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U.S. Political Season Begins: 'Morally Coherent' Catholics Can Change this Nation

By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 9th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Catholics are not one more "interest group" which can be polled, pandered to and bought. Our social obligation is to promote the true common good, not just use the slogan to sound "catholic" as happened in the last political cycle. We need to promote the truth as taught by the Church no matter what it is labeled in the political parlance of the hour. Our political participation must be committed to human life and dignity, marriage and the family, authentic human freedom, and solidarity.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Along with the hint of fall in the air, the days after the American celebration of Labor Day mark the beginning of the election season. This midterm election in the United States of America could bring a massive sea change in governance. Political pundits troll the media making their prognostications. Polls are becoming as common as commercials in the political media landscape.

Given their numbers, U.S. Catholics could determine the outcome of this election. That is if they learn how to be, in the words of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "morally coherent".  That phrase was used in an instruction released in 2002 entitled a "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life". It was directed to "the Bishops of the Catholic Church and, in a particular way, to Catholic politicians and all lay members of the faithful called to participate in the political life of democratic societies."

The teaching in the instruction informs the "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church" sections pertaining to the political participation of Catholics. (See, e.g. #565-574) Anyone who thinks the teachers of the Church are not clear on the duty to vote in a manner which is morally coherent have not read Catholic teaching. Here is an excerpt:

"The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic's duty to be morally coherent, found within one's conscience, which is one and indivisible. '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 responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity.

"In fact, every area of the lay faithful's lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the 'places in time' where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. . Living and acting in conformity with one's own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of 'confessionalism', but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person."

Our insistence upon recognition in the positive law of the fundamental Human Right to Life is not about one political issue; it is about the very foundation of freedom itself. Human rights - such as the Natural Law Right to Life - and human freedoms such as the freedom to be born - are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them all the rhetoric extolling them is nothing but empty air and sloganeering.

Nor is the Pro-Life position simply a matter of our adherence to our "religious" beliefs. It is a response to the truth revealed by the Natural Law and confirmed by medical science. The Child in the womb is our neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to take innocent human life. The child in the womb is innocent human life. It is thus wrong to intentionally kill him or her through procured abortion. Our faith gives us further insights into that truth and calls us to a greater obligation to insist upon the role of the Natural Law in the formation of the positive law.

Sunday, September 12, 2010 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy's address to the Houston Ministerial alliance. In that speech he opened the door to moral incoherence by "privatizing" the truths informed by faith and failing to acknowledge the existence of a Natural Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. In the wake of his catastrophic mistake too many Catholics in public life, like Esau of the Old Testament, have sold their birthrights for a bowl of porridge and helped to construct the current culture of death. Morally coherent Catholics are the ones who must now expose their errors and replace them in office. 

The embryonic human person, the child in the womb, the disabled, the needy and the elderly are all members of our human family. We can never condone their intentional killing as some kind of exercise of the freedom to choose. It is never a moral choice but a crime, whether the positive law prosecutes it or not. Rights are not ethereal concepts floating around in the cosmos somewhere. Rights are endowed by a Creator not conferred by the State. They are goods of the human person. Our opposition to the judicial manufacture of a "right" to take innocent human life in the womb must never take a back seat to any other concern in the public policy arena. Freedom must be exercised with reference to what is true and good in any just and moral society.

Abortion, in the words of the Venerable John Paul II, is only the "cutting edge of the culture of death." Any time human persons are treated as "products" to be used, aborted, discarded, manipulated, enslaved, traded, made a means rather than an end.. there we find the "culture of death." We must expose, oppose and replace it. Catholics will be judged the most severely if we fail to act. The Biblical adage should echo in our ears, "To those, to whom much is given, much more will be required!"

We are living under what Pope Benedict XVI called a "Dictatorship of Relativism" in the West. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom as giving some people a "right" to kill the innocent, divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior. When there is a wholesale effort to deny the existence of anything objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life, then there is no real freedom. Instead, we teeter on the brink of anarchy.

Now, let's talk about the two major political parties in the United States. On the predominant human rights issue of our age the leadership of the Democratic Party has lost its soul. One simply cannot be a faithful Catholic and hold what is euphemistically called a "pro-choice" position on abortion. I, like many of my fellow Catholic Americans, grew up equating being Catholic with being a Democrat because I thought Democrats cared more about the poor, the working class, the marginalized and those with no voice. I was wrong. The elite of the Democratic Party have embraced a notion of "freedom" as a power over others and "choice" as a right to do whatever one wants.

The failure to hear the cry of the child in the womb while mouthing the language of caring for the poor is unbridled hypocrisy. Medical science has confirmed what our conscience has always known, that child in the womb is one of us. His or her voice cannot be heard because it is muffled in the once hallowed home of the womb and disregarded by political opportunists. Yes, there may be a few truly Pro-Life Democrats. However, after the experience of the Health Care debate this past year, even this former Democrat is beginning to have my doubts.

However, I hear what I call "political dualism" being touted once again in Republican circles. The idea that there are "social" and "economic" issues and they must be kept separate. Proponents claim we can "only win if we stay focused on the economic issues". Nonsense! The reason we should care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person, including our smallest neighbors. The reason we should want to ensure the application of the principle of subsidiarity to keep government at the lowest level, is because we respect the primacy of the family. We must reject the efforts to divide the "economic" and "social" spheres.

The Republican Party has not fared well on placing in the positive law protection for the Right to Life even though that Right is acknowledged in their platform. They have sometimes fed the stereotype used by their opponents that they care about children only when they are in the womb. Some Republicans seem to favor a "survival of the fittest" approach to the market economy which does not recognize our obligations in human solidarity. Though "big government" solutions have not worked well in the delivery of charity the Republican Party has not talked enough about empowering the mediating associations to deliver that charity.

In the past, some Republicans have decried centralized economic planning as leading to collectivism and warned about the growth of the Federal Government - but then participated in propounding the problem when they were in power. We must not let that happen again. Some espouse a brand of "libertarianism" that cares little about our social obligations to one another. We are our brothers/sisters keepers and Catholics must never forget that. Rejecting big government solutions doesn't mean rejecting our obligation in solidarity. It means building a ground up model of economic opportunity which expands opportunity and participation to all. 

Catholics are not one more "interest group" which can be polled, pandered to and bought. Our social obligation is to promote the true common good, not just use the slogan to sound "catholic" as happened in the last political cycle. We need to promote the truth as taught by the Church no matter what it is labeled in the political parlance of the hour. Our political participation must be committed to human life and dignity, marriage and the family, authentic human freedom, and solidarity directed by the application of the principle of subsidiarity.  The U.S. Political Season has begun in earnest.  'Morally Coherent' Catholics can change this Nation.

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