Monday, September 15, 2008

What Would Mary Do?

The bishops of Kansas City have issued a joint pastoral letter on the voting responsibilities of Catholics, explaining the need to weigh candidates based on their support or opposition to policies that would enable “intrinsic evils.”Calling the dissent of Catholics in public life concerning these evils “particularly disturbing,” the bishops exhorted all Catholic voters to form their consciences properly and vote in the upcoming election to “limit evil” when it cannot be eradicated.

Writing in a pastoral letter dated September 9, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas John Naumann and Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn explained that the Catholic bishops’ practice of never endorsing political candidates. This practice was not instituted to escape regulations for tax-exempt organization, but rather, is traced back to Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States.

“The Church in the United States realized early on that it must not tether the credibility of the Church to the uncertain future actions or statements of a particular politician or party,” the bishops wrote. They then referenced the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is “not identified with any political community nor bound by its ties to any political system.”

However, the bishops insisted, the Church in the United States has insisted on its right “to speak to the moral issues confronting our nation,” acting with the understanding that her role is to form properly the consciences of the citizens of a democratic society. (This is interesting. Who gave Roman Catholicism the mandate to properly form the consciences of the citizens of a pluralisitic democratic society? Jesus talked about conversion amongst His followers, not Roman society. Must be a hold over from feudal society when the Church did have the homogenous Catholic culture in which they did rule the individual conscience, and mostly through the sole control of all the information.)

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn wrote that Catholics should care about policies that “promote a just and lasting peace,” welcome and defend immigrants, enable accessible and affordable health care, and show a “special concern” for the poor. Continuing their list, the bishops praised policies that protect the rights of parents to educate their children, create business and employment opportunities, and foster stewardship of the earth.

They also urged support for policies that reform the justice system through helping crime victims, rehabilitating inmates, and eliminating the death penalty.

Legitimate disagreement is possible on such issues, the bishops wrote, saying they are the objects of “prudential judgments.” Such judgments, the bishops explained, are circumstances in which people can ethically reach different conclusions.

While Catholics can disagree about the best policies and the most effective candidates related to such issues, the bishops insisted:
“Catholics have an obligation to study, reflect and pray over the relative merits of the different policy approaches proposed by candidates. Catholics have a special responsibility to be well informed regarding the guidance given by the Church pertaining to the moral dimensions of these matters.”

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn then noted what issues can never be justified, which they said included: “legalized abortion, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.” (I suspect in a democratic society with a plurality of religious convictions, there would be some legitimate difference of opinion on some of these issues. Some religious communities might add 'gender' discrimination along with racial discrimination. Not Catholics though. Not guaranteeing equal rights to women is not considered an intrinsic evil. Sometimes I wonder if it's not considered an intrinsic evil to gaurantee them.)

“To vote for a candidate who supports these intrinsic evils because he or she supports these evils is to participate in a grave moral evil. It can never be justified.”

The bishops wrote that any Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate “precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia” would be guilty of “formal cooperation” in evil and should not present himself or herself for communion.

When it comes to issues of intrinsic evil, a properly-formed conscience “must give such issues priority even over other matters with important moral dimensions,” they explained.
In an ideal situation, there would be a choice between two candidates who both fully oppose policies that involve intrinsic evils.

However, when both candidates advocate policies that support intrinsic evils, the bishops wrote, “the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely. ” (Since the number of abortions drop under the democrats, even though they espouse keeping abortion decriminalized, does that mean voting for democrats would be voting to do less harm?)

According to the bishops, a voter would have “insufficient moral justification” voting for a more permissive candidate, but could justifiably vote for a write-in candidate or abstain from voting at all in such a case because of a “conscientious objection.”

Explaining that “remote material cooperation” by voting for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils is permissible for “proportionate reasons,” Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn questioned whether consideration for a candidate’s position on prudential issues could outweigh considerations regarding the candidate’s support for intrinsic evils.

“What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years?” they asked. “Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.”Claiming that Catholic influence has “never been greater” in U.S. politics, the bishops cautioned: “It would be wrong for us to use our numbers and influence to try to compel others to accept our religious and theological beliefs.” (Does this sentence directly contradict this sentence: "acting with the understanding that her role is to form properly the consciences of the citizens of a democratic society." I'm beginning to feel victimized by double speak.)

However, they add, “it would be equally wrong for us to fail to be engaged in the greatest human rights struggle of our time, namely the need to protect the right to life of the weakest and most vulnerable.”

Lamenting Catholic dissent in public life, they wrote: “It is particularly disturbing to witness the spectacle of Catholics in public life vocally upset with the Church for teaching what it has always taught on these moral issues for 2,000 years, but silent in objecting to the embrace, by either political party, of the cultural trends of the past few decades that are totally inconsistent with our nation’s history of defending the weakest and most vulnerable.” (Aren't we the same country that devastated Indigenous populations through 'Manifest Destiny', maintained slaves for hundreds of years, made individual families wealthy through the exploitation of child labor and wave after wave of impoverished immigrants? Don't we at this very day have an embarrassing level of infant mortality?)

Concluding their statement, the bishops called for committed Catholics in both major political parties to insist upon respect for human life, support for the institution of marriage between a man and a woman, and religious liberty.


I must be getting overwhelmed with articles on Mary, because it suddenly dawned on me that when it comes to protecting the innocent, we might be better off asking What would Mary do, rather than What would Jesus do. Mary, after all actually had a child, which is something her Son never did.

I suspect Mary might have a great deal of compassion for a young mother out of wedlock, who suddenly found herself without any family support. After all, Mary made a free choice to put herself in that same unwed pregnant state, but Mary was fortunate enough to keep all her family support. She wasn't left pregnant, scared and alone. Her betrothed didn't ditch her. Her immediate family rejoiced in her pregnancy.

Mary might determine the real issue isn't abortion, but being left pregnant, scared, and alone. Mary might come to the conclusion that rather than try to change the secular legal status of the abortion procedure, followers of her son might do far more good by dealing with the issues which leave young pregnant women feeling scared and alone, without resources, without access to medical attention, without any real support at all. Criminalizing abortion changes none of these circumstances. Criminalizing abortion does not stop abortion.

What stops abortion is changing the circumstances of the mother to be. In this battle, the wrong party has the right record.

Would the Queen of Peace actually see gay marriage as a more intrinsic evil, therefor a bigger threat to global peace, than the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? That's a hard one for me to swallow, but the Pope has told us this is so, that gays threaten world peace.

What about protecting religious freedom? Would she find it more acceptable to fight hate filled religious intolerance that masquerades under the guise of religious freedom, or worry about questionable claims on it's infringement? Maybe she would just say that sometimes the price one pays for the convictions of one's religion is the price one pays. Look at my Son. Pick up your cross, stop your whining. Can't stand the heat, get out of my kitchen.

Mary might look at these issues of 'intrinsic evil' a little differently. She might say "In our family we take care of our own, and we love them in spite of differences, and we don't throw them out, and we don't ask society to make criminals of the very least of us---especially if making criminals of the least of us is the solution to our refusing to take care of the least of us. Since my family includes everyone on this planet, we don't exclude anyone, we don't refuse to serve anyone, and if we run out of something, I'll find someone to step up and fix it, not tell the host it's his own fault for not having enough wine vats."

I'd like to think this is what Mary would do, after all, it's only what her son asks of His followers. She had to have some influence on His thinking.


  1. Colleen, I love this appropriation of a traditional theme--Marian devotion--to reach conclusions that, sadly, "traditionalists" today are overlooking.

    I'm also interested in the bishops' lesser-of-two-evils argument. If they're interested in having us choose the lesser of two evils, I wonder if they'll next be preaching that condoms should be distributed in Africa to prevent spread of HIV.

    Somehow I doubt it.

    Because there's only one real evil they have their eyes on all the time. They call it abortion, but it really has to do with trying to make their teaching authority absolute--which really is evil, in my view.

  2. Great question Colleen - 'What would Mary do?"

    You're right Colleen - illegalizing abortion will not end abortion. My conscience tells me that a vote for McCain/Palin is a vote for an economic depression, more wars, more deaths to violence & disease, more unemployment, more foreclosures, more abortions, more people unable to care for themselves and their children. If Mary were voting, I don't think she'd vote for that because it will contribute to more abortions and lawlessness and despair.

    It seems to me the Bishops are telling people who to vote for based on the abortion issue alone. I really think this is wrong and presumptuous of them to believe that their conscience and the way they frame the issues has the final say on how one should decide to vote consciously. One whose conscience is formed by the teachings of Jesus Christ cannot deny that the Democratic platform has programs that will help to reduce abortion significantly and my conscience tells me that is going in the right direction.

    Furthermore, the Holy Spirit guides consciences in discerning the issues in a much broader sense than these bishops. In my opinion, the Bishops need to expand their consciences beyond focusing on "intrinsic evil" and focus on intrinsic good in Christ and Mary and gather the flock together in this time of economic decline and increased need for love in the world, not divisiveness.

  3. I have been reading your blog here and there. With so much anger and irritation every day toward the Cath. Ch,particularly the hierarchy, I'd like to see you make a cogent case for why you stay. It is not obvioulsy evident in your writings and perspectives.

  4. Elastico, I'll try to make a cogent case. First there's truth to the adage you can take a catholic out of the pew, but you can't take the catholic out of the catholic.

    My issue is not with the spirituality of Catholicism. For me it's incredibly real and very powerful. As you surmise, my issues are with the clerical caste system.

    The more and more I've researched the history of the development of this system the less impressed I am with it. We seem to have reached a point in which protecting the self given power of the system is more important than the pastoral mandates of Christ.

    The thicket of laws seem to have gotten to the point where they imprison the grace energy the Church exists to dispense. When protecting and validating the power of the clerical caste supercedes the mission they were given I think there is something really wrong.

    I myself no longer attend Mass or recieve the Eucharist because I disagree so strongly with a couple of doctrines. One is the doctrine on remarriage and the other is the doctrine which precludes the use of condoms in preventing the spread of AIDS within marriage.

    I also disagree with politicizing sacraments over abortion. Just because I see little value in criminalizing abortion doesn't mean I'm advocating for abortions.

    The hierarchy sees this differently. So I play the sacramental game by their rules and don't present myself for communion, or sully the doors of any Catholic church.

    You know what, I really really miss daily Mass, but I had to give it up because I had to face the fact I wasn't Catholic enough by Vatican definitions. Personal conscience precluded me from partaking in the sacraments if it meant I had to confess to sins which are essentially issues of concsience and not action.

    I wish things were very much different between me and the Church, but like millions of other Catholics, I find myself on the outside, not necessarily because of any action I've done, but because of what I think, and also the certain knowledge that going to confession isn't going to change what I think.

    I take some comfort in the fact I am not alone in this. This is a matter of choice on my part. I truly feel sorry for all the Catholics who are totally in synch with Church thinking, but who cannot recieve the Sacraments because there is no priest to preside over their sacraments.

    Catholicism is a hugely important spiritual system with millenia of belief behind it's spirituality. It's truly powerful in every sense in which one would choose to use that word powerful. But all of this is not a product of the hierarchy and it's rules, it's a product of it's believers and their prayers. I think the Vatican and it's clerical supporters have completely lost site of that fact.

    At it's best Catholicism is not about the clerical caste and it's rules, it's about us and our spiritual needs. All of us and our spiritual needs, not just some of us.

  5. Thank you for your candidness. I was sorry to hear you have stopped going to Mass and communion. I encourage you to rethink that if you still believe in the Real Presence. Irrespective of your feelings toward the hierarchy, God's presence and grace found in the Eucharist, supercedes all and everyone. Immersing yourself in just the Word, clearing the battleground in your mind for just that hour, should have fruitful, calming, unforeseen affects. Best wishes.