Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Catholic Political Season Is Ramping Up

Clerical Whispers is carrying a number of articles concerning Catholic positions in the coming US elections. There are two on abortion. This one by Archbishop Chaput, and this one by Bishop Robert Herman of St Louis, the temporary replacement for Archbishop Burke. Bishop Herman must be padding his resume in order to turn temporary into permanent.

In both cases the bishops attempt to paint Catholics who have turned away from the historical approach to the abortion issue, which has been to vote Republican, as deluded at best, and damning more probably. Here's some of the flavor of this from Bishop Herman's pastoral letter:

Judgment Day is on its way,” the bishop wrote in the St. Louis Review. “We cannot stop it. We don’t know when it will come, but just as surely as the sun rises daily, the Son of Man will come when we least expect.”
“For many, this coming election may very well be judgment day, for this election will measure us,” he continued, referencing Christ’s words of judgment in Matthew 10:32-33:
“Everyone who acknowledges Me before others, I will acknowledge before My heavenly Father. But whoever denies Me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Bishop Herman seems to have assessed the current swing to Obama as the result of the economic meltdown and advises Catholics that economic issues pale in comparison to abortion:

“The right of our children to be protected from destruction is greater than my right to a thriving economy,” Bishop Herman continued.
“My desire for a good economy cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion. My desire to end the war in Iraq cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion.”

I really hate it when bishops start distorting facts. A vote for Obama does not mean the removal of all current restrictions on abortion. A vote for the McCain/Palin ticket doesn't mean that Roe v Wade will be overturned anymore than a vote for Reagan, Bush I or Bush II did. In light of this fact, Bishop Herman is not engaged in spiritual advice, he is engaged in political speech making for the McCain/Palin ticket, and like them, he is stretching the political truth to make his point.

Archbishop Chaput takes some of the same lines of reasoning as Bishop Herman, while making great pains to point out his statements are just his personal point of view. Although the remarks are taken from a speech he gave serving in his official capacity, they are apparently not coming from his official positions as head of the Archdiocese. He does however, also pull the judgement card:

Chaput also disputed the charge leveled by some, including Prof. Nicholas Cafardi, who claim that the struggle over abortion is legally lost. These people “are not just wrong; they’re betraying the witness of every person who continues the work of defending the unborn child. And I hope they know how to explain that, because someday they’ll be required to,” he said.

There are other parts of Chaput's speech that attempt to defuse the arguments used by Catholics who are fed up with the lack of action on this issue from the Republican party. One of those is Dennis Kmiec and he is the target of special attention from Archbishop Chaput:

“Despite what Prof. Kmiec suggests,” he continued, “the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ‘pro-choice;’ it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child – and let’s remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ‘murder’ – the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.”
Chaput also addressed Kmiec’s assertion that there are “defensible motives” to support Obama. “Speaking for myself,” he said, “I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.”

Abortion wasn't the only political topic of the day. Archbishop George Neiderhauer weighed in on California's Proposition 8, encouraging Catholics to vote yes. (Voting yes, is actually voting no to gay marriage. Some people, and I'm one of them, think this voting yes to mean no, was purposeful confusion on the part of the group that wrote the proposition). In the email Neiderhauer says to vote yes on Prop 8 "because public schools would have to promote gay marriage."

Again this is not true, and the use of the word 'promote' makes that lie evident. There is nothing in the California Supreme Court decision which legalized gay marriage, that says one word about education in public schools. This statement is essentially exaggeration in the cause of fear mongering. Not much different from Herman threatening us with hell for voting for Obama, or Chaput's convoluted repudiation of the entirety of Douglas Kmiec's reasoning in voting for the Democratic ticket.

There are times I am embarrassed to the extreme by our Catholic leadership. It's pretty telling Herman and Chaput feel they are in a losing battle when they have to sink to the judgment card to make their point. It's pretty telling about Chaput's political motivation when he goes to great pains to assure us all that his is not being political:

“I’m not here tonight to tell you how to vote. I don’t want to do that, I won’t do that, and I don’t use code language -- so you don’t need to spend any time looking for secret political endorsements.”
Moreover, Chaput emphasized that what he had to say was “as an author and private citizen” and not on behalf of “the Holy See, or the American bishops, or any other bishop, or even officially for the Archdiocese of Denver.”

I don't think Archbishop Chaput was given a podium to speak at the event in which he gave these remarks because he is a 'private' citizen. The group is a Catholic women's group -ENDOW - dedicated to the spread of John Paul's vision of gender complementarity whose president is a major contributor to the McCain/Palin campaign. I recognize ENDOW's right to have whoever they want to speak to them do so, but the article I'm quoting doesn't indicate that Chaput had much to say about gender complementarity.

I told a friend of mine the other day that I wish this election was over, principally because I think the worst is yet to come. I think that's true for Catholics as well. I think certain bishops will do all they can to scare and guilt Catholics into voting for McCain/Palin. I also think these tactics are demeaning and reprehensible, completely at odds with the Gospel message. Christ did not teach through fear and guilt.

In my book when people resort to fear, guilt and distortion, not just their arguments, but their position has no basis in reality. As to abortion, we don't know when human life is life in God's eyes. The Church's official position is an official opinion.

There is no reputable evidence that gay marriage will have a disastrous effect on heterosexual marriage, but plenty of evidence that stable gay partnerships have great positive effect on gay lives. But I guess the proponents of Proposition 8 know this, or they wouldn't have resorted to scaring us with dire mistruths about how gay marriage will impact the educational system by promoting gay marriage to straight kids.

This is not just silly season, it's sad season.


  1. Colleen, great post (and I really like that cartoon).

    Judgment Day is, indeed, on the way. But those being judged may turn out to be a different set of folks than Bishop Herman has in mind.

    In my view, the failure of the U.S. bishops to provide sound pastoral leadership has never been as apparent as it is now, when the hate rhetoric is spewing out in this election. And they just sit by in silent, when they don't tell us to ally ourselves with the haters.

    This election is turning into a referendum on their failed pastoral leadership, and I see them failing that referendum.

  2. After reading the link "Archbishop Chaput" there was a comment which posted:

    "Published on National Catholic Reporter (
    'Dear Bishop: Please become a credible pro-life advocate' By tfox
    Created 10/15/2008 - 12:30
    By Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea
    Published: October 15, 2008"

    I thought this was the best comment I had seen in response to the "Pro-Life" Catholics with their posters and fear tactics.

    Today I woke up to the not surprising but welcome news of Colin Powell endorsing Obama. Last night I spent some time reading Thomas Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. If you have the book, read Part Two - Truth and Violence: An Interesting Era.

    It is interesting that Chaput would quote Bonhoeffer. Merton also quotes him, but at length.

    Chaput and the "pro-lifers" seem to think that their position is the holier road less travelled, the narrow gate to life itself. All other roads lead to judgment from God. Such a position places all life ethics into one issue only. A comment recently on NCRcafe by a "pro-life" Catholic said that voting for Obama puts the blood of unborn children upon our very souls. Many of us who see the life issues as much broader in scope have often wondered and asked why it is they do not see the entire picture.

    Quoting from Merton:

    "A pharisee is a righteous man whose righteousness is nourished by the blood of sinners.

    "In politics, as in everything else, pharisaism is not self righteousness only, but the conviction that, in order to be right, it is sufficient to prove that somebody else is wrong. As long as there is one sinner left for you to condemn, then you are justified! Once you can point to a wrongdoer, you become justified in doing anything you like, however dishonest, however cruel, however evil."

    Chaput is right to say that judgment day is coming. But Chaput uses judgment day as a fear tactic and to condemn others, but is not including himself as one who will be judged. Here is another quote from Merton.

    "Gandhi saw that Western democracy was on trial. On trial for what? On trial to be judged by its own claims to be the rule of the people by themselves. Not realizing itself to be on trial, assuming its own infallibility and perfection, Western democracy has resented every attempt to question these things. .... Our democracy is now being judged, not by man but by God. It is not simply being judged by the enemies of the West and of "democracy." When anyone is judged by God, he receives, in the very hour of judgment, a gift from God. The gift that is offered him, in his judgment, is truth. He can receive the truth or reject it; but in any case truth is being offered silently, mercifully, in the very crisis by which democracy is put to the test..."

    "When one is on trial in this life, he is at the same time receiving mercy: the merciful opportunity to anticipate God's decision by receiving the light of truth, judging himself, changing his life."

    Chaput fails to see his complicity in leading this country to economic collapse and immoral peril as a consequence of a denial of social responsibility to all of life. His position against gays are the weeds springing up in the wheat fields of a spirituality that Merton describes as a failure to recognize the difference between natural and supernatural.

    Got to go now, but thought this might be helpful.
    I hope that it is.

  3. Great post butterfly. Merton was a truly insightful stage IV person. The problem is the Chaput's of the world will only cherry pick his writings looking for confirmation of their own views. They will be unable to see the truth of Merton's line that the righteous aren't content to be righteous as individuals, but have to define the righteousness on the blood of others.

    This campaign is a perfect example of a truly good man whose personal goodness was not enough for his righteous party. The party has taken McCain--with his compliance--and made a mockery of his career. McCain could not be a man of individual conviction, a true maverick, and appeal to the base of his party. The base needs blood. Hence Sarah Barracuda.

    My heart bleeds for McCain and I pray he has the strength to understand that the sacrifice of his principled life was the necessary price for the potentiality of change in the way this country does political business. Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama is another sign post of this potential change.

    Americans can tolerate the righteous, but not when the righteous secure their status in the blood of others. May McCain be their last blood sacrifice.