Serious Catholicism for a Serious Election

Full disclosure, up front: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is an old friend; the Archdiocese of Denver syndicates this column to Catholic papers throughout the country; I played a (very) minor role in introducing Archbishop Chaput to my friends at Doubleday. So I’m not exactly a disinterested party in the matter of the archbishop’s new book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. I trust that doesn’t preclude my suggesting that it’s essential reading for serious Catholics in an election year fraught with consequence for core Catholic issues in 21st century America.

Archbishop Chaput is a pastor, first and foremost; his book is a pastor’s book. It’s informed by scholarship, and by the archbishop’s extensive experience in wrestling with issues at the intersection of morality and public policy. At the same time it’s a book for ordinary Catholics who want to be faithful to the Church and faithful to the first principles of justice in their civic lives. Here’s the argument, concentrated into nine key points.

1. Schizophrenic Catholicism is neither Catholic, nor responsible, nor patriotic. “We have obligations as believers,” the archbishop writes. “We have duties as citizens. We need to honor both, or we honor neither.”

2. Postmodern secularist skepticism about the truth of anything is soul-withering; in C.S. Lewis’ phrase, it makes “men without chests.” The current social, political, and demographic malaise of aggressively secularist Europe is an object lesson, and a warning, for America: “A public life that excludes God does not enrich the human spirit. It kills it.”

3. The new anti-Catholicism in the U.S. is not built around antipathy to the papacy, the sacraments, consecrated religious life, or the other bugaboos of those who once ranted about the “Whore of Babylon.” Rather, it’s an assault on religiously informed public moral argument of any sort, an attack against “…any faithful Christian social engagement.” So we can’t rest easy with the fact that the Catholic Church plays a considerable role in American society. There are forces in the land that would banish Catholicism, and indeed classic biblical morality, from a place at the table of democratic deliberation.

4. Because the Catholic Church’s defense of the first principles of justice — principles that can be known by reason — has specific policy implications for public life, the Church’s teaching has political “side-effects.” Anyone who considers this partisan meddling is simply mistaken. The most powerful “political” statement Catholics and other Christians make is to acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ as the first sovereignty in our lives. This confession of faith in fact helps make democracy possible, by erecting a barrier against the modern state’s tendency to fill every nook and cranny of social space.

5. America was founded on the convictions that there are moral truths that we can know by reason, and that the state has no business doing theology. The result was the vibrant, religiously informed public moral culture that amazed Alexis de Toqcueville in the 19th century. That distinctive American experience later shaped Vatican II’s teaching on religious freedom and the limited, constitutional state.

6. Work for social progress, however noble, is no substitute for ongoing personal conversion to Jesus Christ. True conversion will almost inevitably extract costs in politics. Catholic politicians who seek to avoid these dilemmas by hiding in the underbrush of a public square stripped of religious and moral reference points should reflect on the lives of Thomas More and Martin Luther King.

7. There is a bottom line in all this: the life issues are “foundational … because the act of dehumanizing and killing the unborn child attacks human dignity in a uniquely grave way.”

9. Responsible citizenship means making choices, not simply voting the way our grandparents did. Citizenship is an exercise in moral judgment, not in tribal loyalty.

10. Nothing in politics is perfect, including candidates. Yet unless we fight for the truth, “we become what the Word of God has such disgust for: salt that has lost its flavor.”

Good stuff. Buy one yourself; buy another for a friend.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • Grace Harman

    Wake up AMERICA! We are coming down to the line. We must choose between Life and death. and the dividing line is the “culture of death”. Will we choose to support unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, rationed health care, and lifestyles that give us sterility and disease OR will we choose life through support of life by a choice of good Judges who support life, honor of God’s Laws, and healthcare that respects life from the moment of conception to natural death? The Parties are sharply divided by their basic intent -(even if they try to hint that they aren’t.) Choose Life! There is really no other choice -without destroying ourselves as Nazi Germany did.

  • markiemarie

    I Have a Question for anyone who’d care to give an answer or an opinion. In My Catholic Church in Chicago , Their School is used as an Election Voting Place. It always gave me a “Queasy Feeling ” to think that on Catholic Property,,,people are will be coming out in droves to vote for a person who clearly advocates Child Murder. This Ward is primarily Die Hard Democrats. This City is Also. I get that people should have the freedom to vote,, But on Catholic School Grounds,,where Children are taught to Follow The Truths of Catholic Life. The Respect for Life! It’s Seem The Separation of Church/State Doesn”t count in Chicago Politics. How Can The Catholic Church Approve of This? Anyone got The Cardinal’s Number? Thanks,MW


    Chicago politics are widely regarded as entirely corrupt, any active and effective participation inescapably requiring one to get filthy, and the hope for any real reform as entirely out of reach.

    Pray for your people, your pastor and all the clergy.

  • kent4jmj

    Thank you Archbishop Chaput and George Weigel.

    The seriousness of the moral decline in which we find ourselves is more far reaching than many realize.

    If one thinks of the drastic rise in violent crime, divorce, abortion, at risk behavior among young people etc. that sharply increased beginning in the 60s one must also see the rise in political corruption taking place in the same time frame. It was during this time that a powerful effort was aimed at the secularization of Country mostly through our schools and government. The correlation is clear and unmistakable.

    The completely erroneous redefining of Jefferson’s often quoted “separation of Church and State,” which is Not in the Constitution, opened a flood gate for a small highly effective atheist agenda to redefine America as secular and not a Christian Nation. The erroneous interpretation would have us believe that the “wall of separation” is to keep religion out of the public sphere when in reality it is the exact opposite. A full reading will show that Jefferson’s intent was to show that Government was restricted from interfering with Religion!

    This is not conspiracy theory musings but based on fact. For instance at the time that prayer was taken out of public schools only 3% of the population was considered Atheist the rest, for the most part were Christian. How could the majority of Americans be tricked into giving up a right to 3% of the population?

    Here are some resources for anyone interested. The Keyes essay will take some time and serious attention but is a brilliant tract in how it shows a connection between thoughts of the Founding Fathers, Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Natural Law and belief in a Creator with governments legitimate role to protect all life and defend the institution of marriage. He also expresses some very objective and clear critiques of Dr. Dobson and Senator McCain.



    Alan Keyes recent essay. 2-party system: No choice but evil

  • franzj

    ‘1. Schizophrenic Catholicism is neither Catholic, nor responsible, nor patriotic. “We have obligations as believers,” the archbishop writes. “We have duties as citizens. We need to honor both, or we honor neither.”’

    I couldn’t agree more. No believing, practicing Catholic could ever vote for Obama, who hasn’t yet found an abortion he doesn’t like. However, stating such, let’s not automatically jump on board the “other” candidate’s train, simply because Obama’s a nightmare. “Schizophrenic Catholicism” could also be found in voting for a candidate who says he’s pro-life, but welcomes (with big open arms) the thought of a pro-abort VP. “Schizophrenic Catholicism” could also be found in voting for a candidate who says he’s pro-life, but is willing to risk nuclear confrontation with an old adversary over South Ossetia?!!

    Bottom-line, while McCain might (emphasis might) give us a good Supreme Court Justice, or two, it won’t amount to a hill of beans, if there’s no Supreme Court left to make appointments to.

    This is not mere hyperbole, brothers and sisters. Serious Catholics need to seriously consider these grave implications, I believe.

  • DonHudzinski


    Do not count the chicken before they hatch.

    There is a big difference between these two candidates and that is this.

    Voting for someone who supports and intrinsic evil is a mortal sin.

    Confessing this sin without repentance and one remains in mortal sin.

    The repentance for this is not to vote for the individual.

    As long as you intend on do this there is no forgiveness.

  • franzj

    “Do not count the chicken before they hatch.”
    Re: Huh???

    “There is a big difference between these two candidates and that is this.
    Voting for someone who supports and intrinsic evil is a mortal sin.”
    Re: Agreed. Voting for Obama, in my mind also, would be a grave sin.

    “Confessing this sin without repentance and one remains in mortal sin.
    The repentance for this is not to vote for the individual.
    As long as you intend on do this there is no forgiveness.”
    Re: I already said that faithful, practicing Catholics could not, in
    good conscience, in my opinion, vote for Obama. If what you’re trying to further
    state, without stating it directly, that not voting for McCain is a vote for Obama, I can’t hang with you there. No can do. Both candidates, in my mind,
    are pro-death, and neither will receive my vote come November.

  • Grace Harman

    Alan Keyes is running too.

  • dennisofraleigh

    Sadly most Catholics, if they hear any “Catholic” teaching at all, will hear a milquetoast version of “Catholic Social Doctrine” in which the intrinsic social evils will not be mentioned by name, but rather that Catholic voters, in order to be “faithful to Catholic teaching” must go to the polls thinking about the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, (and while they’re at it factor in the “pursuit of peace”) and protection of the environment.

    Of course, those of us who “know” which way is up are justifiably upset when so many pastors, whose duty it is to help “rightly form” Christian consciences on matters of social justice, let the self-appointed Catholic “experts” tell the viewing laity (with a straight face) on CNN or MSNBC that a Catholic is well within his/her moral right to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate if that candidate’s voting record otherwise shows compassion for the poor, immigration reform, anti-Iraq war, etc. etc.—–and will somebody please hand me an Air Canada sick bag I think I’m going to lose my lunch. 🙁

  • Grace Harman

    Dennis, the “poorest” are the unborn! And they’re slaughtered at rate of over a million a year just by surgical abortion, in the U.S. alone. Real injustice.

    I read Keyes’ essay. He’s intelligent, moral, writes well, Christian, Catholic, & he should have been in senate instead of Obama. I guess he is too honest for a political party to choose. Draft Keyes?

  • Warren Jewell

    I like Keyes, too, but he has always been marginal, in politics. He comes across like an academic, and has little traction politically being Catholic and conservtive. (And, I did vote for him for the Senate over Obama – a futile gesture in Democratic-dominated Illinois.

    However – of Archbishop Chaput, for all his words and talk – while the Democrats are in Denver, will he walk the walk of Canon law and make sure the ‘pro-choice’-‘choose murder’ Democrats in convention come up for Communion in his parishes? Some question (speaking of Alan Keyes) that he can and will ‘walk’ what he ‘talks’. (Reference:

  • Warren Jewell

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm –

    I’m ‘Warren Jewell’ here – ‘wljewel’ other places in CE – what gives?

    And, why can I not edit here, like I can other places in CE. My last question above is missing a clause about ‘are denied the Eucharist when they’ between ‘convention’ and ‘come up’.


  • DonHudzinski


    You did not say who you were voting for and neither did I. I was point out that a vote for some of them is a vote for hell and for others is not.

    Saint Peter would say this case is easy, you already voted, off to hell with you.

  • Chaput is an unusually courageous member of the USCCB. I expect him, personally, to do the right thing when a publicly unrepentant sinner presents him (or her) self to receive the Eucharist. But odds are that he’ll have to give some of the priests under his authority discipline that is more stringent than usual, by the time the Convention is over.

  • kent4jmj

    It really is simple but so hard to digest and act on. The two party system is broken, maybe even beyond repair. A third party candidate or write in is the only viable alternative.
    Active participation to get a candidate on a ballot may be a proper response if there is still time in your state. Sending $10-$20 to Keyes, Baldwin or another of your choice would also be very good.

  • Grace Harman

    I’m beginning to feel that both parties have sold us out to a global agenda. The U.N. has a pro-abortion, pro-gay, and anti-Christian agenda. If the winner signs on to that, we lose our sovereignty and all freedoms..

  • franzj

    I’d recommend two remedial courses: one in grammar, the other in Catholic morality and Christian Charity.

    Only after you complete both, should you try your hand in blogging again.

  • Grace Harman

    Our country, its sovereignty, and basic moral values are in danger and you’re worrying about my grammar?
    Abortion is an intrinsic evil. Abortion targets minorities, making it a tool of racism as well, which is another intrinsic evil. God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply and God “created them male and female” as a family. The traditional family is the basic unit of civilization, and when you take that away the culture disintegrates.

  • franzj

    Grace Harman,
    The comment about grammar (and Christian charity and morality) was not directed towards you, Ms. Harman. It was directed towards DonHudzinski.

    Your comments are well-stated and “right on.” Thank you.

  • Grace Harman

    I read it in the middle of the night and didn’t read it closely enough. I can see that now . Thanks for explaining anyway.

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