I have long observed that many if not most Catholics are more passionate about their politics than their faith. This goes for both sides of the political spectrum and for moderates too. I will not say that I am immune from the tendency either. It’s just so much easier to speak of the faith when it conforms to something in our political mindset or worldview, and it’s so easy to doubt it if it offends against it.
Instead of being the light by which we see all things, the Faith tends to get “tucked under” our worldview and political view, our careers and preferences. The world should be seen through faith. The world should be on trial by the Word of God and the teachings of the Church. But as it usually happens, the Church, and the Scriptures end up being on trial instead. In this situation Faith is not the priority, politics and the world are. In any conflict between the two, guess what usually has to give way?
Some examples and stories:
1. Abortion– The most common and perhaps most egregious example is the horrible scourge of abortion. Too many Catholics allow their politics to trump what they know is the consistent teaching of their Faith and the Church. It is a horrible thing too when we consider that 70 million Catholics in agreement on this issue would be hard to ignore politically. If even 10% showed up in Washington for the Pro-life March that would be 7 million people on the Mall and no media bias could ignore that many people. As it is we are woefully divided and the usual cause of this is politics. Most people of any political persuasion know Abortion is indefensible. But they line up on the issue more on political than moral reasoning. Saying that they merely want to stay out of people’s personal affairs does not add up since EVERY law or legal limit inserts itself into people’s personal affairs. The question is what should the limits be or not be and that gets back to politics. It is a sad truth that many Americans allow politics to over-ride the most crucial moral decision of the day. The Church teaching against abortion is not Republican, it is Catholic.
2. A Story– As a priest in Washington DC I am called on numerous occasions to meet with members of the DC City Council and also on fewer occasions, with Federal officials. Most recently I was meeting with a certain City official over the issue of recognizing so-called Same-sex “Marriage.” I explained to him why the Church opposed such a change in the Law. I remember well what he said to me and though the quote is not exact it’s pretty close, “Father, I know what your Church teaches. But I am a politician, I was not born yesterday and I have read the polls. Almost half of your people don’t agree with your teachings about homosexuality. You claim to speak for them but you don’t speak for at least half, and I think, more than half. Don’t tell me how your people are going to vote. I already know how they are going to vote. You don’t represent most of them and surely not the votes I count on to win.” I guess I could have gone on to distinguish between the beliefs and voting patterns of Church-going vs. non-Church- going Catholics but that would merely have led to the fact that we rather pathetically can count on only 30% of Catholics to even come to Church, let alone vote with us. Truth was he DID know his business and he can count votes better than I can. How different would this scenario have been if Catholics were Catholics first before anything else and did vote based on their faith and what the Church teaches about marriage rather than other things such as the wallet or politcal party or personal views? Had that been the case he probably would have asked to me with me and other clergy.
3. What party is the Catholic Church?– Neither of course. But depending on what is in the news you can count on labels being applied. If the issue is abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or homosexual “marriage” detractors will say the Church and bishops are “in bed” with the Republicans. But if the issue is immigration reform, capital punishment, concerns about war, or care for the poor, then they’re all “just a bunch of Democrats.”
Now I hear the objections even now that go something like: “Abortion is doctrinal, Capital Punishment is not. True enough. But it is only solemn and doctrinal things that should claim our loyalties? What if the Pope and Bishops as our teachers and leaders are asking us to stand together on an important issue in the battle against the culture of death?…an issue that affects our credibility (rightly or wrongly) with the world on the matter of abortion? Even if there are proper distinctions to be made, what if the Pope and bishops have determined that, as a pastoral strategy, we ought to oppose the State taking life under either of these circumstances? Does that have any bearing on the issue? And if not, why not? I am aware that some would not attribute their disagreement here to politics at all but rather are clinging to distinction that the Church does not absolutely forbid capital punishment. But is absolute forbiddance the only source of our unity? Is it not enough that the Catechism, recent Popes and the Bishops see the need for recourse to capital punishment as practically non existent (cf CCC # 2267). Scripture does ascribe the right of capital punishment to the State. But the Church, through her leaders, has asked the State to have little or no recourse to this right. What if our stance on capital punishment was not rooted in liberalism but in Catholicism? And what if we stood together with the Church on this issue out of respect for what our legitimate teachers and leaders have asked us to do as a prudential rather than a doctrinal matter? Not as democrats, but as Catholics.
And as regards immigration. I can almost guarantee you that even Bishop’s who are predictably conservative on many issues aren’t going to line up with a strong law and order approach to this issue. There are Catholic and Biblical principles which call us to welcome the stranger and the foreigner. Legality is an important issue as well but it is complicated. Many who are currently here illegally came here legally and their status expired and the process of legalization is bewildering. Not all illegal immigrants have flagrantly violated the law in coming here. Hence, while upholding a respect for law the instinct of the Church is also to attend to the humanity of the problem which is often complex. The Catholic position on this will not be (cannot be) strict, law and order, enforcement. The posture for a Catholic ought to be, why does the Church teach in this manner and why are the Bishops as teachers of the faith taking this position? The reasons are Catholic not Democratic.
4. A story– Some few ago when I was pastor of St. Thomas More Parish I joshed with the congregation there, who, by the way, love me exceedingly more that I deserved. But I said, in jest but not without some truth: “When I preached against abortion some said, ‘He is a Republican.’ When I spoke against Capital Punishment some here said, ‘He is a Democrat.’ When I said, Gay marriage is wrong and that Children should not be given condoms some said, ‘See, he is a Republican!’ Then I preached along with the Pope and Bishops expressing concern about going to War in Iraq so quickly, and when we raised millions to build a new Recreation Center for the kids of Southeast, some said, ‘He is a Democrat!’ And all this time I just thought I was a Catholic Christian. “
Well, I may have stirred up a hornet’s nest here. But true Catholicism is radical. It cannot be tamed by any political party or mindset. True Catholicism will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. As it was with Christ, most every one will have reason to hate it, and some will come to love the faith as it is and the Church as she is. In the end we are to be those who are “simply Catholic.” Every other party affiliation, membership, alliance, or connection must yield to the Faith and be judged by it. No worldly thought should ever trump the Faith which God has revealed through the Church. And, even in some matters that are prudential in nature, our alliance to the Church founded by Jesus Christ ought to win the day when it comes giving the benefit of any doubt.
You will surely want to add some distinctions, and a few “yes-buts.” That’s what comments are for. But be careful not to distinguish the main point to death which is that in the end we should be simply, plainly and essentially Catholic.
In this video, Cardinal George and the Chicago Archdiocese are making a similar point very creatively: