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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bishop Olmsted's Voter's Guide

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix recently issued a Catholic voter's guide called "Catholics in the Public Square." The voter's guide offers an excellent summary of Catholic social teaching and its implications in American political elections. Of particular interest to me was the guide's reference to various recent statements made by Pope Benedict (some of which had apparently eluded me).

The guide states:


Are there any "non-negotiable" issues for Catholics involved in politics?

There are several issues that are "not negotiable" for Catholics in political life, because they involve matters that are intrinsically evil. In an address to European politicians on March 30, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI stated: " As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

The issues mentioned by Pope Benedict are all "non-negotiable" and are some of the most contemporary issues in the political arena. I should note, however, that other issues, while not intrinsically evil, deserve prayerful consideration, such as questions of war and capital punishment, poverty issues and matters relating to illegal immigration.


Do bishops and priests have the right to intervene in political, social, or cultural matters?

Bishops and priests are not to participate in the public administration of the government. Nonetheless, they do have the right, and sometimes an obligation, to speak out on political, social, or cultural matters impacting the Church or the common good.

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (28), Pope Benedict XVI states: "It is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest."

The Holy Father goes on to write (ibid): " The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to awaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper."

[emphasis added]


My Comments: These last quotes from Deus Caritas Est are very interesting as Pope Benedict makes it clear that the Church's role is not to take part in political battles and not to attempt to bring about the most just society possible. Instead, the Church's primary role is to form consciences. Once the laity have been properly formed, it is up to them to engage the world in politics. I am happy to see that Bishop Olmsted is drawing attention to this important teaching. Unfortunately, Bishop Olmsted's brother bishops in the USCCB and other bishop conferences seem ignorant of this teaching and appear intent on interfering in political issues that should best be left to the lay organizations to address.

For example, in Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference recently has issued its position in opposition to Proposal 2 (which seeks to ban affirmative action which uses preferential treatment) and more recently has taken a position in opposition to Proposal 5 (regarding funding of public schools). Regardless of one's position on these issues, one must question why the Catholic Church in Michigan believes it is necessary to make its political opinions known on these issues -- I mean, is there really a Catholic position on the funding of public schools?

One of the real problems that results from the announcement of such opinions by the local hierarchy is that then those members of the laity that are engaged in politics and have legitimately reached different conclusions as to these issues are made to look as if they are in dissent from Church teaching. This then makes it that much harder for these members of the laity to influence public opinion.

Unfortunately, in addressing political issues here in Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference is merely following the long-standing principle of the USCCB which, rather than forming the consciences of the faithful on the moral principles underlying Catholic social teaching, routinely attempts to influence wide-ranging political issues from illegal immigration to the minimum wage.

Let us hope and pray that Bishop Olmsted's voter's guide will influence Catholics everywhere (including Bishop Olmsted's brother bishops).