Faithful or Unfaithful Citizens:Which Way for Catholics?
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
I remember how excited I was just before the Bishops Conference that produced the wonderful document on Christian responsibility and political participation entitled "Faithful Citizenship."
I actually waited in the hotel lobby of the facility where the Bishops were meeting while they voted on this extraordinarily important letter!
There was a sense of anticipation in the air! Catholic activists, other Christians, other people of faith, all people of good will, anticipated this timely message.
The 2000 elections were before us. We had been praying for a clarion call from our Bishops. We had all grown tired of the obfuscation of some Catholic politicians who hid their unfaithfulness behind the mantra of "I am personally opposed to abortion, euthanasia... (...since then fill in creating human embryos for experimentation that leads to destruction)...BUT! Frankly, we wanted someone to speak with authority and make it clear.
We wanted to hear that Catholic Christians have a baptismal obligation to inform their vote by their faith and to act with a unity of life. We wanted to hear that Catholics in public life must act in a manner that is both informed by and consistent with the truth.
At the time, I had just finished my term as the president of Catholic Alliance, a Catholic citizens' movement that I helped to found. I had received an embargoed copy of preliminary drafts and believed that, when released, the letter would prove to be a watershed document.
Many faithful Catholics who, like me, had spent years "in the trenches," seeking to inform their political participation by the teaching of their church, eagerly waited--and prayed--for direction and support from their bishops. Other Christians, coming to discover the treasury of Catholic social teaching, also waited--and prayed.
So intense was the anticipation (deepened by the extraordinary amount of "talk" inside the beltway), that numerous anticipatory meetings had been held. They were convened by "experts" and pontificators (with a small "p"), telling us what the bishops would say and what we should do in response. I decided, having grown somewhat cynical of these "insiders," to be personally present when the document was released.
That day, I went to the hotel where the bishops were meeting and waited for the vote. I was not disappointed. Though some "hard edged" pro-life folks expressed dismay over the final approved draft's toning down of a strong rebuke of Catholic politicians who fail to vote pro-life, I was proud of the final version. I thought it demonstrated a pastoral compassion even for those who had been unfaithful as Catholics in their public service. After all, there is always a place for mercy and conversion.
"Now the real work begins," I thought. After all, the issues were clear; the bishops had spoken, right?
At the time, my family was living in the Arlington Diocese while "Deacon Dad" was doing further graduate work at the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University in Washington, D.C. I remember reading the "embargoed" draft and thinking that outside of the Holy Father's profound encyclical letters, I had not read a better summary of the major themes of Catholic social teaching than this pastoral letter.
Before the meeting, I had made it my mission to call this letter to the attention of as many people as I could. After its release, I wrote an affirming piece for the Arlington Catholic Herald on this new statement from the bishops.
I was thrilled. Catholics finally had a synthesis of the marvelous body of Catholic social teaching. It was powerful and readable; it was immensely clear. I honestly expected the document to facilitate a great resurgence of authentic Catholic activism, a sort of new Catholic action. I also expected it would prompt a new burst of ecumenical cooperation on life, family, authentic freedom, and solidarity efforts.
Unfortunately, I found that something quite different happened.
I believed that this letter was what we needed as Catholic citizens in an American culture that has been infiltrated by a culture of death. With newfound enthusiasm, I thought that now we could make real headway in the efforts to expose the lie of some Catholics in public life who were being unfaithful to the teaching of the church on the dignity of every human life and hiding behind their "public/private" rhetoric.
Now, we could expose the lofty rhetoric of former New York governors and the deceit of certain members of Catholic political family dynasties who publicly and enthusiastically support the new "abortion right" as though it were a true "right" rather than an aberration of a misguided judiciary and a denial of a true human right to life.
Now, we could pull together the various groups of various types of Christians, other people of faith and people of good will who sought to promote the common good by standing together for life, family, and freedom ... How quickly my bubble burst.
Unfortunately, I found that cynicism among Catholics still ruled the day. We Catholics "in the trenches" seem to be very good at criticizing others (including other Christians whom we all too often look down upon) and whining. However, we all too often fall low on the positive response meter. Those who wanted to criticize the bishops, whether self-professed "liberals" or "conservatives," just continued their incessant whining.
I was used to it by now, but sorely disappointed.
After all, I had encountered opposition during other efforts such as leading the American Center for Law and Justice. During that "assignment" (and I have always viewed my life as a missionary vocation) I was used to some protestant supporters derision because I was a Catholic and some of my fellow Catholics questioning my own Catholicism because I worked with other Christians! Or during the early days of serving in the wonderful work at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio before it became "acceptable" to some Catholics who withheld their support because of its identification with an enthusiastic movement in the Church.
In my political and policy efforts however, I was surprised by where the opposition came from! It seemed to reach its height among "conservatives" when I took vocal public positions against the contemporary use of capital punishment as no longer necessary to protect the "common good." Yet, I had concluded that those positions reflected the clear teaching of the Catholic Church and reflected my efforts to apply principles contained within the social teaching of the church.
One of my early supporters didn't like an article I had written entitled "Beyond Liberal and Conservative." He made indirect "waves" in indirect conversations, suggesting I wasn't sophisticated enough in my rhetoric.
I developed a very low tolerance for an approach to conservatism I found existed in some Catholic circles. From my perspective, I sort of "woke up" one day being called a Conservative because of my pro-life convictions. The label mattered little. In fact, I did not like it. Now, please understand, I had long before lost any respect for contemporary "liberalism". I just wanted to take the treasury of the wisdom that is Catholic social teaching, try to inform my own "Catholic voice" - and help others to do the same.
I had determined, long before the release of this great letter, that political labels were an impediment to faithful Catholic citizens engaging in effective political participation. I grew increasingly suspect of the courtship with certain segments of the politically "conservative" movement.
I knew that Catholic Christians above all had to be careful not to be seduced by the rhetoric. The social teaching of the Catholic Church cannot be put in a box or trivialized. Its insistence on the dignity of every human person, the primacy of the family, authentic human freedom, solidarity and the preferential love for the poor are its foundation stones.
They alone can pave the path to a truly just and human society where the common good is promoted and protected!
Additionally, those whom I would come to call the "crusty" Catholics, the theologically "conservative" who seemed intent to, in my dear old fathers words, to be "more Catholic than the Pope" were unhappy with the bishops' pastoral letter--and with my own ecumenism.
Though they admitted my theological orthodoxy, some simply would, it seemed, never be satisfied with any action or letter from the American bishops. They seemed almost insistent on playing out the trap of the Pharisees in their unwillingness to link arms with other Christians--all too often acting condescending in both their word and deed to evangelical activists and others in the growing pro-life and pro-family movement.
Shortly before the bishops' meeting, at the end of my term as president of Catholic Alliance, I had enthusiastically supported my own replacement--the former ambassador to the Vatican, the Honorable Raymond Flynn.
A self professed "pro-life, pro-family, and pro-poor John Paul Democrat," Ray's appointment further upset my conservative friends. They thought he was a "liberal" and thought I had "lost my mind."
I delighted in both the appointment--and, I must now confess, their response. I had become cynical of the political culture of the beltways "religious right". Too many folks seemed to wallow in being critical of everyone else. Perhaps they had spent too much time opposing and forgotten how to propose...solutions and alternatives. II had come to see the insight in a saying I had heard from an old Pentecostal preacher "The Christian army is the only one who shoots its own wounded."
During my term as President of Catholic Alliance, I had suffered the abuse of the secular press because I was considered a "member of the religious right" and actually admired Pat Robertson for the good he had done for advancing the truth about the dignity of every human life! They tried to marginalize "Catholic Alliance" as a "right wing" movement under my leadership.
Some within the Catholic Press were also suspicious of me because of my "conservative" background. Though I had never officially become a Republican, I stopped voting for national Democrats when they stopped hearing the cry of the unborn. I was bold in my ecumenism and unrepentant of my alliances with both evangelicals and "conservatives" that were pro-life and pro-family.
The appointment of Ambassador Flynn as Catholic Alliance's second president was as shocking to all of them (and certain politically "conservative" Catholics) as it was delightful to me.
Why do I say it was delightful? Well, the truth isn't very charitable--it was a sort of last "raspberry" for me. I had been hurt by the "beltway gotcha game."
Maybe I just wasn't cut out for inside the beltway tactics. I actually expected it would be different among activists motivated by faith.
The appointment of Ambassador Flynn, the last act of my participation with Catholic Alliance, made the critical point that Catholics, serious about informing their faithful citizenship by their faith, could not be pigeonholed by party labels. I believed they could cross party lines and throw off tired old labels when the fundamental human rights issue of our age was at stake, the unalienable right to life for every person. I also knew that they could follow a hierarchy of values and exercise their prudential judgment on many other issues and by doing so actually frame the future of effective political participation for faithful citizens.
I believed then (and even more now) that the key was to identify the principles, derived from Catholic social teaching, that must inform our political participation as faithful Catholics and to mobilize people around them!
Finally, during my tenure, I also had to deal with the expected opposition from the "new" "political liberals." I had already determined they were an odd lot, with their duplicitous blend of support for both unrestricted access to abortion (which is the unrestricted execution of the innocent pre-born in the womb) and capital punishment (the execution of an apparently guilty criminal).
They seemed to me to be less "liberal" (at least in the classical liberal sense) than they were "stat-ists," believing that federalized government is the social savior, when and if the power to direct it is in their hands.
I knew that many of these folks were never going to agree with me or like me. They would continue to call me a "conservative" as a way of not dealing with the ideas I was trying to develop and discuss in the public square. It was easier to caricature people like me than to intelligently discuss issues.
For example, I had arrived at a "smaller government" political position from my efforts to apply the social principle of subsidiarity to good governance. That principle, which is a part of Catholic social teaching, argues that government is best when it is closest to the governed, and that the family is the first government. It looks to empower mediating associations, local government and smaller groups to make governing more effective.
At first they criticized me as "anti-government" but soon discovered I wasn't anti-government. In fact, I had rejected what I publicly decried as the errors of some within the "libertarian" wing of the politically conservative movement. To me, being a Catholic and being a libertarian were antithetical. Catholics know that were created for community and can only find human fulfillment in the gift of self. We do not define freedom as simply a freedom "from" but a freedom "for" responsible living and human solidarity.
Frankly, I simply didn't fit the liberal's caricature of the "right"; neither do most Catholics who actually understand the social teaching of the church. The principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (which in its simplest expression affirms that we are our brother's keeper) also informs my support for other contemporary issues such as parental choice. I support both public schools and parental choice in education, including constitutionally sound voucher initiatives that allow all parents, no matter what their socio-economic status, to make the decision!
But the frustration of all that disappointment seemed to be fading that day when I stood in that hotel, heard the results of this historic vote and had the opportunity to give a first reading to the draft of the bishops' pastoral letter. I had new hope that with this letter from our bishops, a new "springtime" of Catholic activism would unfold.
I was wrong.
However, I did not give up.
Though "Catholic Alliance" ended (as more recently has "Catholic Campaign") the need to make the social teaching of the Catholic Church accessible, popular and understood has become a life's mission.
I am a Christian. I am a Catholic Christian. I am an American Catholic Christian.
All three terms found my identity and my obligations in my efforts to be a "faithful citizen."
I believe that the social teaching of the Catholic Church provides the raw material out of which a new public philosophy can and must be constructed. It is filled with the truth about the human person and how we are to live together. It is not simply for "the religious"--rather, the Church walks the way of the person and speaks truth for all who will listen.
This public philosophy must be built around the major themes so beautifully articulated in the document of the American bishops entitled "Faithful Citizenship." Those themes are neither "liberal" nor "conservative," but truly human and rooted in truly human values.
I am more convinced these years later that those themes simply needed to be made accessible and popular. I truly believed that day, as I stood in the hotel where the bishops' conference had assembled, that this new pastoral letter from the bishops would begin the process--especially if Catholic citizens and public servants put its directives into practice.
Well, as the old song said, "weeks turn into years, how quick they pass ..."
We are now weeks away from what could be the most important mid-term election in years. Well, where are the Catholics?
What are we hearing about this letter, "Faithful Citizenship," and its bearing upon our choice in this election and in the rapidly approaching presidential race?
This is our moment.
Most Catholics still do not even know that the letter exists.
Oh, some of the political pundits are talking about some of the important issues on "inside the beltway," or on "talking head" shows. (Since I no longer live inside the beltway, I can finally say what most of those folks know: no one is actually watching them and fewer are listening.)
But, other than that, the silence is deafening.
There is a lot of talk about a "Catholic vote," again. But the problem is--there is none. Perhaps there never truly was in the sense of a fully informed and activated Catholic voice. Gone is the past demographic, rooted in the large cities with their ethnic neighborhoods, of a predictable blue-collar "Democrat" Catholic vote. Those days are over.
There is no real "Republican" Catholic vote either--in the sense of a Catholic rush to the G.O.P., no matter what some of our friends in engaged conservative evangelical political movements, or some Catholic pundits seek to tell the world. Catholics still worry about that party's "country club" image. Even though Catholics are socially "conservative," they do not consider themselves to be a part of the "religious right." I think that's why I never registered as a Republican--though I usually vote that way.
Don't get me wrong; it is possible that there could be a "new" Catholic vote built--and that is why I have agreed to help build "Your Catholic Voice." However, a lot of work has yet to be done on the popular level.
Until then, some Catholics are still wrongly listening to some of "their own" in public life. That is all too often a problem. The scandal caused by Catholic public officials who are openly unfaithful in applying the values informed by their faith to their exercise of public office is highly visible ... with a few noteworthy exceptions.
I recently heard the former governor of New York, a Catholic and an articulate man, affirm that he sought to "inform" his political participation by his faith but that his first obligation was to the "common good" - AS IF THER WAS AN OPPOSITION BETWEEN THE TWO! The "common good" is only promoted when the dignity of every human life, no matter the size, age, or capacity to 'contribute" to the economy, is affirmed as the polestar of all public policy.
I recently read of a Catholic woman running for the highest State office who is unfaithful to the truth concerning the dignity of every human life. Not only is she hiding behind the duplicity of the "personally opposed" error but she is dragging out obfuscating arguments in an attempt to cover the irrefutable truth. Unfortunately, she recently dragged out some priests to support her error as if dressing error in a collar makes it correct
Fortunately, many other Catholics in public life (or running for office) are being faithful, recognizing that although Catholic social teaching covers a broad spectrum of concerns, there is a hierarchy of values. In politics there are many areas of prudential judgement, there are also areas where there is absolute crystal clarity. In "Your Catholic Voice" we refer to them as our "four pillars" of participation, life, family, freedom and solidarity.
Here is a message to every candidate -you can tell us all you want that you care about the poor--but when you close the ears of your heart to the defenseless unborn, we don't believe you ... at least some of us!
The intrinsic evil of every procured abortion should compel (where there is a choice between candidates) all faithful Catholics to refrain from voting for someone who is unapologetically opposed to any protection of any unborn child from any procedure, or chemical, aimed at his or her demise.
Since both major party candidates now tow the same line in racing to promote the execution of capital offenders (even though bloodless means are available to protect the common good), there is often little choice on that issue.
But there is a crystal clear choice on the issue of the killing of the new holy innocents as they are partially delivered or allowing the use of chemicals against them in the womb or now, manufacturing "petri dish people" to experiment on them in a way that always ends their life.
Without the right to be born there are no other rights!
Yet, even with the clarity of the pastoral letter "Faithful Citizenship," we will still read nonsense from some Catholics in public life.
We must become informed, remain faithful and we must be involved. We are invited to "cultivate our faith" and "activate our voice" by "Your Catholic Voice."
Both this former governor and the candidate for governor (and her supporters-including some clergy) intentionally muddy the waters on this crystal clear issue. They misuse portions of Catholic social teaching and the letter "Faithful Citizenship," not supported by the text, and try to act as a new "magisterium" (teaching office) in their attempts to give cover to unfaithful Catholic politicians.
In short, using the letter "Faithful Citizenship" they encourage "Unfaithful Citizenship."
This kind of subterfuge has to end. It must be exposed and opposed.
There is a scriptural maxim that Catholics in public life better pay attention to: "to those to whom much is given, much more will be required." Catholics have been given an extraordinary clear body of wonderful social teaching concerning how to apply the values informed by their faith to their political participation.
It is time to read it, and to live it.
Yes, there are plenty of areas where good, faithful Catholics can, and do disagree. However, on the issue of life, the die is cast. It is not a "single issue" but a worldview, a lens through which every other issue is viewed.
It is not the task of our bishops to make our decisions. However, as the teachers of the truths of the faith, they continue to instruct us to be "Faithful Citizens."
Now, we must live and act as faithful citizens.
Faithful citizenship is the particular task of the lay faithful. As a deacon of the church, I am a member of the clergy. Though, I am not prohibited, as are priests, from openly expressing my position on these issues as a private citizen or from running for public office. (Though with what I have seen, I have so far run from public office!)
It is time to "shout it from the housetops"!
Any Catholic politician, no matter what their party affiliation, who fails to hear the cry of the ones whom Mother Theresa called "the poorest of the poor," the innocent pre-born children, is being unfaithful--to his or her baptism and to the obligation of faithful citizenship.
Catholic public servants who continue to confuse the faithful over these issues are engaging in reprehensible behavior. They should be exposed and opposed.Similarly, when a candidate for office supports the unrestricted right to abortion, every Catholic must reject him/her at the ballot box.
That is faithful citizenship.
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. He is the founding member of "Lentz, Stepanovich and Fournier, P.L.C. 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. He is the Features Editor for Catholic Online and a Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580
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