If Catholics Were Catholic: Shaping the political landscape

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This is a post speculating on the hypothetical situation “if Catholics were Catholic.”  I know.  It’s a crazy concept.

In many instances, this title could also be called a number of other things and make the same point, including “If Christians were Christian.”  However, calling something “Christian” in our culture, unfortunately, has an increasingly vague and relativistic form of clarity that would make such speculation exponentially conjectural.  On the other hand, talking in terms of the Catholic Church, we have the only Christians with a 2000 year consistent teaching that defines with clarity what it actually means to be “Christian” and “Catholic.”  And it does so with a historical (and magisterial) authority to claim that word along with what it truly means.

The first topic in this category will be about shaping our political landscape.  And the example I will use will be getting rid of pro-abortion politicians.  I know we’ve had a lot of posts on abortion lately due to the election (I’m tired of talking about it too), but that’s because it is an issue that stands out in gravity among all present issues of our day.  It deserves this kind of attention and demands personal, as well as political, action in order to correct this injustice.

And I know we are concerned about many other important issues as well.  And that’s good.  We should be and I want to talk more about those too.  But how can we truly claim to love human life in any of its forms if we do not protect human life in its smallest, most defenseless and innocent form?

So while the election is still fresh on our minds, I want to offer a final few thoughts in regard to this issue that might help.  I am still hopeful in our path forward.

Throughout all of the political campaigning this year we heard from many catholics who were confused as to whether or not they could support a “pro-choice” politician.  Many of the bishops tried to clarify things, but yet we still had people so deeply conflicted and/or improperly catechized that the message seemed to fall on deaf ears.

And adding to the confusion were some high-profile catholics speaking out claiming that a catholic could indeed justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate even when a pro-life candidate was available.  Today’s readings speak of people like this…something about a “millstone,” a “neck,” and “the sea.”

That may sound harsh, but they are either very confused or they are letting their political bias supersede the morals of their faith – and they are leading others astray as they do it.

The problem is this:  They act like our political landscape is fixed.  They accept that because a certain issue is in a party’s platform that we are forced to accept some things we don’t like.  Well I don’t believe that is entirely true.  And that’s why I think it is very disingenuous when someone feels the need to rationalize supporting a pro-choice candidate simply because they agree more with all the other (and lesser) things that candidate happens to stand for.

If catholics actually acted Catholic when we voted we could change the political landscape forever.

Catholics made up about 25% of the 123 million Americans that voted in the last presidential race – so about 30 million catholics voted (of which there are many more that did not vote).  And for our purposes, McCain and Obama pretty much split the Catholic vote – so about 15 million catholics each.  Obama won the popular vote by only about 8 million votes and it was even closer in battleground states.

In other words, for all practical purposes, catholics have the power to easily cover that gap and decide pretty much any election…if we chose to stick together and fight for truth.  No other demographic can really compare in terms of unity in belief (not in America or even the entire world).

The problem is that 1) there are many catholics that claim to be Catholic but do not fully understand what that means and how it should affect their lives and voting, and 2) many Catholics believe they have to compromise on their values when it comes to politics.  Basically, we need to catechize better and we need better Catholic political leadership to create a clear vision that unifies us.

Let’s be clear – it would take one election.  In one election catholics could change the entire political landscape forever.

In the next election, we need to set an ultimatum.  From now on we are only suporting pro-life candidates.  If catholics did that and truly voted that way, no major party would ever run a pro-choice candidate again. Period.  There would be no way they could win.

This should be the answer that these catholic commentators and leaders give when confronted with these political, moral dilemmas.  But they don’t.  Instead, we have people trying to confuse the issue even more for catholics and giving an erroneous impression that catholics can indeed rationalize supporting a pro-abortion candidate under some confusing circumstance.

On the other side, I think we still need more from our bishops and pastors than simply, “tough luck, there is no way to justify supporting abortion.”  Those bishops are right, of course.  But we need still better leadership than that.  We need a proactive vision to be articulated that puts this to rest as a political issue.  And we could do it in one election.

And then we could start discussing which party has better ideas on how to fix all of these other important issues.  Catholics could have legitimate alternatives to choose from without compromising on issues as fundamental as abortion, a right to life, and some of these other pro-life issues.

One election is all it would take.  This is how our country works.  The political landscape is shaped by us – not by two political party platforms.  But it only works if we come together and shape it instead of letting it shape us.

So when any high-profile Catholic comes forward and suggests that we must compromise on our core Catholic morals in order to vote, they are lying to you.  They are portraying us as victims of our politics.  They should be cast aside and sent back to Sunday school.

We need real leaders.  Leaders that will address our two problems noted above – 1) proper catechization and 2) political leadership for catholics.

We need catholic, political leadership that will communicate a clear vision forward.

I know tackling those problems are much easier said than done, but the overall concept is the vision we need to have.  Our political (and therefore social justice) strategy must span more than a single election period.  It must get past “who can I vote for today?” It must also answer “who can we force onto the ballot tomorrow?”

With almost 70 million catholics in the United States, more than any other demographic we have the ability to shape our political landscape.  We just need the faith and the leadership to do it.  And we need catholics to be Catholic.

24 comments Add comment

Deacon John November 10, 2008 at 11:28 am

In this pluralistic America where we have cafeteria Catholics left and right (liberal & conservative), your idea’s seem like a dream. I believe before we have this unity you wrote about, where Catholics would change the world, we will (and are having) have a schism that will tear the American Catholic Church apart. Believe me, it’s there now but will soon be in the open, especially regarding abortion and artificial contraception, women and married priests, and a host of other heresies that are being propagated by the modernists these days. Those who stick with the Holy Father and those bishops who are united with him will be the Remnant and persecuted True Church of the near future. May God have mercy on us!

Joe Henzler November 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

For anyone confused on this issue, I highly recommend Bishop Charles Chaput’s book, “Render Unto Caesar”.

I have only one point of contention with Matt in this whole post, and that is that I will never tire of the anit-abortion fight. The right to life is not just “a” fundamental right, it is THE fundamental right upon which all other rights are based. We see the slow creep of the erosion of all rights through the right to kill the unborn. Via the Freedom of Choice Act, proponents of the Culture of Death are not only seeking the right to kill, they are seeking to force all into complicity of murder; they seek to usurp the right of parents to be primary educators and guardians of children; they look to force us into complicity in mass murder; they hope to muzzle our right to free speech. We must not allow this. Loudly and daily we must speak against this atrocity. Where there is oppression, there must be resistance.

Deacon John – There are neither liberal nor are there conservative Catholics. There are Catholics and there are heretics. A loud and thunderous “AMEN” to your prayer for mercy.

Flip Caderao November 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

Also, you failed to mention that if Catholics were really Catholic, we couldn’t morally vote for either party, republican or democrat. A vote for either is a participation in evil. we would have to invent a third way. We are called to be Holy – to avoid sin – and to never choose “the lesser of two evils”.

Matthew Warner November 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Joe, I may be tired of talking about it, but that doesn’t mean I will give up! It is quite the contrary.

And what I’m trying to get at in this post is that we need to work on more practical ways – new ways – of leading catholics through this to bring about a culture of life and combat this culture of death.

We need to keep fighting the ground battle out on the frontlines but we also need to come together as a demographic with a clear plan – which we do not presently have.

And that plan needs to include primarily 1) evangelizing catholics and teaching them their faith better and 2) cultivating some catholic political leaders that can unify and give vision to pro-life efforts in America over the coming decades – not just a single election cycle.

That might seem like a dream, but it is what we’re called to work toward.

Joe Henzler November 10, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Sorry if I seemed a little rough on you. I realized after I posted that I was a bit terse. I agree fully that we need a plan and I agree with your assessment regarding what that plan needs to entail.

I’m a little touchy for some reason today. Again, my apologies. I agree fully with everything else.

Matthew Warner November 10, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Flip, i believe we are called to limit evil as much as possible. The part you miss is that by not voting (or even arguably by voting for some other third party candidate) you are choosing to allow more evil to occur – therefore actually choosing evil. I just don’t think it is that black and white and the Bishops try to explain that in their faithful citizenship material.

But the point of this article is that we need to leverage our votes as a tool to bring about the changes needed so we are not stuck choosing “the lesser of two evils”in the future.

If we continue to look at each election inside of a bubble and only see our two choices as two evil options, then we miss the opportunity to shape future elections into better alternatives. That’s my point.

Perhaps a “third way” is the right answer – as you suggest. But either way we need leaders to articulate it and unify us so that we can accomplish it together. Right now we’re all running in different directions.

Paul Nichols November 10, 2008 at 2:40 pm

It would seem to me that the tide will turn only when the Vatican II crowd eventually dies off. That might sound a little harsh ( “Dude, that’s harsh” ), but this trouble started with Vatican II, which, combined with the uproar of the 1960’s, threw the Church in America into a tailspin. I honestly believe that the so-called “sexual revolution” of that era has been embraced by the clergy and the laity to such an extent that anything – anything – that encroaches on that must be rejected. Not that so many of them “love” abortion, but they accept abortion as part of that same “revolution”; to throw out one aspect of it is to chip away at the whole.

A few bishops have come out very clear on this matter, but a significant number of them are still just Democrats with a Roman Collar.

There are still so many “cultural Catholics” that they far outnumber those of us who actually see our Catholicism as a “religion”.

“They” still own the parishes (in most places) and the dioceses and certainly the “catholic” colleges and high schools. The tentacles of modernism run deep.

The tide is turning, but I don’t think we’ll see significant change anytime soon. One “good” thing, if you can call it that, is that the culture is falling apart so quickly – and so loudly – that many of the hierarchy have been backed into a corner to the point that they’re almost forced to finally shout Church teaching. What the brave bishops have done in the last 2 election cycles, I think, wouldn’t have happened just 20 years ago.

Lioren November 10, 2008 at 10:31 pm

There is a process of weighing the morality of the platforms, the candidates and the process that must be examined. This US election has provided us much data that will assist us in understanding the way probama voters and others rationalized their vote.
The whole campaign, including the media’s filtering and highlighting news and perceptions, the demonization, misinformation and caricatures of Palin, and of mcCain. There is a repeated pattern of the ‘stupid, extremist, religious nutcase social conservative’ that needs to be examined. It has a great impact on how obamacatholics weighed the moral choice they made in their vote. The perception of Bush also had a part.
Setting aside all of that perception stuff, this is basically related to the moral authority of the pope and the bishops who are faithful to Jesus, His vicar, and the moral teachings of the Church.
We can help in examining the heart of the problem.
I have a suggestion in mind: Our western culture is a gluttonous, addicted culture immersed in unchastity and greed.
The behavior is marked by the word, ADDICT.
The core problem is unchaste people.

Paul Nichols November 11, 2008 at 10:07 am

“The core problem is unchaste people.”

Whether it’s the people who call themselves Catholic, or the people in the country in general, this finds its’ fruit in the rationalizing of practically everything. “Judge not” has become “Make no moral judgements whatsoever”. This leads to something else – if I refrain from judging my neighbors’ behavior, that naturally frees me up to live like a scoundrel.

I get the feeling that, as the hierarchy tightens up on us (as they should), that those on the fringes, the cultural Catholics, will “go their own way”. What will be left will be us poor souls who actually want a God who demands a little something from us.

Dominic Iocco November 11, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I found this blog because of this post and couldn’t agree more. I am beginning several aspects of research in this area because I have had the same thoughts for a long time. Of course these thoughts aren’t all that original:

“…since religion alone…can avail to destroy the evil at its root, all men should rest persuaded that main thing needful is to re-establish Christian morals, apart from which all the plans and devices of the wisest will prove of little avail.” – Rerum Novarum, 62, Given at St. Peter’s May 15, 1891

Now we just need to figure out how to make it happen.

Lioren November 12, 2008 at 3:32 am

I apologize for the incoherence of many of the sentences in my first post above. I should’ve obeyed the rule: sleep, Then post!
(And since I am again tired, I will apologize in advance for any incoherence in the following: )
On Chastity:

The consequences of unchaste behavior upon the rationalizing conscience is only part of the symptom.
Unchaste people Use.
They use and manipulate others, truth, facts, everything, even themselves for their own purposes.
Our culture is an addict culture.
Yet our response to an addict(whether addict to drugs, pleasure, sex, must be Christ’s: love with compassion, hope and joy and truth. Our contracepted, Addicted culture doesn’t know any better, and it is reinforced in that by everything that is seen and heard. It is both abuser and abused.
I believe that JP2’s Personalism provides a philosphical framework of the antidote, and the Theo. of theBody is the theological expression of the church’s teaching viewed through the lens of Personalism.
These are God’s gift to us to deal with the relativism, alienation and materialism all around us.

Regarding this election: We need a chart of the positive and negative value judgments that contributed to the formation of obamacatholics. From this we might be able to posit a decision ‘cloud’.
Then we do the same for the other voting choices that were made.
It could be just the closet pedant in me that wants to figure out what influenced the valuevoter to select the abortion candidate. but deep down I know that it is important, I just don’t fully know why.
I suggest a two pronged approach
1) understand what happened and
2) how to grow a practiced faithful virtue that will assist each person to make wise value judgments concerning the information that the culture provides.

Lioren November 12, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Oh a clarification: I never made the connection between addiction, addict behavior, and chastity;
Unchaste people Use. Addicts are Users.
Users simply cannot practice the principles of subsidiarity when it comes to culture and society. Nor can those who were given formation by Users – unless they explicitly and consciously replace the User impulse with virtues.

Tina Ries January 1, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Hi Matthew,

I read “Render Unto Caesar” before the election and wanted to tell everyone I knew about it. Archbishop Chaput, whom I’m very proud to have as my Archbishop here in Denver, is an amazing teacher. I’ve been fortunate also to hear his homilies at the Cathedral in Denver which is his parish many times.

One of the many things that stuck with me from his book is how Catholics like wearing the Catholic BRAND, but they don’t like to follow what Catholicism teaches. The BRAND is what appeals to so many.

My kids attend a Catholic School here in Denver. I was absolutely astounded at how overwhelmingly in support the parent-body was of Obama—Obama stickers on all the cars in the parking lot. I was one of maybe 2 or 3 cars in the school parking lot that dared to have a McCain sticker on their car. They did a mock election in the school and again, Obama won. It’s like these people have thrown their faith to the wind becasue they’re looking for this new savior to redeem them. Good luck with that.

Dee Richert January 2, 2009 at 9:18 am

I do not agree that Vatican II caused the current heresy of modernism. (Vatican II made the liturgy more accessible to people; it did not give permission for ‘anything goes’.)
The individual choices of individual Catholics, religious and laity alike, are the reason some members of the faith have embraced a truly non-Catholic stance on many issues. However, there are still real Catholics who have live as such, have no problem with the doctrine of the Church, involve themselves in church ministry, teach catechism, serve the needs of the community and, by example, live the faith.
The priests don’t “own” the parishes; technically, the laity do, although I don’t agree with the word ‘own’. The priests are the servants/shepherds of the people. They have only as much ‘power’ as they are allowed. Catholics are free to seek spiritual guidance elsewhere and call their priests/bishops on their departure from Truth.
If the laity sits back and accepts any priest’s heretical behavior or example, than it’s their own fault. Waiting for the bad influences to “die out” is just cowardly. There is power in the Truth and real Catholics are not afraid to express it, share it, live it, and demand their spiritual leaders do so as well.

Doug January 14, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I must not be a good Catholic, nor a good Christian for that matter. As a US citizen, I feel I’m free to manage MY life according to the tenants of my faith, but I’m not free to manage YOUR life by the tenants of my faith. I really doubt I’m anymore morally ambiguous than anyone else on the planet.

Phil January 14, 2009 at 11:37 pm

The world is God’s kingdom; not our democracy, when it comes to morality. We can elect and vote all we want, but it is wrong to vote for what’s evil in the eyes of God. Those who do evil that is said doesn’t hurt anyone do other things or say other things that make others think wrongly. You can’t police every house, nor should violators be stoned, but there should be very uncomfortable punishments for those caught by authorities blaspheming, contracepting, etc.. If executions are for unrepentant threats to society, then so should exile be for those violating moral; laws on purpose.

It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better than letting all go to pot, so as not to possibly become McCarthyist. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is the only one that can do it, if anyone, and the Church ordained many wolves in shepherd’s clothing. 20 years ago, the last Pope could have retired these bishops and bishops from their posts and had put in real shepherds from reputable (for a good reason) seminaries, but didn’t, and so here we are. We have all these apostolates and counter-actors and lazy leaders at the same time. I can understand leaders burning out, but that’s when, as in sports, you make a substitution.

The recent pope has rattled the cage, but he needs to quit traveling and shake off the wolves and dead branches from their jurisdiction as we need shepherds.
We need old disciplines restored, decent architecture, Catholic music only Anglicans seem to sing, etc

formerred January 19, 2009 at 9:02 pm

At a Catholic Church I attended last Sunday, there was a very good presence of pro-life information, and next week, supposedly at all Catholic Church’s nationwide, postcards asking legislatures to vote pro-life will be passed out. I think there are good signs out there, but we need to work and pray that that effort keeps up.
We also have to watch for the promotion of other liberal agendas. Not so much that we should deny fellow Catholics being able to hold liberal positions on some issues, but to speak up and let them know it’s not a Catholic position, but only their own personal one.
When liberal Catholics talk of other issues besides abortion, I say sure there are other reasons to vote Republican, but the life issue is the most important.

Dudley Sharp January 24, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Archbishop Chaput’s major death penalty errors
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Archbishop Chaput relies on the claims of anti death penalty folks when discussing the secular issues. This is a disservice to his flock, as well as to the truth.

In addition, the fact that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty is just the beginning of Pope John Paul II’s death penalty errors within “Evangelium Vitae”, which also suffers from biblical, theological and traditional death penalty errors that were the basis for the Catechism amendments.

One good example is Archbishop Chaput’s essay

http://www.archden.org/dcr/news.php?e=120&s=2&a=2774

All of the facts he uses are either false or unproven anti death penalty claims.

He must do better.

Kimi February 27, 2009 at 7:09 pm

” But how can we truly claim to love human life in any of its forms if we do not protect human life in its smallest, most defenseless and innocent form?”

Protecting the smallest and most defenseless is not a black and white issue. That is why we need to use faith and reason to make the most life-affirming decisions. By menstruating this month, I flushed an ova down the toilet. To protect my human ova, should I get pregnant at every chance I get? Or at some point, does my ability to feed and protect my living, breathing, talking children outweigh the need to protect quantity of human life?

If I am living at the end of my rope struggling to stop myself from becoming abusive toward my children, or if I know that another pregnancy will cause my husband to become increasingly violent in a life-threatening way toward us all, is it really that clear that I should put my children’s lives in danger in order to protect a zygote? If I do what it takes to protect those children rather than increase the stress that has accelerated the level of violence in my home? When does generating life destined to live in degrading abusive environments of human trafficking somehow become more moral than doing my best to create a world in which I have the resources to love, honor, and protect my existing children? And how on earth can any human believe that he or she can take God’s place and judge others on these issues?

.

Kimi February 27, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I agree that Catholics should act to reduce the need for abortion. Unfortunately, efforts to make abortion illegal have been misguided. If we look to countries around the world, making abortion illegal simply does not correlate with the rate of abortion. Some of the countries with the highest rates of abortion are those where abortion is highly restricted (such as in many Latin American countries) and some of the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those where abortion has few restrictions, such as the Netherlands and other countries of western Europe.

If Catholics were Catholic, we would learn from countries who have been much, much more successful than us in keeping the need for abortion to a minimum. We would learn about interventions that save more money than they cost (because unplanned pregnancies are more likely to create babies with lifelong health needs and reduce the parents’ ability to become economically self-sufficient). We’d learn that treating kids with respect and helping them develop the skills they need to make wise decisions is much more effective than preaching at them and telling them what they should do. Preaching usually leads to rebellion because it treats young people like they are infants, incapable of thinking for themselves. They tend to become irresponsible in their decision making since we don’t help them learn to think.

There’s so much more we could be doing. We can learn a lot from our European sisters and brothers.

GMT March 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Thank you for this article. How any Catholic can vote for a politician in favor of abortion is beyond me. However, there has been a time when the church told us that it is better to vote than not to vote and if there are no pro-life candidates to chose the one who is “the lesser evil.” Hm, talk about confusion!
You have my full support, and I also want to point out that we need more than ever follow our good Lady of Fatima and pray the rosary daily! I urge all of you to do so, and thank you for helping to strengthen our Catholic unity! God bless you all!

chelsea s. April 23, 2009 at 11:07 am

Flip:

As Citizens (Catholic or not), we all have obligations to the States: Patriotism, Military service, Payment of Taxes, Voting and Obedience to the Law (unless, however, the law commands an immoral act- then we are obliged to disobey because of our duties to God take precedence over our duties to sate)
Thus, we have an obligation to vote as an informed citizen; we should vote intelligently. At times, if no candidate presents a moral position, then we would be justified in not voting. We should make our voting decisions on the basis of which candidate is closest to Catholic moral principles, and is most likely to fulfill the basic purpose of government- which, as explained by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, is to lead man to his ultimate good.

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