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A NEW CATHOLIC ACTION: CATHOLICS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


Transforming the myth of "the Catholic vote" into an informed Catholic electorate poised for action is a great challenge...and opportunity

"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular life', that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."
Pope John Paul II


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The political air is once again filled with talk about Catholic voters.

The fall election campaigns will soon be fully upon us. The 2004 Presidential campaign, which starts earlier every cycle, has already begun with aspirants already testing the waters in New Hampshire.

I understand.

I have played a small role in raising the issue of mobilizing Catholic citizens to vote in a manner that is consistent with their faith.

I was one of the founders, and served as the first president, of "Catholic Alliance." The last time all this talk filled the early fall air, I moved to Washington, D.C., to implement its mission to "build a Catholic vote to promote the common good." The effort was one of the most difficult experiences of my life-for a lot of reasons.

I have spent a great amount of time, prayer, and energy seeking to mobilize Catholic citizens, no matter what their political affiliation, to recognize the implications of the values informed by their faith on their political participation.

I joined the legion of praise for "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium," the profound statement on political participation and responsibility, released in 1999 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

I regularly write and speak to both the application of Catholic social teaching to faithful citizenship and the extraordinary potential a mobilized Catholic constituency could have on the fall campaign.

Yet, as I read the multiplying editorials on this subject, listen to the pundits, and even hear the paltry efforts of the candidates to appeal to a "Catholic vote," I must, like the little boy in the story of the emperor with no clothes, expose the façade.

There is no Catholic vote!

Oh, the debate will continue as to whether there ever truly was a "Catholic vote." The argument that looks to the past voting blocs of Catholics can probably be attributed more to the demographic realities of the Catholic community in the last part of the last century than to a truly informed and engaged group of faithful Catholic citizens acting in response to the the "social teaching" of the Catholic Church.

The starkness of my claim, that there is no Catholic vote, does not mean that I have given up the struggle, or that the mobilization of informed faithful Catholic citizens cannot be attained. Rather, it is meant to be a wake-up call and a rallying cry.

Those years I spent in D.C., attending (at least initially) the meager efforts of political parties to build so called "Catholic task forces," fighting the opposition of even fellow Catholic citizens to my efforts, speaking, writing, trying to "rally the troops" has only strengthened my convictions. We need a new Catholic action.

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There is a lot that could be said on this subject. However, I will address only four points in this first article.

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First, there is a lack of understanding among Catholics concerning the implications of their faith on their public life and political participation. That will take a huge educational effort--what the Church calls catechesis--to change. That's right - a civics lesson infused with the implications of "Catholic Social Teaching", the greatest hidden treasure in the current Catholic experience.

Last night at a Sunday Vigil Mass, we were asked "How many have ever heard of "Catholic Social teaching." My wife and I and the nun who assists in the parish were the ONLY ONES WHO RAISED THEIR HANDS!

Then we heard a well intended parishioner speak of a program in our diocese flowing out of the "Peace and Justice" Office. Though much was inspiring, I couldn't help but be a bit suspect. It seemed tinged with the old sixties liberalism motif that has often co-opted discussions of "Catholic social teaching" in the current cultural, political and social climate.

In fact, that has been part of the problem. There has been a propensity to wed the PRINCIPLES found in Catholic social teaching with the APPLICATIONS of a time past.

The American Bishop's 1999 letter entitled "Faithful Citizenship" was extremely helpful. It was popularly written and insightful. Only one problem- few Catholics know it exists and even fewer have read it.

The task of a new Catholic Action will require the mobilization of a dynamic movement of Catholic citizens and the building of mediating associations of committed Catholics. "Catholic Families for School Choice" is one step forward in that direction. Many more such efforts must follow

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"The faith is neither liberal nor conservative, the faith is true"
Francis Cardinal George


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Second, the constrictive nature of the current political labels, categories and loaded political conversation often impede an authentic Catholic discussion and discourages Catholic citizen participation. .

I, for one, am weary of the old tired political labels of "liberal" and "conservative." They simply do not work.

I loved the words of Cardinal George when he accepted the invitation to serve in Chicago: "The faith is neither liberal nor conservative, the faith is true." The implications of that faith in the formation of our political judgments and participation will not easily fit these labels, either.

Nor should we who are Catholic allow ourselves to be co-opted or compromised by either "the left" or "the right."

There are many "political" issues where Catholics can (and do) disagree. They involve prudential judgments. For example, efforts to adopt "conservative" or "liberal" approaches to tax policies and call them "Catholic" not only do a disservice to the debate but miss the point.

Faithful Catholics can actually be "conservative" or even "liberal" as it relates to the tax system.

However, there is a hierarchy of values.

There are some issues where it is absolutely clear and we must be faithful. For example, in the areas concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death; the primacy of family; authentic human and religious freedom; and solidarity with the poor and needy, we must not compromise.

The political climate has been horribly tainted-and the faithful scandalized- by some unfaithful Catholics in public life who have failed to hear the cry of the unborn, the elderly and the voiceless.

They must be converted or replaced in office.

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"To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia; and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. THIS IS THE DEATH OF TRUE FREEDOM"
Pope John Paul II


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Thirdly, there is a lack of a popular, authentically Catholic voice articulating the treasury of truth called the Church's social teaching in a popular and accessible way. After all, we do not believe that what the Church teaches on social issues is true just for Catholics, it is true for all people. After all, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted the Church "is an expert in humanity"

We need to be versed in and able to offer the principles of Catholic social teaching afresh, in every generation, as a path to authentic social justice for all men and women.That is one of the vital tasks of our age--not only for the sake of Catholics, but also for all citizens.

The "social teaching" of the Church is a treasury. That treasury includes vital human insights on life, true freedom, family, subsidiarity, and solidarity that can help immensely in our common social task as Americans.

The Catholic church refuses to alter its bedrock conviction concerning the dignity of all life from conception to natural death--in spite of the loaded rhetoric that has hijacked the word "choice" at the expense of our obligations to the least of our brethren.

It insists that every abortion is the taking of innocent human life and cannot be condoned. Though based on a different moral anaysis, it also calls for mercy to trump retribution in its current opposition to the States use of Capital Punishment, insisting that it is no longer required to protect the common good.

This church encourages a market economy but condemns a "savage capitalism" which forgets that the end of all human work is the human person--not the accumulation of capital. It champions the poor and calls the powerful to recognize that to "... those to whom much is given, much is required."

It is time for a Catholic voice and a Catholic voter movement that understands these kinds of principles, articulates them in a popular framework and informs their own political participation by them. It is time for a new Catholic Action.

It must include Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and non-aligned voters. Such a movement could foster the vital public conversation America so desperately needs as she faces this new century and millennium.

Perhaps, now, in our "post 911" America, the climate will encourage such a movement. It seems that the loud voices of fear that sought to make the American church/state model a barrier to such a conversation has lost its dominance.

Both major parties are now discussing the role of faith in public life.

And both parties are seeking the "Catholic vote."

To my brothers and sisters who share my Catholic faith--this could truly be our hour. A time to move from being a "Diaspora" community in America to helping to build an authentic environment for the flourishing of the human community and a vibrant model of freedom, social justice, solidarity, and inclusion.

But it will require real Catholics, not the intellectuals and beltway consultants who talk about the "Catholic vote" and seek to use Catholic citizens for their own agenda.

It is time for a Catholic movement, a new Catholic action.

Your Catholic Voice - www.yourcatholicvoice.org


_______________________________________________

Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues.

Contact

Your Catholic Voice
http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org CA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - , 661 869-1000

Email

ycv@catholic.org

Keywords

Justice

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