Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Fundamental Flaw of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement on Politics and Public Life

By Michael J. Gaynor posted Jun 29, 2004, 00:03

I've been really struggling with this conference decision. I don't want to use the Eucharist as a political tool, but I don't think evoking Canon 915 is doing so. Then, when the bishops wont do it, it makes you wonder. Am I missing something here? Where's the unity with the American Catholic Church and the Holy Father? I wish I could speak to a priest or bishop about this, but I fear my pastor and bishop are too liberal.

This article really helps.

1 comment:

Jcecil3 said...


I don't know how seriously you are asking whether you are missing something, but in case you are very serious, I'll take my best shot at explaining briefly.

First, canon 915 needs to be viewed in tension with canon 912, with a bias towards 912. It's sort of like civil courts in the U.S., presume innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

When applicable, canon 915 permits a Bishop to use denial of communion to a person who persistently denies essential church doctrine, or lives in persistent sin.

Kerry has not denied doctrine. he has consistently said he personally opposes abortion - thus affirming the doctrine of the Church that abortion is immoral. People tend to distrust the sincerity of his statement of personal opposition to abortion, but that's not a judgment we can make. Remember, our bias has to be towards innocence, and unless he clearly says he denies the teaching, we have to presume he means exactly what he says.

But is he in sin by the way he votes?

Many people think the answer is an obvious yes, since abortion is murder, and a vote to allow abortion is a vote to allow murder. Some Bishops have clearly implied this as well (such Burke and Sheridan).

However, there are a few other teachings of the Church that need to be considered. First, when Kerry says there is a separation of Church and state, he is not merely quoting secular philosophy. This was explicitly taught in GS 76. He is doctrinally correct on this matter.

Along those lines, many Bishops and theologians hold that Gaudium et Spes clarifies that the separation of Church and state put a politician in a moral bind where she or he is simultaneously instructed to represent Church teaching on issues effecting the common good, and instructed to fully respect live out the implications of the political mechanisms of his nation.

Practically, what this means is that in a pluralistic representative democracy, a Catholic policitician has a moral obligation to represent her or his constituents even when those constituents hold views contrary to the Church's teaching.

While the individual Catholic voter must consider a pro-life stance on abortion as a dominant issue in his or her voting choices, a policitian must balance personal conviction with an honest representation of the views of her or his constituents. It is very difficult to judge the internal workings of a politician's mind in how he will balance these moral obligations.

GS 28 states: God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.Thus, we need to be very careful about saying that John Kerry's public actions as a representative of his constituents make him internally guilty of living in persistent sin.

Short of excommunication, denying someone communion is considered the the ultimate penalty that can be imposed on a Catholic. It's sort of like invoking a spiriatual equivalent of the death penalty.

The Bishops are saying that such a harsh penalty should not applied in such a gray area - and especially when it runs the risk of making the Bishops look partisan (and many Bishops strongly oppose Bush as much as they oppose Kerry).

Instead, of using such a harsh penalty, the Bishops have wisely stated their strong opposition to abortion and taken it upon themselves to be more clear and persuasive in their oppossition. Furthermore, they have suggested that lesser penalties be used if penalties must be invoked at all. I think this was a perfectly just, orthodox, and wise solution.

Peace and blessings!