Politics and Catholic meddling

“A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern,” Pope Francis told governors last September.

This week I want to examine what it means for Catholics to “offer the best of ourselves,” as we prepare for the November election. At my request, the Denver Catholic Register is helping with this effort by publishing a note from Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Catholics in political life over the next few weeks (click to read Part 1, Part 2).

This week’s section addresses some of the key points that must be understood for us to engage in our current political and cultural context.

One subject that I want to address is the idea of “single-issue voting.” For Catholics to “meddle in politics” and “offer the best of ourselves,” we have to be well formed in the entirety of our faith. We have to know the hierarchy of truths and understand that some issues are fundamental, while others are less important for our families, fellow citizens, communities and society to truly flourish.

Catholics are frequently blamed for being single-issue voters when the topics of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research are raised. But, as the note from the CDF makes clear, the right to life serves as a cornerstone for the foundation of society. Every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, has a God-given dignity, which a just society recognizes.

The U.S. Bishops’ 2011 document Faithful Citizenship specifically mentions this when it declares, “This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil” (#31).

In other words, making the right to life the highest consideration in our voting is not a matter of blindly voting for a candidate because of one issue. It is a matter of understanding that the right to life – which is directly threatened by abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and in some cases, war – is the foundation of all other rights.

When you decide how you will vote, this basic right must be considered indispensable. It is not acceptable to choose an issue of lesser importance, such as party affiliation, and let it determine your vote. Faithful Citizenship notes, “…a well-formed conscience … recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight” (#37).

In the current political landscape, this often leaves Catholics with difficult choices. It may mean deciding to vote for an imperfect candidate who you think is less likely to advance a morally flawed position and more likely to advance policies that truly benefit society and the dignity of every human being.

The note from the CDF also makes a crucial distinction about living in a diverse society. It is important to not fall victim to the false and dangerous idea that there are no truths common to all people. The growing spread of relativism – the idea that each person has his or her own truth – must be rejected. People must realize that a society which ignores human nature and natural law will soon be without any foundation and will eventually disintegrate.

This November every person of voting age will be asked to exercise their faith and discern how these principles factor into who you vote for. As your shepherd, I ask that you take this responsibility seriously and work to fully form your conscience. Be not afraid to bring your faith into the voting booth, just as non-believers bring their values into the voting booth.

May the Holy Spirit pour out his gifts of wisdom, counsel and understanding on you!

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash