Let your faith be your guide in the voting booth

Last week at the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York City, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reminded Catholics of our obligation to the “uns” of this world. As Christians, he said, we should serve and love “the un-employed, the un-insured, the un-wanted, the un-wed mother and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb, the un-documented, the un-housed, the un-healthy, the un-fed the under-educated.”

We find Jesus Christ among the “uns.” We serve him by serving them—when we care for those who are marginalized, threatened, impoverished or lonely we care for Jesus Christ.

The dignity of the poor is the dignity we all share—the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God.

Our lives should reflect a commitment to our own dignity, and to the dignity of all men and women. Our Church’s teachings reflect that commitment. And so should every just government, including our own.

To be just, a government must respect the dignity of every single human being. It must protect the sacred image of God in each person. To be just, no government can abandon the rights of the poor or the marginalized, nor can it abandon the right of each person to life itself from the moment of conception. A government that does not protect the basic right of each person to life is not a just government.

As Americans, we play a crucial role in the legal policies of our government. We bear responsibility for ensuring that all of the “uns” among us are respected in law. Our faith should inform our votes because our faith tells us what is just and what is true.

In many cases—issues such as respecting the dignity of the uninsured, unemployed or uneducated—we should use our creativity and prudential judgment to decide how government policy can best reflect our obligations. There are many possible solutions to the problems impoverished Americans face—and the function of a democracy is to debate, discuss and develop real and practical solutions that reflect the dignity of the human person

On foundational issues, however, there is no room for compromise. Principal among these is respect for the natural right to life. We cannot endorse government policies that fail to protect the most fundamental fact of our humanity: that God himself has given us our lives. Science itself shows that every human life begins at the moment of conception. Our votes need to reflect this reality—and our obligation as Catholic Americans is to oppose policies and practices that endanger a person’s right to live, such as the legal protection for abortion.

The legal protection of the right to life is foundational for a very practical reason. Without ensuring that every person has the right to live, we cannot ensure that every person will receive adequate health care or housing. Immigration, education and poverty will not be sufficiently resolved without ensuring in law the right to life. In short, we cannot protect and promote human rights without a deep respect for the human person—which begins with the dignity of unborn children in the womb from the moment of their conception.

The measure of a just society, said Aristotle, is the freedom of each person to achieve their potential. As long as some people can be killed in the womb, we cannot achieve social justice in America.

Many good-hearted and well-intentioned people suggest that both major political parties in America want to end abortion. However, the facts do not bear out this suggestion. The platform of the Democratic National Party “unequivocally supports” legal protection for “safe and legal abortion.” Further, it suggests that access to abortion is a right “regardless of ability to pay.” Unequivocal support for legal abortion is unequivocal support for grave and intrinsic evil. No language about reducing the need for abortion will ever mitigate the evil of legal protection for abortion.

In many ways Americans have become numb to the death by abortion of 3,500-4,000 unique human beings every day.

The platform of the Republican National Party is also rife with issues of serious concern for Catholics. No party has determined a just solution for immigrants in America. No party has resolved our need for universal health care that respects religious freedom and conscience. No party has found a just means to resolve the threat of terrorism. Republican support for execution, while permissible under situations of absolute necessity, is tragic in modern America.

There are good men and women running for office from both major parties. However, Catholics should prayerfully consider the dire social consequences of voting to support the intrinsic evil of abortion. Blessed John Paul II put it very simply—“abortion is murder” (“Gospel of Life,” 58 and 61). I can think of no issue more significant than foundational protection of life.

I cannot tell you for whom you should vote, nor should I tell you. I also cannot and should not tell you which political party to join. Each of us has the obligation to form our consciences—and follow them.  However, I can tell you that our responsibility is to promote the dignity of every human being. When we begin with protecting the dignity of life itself, we will authentically respect the life of the immigrant, the homeless, the unemployed, the uninsured, the sick and the dying.  When we protect the “uns” of this world, each of us will more clearly reflect the divine image and likeness of God.



COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.