Questions about Faithful Citizenship

On Sunday last, I had a conversation with a devout Catholic woman (16 years of Catholic schooling, niece of a revered deceased Jesuit of the California province, nurse at a Veterans Administration hospital, communion minister at her parish) who was hopping mad at the California bishops for funding and publicly supporting California Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriages). She told me: "Look, as a Catholic I know sacramental marriage is only between a man and a woman. But I do not think the church should be telling us how to vote. Civil marriage for same-sex couples is a complex issue and depends on equality before the law. Clearly, the California Supreme Court said churches would not be bound to perform same-sex marriages by their decision. It is a question of civil law. Who are the bishops to tell us how to vote?"

I told her that I had voted against Proposition 8 on a technical and procedural issue which I always find compelling. I do not think a state’s constitution should be amended by a mere majority in a referendum. I think constitutional changes (as in the U.S. Constitution) should be more deliberate. If there was a demand for a super-majority vote (e.g., two-thirds) or a two-tiered process (first, a vote by the legislature with a super-majority and, then, a referendum with a super-majority to ratify it), I might have followed the California bishops’ advice but--as my caveat makes clear--the moral issue of protection of marriage involves prudential judgments about the political process and issues of procedural and not just substantive justice. The Catholic church’s teaching about the state, notoriously, is fairly silent on questions of procedural justice. While procedural justice does not guarantee substantive justice, theories of substantive justice that scout attention to procedural justice are also suspect. Justice must be done and be seen to be done.

My other conversation took place a week before the election with a bishop (I was doing a workshop for his priests and deacons). The bishop was quite unhappy that some 50 or so American bishops were rejecting the careful and nuanced argument of the collective bishops in their 2007 pastoral, " Faithful Citizenship," which explained their position on intrinsic evils, such as abortion, euthanasia, racism and, yet, allowed, for weighty reasons, voting for a pro-choice candidate. I told the bishop that I could and did defend "Faithful Citizenship" before our students at Loyola Marymount, but that I could never defend the positions of Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Bishop Finn of Kansas City or Joseph Martino of Scranton. My bishop interlocutor, then, said: "You know, even Catholics who agree with us on the issue might just vote differently because they resent bishops, equivalently, telling them how to vote." He was not even sure the California bishops should endorse propositions for a referendum. "Just teach our position and leave it up to Catholics to vote their conscience."

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My questions for a follow up document to "Faithful Citizenship" are three. First, the bishops do a good enough job in distinguishing intrinsic versus non-intrinsic evils. Yet they fail to expound clear Catholic teaching about direct versus remote or more indirect cooperation with evil. In a sense, we all cooperate with evil, including intrinsic evils (often by mere inaction). Yet, as a seminarian I was taught that a taxi driver who drove a woman to an abortion clinic was not, as such, culpable in the action. Direct versus indirect or remote cooperation with evil seems germane to thinking through the issue of voting for a pro-choice candidate. I am truly grateful to Msgr. Martin Laughlin, the administrator of the diocese of Greenville, South Carolina for publicly reprimanding Rev. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville for telling his parishioners that they needed to confess before communion if they voted for Obama! Such actions simply scandalize even good, practicing Catholics.

A second question involves asking the bishops to listen to any good traditional Canon lawyer explain Catholic canon law on issues involving sanctions or punishments, such as excommunication or the depriving of communion. Again, I was taught in seminary by an eventual President of the Canon Law Society of America that canons which deal with sanctions are always to be interpreted strictly (that is, narrowly). I continue to be scandalized by bishops, such as Robert Finn, who tell Catholic politicians such as Governor Sibelius of Kansas that they should refrain from communion if they are not willing, once again, to criminalize abortion.

The final question to the bishops in any revision of "Faithful Citizenship" is to ask them to make clear whether they, indeed, intend or desire, once again, to criminalize abortion. If the answer is yes, whom would they want sent to prison: only the woman who gets the abortion? Any friend or boyfriend who helps procure it? The doctor? All of the above? Perhaps others? This strikes me as a major stumbling block for many Catholic voters. They do not support abortion but they do not want to see it criminalized, again. The bishops owe us a clear answer to this question. Several years ago, when abortion was still illegal in Portugal, two bishops pleaded that a woman who had procured an abortion not be sent to prison!

John Coleman, S.J.

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9 years ago
I'm 57. I'm a new Catholic. I'd like to respect the teachings of the Church. Abortion is evil, period. Over 35 years -- 50 million dead babies, 100 million men and women whose souls may be jepordized. Scandal. War and the death penalty only kill a few. No balance there. Is it less evil that billions daily suffer poverty? Or shall we ignore nuclear proliferation, whose threat is death for all life on Earth for centuries or millenia? If you can speak rationally to them, please do. I can't. Please tell them to make a better arguement. When you tie to numbers or do something stupid, you open yourself to looking the fool. Don't Catholics look foolish enough already? Foolish I don't mind. Are we to be led by immature. Communists are the best political party. They are in line with our thinking. But I will pass, thank you.
9 years ago
Thank you for the interesting and informative and opinionated article; I do believe you have a good point in regards to not changing constitutions without deliberation and a super-majority. However, seems to me your argument should have led you to vote for the out-lawing of same sex marriages for the exact reasons you mentioned. Same sex marriages have always since the beginning in all societies been out-lawed - until a handful of persons in the California Supreme Court decided differently. How would that be substantive justice that you could support?
9 years ago
I actually crave the leadership and Authority of our Catholic Church that I love so dearly. I'm tired of the sugar coated ''feel good'' messages that I receive. It's common sense to me that if I ''disagree with'' or ''argue with'' or do not accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, then I excommunicate myself. If I'm not in communion with the Church in Her Authority to proclaim the TRUTH, then I shouldn't profess to be, and no, I shouldn't present myself to receive our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. I commend the Bishops and Priests who have spoken out on the importance of not supporting abortion or those who do support it. This is the leadership and the defense of Truth that we need. For example, Joe Biden supports abortion, he goes on national T.V. and proclaims his support of same sex marriage, and he professes to be in communion with the Catholic Church. Why shouldn't he be corrected? So his ''feelings'' aren't hurt? He should be corrected because the Church wants him to attain the salvation of his eternal soul. Should he receive Holy Communion when he is blatantly NOT IN communion with the teaching Authority of the Church? The Authority given by our Lord, Himself? Please stand up for the Truth. You're our spiritual Fathers, we need you to lead us. Is it any wonder that most Catholics voted for a candidate with extreme ''pro-choice'' views? Fr. Corapi, if your reading this, THANK YOU. You are a loving Father, because you don't spare my feelings to save my soul. You give me what I yearn for, Truth, and He is Most Holy.
9 years ago
I live in California and also voted against Proposition 8. I am a 63 year old Catholic man. My partner Joe and I have been together for 42 years. Theologian James Alison tells us that Rome should be embarrassed by the double back somersault they created that calls being gay okay but gay acts 'intrinsically wrong.' Their unsuccessful attempt to explain themselves becomes more untenable for them with time.
9 years ago
The fact that a reason for voting for or against something is ''nuanced,'' ''technical,'' and ''procedural'' does not mean that it is morally justifiable. I will assume you closely examined your own conscience before voting against an effort to defend not only the Catholic definition of marriage, but a fundamental underpinning of Western society that is about to be thrown away based on an understanding of ''equal rights'' with respect to gay marriage that's only been around for 40 years at most. We have no idea what the long term consequences of gay marriage will be. And to be clear, you voted against Prop. 8 because you don't think the procedural method to pass such a measure should be legal, when it, in fact, is legal? What other alternative is there in light of the court's decision? If the answer to that question is none, then you have put yourself in a tight moral corner. This seems like a real logical stretch to make, and I hope its not an excuse. I agree with your first two points about the Faithful Citizenship document. Your third question about it, however, is a nearly laughable red herring. With all due respect, you should know better. From the 1860s, when abortion was officially criminalized, to 1973, only two women were ever charged with having an abortion, the last in 1922. They were usually viewed as the second victim of the procedure. Just because something is criminalized does not mean it will be punished by prison time. There could and would also be distinctions between the abortionist and the woman. In any case it is pure speculation. The example from Portugal has no relevance in America, and is also likely apocryphal. I would think the Jesuits would have trained you better in argument. See here regarding the history of criminal abortion in America with respect to women: http://www.aul.org/Prosecution
8 years 12 months ago
The question about the document FAITHFUL CITIZENSHIP is simple enough: what juridical force does it have? The Gallicans in the American church would like to make it binding because it got a majority vote. But was it really written by the bishops? Or was it written by a committee? I am reminded of the bishops' document on WAR AND PEACE which was twisted into a pacifist doctrine. I am reminded of Newman's dislike of synods: great sources of mischief.

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