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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 ...

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