To What Political Party Does the Catholic Church Belong?By: Msgr. Charles Pope
What political 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.”
The move by the Bishops to inform the Catholic Faithful on the Mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that all organizations, including religious ones, must pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing “medicine” such as the morning after pill, and sterilizations, has been interpreted by some as a raw political move. To be fair, this move by the Administration is so egregious that many political liberals and conservatives stand largely together in calling for the HHS Mandate to restore the historical religious exemptions that have always marked such policies.
Anti-Obama? But there remain some in this country who see the move by the Bishops as merely “anti-President Obama” and “another example” of the conservative Catholic Church showing itself a mere outpost of the Republican Party. Others, like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sibelius, though Catholic, stand, it would seem both politically AND religiously against the Church.
And thus, this may be a moment to ask, what party is the Roman Catholic Church? Perhaps Republican!? Really? A lot of Republican readers of this other blogs would beg to differ, and have often written here with annoyance to described the Bishops as “liberal” and have indicated disgust at how many Catholics vote Democrat. And Catholic Democrats too take annoyance at the Bishops for being too “conservative” on many issues and not bold enough in matters of Social Justice and the Social teachings of the Church. The fact is, as a huge Church of 70 million, Catholics are as diverse as America. Much to the chagrin of many Catholics themselves who often see their differences as a serious departure from the Gospel on the part of their opponents.
The fact is that the real goal for the Church is to be Catholic, across the board: vigorously pro-life and clear on the sexual and life issues, working to strengthen marriage and the family, vigorously advocating for the poor and immigrants, aware of and advocating all the social teachings, fully embracing subsidiarity, solidarity and justice, standing fore-square against the violence that so permeates our culture, generous, merciful and forgiving; and willing to work in communion with those who authentically advocate these Catholic Principles, even if they focus on some of them in particular. Pro-life Catholics should rejoice that others work for and advocate for the poor, and advocates for the poor should rejoice that some fight for life and to end abortion. Together we can cover all the bases.
The goal is for every Catholic to learn the Catholic faith and be a principled adherent to the faith prior to any political allegiance, or worldview. Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is God and He does not fit into our little categories. Neither does the Church. And hence we are to some extent an “equal opportunity annoyer.” And while we may align with the views of certain political parties and groups in certain matters, we are just as likely to stand opposed to other views of the very same party in other matters.
Is the Catholic Church Republican? Democrat? And what are you? As for me:
- I’m against abortion, and they call me a Republican
- I want greater justice for immigrants, and they call me a Democrat
- I stand against “Gay” “Marriage,” and they call me a Republican
- I work for affordable housing, and stand with unemployed in DC, and they call me a Democrat
- I talk of subsidiarity and they say: “Republican, for sure.”
- I mention the common good, and solidarity and they say, “Not only a Democrat, but a Socialist for sure.”
- Embryonic Stem cell research should end, “See, he’s Republican!”
- Not a supporter of the death penalty, standing with the Bishops and the Popes against it…”Ah, told you! He’s really a Democrat!…Dye in the wool and Yellow Dog to boot!”
Hmm, and all this time I just thought I was trying to be a Catholic Christian. I just don’t seem to fit in. And, frankly, no Catholic should. We cannot be encompassed by any Party as currently defined.
True Catholicism cannot be tamed by any political party or interest group. True Catholicism will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It will annoy both the right and the left, and will also affirm them, it has no permanent allies or opponents. As it was with Christ, most every one will have reason to hate the Church, and some will come to love the her. We are destined to be, with Christ, a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34) that will often be opposed, for we do not simply fit into any on world agenda or party.
In the end we are called 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 (e.g. how best to care for the poor) 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. And while staying in a dialogue with our Bishops, we must also accept their leadership and respect their insights as those designated to teach, govern and sanctify. In the end we should be simply, plainly and essentially Catholic.
Thus, in this case, when the Bishops speak out against the HHS Mandate they are well able to appeal to a principled stance of Catholicism that has not changed, no matter what the culture or the politics of abortion or the sexual revolution have demanded. Who, even among our worst opponents can really claim that the Catholic church has not been consistent on matters of abortion and contraception? And while our culture has shifted its views and allegiances in these matters, the Church has not. Our views are principled and consistent in this regard. Call us conservative today, but tomorrow when another issue like immigration comes up, we who strive to be simply Catholic, will not purely line up with the conservative or Republican party line. Again, our source must be, and is, a consistent reference to the biblical message and the social teachings of the Church that insists, in this case, that the foreigner among us must be treated with respect and justice. And while border security is essential, so is generosity and justice for those who, like our own ancestors, seek opportunity in this land. Not conservative enough? Perhaps not, but Catholic and biblical.
Frankly the Catholic Church is just too big and diverse, our teachings too ancient, biblical and Catholic to fit into a narrow little label like liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. Long after the West as we know it may be gone (pray not), and surely long after political positions have drifted and morphed into other combinations, the Church will still be here articulating and trying to live to the best of her ability the Gospel as set forth by a higher and more lasting authority. We should do and be nothing less than being Simply Catholic.
Please note this is the second in the series of articles responding to some of the criticism of the Church’s opposition to the HHS Mandate. The first article was yesterday and can be read here: Why the Church Won’t Pay for Contraceptives
In this video, Cardinal George and the Chicago Archdiocese are making a similar point very about being Catholic First, creatively: