Thursday, November 15, 2007

“Faithful Citizenship”—The lowdown on the America bishops' newest document

Today's Chicago Tribune headline, "Catholic bishops say voters' souls at stake," could hardly be improved upon. And if that's not surprising enough, its opening paragraph, "Proclaiming a sense of new energy and empowerment, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday issued instructions to Catholic voters that their eternal salvation could be at stake when they cast ballots," sets a darn good opening tone too.

Unfortunately, neither the bishops nor the Tribune can maintain that urgent unity or fiery faithfulness. "It is important to be clear that political choices faced by citizens have an impact on general peace and prosperity [but] also on the individual's salvation," the document states, and I believe Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear interprets this accurately when writing if the voters don't "consider the Church's teachings on abortion and other moral issues ... it's not the clergy who will judge them but God." Unfortunately, Brachear also seems to be echoing the bishops correctly when she says, "Voters are implored not to support abortion-rights political candidates, but also advised that views on abortion should not be the sole factor," for Rev. Thomas Reese, the senior fellow at the dubiously titled "Woodstock Theological Center" at Georgetown University and former editor (it was rumored that no less than John Paul II had something to do with his ouster) of the often unorthodox magazine America comments that the document not only reflects the bishops' "frustration with pro-choice Democrats [but] Republican leaders that focus solely on ending abortion."

Of course, on the surface there is nothing heretical about such a statement, but the subtlety of the abortion tone needs to be explored. Obviously a politician who truly focused only on abortion would need to be examined, but common sense should tell a voter that, especially when a candidate seriously runs for an office such as the presidency, this could never be the case. My choice for president, Michael Huckabee, is by all objective accounts, the most strident pro-life candidate, but logic dictates he has positions on the myriad of other issues affecting the country as well. And in truth, I'm not as sold on some of his other positions as much as his stand on abortion. For example, I could go either way on the gun issue; I see nothing wrong with having a rifle for hunting (granted the gun owner has better eyesight than Dick Cheney) but I'm a little wary of guns in the home based upon the problems of accidental shootings. Likewise, Huck's republican stance of a prolonged presence in Iraq could be modified (although I do think an immediate withdrawal would also be a disaster) but frankly President Bush's decision to invade this state was so ill-fated, there may be no perfect solution. A fairly strong pro-life president (which I will always be grateful for), "W's" decision to go to war with Iraq is the one move of his I strongly disagreed with, for it is the one move in which Bush strongly went against the pope.

But while the bishops' document may place abortion at the top of the list, it does not state that abortion and euthanasia must not only be in 1st place, but IN place before all other issues are considered. In other words, unless the candidate is a complete crackpot on America's other problems, there can be no compromise on the issue of life. Because if there be compromise, then no matter how fiery your words may be, it will end up ending as the Vatican-Orthodox Commission (ironically also chronicled in today's Tribune) ended. While both the Orthodox and Catholic members of the commission agreed the bishop of Rome has primacy over all other bishops, they disagreed on what this primacy (and authority) entitles him, rendering the commission "All sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The bishops are also supposed to vote on withholding communion for openly pro-choice politicians next week, and while I'd love to see this happen, I'm not holding my breath. For it seems that for every (Archbishop) Timothy Dolan, there is a Rev. Thomas Reese, with many (Cardinal) Francis Georges somewhere in between. But you'd have to admit it would be difficult for a practicing Catholic to give Giuliani a vote if a practicing priest couldn't even hand him a Host.

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