Faithful Catholic, Faithful Citizen

At their semi-annual meeting November 10-13th in Baltimore, the United States bishops will discuss the “practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion.” Some might question the timing of this discussion, coming only days after millions of Catholics supported the election of a candidate whom Princeton professor Robert George described as being the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the presidency.

At the same time, better (barely) late than never, and perhaps the timing will allow for a candid discussion relatively free of USCCB-speak (read “Faithful Citizenship”) or charges of partisanship.

In my own discussions with bishops regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the November meeting, I have urged them to consider these three concerns:

(1) I think it’s important that the bishops clearly distinguish the canon 915 issue (i.e., withholding Communion from notoriously pro-abortion Catholic politicians) from the sinful exercise of one’s vote. Apart from the automatic excommunication provision of canon law (which to my knowledge has never been applied to politicians) or the possibility of a heresy trial, I believe that canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law should be engaged on its own merits.

Namely, can it be said that a Catholic politician who for decades has fought for liberalized abortion rights “obstinately persists in manifest grave sin”? If yes, then he or she must “not . . . be admitted to Holy Communion” until he or she repents. If not, however, then it would be helpful for the faithful (and probably for the bishops, too) to understand why not, especially given the clear language of canon 915.

I understand both the disinclination to withhold Communion as well as the desire to respect the discretion of individual bishops to make pastoral judgments concerning Catholics in their own jurisdiction. All I’m asking for is that the canon be applied consistently.

Last month, each umpire during the World Series called balls and strikes a little differently, but at least they were all working from the same criteria as to what constitutes the strike zone. Similarly, the bishops should be on the same page as to the objective meaning of canon 915 and thus be using the same “strike zone” — and at present they’re not.

When it comes to canon 915, there seem to be some bishops who confuse “visible communion” with “invisible communion” (of course we can’t make judgments about the latter), and others who flat out say that they would never refuse Communion under any circumstance. That conflicts with the parameters of canon 915 and leads to scandalously inconsistent applications of Church law.

Of course canon 915 applies only in exceptional situations, but when it does apply, it should not be seen as a penalty or taking sides politically, but rather as an act of pastoral charity to the sinner as well as to all the faithful.

comm.jpg(2) Church documents say that it is “formal cooperation with evil” to vote for a candidate because of their permissive views on abortion, euthanasia, and presumably same-sex marriage. Even material cooperation is forbidden in the absence of “proportionate reasons.” That’s all well and good. But in the case of the pro-abortion politician himself or herself, he or she is the one with whom the faithful are forbidden formally to cooperate. In other words, what the Church has to say about “formal cooperation” in this situation seems to presuppose the fact that the pro-abortion politicians’ views constitute “manifest grave sin.” If that’s not the case, then it shouldn’t constitute “formal cooperation with evil” to align ourselves politically with such people.

Let me be clear about this. The Church says that I would be committing mortal sin in voting for a Catholic politician like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi if I do so because of their pro-abortion views and policies. How could we deny, then, that such public figures are persisting in “manifest grave sin,” especially as they work to bring others to accept their dissident, sinful views?

The bishops’ failure to take appropriate corrective action pertaining to these politicians undercuts anything they might say about the faithful’s obligation not to support the intrinsic evils championed by these politicians. Perhaps the bishops could start by declaring that any Catholic serving in Congress — Democrat or Republican — who votes in favor of the Freedom of Choice Act must be refused Holy Communion until he or she repents.

(3) Clarifying the narrow issues of canon 915’s applicability and the sinfulness of voting for candidates who support abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage would put the much broader Faithful Citizenship document in its proper context. As it is, I have not encountered anyone who has had his or her conscience formed by that document. Instead, I run into many people, including a shamefully large number of Catholic school teachers who quote Faithful Citizenship selectively and use it to rationalize their pre-determined conclusion to support a pro-abortion candidate. I know it’s not intended as such, but in practice, it’s a pastoral filibuster used to neutralize (to put it mildly) the teachings of the Holy Father and the individual bishops.

Clearly the first order of business in making a prudent decision of conscience is to rule out any alternatives that are morally unacceptable. Once that’s accomplished, then a document like Faithful Citizenship can do much good. There are, after all, many important issues facing our country in every election, and we should understand them in the context of an authentically Catholic worldview.

But the make-or-break issues of our time are abortion (life) and institutionalized homosexuality (family). History will judge us harshly if we as the Church in the United States lack the resolve to be at the forefront of resisting these grave societal evils.

I pray that that’s the direction the U.S. bishops take in Baltimore.

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  • James

    How ironic that there is a Knights for Obama commercial attached to the Ads by Google at the bottom of this article.

    It is certainly true what you say. Everyone knows that Catholics are sticking hard by this issue for the unborn, yet without a real change of tone from the bishops, the Church’s witness will be so compromised, especially as history judges…

    In America, the Church’s situation is a lot like country’s situation. If we do not take the hard times upon us, the hard times will find us anyway – but later and with more vengeance.

  • Click dat ad! Google pays CE, and Knights for Obama pays Google. I opened it in a new tab, and closed the tab without looking.

  • Warren Jewell

    Arkanbar, I do hit those ads, but sometimes just to L-A-U-G-H – like for the one for ‘Catholic Church jobs paying $37/hour’. I imagine that most Catholic school teachers would like to get that rate.

    Frankly, worse than the bishops being rather both-sides-speaking (USCCB-speak) about politics, they leave just about all of us non-seminarians in the dark about being a ‘faithful Catholic’. They don’t even provide a suggested reading list.

    I suppose that I will harp upon this until my last breath – (gasping) “Tell Cardinal George: teach them!” – but we are blessed with school buildings in most parishes that sit unused most nights. These should be utilized for adult education, from
    – parent-with-students-in-the-school (and maybe homeschoolers) help-with-homework sessions to
    – adult Catholic continuing religious formation and development to
    – forum-talk groups in Bible study, Catechism discussions to
    – prayer group meetings to
    – informal RCIA exploration and non-Catholic Q-&-A-and-coffee sessions to
    – helping non-English speakers with learning English to
    – ‘parish volunteer needs’ sessions to
    – . . . – well, you-name-it

    Oh, yes –
    – regular ‘your bishop and pastor want you to know’ meetings, so the USCCB-speak can be illuminated in plain speech.

  • elkabrikir

    Mr Jewell and others, A suggested reading list would be:

    Anything written by Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI or GK Chesterton
    Anything sold on Catholic Company or

    A new book I’m reading is called Natural Rights and the Right to Choose by Hadley Arkes, the author of the federal Baby Born Alive Act and federal Marriage Amendment.

    Read Dostoevsky, and any of the writing of the Saints.

  • elkabrikir

    Regarding the bishops: I don’t think it takes annointing and Holy Orders to know and proclaim Natural Law. So what’s the problem?

    GK Chesterton wrote, “fixed rule is the only protection of humanity against clever men who are the natural enemies of humanity”.

    St Paul had a lot more to lose than a tax exempt status when he wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel”. That is how I try to live my life. What is there to fear? Death? Jesus overcame death, once for all.

    Anybody truly searching for the truth will find it. When Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?” Individually we each will answer this question when we present our lives as testimony to our love of God and neighbor.

    Will Jesus find faith when he comes to the bishops gathered this week? Will he? Will he?

  • patka

    Maybe a reminder to the faithful about the evils of socialism is in order also.

  • asdwanamaker

    Maybe the bishops would do well to reflect on how they have lost virtually all authority among the “faithful” in America.

    The Church has, for many, simply become one among many service providers. When the service rendered has pleasing results, the faithful shout for joy. When the service provider admonishes for whatever reason, the faithful recoil.

    I applaud the bishops for preaching more strongly this year than ever before on the culture of death. Without question, they need to keep it up. But they must also be willing to do a better job of answering the question, “Why should I follow your teaching?”

  • JimAroo

    And while we talk about this, the prominent Catholic who gave intellectual cover to all the pro Obama Catholics, Mr Doug Kmiec, is speaking as an honored speaker tomorrow night (11/11) at St. John’s Seminary which is the seminary for the largest diocese in America, the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The USCCB can have its little confab and Cardinal Mahony and others will do what they please. Disband the conference and clarify the chain of command.

    When I was a parish employee, I reported to the pastor, who reported to the bishop, who reported to the Pope, who reported to God. Best chain of command I ever saw! This Conference just muddies the water.

  • Cooky642

    Newsflash! I just read Judie Brown’s column in today’s American Life League, and she’s reporting that Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the USCCB, has issued a statement saying that the Bishops have decided NOT to address abortion OR politics at their November meeting!

    These men need a whale of a lot more prayer! When I’m tempted to think they also need a 2X4 up the side of the head, I remember that nothing lasts forever. Sigh.