business and not speak about politics is ridiculous. This is exactly part of our ministry, and the precedent for being the conscience of a nation goes right back to John the Baptist and the whole tradition of the Old Testament prophets. To use the prophets as an example, however, is to indicate our main role as preachers, priests, pastors and prophets. I believe our main role is to point out the issues and to highlight the faults and failings of our leaders. They have enough people endorsing them, throwing money at them, whitewashing their faults, covering up their mistakes and portraying them as the world’s savior. What they need most of all is just what priests and pastors can provide: a critical voice–the voice of one crying in the wilderness. They need to hear the gospel message loud and clear as an antidote to the candied poison of political utopianism.
We’re told that we’re not to endorse or campaign for a particular candidate or party. That’s okay. The fact of the matter is, we don’t need to name any particular party or politician. Let’s simply allow them to speak for themselves.
Can a Catholic support a politician or a party that supports abortion? What do you think? Here is the official Catholic teaching on the subject of abortion: (paras. 2270-2275)
Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
- You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society,
The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80
“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”81
Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”82
“One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”83
“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”84
“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity”85 which are unique and unrepeatable.
On the issue of abortion this is the Democrat party platform:
Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We will repeal the Title X domestic gag rule and restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides vital preventive and reproductive health care for millions of people, especially low-income people, and people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, including in underserved areas.
Democrats oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights. We will repeal the Hyde Amendment, and protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom. We condemn acts of violence, harassment, and intimidation of reproductive health providers, patients, and staff. We will address the discrimination and barriers that inhibit meaningful access to reproductive health care services, including those based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, income, disability, geography, and other factors. Democrats oppose restrictions on medication abortion care that are inconsistent with the most recent medical and scientific evidence and that do not protect public health.
This is from the Republican Party Platform (carried over from 2016)
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation.
We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment including food and water, from individuals with disabilities, newborns, the elderly, or the infirm, just as we oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.
We affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women who face an unplanned pregnancy. In order to encourage women who face an unplanned pregnancy to choose life, we support legislation that requires financial responsibility for the child be equally borne by both the mother and father upon conception until the child reaches adulthood. Failure to require a father to be equally responsible for a child places an inequitable burden on the mother, creating a financial and social hardship on both mother and child. We celebrate the millions of Americans who open their hearts, homes, and churches to mothers in need and women fleeing abuse. We thank and encourage providers of counseling, medical services, and adoption assistance for empowering women experiencing an unintended pregnancy to choose life. We support funding for ultrasounds and adoption assistance. We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics
We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for leading the effort to add enforcement to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act by passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which imposes appropriate civil and criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion, including early induction delivery whether the death of the infant is intended.
We strongly oppose infanticide. Over a dozen states have passed Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version. Not only is it good legislation, but it enjoys the support of a majority of the American people. We support state and federal efforts against the cruelest forms of abortion, especially dismemberment abortion procedures, in which unborn babies are literally torn apart limb from limb. We call on Congress to ban sex-selection abortions and abortions based on disabilities — discrimination in its most lethal form. We oppose embryonic stem cell research. We oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. We support adult stem cell research and urge the restoration of the national placental stem cell bank created by President George H.W. Bush but abolished by his Democrat successor, President Bill Clinton. We oppose federal funding for harvesting embryos and call for a ban on human cloning.
The Democratic Party is extreme on abortion. Democrats’ almost limitless support for abortion, and their strident opposition to even the most basic restrictions on abortion, put them dramatically out of step with the American people. Because of their opposition to simple abortion clinic safety procedures, support for taxpayer-funded abortion, and rejection of pregnancy resource centers that provide abortion alternatives, the old Clinton mantra of “safe, legal, and rare” has been reduced to just “legal.” We are proud to be the party that protects human life and offers real solutions for women.
It’s clear what the Catholic Church teaches.
It’s clear what each party supports.
I’m not telling you who to vote for.
But is it that easy?
In this article the Jesuit Fr Reese–who is a Biden supporter– makes a point: He says politics is a messy business and you may not agree with a candidate’s views or a particular party platform, but you can vote for that person or party as long as you are not supporting whatever position they hold which is inimical to Catholic teaching. So Father Reese quotes the Catholic bishops’ guidance:
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. 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.
then the Jesuit goes on…
First, it is noteworthy that besides abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and gay marriage, the bishops also list as “intrinsically evil,” policies “deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions” as well as policies promoting “racist behavior.” A liberal interpretation of this text opens the door to a wider range of Catholic social teaching than just abortion and gay marriage.
Second, the “if” clause is very important. A Catholic is in trouble only “if the voter’s intent is to support that position.”
So, a Catholic Republican can vote for Trump, even if his policies promote racism or subject immigrants to subhuman living conditions, as long as the voter’s intent is not to support those positions.
And a Catholic Democrat can vote for Biden, even if his policies promote abortions and gay marriage, as long as the voter’s intent is not to support those positions.
In Catholic theology, intention — why you are doing something — is essential to an understanding of the morality of an action.
Fr Reese’s article sounds plausible, but we should think it through further. It seems to me that he is being perhaps…errm. Jesuitical?
This is a logical fallacy called “false equivalence” Fr Reese is a Jesuit. He should know better. We need to ask, “Are abortion and racism of equal importance?”
But, first of all, do the Republicans’ policies actually, specifically promote racist behavior? Which ones? Do Republican policies actually specifically support subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions? Really? Which explicitly stated Republican policies do this? That might be the unintended result of their policies, but their policies do not specifically call for racism or poor living conditions, and as Fr Reese points out, it is the intent that really matters right?
The Democratic policies, on the other hand, specifically and pointedly support, promote and fund the intrinsic evil of abortion up to the point of birth. This is not the side effect of one of their policies. It IS their policy.
Furthermore, Fr Reese, who is a very smart person and ought to be able to make such distinctions, seems unable to affirm that the taking of the innocent life of an unborn child by dismemberment in his mother’s womb is a greater moral obscenity than poor living conditions and racism. Poor living conditions and racism are questions of quality of life. Important questions to be sure, but abortion is a matter of life and death.
Do I need to denounce Joe Biden and the Democrats and name them specifically?
I don’t need to. They speak for themselves.
Well said. It could not be more clear, except “there are none so blind as those who refuse to see”.