Sunday, October 5, 2008

Defining liberal values as Catholic values.

From the NY Times: the Democrats contest the Catholic vote:
In a departure from previous elections, Democrats and liberal Catholic groups are waging a fight within the [Roman Catholic] church, arguing that the Democratic Party better reflects the full spectrum of church teachings......

The escalating efforts by more-liberal Catholics are provoking a vigorous backlash from some bishops and the right......

Conservatives argue that ending legal protections for abortion outweighs almost all other issues, while liberals contend that social programs can more effectively reduce the abortion rate than trying to overturn Supreme Court precedents. They cite a 2007 statement from the United States bishops explicitly condoning a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if the vote was cast for other “grave” reasons......

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, many liberal Catholics complained that parishes had distributed millions of copies of a voter guide created by a group called Catholic Answers that highlighted five “nonnegotiable” issues: abortion, stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

In response, liberal groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance quickly began preparing alternative guides emphasizing a broader spectrum of the church’s social justice teachings.

Then the Bishops Conference, perhaps to forestall a blizzard of competing pamphlets, all but banned third-party voter guides from parishes, requiring the explicit endorsement of the presiding bishop.

But some, including the bishop of La Crosse in Wisconsin, a swing state, have nevertheless chosen to authorize distribution of the “nonnegotiable” guides this year. The liberal groups are trying to distribute their material through direct mail and at meetings of lay Catholic groups....
Read the whole thing.

So here's my puzzle. I'm marrying a very active Catholic, and a whole slew of Catholics will attend our wedding with no problem. In fact, most of the Catholics I know are impressive social-justice Catholics, who defend the powerless, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned, etc etc and are very supportive of us. I actually don't know their views on abortion, but suspect that many are similar to my partner, who is personally opposed but unwilling to impose her religion on others nor elevate it to an election issue, and who considers that preventing the NEED for abortion is something upon which we can all agree and towards which we can all work.

The puzzle? Why does everyone think all Catholics are conservatives being pushed by one side or the other? I'm sure that some of the older people in the parish are conservative, and the clergy, but lots of people in our cohort (we're in our 40s) certainly identify as progressives or liberals. It seems that Catholics quite cheerfully live lives of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which I suppose is not surprising in an authoritarian institution!

13 comments:

James said...

It's because all the press reports are official statements by the leadership of the RC church, who are stuck in the 15th century. No one takes the time to ask the members in the pews what they think.

rick allen said...

Most of us Catholics understand, I think, that the bishops' job is to proclaim the gospel, govern the church, and sanctify the people. In matters of faith and morals there is an undeniable unity, which we expect the bishops to uphold. It's not that they are stuck in the fifteenth century. We hope that they are stuck in the first, i.e., that they are passing on the faith received from the apostles, as developed by the Holy Spirit in the Church through the centuries.

It is one thing to know what is right or wrong; it is quite another to know how to react to it politically. So that, say, in the matter of abortion, there is little question about the witness of the faith, that those in the womb are among those "least of these" who, from the witness of the Didache, to Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, are not chattles, but persons, whose lives can be extinquished only for the gravest reason.

That does not necessarily mean, though, that those who propose protecting them with the criminal laws are automatically entitled to a Catholic's vote. There is the question of sincerity--the Republicans have controlled government for most of the last 8 years, and have done nothing to protect the unborn. There is the question of efficacy--what if there are other, better, more effective ways to reach the same goal? There is of course the very important fact that there are other equally vital issues--war, imperialism, poverty.

Different clergy weigh these things differently, as do different laypeople. I have no problem with the clergy sharing their understanding of how they see that weighing, just as the vast majority of them have no problem understanding that the laity have the right to themselves weigh all the prudential considerations that go into any political act.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Rick. We don't have to challenge the teaching authority of the Church to debate how Catholics should vote.

JCF said...

a voter guide created by a group called Catholic Answers that highlighted five “nonnegotiable” issues: abortion, stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

That's what I keep pitching into my recycling box, when I get my hands on them! ;-/

***

there is little question about the witness of the faith, that those in the womb are among those "least of these" who, from the witness of the Didache, to Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, are not chattles, but persons, whose lives can be extinquished only for the gravest reason.

I question it.

Christianity has never been a religion like Jainism, considering ALL life inviolable (more power to 'em. Rather like the Mad Priest, I consider their way a superior one, which I'm just too weak---in my love of meat, and hatred of mosquito bites!---to follow personally)

No, Christianity---at its best, anyway---has only considered human life as sacred.

This (to me) naturally begs the question, "WHAT is human life?" (rather than the more rote, assumption-presupposing "When does human life begin?", which demogogues are so fond of)

How do we distinguish life which is "human", from that which are burgers, or leather jackets, or smushed under foot? [or, if found in the human body, to be extinguished by way of antibiotics?]

I don't pretend to have infallible answers on this (and I mean this sincerely, not just because I poo-pooh a supposedly infallible pronouncement like Humanae Vitae---though I do!).

All I know is what I don't find convincing (much less, legally authorative!): that life becomes sacred, becomes human, SIMPLY because it has Homo sapiens DNA, and/or is reproducing (cell division and complexity) within the uterus of the human female.

While, as an Anglican, I'm not cavalier about certain . . . suggestions in this subject, from Scripture and Tradition, this is an area where I find myself (my interested self, having one of those uteruses mentioned above) giving priority to Reason.

My reason.

My reason---not persuaded by sloppy "sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death" shorthands.

How I wish I found dialogue that went deeper...

Counterlight said...

More proof that we should never judge a church by its hierarchy. I strongly suspect that in those Anglican churches strongly hostile to the Episcopal Church, even in churches where the bishop is king (literally), there is a far more complex and wider spectrum of opinion among the lower clergy and laity.

Then there is the very ancient example of the Italians, who've (reluctantly) hosted the Papacy for almost 2000 years. Smile and bow as obsequiously as possible to His Holiness. Say strongly and affirmatively "Si Santissimo!" And then ignore him completely.

Trey said...

Have you heard about Father Geoff, coming out against Proposition 8, and coming out?

http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=6431105

What an amazing thing to do.

rick allen said...

"Say strongly and affirmatively "Si Santissimo!" And then ignore him completely."

Same as we do with God.....

rick allen said...

"How I wish I found dialogue that went deeper..."

It's out there if you want it. This is one of those topics I find almost impossible to discuss after years and years of it. For myself, I came to a position on abortion before I became a Catholic, through a kind of moral reasoning relatively independent of religious tradition. Nowadays I put rather less reliance on such thinking, but see it as consistent with tradition and, almost as importantly, consistent with intuitions of value and the experience of my own children's coming into being.

Counterlight said...

""Say strongly and affirmatively "Si Santissimo!" And then ignore him completely."

Same as we do with God....."

And yet, I don't think Vittorio Emmanuele (a devout Catholic who heard Mass every morning) ever had any interest in firing canon at God the way he did at Pio Nonno. God was not the one standing with foreign occupiers against Italian independence and unification.

Rome just hasn't been the same ever since it lost it's last annointed "Caesar" Franz Joseph after WWI.
How do you keep up that monarchical absolutism in a world gone republican and constitutional, where there just aren't anymore peasants, only citizens?

Arkansas Hillbilly said...

Part of it also is that the "non-negotiable" stance is what is preached over Catholic avenues such as "Relevant Radio" "EWTN", etc. Just like with Protestant Christianity, when it is the only "voice" shouting in the dark, it's the one that gets the attention. Until we progressives, both Catholic and Protestant, begin shouting just as loudly and passionately about our views, we will be lumped in with the Right by folks like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. Sorry to have to say it, but it's the truth. That's where we've messed up over the years.

rick allen said...

"How do you keep up that monarchical absolutism in a world gone republican and constitutional, where there just aren't anymore peasants, only citizens?"

By keeping in mind that Christianity, though it has political implications, is not fundamentally a political system, and that, with respect to the church, we are neither citizens nor peasants, but "the flock" of Christ, and that those without are in the same condition, but "sheep without a shepherd."

This is, I know, a great stumbling block for many, as was apparent in a discussion below. I myself see no imperative to replicate in the constitution of the Church the model of the 19th century liberal republic (which I think is what much contemporary sound and fury is ultimately about).

Historically the independence of the Church has been thought important enough to accord to its earthly pastor some degree of political independence. That separate political status has justified the occasional heaving of cannon balls at the Sucessor of Peter when he was wearing his monarch's hat. The current arrangement, though not without its problems, is much preferable to the old Papal States. But the strange anamoly of the status in international law of Vatican City should not obscure the fact that the pope's monarchal role is in service to his role as bishop, as pastor.

By the same token, Christianity is not fundamentally about exercising rights in the Church, or making the Church the expression of my desires and ideals. It is about making the gospel real in our lives, and in the world. We need not remake the form of the Church to continue doing what our ancestors in the faith have done.

"Until we progressives, both Catholic and Protestant, begin shouting just as loudly and passionately about our views, we will be lumped in with the Right by folks like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins."

From what I know of Maher and Dawkins, they have more contempt for the progressive, educated theists than for the yahoos. At least the ignorant have an excuse for their superstition.

Eileen said...

It is about making the gospel real in our lives, and in the world. We need not remake the form of the Church to continue doing what our ancestors in the faith have done.

The first part of your statement would indicate, to my mind at least, that the institution of the church is indeed subject to reform - especially if one views living the gospel as the ultimate in spiritual reformation, and listens for the spirit to move from that position.

But then again, that's why I'm not RC anymore.

Counterlight said...

"By keeping in mind that Christianity, though it has political implications, is not fundamentally a political system, and that, with respect to the church, we are neither citizens nor peasants, but "the flock" of Christ, and that those without are in the same condition, but "sheep without a shepherd.""

And yet, church hierarchies and constitutions are (and always have been) very political. Until very recently, the Pope claimed an earthly dominion. The office of bishop is a very political office. The only difference between now and the Middle Ages is that bishops don't put on armor and lead armies into battle (at least not yet). I sometimes wonder if so much our theology is but a projection of our own politics onto heaven. The Roman Catholic heaven has always struck me as a remarkably bureaucratic heaven complete with a hierarchy and proper channels, just like the earthly church. By the same token, Calvinists visualize heaven as a great celestial Geneva of the Saints.

I wonder if monarchy still works even as a metaphor for God. Kings going back to the days of the pharaohs thought of themselves as shepherds of their people. Both pope and pharaoh include a shepherd's crook among their regalia. The Egyptians called themselves their pharaoh's cattle.
I suspect Our Lord meant something very different in His use of that metaphor.