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Richard E. PatesAugust 13, 2012

Catholics who are serious about their faith and want to live it out in the public arena are challenged in today’s political environment. The choice of a party is difficult. The parties themselves have serious flaws, and they often appear to flaunt precisely the issues most at odds with Catholic teaching. This teaching is rooted in the reverential respect and protection of the life and dignity of every human from conception to natural death. Our country’s founders employed the phrase “self-evident truth” to convey the universal applicability of such teaching.

To their credit, Democrats have for at least a century recognized that government has a legitimate role in helping the poor and vulnerable. But these days Democrats more often grab headlines through their efforts to redefine marriage or by trying to determine which church activity is “religious” or by attempting to force Catholic institutions to provide employee health coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs. To their credit, Republicans for the last 50 years have opposed the abortion-approving Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and have espoused family values. But Republicans now make headlines by advocating the slashing of federal programs, including those for the poor, and proposing anti-immigrant legislation.

Catholics have responded in various ways. Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist and Catholic convert, says Catholics use their most deeply held values, whether that means defense of the unborn or care for the poor, to choose a party, but sooner or later they join “the side they’re on.” This is the opposite of what the U.S. bishops advocate in their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” “As Catholics,” it says, “we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths.”

The idea is that Catholics should work within their parties to change them, creating a diverse and substantial group motivated not so much by ideology but by challenging cultural issues, large and small.

This is easier said than done. The bishops are asking Catholics to raise uncomfortable issues in sometimes exceedingly hostile environments. Many Democrats have worked strenuously since Roe v. Wade to purge dissenters on legalized abortion from party ranks. They have succeeded to the extent that pro-life Democrats find themselves in a no-man’s land, often reviled for their views and distrusted by pro-lifers because of their party affiliation. More recently, Republicans have sought to purify party ranks of even the slightest variations from party orthodoxy. Republican candidates and legislators espouse increasingly hard-line positions punitive to immigrants and cut disproportionately programs that help the poor.

In this partisan environment, Catholics may feel “politically homeless,” to borrow a phrase from John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The parties’ retreat from the ideological center has left Catholics with the understandable, but unfortunate impression that their only political option is to choose a side and join in to win the culture war. The resulting toxic acrimony has long since seeped into the church. Catholics must reverse this trend.

A Faith-Based Worldview

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has advocated an end to the fixation over whether someone is a “progressive Catholic,” an “orthodox Catholic,” a “Vatican II Catholic” or a “traditionalist Catholic.” He urges instead a focus on being “simply Catholic.”In his final presidential address to the U.S. bishops, Cardinal George observed, “For too many, politics is the ultimate horizon of their thinking and acting,” and the value of the church’s role in public discourse is judged by how it will serve a partisan agenda.

Catholics must reject this mentality and act in a way that reflects a belief in a higher truth, seeing a greater horizon beyond that of a partisan agenda. This is the essence of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which urges Catholics to place the church’s priority teachings at the heart of their worldview and moral decision-making. Practically speaking, this means that political positions should be judged by how well they express the values and truths of the faith, not the other way around. This requires examination of conscience and individual conversion. It requires Catholic voters honest enough not to ignore principle in favor of partisan preference. It requires legislators brave enough to risk the acceptance of their caucus and support among their constituents. It also requires a significant increase in trust and acceptance of people’s good will at face value. In a scorched-earth political climate, partisans seldom raise a concern or value of the other side unless it is to denigrate it (call it socialist, anti-woman, etc.) or to say why it should not matter.

U.S. Catholics make up 29 percent of the current Congress—far more than any other single religious denomination—and hold 17 of 50 governorships. If any group can make an impact by unifying around its core principles, it is this formidable, diverse and culturally eclectic group. Pundits and pollsters point out that in the last few election cycles the candidate who has won the Catholic vote has also won the White House. But Catholics do not vote as a bloc, nor will they in the foreseeable future. Still, Catholics can make a positive difference on society.

Latino Catholics provide some hope. With strong pro-life, pro-family sensibilities and pro-poor and pro-immigrant views, they defy easy classification. They could transform either party that welcomes them and their concerns—a model for other U.S. Catholics. Pioneering modern Catholic social teaching in 1891 with his encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” Pope Leo XIII proposed a middle way between the socialist and laissez-faire philosophies of the day. A case could be made today that a unified Catholic effort could bring both major parties to openness toward Catholic views.

One can only imagine the increased appeal of a Republican Party that extends its pro-life concerns to the years between birth and infirmity and applies its family values to poor and immigrant families. The same goes for a Democratic Party that embraces the challenge to society made by Edward Kennedy in 1971, to “fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception,” a challenge later abandoned.

Toward the Catholic Vision

One catalyst for promoting such a change should be the realization by people of both parties that they need each other to accomplish even their partisan political goals. Sometimes conservative goals have liberal solutions and vice versa. Both parties should pursue the common good more than partisan advantage. For instance, as Catholics work for legal protection for the unborn as a matter of justice, they can also advance pro-life goals by strengthening and enforcing anti-discrimination laws for pregnant women in the workforce. And they can advocate for more generous parental-leave benefits. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not require employers to provide paid parental leave for workers. If Bolivia and Haiti, among the poorest countries in this hemisphere, can offer two and three months of paid leave, the United States—among the richest nations in history—can certainly do more. Increased attention to this issue would show that the United States places a high value on human life. And it would help forge a cultural perception that pregnant women really do have options and that abortion does not have to be tolerated, even as a “necessary evil.” The pro-life cause is also helped by making poor families a priority instead of an afterthought, so that no one can hide behind the excuse that people need abortions because “they just can’t afford another child.”

Meanwhile, the challenges of the highest domestic poverty rate in 15 years are too great for one party or philosophy to solve. Democrats must take seriously the concerns of Republicans that the government cannot be all things to all people. Republicans must take seriously the concerns of Democrats that the government has a role to play. Members of both parties must acknowledge the risk of future unsustainable deficits and put everything on the table to address the problem, including revenue, unnecessary defense spending, and just and fair entitlement reform.

The Catholic vision is one of collaboration, not coercion, among individuals, governments, businesses and other institutions. Its focus is not on profit or a winning ideology. Its focus is on creating conditions in which people can develop and ultimately flourish, in which their lives enjoy non-negotiable protection from conception to natural death, and thus can fully reflect the dignity God intended. This applies to every level, from individual to global. Following the principle of subsidiarity, the Catholic vision is to ensure that problems are tackled in the best possible context and that all stakeholders meet their responsibilities to one another. Subsidiarity locates responsibility at the lowest feasible level of society and requires other levels to support them in meeting their responsibilities. Both parties lack this vision or at least do not trust each other enough to make decisions that favor the common good consistently. Catholics could help and lead by example.

Catholicism has appeal across centuries, cultures and ideologies. Today the church can evangelize by working among people with various perspectives to counter the excesses of ideology. It might often make people angry, but it also would make the Catholic voice more difficult to ignore, elevating it above mere partisan agendas. It would give the church renewed credibility as a moral voice and force in the culture. In the words of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” “We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a better world.”

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Brenda Sheridan
11 years 10 months ago
As I see it, the only issues in which Republicans side with Catholic teaching are the issue of abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. Democrats side with Catholic teaching on concepts such as just war, the death penalty, poverty and immigration, and supporting others (loving ones friends) rather than focusing only on oneself. 

Marriage, contraception and abortion are different from the death penalty, war and public policy on aiding the vulnerable. The first three involve individual choices. The first two are moral choices. The choice of whom to marry is simply a personal choice. Nothing else. The others involve things the government does in our name. If the government were performing or forcing abortions, that would be worth battling. But all the government has said is that those individuals have the right to make an individual moral choice. I believe that is what God intended for each of us to be able to do. To choose what is right and what is good. That is our choice. 

Ironically, by teaching that contraception is wrong and should never be practiced, the church and others are increasing the likelihood that abortions may happen. If it were available, affordable, and not treated as a great wrong, then maybe the poor and the young, those most likely to have an abortion, would never get pregnant in the first place. The choice to have sex is also a person one. Abortions in the case of rape or the life or health of the mother must be some of the most excrutiating decisions someone ever has to make. My life over this child's life? How do you choose? It is because of those agonizing decisions that I am anti-abortion, but pro-choice. It is simply NOT my choice to make.

When my country or my state kills in my name, I feel that is the issue I need to advocate for with my vote. The death penalty is a moral wrong to me, but it is done in my name. I have a say so when I vote, and that is as it should be. The same goes for war.

Caring for the least among us is a shared responsibility. Whatsover you do to the least of my people. Again, I have a personal choice in how I treat "the least" among us. But my government acts in my name as well. It provides aid or it takes it away. It helps those who need it, or it helps those who do not. Aiding the rich at the expense of the poor goes directly against the teachings of Jesus, in my opinion. 

Choosing to recognize and legalize same-sex marriage is also a governmental role. Churches can recognize whatever marriages they choose. That is their right as an institution. But the state acts for all of us, and not everyone shares the same views as the institutional church. I believe that Jesus taught us to love one another. He didn't say we could only love some people one way and others another way. He didn't say we could only love if we want to have children. He just said love one another. So I think the Catholic view should be that same-sex marriage is as good and right as "traditional" marriage. Here is where I think the church must adjust its views, not us.

Catholics can and should work together. I consider myself a strong Catholic, and not any less of one because I support the right of each of us to make our own moral choices, and to choose whom we marry. I am a strong Catholic because I respect all human life, in all of its complexity. I can no more make a moral decision for you than you can make one for me. Only I can discern whether the choice I make is right or not. Only I have to live with the aftermath of those decisions. 

Love one another. The greatest commandment. Just remember that. In voting, make your own choices. Decide which issues are most important to you. These are my issues, and they inform my choices. I am proud that Catholics don't vote as a block. It shows our strength as individuals, not our weakness as a group. 
11 years 10 months ago
Health care insurance as it has been treated, is misunderstood to be a 'benefit' bestowed upon employees out of the goodness of an employer's heart. In fact the profits from which that expense comes is profit created by the labor of the employee. The choice of a health insurance plan and medical and health care providers should be the choice of the employee as the consumer of the services. To put the employer in the middleman position is to render the employee the serf of the employer. This is untenable in a society of free people. The 'employer share' which comes from the profits created by the employee should go directly into the employees paycheck so that the employee can choose his or her own health insurance provider, and services. No employer has any business making those choices for any employee. I must wonder why anybody including the editors and writers of America don't understand this.
John Wren
11 years 10 months ago

I'm currently registered Unaffiliated, enouraging everyone else in Colorado to register as a Republican or Democrat so the can participate in our wonderful Colorado Caucus, our neighborhood system for nominating to the primary ballot. Grassroots Rules (Stanford University Press) had demonstrated conclusively that the caucus-assembly system neutralizes the effects of big money and big power in elections, that's why those two groups are constantly pushing for it's elimination, and they have in all but a handful of states. http://www.COCaucus.org

I've been a candidate for local office as both a Republican and a Democrat. I've learned first hand that there are good people in both major political parties. But I've also seen that there is a tendance for partisans, even Catholics, to demonize the people in the opposing party.

The solution? Stop worshiping your political party. They are both just tools for collecting supporters to win elections. Especially in a caucus state like Colorado they are the best hope the common person has for serving in elected public office.

Party loyalty is the problem, it seems to me. Political parties should be easy quit, not at all like being a Catholic. More like choosing the right tool for the job. And it's certainly not like choosing the banner of good or evil to march under, they are both a mixture of good and bad. Be in a political party if you really want to make a differnce, but don't be of a political party. If someone asks how you are register say, "I'm a Democrat, but I have a lot of friends who are Republicans", or vice versa."

One way to learn how to do this is to be in discussion groups that take up real issues with no reference to political registration or to political party positions. Over 10 years ago I helped start a Socrates Cafe here in Denver http://meetup.com/Denver-Socrates-Cafe and I'm not helping to start faith sharing groups focused on your James Martin's wonderful book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. http://meetup.com/Jesuit-Sharing-Groups

charles smith
11 years 10 months ago
It is increasingly difficult to remain a Democrat in view of their strong pro-abortion position. The party resists all attempts to restrict abortion whether it is opposition to pre-procedure viewing of ultrasound or partial birth abortion or parental notification. It now appears ready to embrace same sex marriage and force Catholics to pay for "free" contraception. Additionally the Democratic "War on Poverty " (see L. Johnson) has not put a dent in poverty after spending billions. It's mis-placed faith in the efficiency of government action is destroying our children's future.
David Burton
11 years 10 months ago

Thank you to Bishop Pates for the fine article and to America magazine for publishing it. I also want to thank John Wren for his comment above. I am encouraged by what you have done, John.

David Bjerklie
11 years 10 months ago
The vision put forth by Bishop Pates is well stated and if lived by the Chruch would truly advance the historical and diverse Catholic world view to the benefit of all. Thank you Bishop Pates.
Michael Barberi
11 years 10 months ago
Thank you Fr. Pates for a great article. 

I agree with most of your suggestions. However, as you know Catholics do not vote in a bloc, nor do they all agree on every moral issue. My beliefs are not dissimilar to many other Catholicss.

I am against direct abortion, but not the definition of "direct" that the Church expouses. In othe words, I am against abortion but I disagree with the conclusion in the Pheonix case. If the decision is between the immanent death of a young mother of 3 children or the terminination of the pregnancy where the fetus will not survive under any circumstances (the mother will die and the fetus will not be able to live), then terminating the pregnancy is not immoral. I also believe in taking the morning after pill in the case of rape and incest.

I don't believe that contraception for married couples that want to regulate their fertility in the practice of responsible parenthood, is immoral. However, forcing employers to cover contraceptive services for free is problematic for many legal and regulatory issues. The concept is also not sound when the premise for its justification is that these services will reduce overall healthcare costs. Many products and services reduce total healthcare costs and are not free (e.g., some  prescription drugs). As for the Obama Contracepive Mandate, this is a problem about the definition of a religious exempt organization and the freedom of religion. That issue is a constitution one and it will only be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is either constitutional or not.

I am against capital punishment, and believe that the poor should be given preferencial treatment and access to adequate food, reasonable living conditions and employment. I believe in entitlement income. However, the issue is how much and where the line is between being responsible and irresponsible. It is also about limited funds, the US deficit, and balancing this issue with other priorities.

I believe in a better immigration policy, but I don't believe that deporting an illegal immigrant who committed a felony is "intrinsically evil". 

In conclusion, I am an independent and the issue in this article is not so much about being "Catholic" (I agree Catholics should vote based on their moral conscience and not the party line) as it is about what teachings are moral and immoral, not according to the hierarchy, but based on the informed conscience of Cathollcs. In other words, most Catholics disagree with the Church on many sexual ethical issues, but are united with the Church on most, if not all, social ethical teachings.

Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 10 months ago
In deciding how much weight to give to bishops' pronouncements on issues, I find it useful to consider how closely "the Church's positions" and the bishops' self-interest seem to correlate.

Bishops don't pay most taxes but they do collect entitlements, so it is not surprising that they are in favor of big expensive entitlement programs. Bishops do not live in dangerous neighborhoods or walk home from work at night, so it is not surprising they feel compassion for murderers and rapists. Catholic bishops in the West have completely destroyed their credibility, so it is not surprising they advocate massive importation of immigrants from more devout countries. Bishops are dogmatically convinced that women are ontologically unfit for anything but child-bearing, so it is not surprising that they are always in favor of any policy that will reduce womens' lives to an endless series of pregnancies. And, most obviously, government social programs feature prominently in bishops' diocesan incomes while government regulations reduce bishops' power over those funds, so naturally, bishops are strongly against any regulation of the public social programs they vehemently support.

My policy is to decide how to vote based on the interests of all Americans. Very few American citizens are bishops, so their opinions do not weigh heavily in my decision.
Bruce Roeder
11 years 10 months ago
Excellent article. Most of us are devoted more to our party's narrative than we are to the Truth of Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church. Even these comments are telling in that regard.
Michael Barberi
11 years 10 months ago

There is "some" truth in what you say... "most of us (Catholic) are devoted more to our party line than we are to the Truth of Jesus Christ and His bride the Church"...but this is very misleading.

Most of voting Catholics are not wedded to the "party line" because there is a wide middle ground within the spectrum of the so-called party line. Most Catholics vote based on their informed moral consciences, but they don't vote based on "one issue". The characteristics of most members of Congress are a mixture of opinons that vary over many issues. Some are pro-life but for gay marriage, some are for open immigration but agree to limit entitlements. Catholics are not all far left or far right on all issues. Most importantly, if Catholics disagree with the Church on certain sexual and social ethical teachings, does not make them unfaithful, invincibly ignorant or victims of the ills of the secular world. 

The bishops article points to a lack of understanding among the Catholic population. The good bishop has a right to call all Catholics to follow the teachings of the hierarchy and their own moral consciences. However, there is a significant difference between the two.

Monica Doyle
11 years 10 months ago
I "shared" this article on my FaceBook page.  If any of my FaceBook friends care to read it, I probably alienated those that are very liberal and those that are very conservative.   Reminds me of "Comfort the Afflcted and Afflict the Comfortable". 
Dan Hannula
11 years 10 months ago
Brenda #1: well said. I think of the issue over same-sex marriage is similar to the Bishop's concern over the liberalization of divorce laws in the 50's.  Over time they will recognize a distinction between church teaching and civil law in a pluralistic society as they have with no-fault civil divorce.
Robert Dean
11 years 10 months ago
#10: All of us except you, eh, "Bruce in Roeder"? (Your full name is "Bruce in Roeder"?)
James Palermo
11 years 10 months ago
I agree with Bishop Pate that we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. But my moral convictions tell me that the Church is sending mixed messages. On the one hand it rejects Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as being contrary to the Church’s social teaching, while on the other hand giving support to Mr. Ryan and the GOP anti-poor agenda by raising silly (yes silly) objections to the Affordable Health Act, thus empowering those who embrace the Ryan budget objectives. Let’s face it, many of the Church’s “charitable” undertakings are not-for-profit businesses. Yet, the Bishops want special treatment in its business ventures: and not a single voice of dissent his heard from among the Bishop’s. As one outside the circle, I suspect that Rome has effectively silenced dissent, that some members of the American hierarchy are seeking career advancement and that such actions reflect an excessive attachment to an institution.
Vince Killoran
11 years 10 months ago
"The Catholic vision is one of collaboration, not coercion, among individuals, governments, businesses and other institutions."

Perhaps-but there has been plenty of "coercion" and little "collaboration."
Frank Riely
11 years 10 months ago
I wonder if the bishops couldn't do more to promote change within political parties so that Catholics aren't faced with the current unacceptable compromises necessary in voting Republican or Democrat?

To me, the central problem is that the bishops seem to accept the issues as framed by the politicians and in doing so willingly participate in wedge politics that panders to the extremes of both political ideologies, dividing Americans and Catholics in the process.

The healthcare reform legislation is a perfect example of the politicians framing the debate in such a way as to force the bishops to oppose something, healthcare reform, that they actually supported.  The bishops rightly opposed the provision to allow public funding for abortion and pressured Catholics to oppose the entire measure on that basis.  Essentially, they allowed themselves to be herded into the Republican camp on the issue. 

What the bishops didn't do was pressure Republicans to pass healthcare reform without public funding for abortion.  In a climate where the Democrats were willing to make large concessions to gain crucial votes and claim bipartisan support, it would have only taken a few pro-life, pro-health reform Republican lawmakers to transform the legislation into something that fully reflected Catholic priorities.  The bishops compromised on Catholic principles and arguably lost on the public funding issue.

It is not just the responsibility of individual Catholics to press for change within both major partieis.  The bishops have a responsibility as well to work to transform the political process so that Catholics don't have to compromise on any of their principles merely to exercise their right to vote. 

C Walter Mattingly
11 years 10 months ago
Brenda (#1), 
I wonder if your listing of what issues Republicans and Democrats are in accord with the Church holds up in all the areas you mention.
For Republicans, abortion, surely. Republicans are anti-abortion generally speaking, and Democrats are pro-abortion. But on the issue of the use of birth control, although I can't locate the polls as they are not recent, more republicans are in favor of the elective use of birth control than are opposed. Of course they may differ on the right of this administration to force the church to pay for birth control in its ministries, but that concerns the different issue of freedom of religious expression.
Similarly on the issue of a just war (Vietnam? Libya?), both democratic and republican administrations seem to have paid scant attention to that principle in recent decades. The death penalty? President Obama is evidently in favor of it, as was his most recent democratic predecessor Bill Clinton.  "Supporting others" rather than focusing on ones self? Here the major studies show you have it exactly backwards: whether it is on charitable giving, donation of blood to blood banks, spending time working at the homeless shelters, or other volunteer services, republicans (conservatives) are more generous than democrats (liberals). This would also indicate that where the rubber meets the road, the personal caritas of the individual, those conservative republicans are more concerned about the poor than their liberal democratic counterparts. Here's the link that dispels that common myth: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html?_r=1
And that carries forward in such issues as vouchers for the neediest students to enable them to escape poor schools and attend better ones, etc. The difference is not in concern and help to the poor, but how best to address that need. Republicans are more inclined to solve problems at the lowest level, democrats, at the often more remote level of the federal government.
Also, considering your statement, "I can no more make a moral decision for you than you can for me." True enough. But if I make the decision to kill an innocent, steal, cheat, lie, you have the civic and moral obligation to oppose me in all ways within your power. And that may include going into the bedroom, if that's where someone is being killed.
Finally, as both you and I are Catholic Christians with Christ as the all in all of our faith, we have a special obligation to attend to His words. Sometimes the words are lacking or subject to interpretation. But He could hardly be clearer on the definition of marriage as consisting of a man and a woman coming together to form one flesh. And while we do have an obligation to accept that we live in a plural society and must obey its duly constituted laws, we also have the general responsibility to promote the values and words of Christ in our daily lives and extend them to others. Note also one man and one woman. Soon, we will be asked to extend the definition of marriage to include, say, one man and 6 women. Why not, if they are all consenting adults? 
Frank Bergen
11 years 10 months ago
I'm partisan and my memory is subject to lapses, but I find Bishop Pates' effort to categorize the Republican party as having a 50 year 'pro life' record as a bit overblown.  Ten years before Roe v. Wade I don't recall the Republican party as being as monolithic as it has become since Ronald Reagan experienced his pro life conversion and became President.  And I would, perhaps with some slight exaggeration, characterize the Republican Congress and the party's present Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates as having a concern for the least among us that ends with the completion of the journey through the birth canal.  When the Roman/American hierarchy comes to the realization that the only practicable way to insure respect for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death is to minimize unwanted pregnancies through the dissemination of accurate education and effective contraception, then we will have an America in which abortion is legal, safe and extremely rare.  I fear that day is a long way off.
Lou Bordisso
11 years 10 months ago

Although I support the proposal by the Most Rev. Richard Pates (August, 2012“ In this Together”) that the Catholic political “vision should be one embracing collaboration, not coercion, among individuals, governments, and business, and other institutions” I think he fails to understand that both Republican and Democratic Catholics are guided by their respective informed moral political convictions and both those on the left and the right faithfully dissent from official Church teachings accordingly. They simply start with a different premise and end with a different conclusion on many of the most controversial and debated political issues of our day. It is because of the Catholic moral vision and not in spite of it that both Republican and Democratic Catholic are often at odds with each other – and the Church.

Maryanne Heath
11 years 10 months ago
Thank you, Bishop Pates, for your eloquent and evenhanded treatment of the issues regarding Catholics and paritsan politics. The current polarization of our political parties has created a toxic environment which serves no one, least of all, God.
11 years 10 months ago
God Bless Bishop Pates for encouraging ' parking lot ' Catholics like me to hold on .(In This Together, 13 August).
I have been 'buttonholed' leaving weekday mass on more than one occasion, with questions about my politics. Usually ending with a kindly, 'I am praying for you'.  I am a pro-life Democrat .Our diocese recently ended a 'Fortnight for Freedom' campaign, during which I felt compelled to remove my bumper sticker so as not to cause undue disturbance. Politically, my search is for that person or group that comes closest to encompassing Christ's Sermon on the Mount, as unrealistic as that might be. It is difficult to even reach that part of any discussion without declaring my allegience to a pro-life candidate espousing some views I cannot support - funding cuts for preschool, prison rehabilitation, prenatal screening, to say nothing of taking assault guns from 'tweens'.
Thank you again for the Bishop's letter of hope.

Frank Riely
11 years 10 months ago
Let's not get confused about the GOP's record on abortion.  While the Democrats' record is deplorable, Republicans can't really claim any real successes on the issue. Republican politicians may be nominally pro-life (and with Romney that is a recent, opportunistic conversion), but their rhetoric far exceeds their actions.  The policies they do pass are largely cosmetic and have had zero impact on the problem.

There is no definitive evidence that state restrictions on abortion access have had any impact on abortion incidence.  Most researchers see no significant impact of 24-hour waits, parental consent and other restrictions.  The partial birth abortion ban didn't ban late-term abortions, it only banned the most commonly used procedure to conduct those abortions.  The number of late-term abortions wasn't affected one iota by that high-profile legislation.

Consider, in the major abortion votes in the Supreme Court since the Roe decision, four Republicans appointed after Roe voted pro-choice consistently, compared to only two post-Roe Democratic appointees.  Legal abortion is the product of Republican disregard for the issue, contrary to the rhetoric of the presidents who appointed those justices, as much as it is from Democratic intent.

It is also significant to note a Rand Corporation study that calculated the decline in abortions following the overturning of Roe would amount to less than 20 percent, given historical evidence of women's willingness to travel to states where the procedure would remain legal and the ready availability of abortion medications. For some perspective, that's roughly equivalent to the decline in abortions experienced during the Clinton Administration.

In fact, abortions declined twice as fast during the Clinton Administration as during the subsequent Bush Administration.  At the peak of the Bush Recession, abortion clinics in the hardest-hit areas were reporting unprecedented demand for abortion services. And, as more and more women fall into poverty as a result of the Republican's failed economic policies-and their blocking of Obama's second stimulus package-remember that the abortion rate among poor women is 4-5 times higher than the national average.

In the mid-1990s, while signficant research existed that demonstrated welfare reforms of the era would increase the abortion rate among women on welfare by up to 16 percent, the GOP pushed those measures through Congress despite the Catholic Church's opposition to the measure.

After reviewing the evidence on abortion restrictions, contraceptive use and other factors, a recent Guttmacher Institute study concluded that, for a significant portion of women in the country, the decline in the abortion rate was simply due to more women choosing to give birth in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.

Abortion is in decline in the U.S. because of a change in Americans' moral perception of the act and, at least up until the last decade, rising incomes, reduced inequality, improved access to healthcare, and other social advances that have changed the economics of child-rearing in this country.

Those facts should significantly change our perception of the role of the Church in fighting abortion and the nature of policies necessary to reduce the incidence of the problem even further and should temper our enthusiasm for the empty promises of Republican politicians on the issue.  In the context of "Faithful Citizenship" these facts should also give us pause regarding how cheaply we hand over our votes to the Republicans on the basis of their empty rhetoric on the subject.
Jayne Whetstone
11 years 10 months ago
I just want to share an article with all you, it is very good. And I believe the Republican Party is very close if not fully insync with Catholic Doctorine. Charity starts at home the poor need us, not the government. I will say they need a safety net in time of need. The poor need pulled out of that as soon as possible. To do that they need help at the local level and parishes to help find good jobs, finish their degrees, and if a child is born to a teenager help them as family members. The government does nothing but make them disabled from finding hope and strength. They will not go look to become better, but rely on the government for a very long time. And probably will be passed on to their children, as no work ethic was installed from their parents. There is nothing compassionate about what Democrats do to the family and the indivual by making them prisoners in their own lives. And their stance on abortion, gay marriage, and the total assault on religious freedom is disquisting. The Bishop is either covering for political reason or I do not understand my church anymore.


It’s the ultimate in Catholic double standards: a website called www.PrayForPaulsChangeOfHeart.org launched this week, calling for Catholics to pray that he abandons his Path to Prosperity budget in favor of something more in line with the Church’s social justice teachings. If you click around, you can also find a page with one sentence requesting prayers for Vice President Joe Biden, noted adamant supporter of the pro-choice cause. (It says nothing of Kathleen Sebelius, whose Mass attendance doesn’t exactly jive with her record of eschewing established Catholic doctrine.)

In condemning Ryan’s budget, the site pulls from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter to Ryan, which outlines the criteria the Church feels a Catholic policymaker ought to consider when crafting budgetary policy:

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Of course, it’s very easy for a Catholic capitalist to dispute each of these claims – first and foremost, how does it serve the poor if the government continues down its current path to bankruptcy? – and this potential for argument creates a crucial distinction between budgetary policy and life issues. A budget has room for interpretation, and there are different ways to construct the social safety net; abortion, however, is a clear-cut issue, a literal matter of life or death.

In fact, as Ryan’s own bishop, Robert C. Morlino notes, the Catholic Church has a prerogative to approach matters concerning “intrinsic evil” – i.e. abortion – head-on, and leave to the lay people those matters where intrinsic evil is not present.

Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles — that is, “lay mission” for Catholics.

Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)

So I’m going to be a little blunter about it: the Catholic Church needs to shut up about Paul Ryan’s budget.

Now, I say this as a devout Catholic myself, but one who is absolutely fed up with watching the Church stick its nose into matters of fiscal policy. Indeed, the Church, and indeed, all of us as individuals, have a moral obligation to aid the least among us, as Christ calls us to do. But as the savior of the world Himself said, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. The Catholic Church has mixed itself up with Caesar, and conflated its mission to serve the poor with government subsidized entitlement programs.

The government is not responsible for administering care to the least among us – the government can’t accomplish this! It’s much too big, and too far removed. This is a basic principle of Catholic social justice teaching, called subsidiarity. To quote Bishop Morlino once more:

At the same time, the time-tested best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity. That means the problem at hand should be addressed at the lowest level possible — that is, the level closest to the people in need. That again, is simply the law of human reason.

Who, then, is best equipped to take a hands-on approach to alleviating the crisis of poverty: a large, ungainly, centralized federal government, or ministers of the Catholic Church, who are guided not by paychecks and days off, but rather by a sense of purpose and love?

The Church has spent the last half-year engaged in a moral battle with the government over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, after spending a good deal of time before that trying to work with the government to pass a healthcare reform bill it found palatable (for the record, the USCCB did not support Obamacare in the end, but only because it contained pro-abortion policies). How ludicrous that the Church would attempt to work its agenda into government-sponsored programming, and then balk when the government fails to adhere to Catholic doctrine. We don’t live in a Catholic theocracy, and it’s not the federal government’s job to carry out the Church’s mission.

Moreover, paying taxes which are then redistributed to the poor does not constitute charity; that’s a federally-imposed financial burden, not love. Again, render unto Caesar what is his, but to God what is God’s. The Catholic Church will never totally get its way when working with the government, because those in government don’t hold the Church’s interests at heart.

If American Catholics want a vice presidential candidate to condemn, then by all means, look to Joe Biden. His well-documented position on life issues aside, consider his abominable record of personal charity: he’s a man of considerable wealth, and yet in 2011, he donated 1.5% of his income to charitable causes. This is what happens when we fool ourselves into thinking that taxes are a form of charity. Real charity is stamped out when we decide that it’s a virtue to pass the buck on caring for the least among us to the government.

All this is to say, there's some misplaced "Catholic outrage" at play here. To pray that Catholic politicians make decisions that reflect their faith is a wonderful thing to do. But condemning a man who adheres to absolute life doctrine while taking a fiscally conservative position on an issue of no intrinsic evil - all while ignoring the much more blatant sins present in certain other politicians - is morally dishonest.



Jayne Whetstone
11 years 10 months ago
Yes and why is the government funding Planned Parenthood? That is all Democrats. Obama himself voted in Illinois Senate not to help a child that was born alive after a botched abortion. That should tell you how far he is from the santity of life on issues.  Catholics that want money from the government should be appalled by that. Why do no Pro Life organizations recieve these funds? I think all Catholics should ask why are we letting this go on. If they cannot stand on their on two feet as a business - then they should be out of business. They should be anyway as far as Catholics should be concerned, they murder more babies than any other organization. And for the death penality if someone takes anothers life, why should I have to support this person in jail, FOREVER> That goes against my morals. That seems to go against all  logic in Catholic teaching. The murderer had no reguard for human life. Did God really think that murder should go unresolved. The best way to teach other people that think murder is ok, is to show them what the consiquences will be if they kill someone. Murder rates will decrease immediately and more lives will be saved.
11 years 10 months ago

I wish to thank Most Rev. Richard E. Pates for his article “In This Together – How Catholics Can Overcome Partisan Divisions” (8/13).  It was heartening to hear Bishop Pates recognize that Catholics of both major parties have legitimate, deeply held beliefs, while also recognizing that each party proposes policies that are deeply opposed to Catholic beliefs and social teaching. I also appreciated his admission that political partisanship and acrimony has seeped into the church. I feel politically homeless, and at times unwelcomed by the church I love.

Bishop Pates’ call to rise above partisanship, and to use our faith to transform our political parties and our society, embodies Jesus’ call to be the light of the world. Bishop Pates gives excellent suggestions for how we can do this. I would respectfully add one more suggestion – that Catholics work for a fair and non-partisan electoral process at all levels of government.  Political parties should compete on a level playing field to serve the citizens of this nation.  Instead the major parties have been allowed de facto control of the system, limiting ballot access, gerrymandering legislative districts, and appointing partisan judges among other consequences.  Until we transform the political process, we will be at the mercy of the activists in whichever party wins 51 percent of the popular vote.

Virginia Edman
11 years 10 months ago
It is not possible to abandon all differences in the Church and merge the progressive and the orthodox, the liberal and the conservative.  To attempt to do so is to limit the range of experience and conviction of the personal conscience. 

Having seen the first three days of the Republican Convention, I can say that the amazing untruths in the speeches of  speakers like Paul Ryan repel me.  I could never, ever vote for the Republican ticket.  To attempt to merge church and state is a mistake.  It will not work, and if it did it would lead to the election of a party that has lied to the voters and then takes away their freedom. 

I am still in favour of President Obama for four more years.  Eric Kantor, is Darth Vader as far as I am concerned.
11 years 9 months ago
Jayne, your post rocks!  The larger the nanny state, the more it replaces the church.  

11 years 9 months ago
The honorable bishop that wrote this article should recognize that "statism" hampers the church from accomplishing her mission The byproduct of large government is the state becomes the religion and the need for the church (and her role in social justice) is diminished. Look at the condition of the church in Western Europe. The Democrat model wants to control the church or shut it down with force feeding contraception, same sex marriage, abortion, et al. The Republican model gives the Church the freedom to operate as it needs to accomplish Her mission. Social justice lies mainly with the Church and her members, not as a huge function of government and a political party. Subsidiarity is best accomplished when the government gets out of our way and let's us be Christians and a light to the world.
Monica Sawyn
11 years 9 months ago
I have no problem voting according to the teachings of the Church, and not according to any political party. But how do you vote both pro-life, and pro-poor? It's impossible, and so frustrating! In the end, I choose pro-life because those unborn chlldren are the most vulnerable, and try to make my views known. It's such a difficult situation for so many that I even wrote a blog about it that was run as a guest column in my diocesan newspaper. (http://monicaspen.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/no-one-stands-for-me/)
James Palermo
11 years 9 months ago

Bishop Pates writes with the naiveté of one who has not experienced first-hand the gritty reality of day-to-day life.  His simplistic essays overlook the tragic moral implications of a nation increasingly within the control of multinational corporations, focused exclusively on earnings per share, not on quality product or humanitarian goals.  The result is that Catholics who are in lock-step with the hierarchy view same-sex marriage and reproductive rights as the major moral issues facing humankind.  They are not.  While the Church has the absolute right to refuse to withhold the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples, it should also recognize that the State has the right to extend to same sex couples the same legal rights that are enjoyed my heterosexual couples.  And as the canard that the government is forcing the Church to pay for contraception and abortion-producing birth control is the product of twisted thinking.  Refusing to provide comprehensive health insurance for the secular employees of the Church’s not-for-profit corporations makes sense only if the Church also requires all of its employees to sign a pledge not to spend any of their earned wages on birth control.

            When I was younger, the Church warned against consumerism and greed.  I suggest that those are among the most critical moral issues facing Christians today.  Corporate greed, exploitation of workers, vilification of the poor, privatization of governments in the pursuit of profit, income inequality and the corruption of our democracy by money are just a few issues that should arouse concern for people who love Jesus and want to serve him.

Michele Jansen
11 years 9 months ago

With all due respect Bishop Pates you misstate the Republican position from the start.  To equate (with the way you state it is in effect what you did) the Democrat support for abortion, which is in their platform and has resulted in precious few pro-life Democrats in Congress with a weird statement about Republican support for...what - a belief government has no legitimate role in helping the poor and vulnerable?  Please show me that in the Republican platform and show me how there are almost no Republicans who believe in helping the poor in Congress.  That statement is simply not true.  Republicans believe government has a role just not one that is giant, federal, nanny-state solutions to helping the poor and vulnerable.  Or in other words that there are different ways government can help the poor, especially by giving the greater ability to do so to the state, local and community entities of government and by allowing private entities and individual keep more of their wealth to help the poor.  That is very different than what you lay out and frankly by doing it the way you did you are misleading Catholics into this false choice of “support the Republicans and you are supporting unborn life but also not helping the poor” and “support the Democrats and you are supporting killing unborn life but helping the poor”.  It is disingenuous to say the least.
I am not saying the premise that there is a partisan divide is not something worth discussing I just want it done honestly - Republicans actually have a broad array of ideas of helping the poor that differ from the Democrat giant Nanny State ideas of helping the poor - lets debate that and not falsly talk about the Republicans not caring about the poor and vulnerable. 

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