“BALTIMORE - Roman Catholic voters and lawmakers must heed church teaching on issues ranging from racism to abortion or risk their eternal salvation, U.S. bishops said Wednesday.
The bishops didn't recommend specific policies or candidates in the 2008 election, and emphasized that ‘principled debate’ is needed to decide what bests promotes the common good. But they warned Catholics that their votes for politicians and laws affect more than just civic life.
‘Political choices faced by citizens have an impact on general peace and prosperity and also may affect the individual's salvation,’ the bishops said. ‘Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being.’
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly adopted the statement, ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ as they ended the public session of their fall meeting.
They have offered similar guidance to Catholics before every presidential race since 1976.
While the 30-plus-page document touches widely on Catholic social justice teaching, the bishops said that fighting abortion should be a priority.
‘The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,’ the bishops said. ‘It must always be opposed.’
Catholics make up one-quarter of the electorate nationwide, but do not vote as a bloc, and often do not follow the bishops' political guidance. Surveys indicate that most don't choose candidates based on that person's position on abortion. In the current election season, none of the leading presidential candidates has been reliably anti-abortion.
The bishops said that voting for a candidate specifically because he or she supports ‘an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism’ amounts to ‘formal cooperation in grave evil.’
In some cases, Catholics may vote for a candidate with a position contrary to church teaching, but only for ‘truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences,’ according to the statement.
The document did not address whether Catholics who violate this guidance should continue to receive Holy Communion. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who helped draft the document, said the bishops are simply asking Catholics to ‘examine their consciences.’
‘When you look at eternal salvation, God is the only judge,’ said DiMarzio, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. ‘All we have the ability to do is to warn people.’
The document makes clear the broad concerns that keep Catholics from finding a true political home with either the Democrats or Republicans.
The bishops said helping the poor should be a top priority in government, providing health care, taking in refugees and protecting the rights of workers, and the bishops highlight the need for environmental protection.
However, they also opposed same-sex marriage, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, in addition to their staunch anti-abortion position.
The prelates, who oppose the death penalty, said torture is ‘always wrong,’ and expressed ‘serious moral concerns’ about ‘preventive use of military force.’ But in a very brief floor debate Wednesday before the vote, they heightened their language on terrorism, adding a sentence acknowledging ‘the continuing threat of fanatical extremism and global terror.’
In recent years, some independent Catholics groups have been distributing their own voter booklets, with theological conservatives emphasizing abortion and liberal-leaning groups highlighting church teaching on war, poverty and social justice.
The bishops urged Catholics to only use voter resources approved by the church.”
Yes, we certainly wouldn't want the laity thinking for themselves. Obviously the church is against abortion (and birth control) as well as stem-cell research. In spite of their massive institutional role in enabling pedophile priests, the church has fought tooth and nail against civil rights for gay Americans they believe pose a moral danger to society. On these issues, they are in line with the GOP and the bishops’ statement implies an endorsement of conservative Republican candidates.
But the church also opposes capital punishment, which those same "pro-life" candidates generally adore. The Republicans authored the disastrous war in Iraq, which Pope John Paul explicitly condemned. And, as the AP story notes, Catholics supposedly have a commitment to social injustice, including protecting the rights of immigrants and poor and struggling families trying to make ends meet. The Republican Party has bashed immigrants, tried to whip up a xenophobic frenzy about Mexicans as a distraction from their serial policy failures, and have scrapped or squeezed virtually every program that helps poor and working class families to climb up economically.
If the past is any guide, the Catholic support for social justice will take a back seat to the church's anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science priorities. Not only is this two-faced, but the church has left itself without a viable political home. Its stands on women, gays and choice put it in conflict with liberals and its position on immigrants and social welfare put it at odds with conservatives.
One could characterize this as standing on principles regardless of the consequences. I see it as being unable to logically travel from point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost. The good news is most Catholics are "cafeteria Catholics" who long ago decided they didn't need the church to tell them what to do in the privacy of a voting booth.
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.