Who Speaks for the Church?

Who speaks for the Church in the realm of politics?

The question has been the subject of some controversy in recent days. Bishop Martino in Scranton showed up at a politics forum that was discussing the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference document "Faithful Citizenship." Instead of commending his flock for listening to, and discussing, the bishops’ instruction, he denounced the text: "The USCCB does not speak for me," he thundered.


Of course, the question has a perennial quality to it. Whether or not you can put lipstick on a pig, you can’t just plunk the label "Catholic" on an organization and make it so. There is a group "Catholics for a Free Choice" that really does not seem to evidence any awareness of Catholic anthropology. Conversely, I watched EWTN the other night and was appalled at their "more Catholic than the Pope" attitude towards the faith as well as the amateurish understanding of politics evidenced by host Raymond Arroyo. In their thirst for nostalgia they seem to have ignored such basic and observable phenomena as the fact that Pope Benedict did not bar anyone from the communion rail during his visit to America last April.

Archbishop Chaput of Denver made sure the audience he addressed last Friday night understood that in his comments criticizing Barack Obama and his Catholic supporters, he was not speaking as an archbishop but as a "private citizen." Of course, the Catholic women’s group who invited Chaput did not invite any other private citizens as their guest speaker. "Thou art a priest forever, by the order of Melchizadech" sings the psalmist, except, evidently, when you choose to speak as a private citizen. Clerics are entitled to their political opinions, of course, but it is smoke and mirrors to give a public speech "as a private citizen" when wearing a pectoral cross.

A voting guide put out by the group "Catholic Answer" not only claims it is speaking for the Church, but that there is only one answer to whatever conceivable questions you have. The voting guide issued by the liberal Catholic group "Catholics United" has a more balanced approach, analyzing the candidates’ positions on a variety of issues. But, neither organization has a canonical mission so while both can be consulted (and the "Catholics United" voter guide is well done), they do not carry any kind of ecclesiastical imprimatur. Communion and Liberation does have a canonical mission, and its voter guide is the best of the bunch. It is relentlessly abstract.

Relentless abstraction has its place. The same night the Bishop of Scranton was denouncing his confreres, I attended a presentation by Msgr. Stuart Swetland for the group Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). He gave a fine and even-handed presentation of the Church’s teachings. In the Q-and-A, someone asked for whom he was going to vote and he declined to answer. "I think it is a mistake when a priest indicates who is going to vote for," he said. "You all have to decide for yourselves how to apply the Church’s teachings to the concrete circumstances of the election."

So, who speaks for the Church at election time? You do. We all do.

Michael Sean Winters




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10 years 3 months ago
Michael-- I found the Texas bishops' statement to be the most problematic of all. http://vox-nova.com/2008/10/22/something-messy-in-texas/
10 years 3 months ago
The Bishop of Scranton was not denouncing the USCCB's statement. His problem is that people like you and other scandalous Obama supporters have misrepresented the USCCB's statement on Faithful Citizenship to somehow weasel an argument in support of a pro-abortion candidate. Bishop Martino is right, though, in his diocese he is the teacher, and the faithful of his diocese are required to listen to him. But Church teaching on abortion is perfectly clear, and Archbishop Chaput was quite right in asserting that the likes of Kmiec, and while not mentioning your name, you, Mr. Winters, do an incredible disservice to the Church when you attempt to convince Catholics that a properly formed personal conscience could ever find the justification for voting for a candidate with an abortion record and stance as radical as Sen. Obama's, particularly when there is an option for someone who is opposed to abortion and would seek legislation that recognizes justice for the unborn. You are a disservice to the Church, Mr. Winters, and your representation as the liberal "Catholics United" as somehow being balanced only shows your ignorance and your bias. Life issues aren't balanced, they are weighted, and the intrinsic and grave evil of abortion outweighs the death penalty, the economy, the debate over Iraq. It is true that polls show that Obama has a lead among Catholics, and that is terribly tragic because it only further demonstrates that Catholics like you Mr. Winters have abandoned the true and authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. You and all your Catholic Obama supporters Mr. Winters are covering yourselves in the blood of the innocent, and you will have to answer for that one day. I for one will continue to pray for mercy on your soul, and on the souls of all those, especially Catholics, who allow this injustice to continue. May God have mercy on you all.
10 years 3 months ago
Hmm. CL has a voter's guide? I know that a judgment was published in the form of a flier (http://www.clonline.us/readings/elections2008.cfm). Perhaps you could be a bit more concrete about what was good about this flier and what was "relentlessly abstract."
10 years 3 months ago
Most of the Catholics I know are voting for Obama. We are very concerned about this country's violent immigration policy, poverty, health care and wars. We believe that Obama and the Democrats will do a better job of understanding these issues and doing something about them. I have talked to many Catholics about this. This would include all the Catholics who get together for coffee after Mass at the church (monastery) where I go.
10 years 3 months ago
I agree with your view on EWTN however your comment on the Pope is clearly misplaced.Does the Pope have to bar anybody from the communion rail?The job is for the local bishops to inform those who need to examine their consciences and encourage them not to abuse the sacrament.The Pope probably does not spend his days learning who in American politics opposes the teaching of the Church or has little concern for unborn life.When the Pope did come to America many Catholics who do not share communion with the mind of the Church saw it as no hindrance to sharing Holy Communion.Did you expect the Pope to say "hold on I know you,your that liberal Catholic who shows greater adherence to the creed of the Democratic Party than the Church so no communion for you"?Also the article makes no distiction between the authority of laity and bishops.But you are right in stating that Archbishop Chaput wants it both ways.Some people want everything black and white while others want everything grey.
10 years 3 months ago
Mr. Miller, then you and your Catholic friends are gravely wrong to think that the issues of immigration policy, poverty, health care and wars trump the issue of abortion. You are either intentionally ignorant of this reality or you are willfully rejecting the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.
10 years 2 months ago
Amateurish is indeed the word for the political savvy of bishops like Martino. No doubt he has been well trained in theology, but I wonder if he ever took an introductory course in political science.


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