Skip to comments.Should politicians toe their church line?
Posted on 11/30/2003 3:07:00 PM PST by madprof98
Catholic bishops may punish those who vote contrarily
"Weaseling out" is what one Catholic bishop calls it, referring to the way some politicians will try to have it both ways on abortion personally taking a stand against it but voting for abortion rights anyway.
Earlier this month, at their national conference in Washington, D.C., the nation's bishops agreed to ask a task force to study whether the church should punish those Catholic politicians who vote contrary to church teachings on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage and the death penalty.
The proposal raises questions about the relationship between religious belief and political stance, questions that always resonate in Utah, where the vast majority of politicians belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Should a church expect its members to vote a certain way on moral issues? Should a politician who votes against the moral teachings of his religion be allowed to call himself a Catholic or Mormon or Muslim? How often do religions already chastise their members who are politicians?
The bishops' task force on sanctions is a response to a Vatican document last winter outlining the responsibilities of Catholics who are actively engaged in politics. That document, in turn, was apparently the result of longtime frustrations over the abortion-rights stances of high-profile politicians such as Sen. Edward Kennedy and presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.
The Vatican message, says Bishop George Niederauer of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, was meant to encourage Catholics to see their conscience not just as a "private compartment" but something that influences the conduct of every aspect of their lives, including the way they vote.
Politicians and voters need to "come to grips with that compartmentalizing," says Niederauer. "I don't think personal convictions are like raisins in a cake and you can just pick them out." So a politician shouldn't say, for example, "I'm personally opposed to abortion but I can't impose my moral judgment on others." All of the teachings of the Catholic Church, he says, spring from a common foundation of believing in "the precious value of every individual human life."
On the question of punishment for politicians who vote contrary to church teachings, however, Niederauer is more equivocal. "I think we are a church that is concerned with salvation of souls and the welfare of human kind. So we're not eager to drum people out." The church needs to be patient and caring, he says, in the same way that a parent would be, seeking a dialogue with those politicians. Actual punishment would have to be decided on an individual basis, he says.
Punishments discussed at the national bishops conference included refusing to allow errant politicians to speak at Catholic institutions, not allowing them to receive the Holy Eucharist, and excommunication. Niederauer notes that his predecessor in Salt Lake City, who later became bishop of Sacramento, Calif., encouraged then- Gov. Gray Davis to abstain from receiving communion because of his abortion-rights stance, and that the bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D., told Sen. Tom Daschle to remove from official paperwork any mention of his being Catholic.
But politics is always the art of compromise, says Niederauer, quoting Pope John Paul II. In order to get legislation passed against capital punishment, for example, Catholic politicians may have to compromise on specific provisions. That, too, has to be taken into account.
Former legislator and mayoral candidate Frank Pignanelli remembers voting against a 1991 bill to restrict abortions in Utah because he thought the bill was unconstitutional. A few days after the vote, Pignanelli went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and discovered that his bishop and two priests were waiting for him. "The priests said they were severely and dramatically disappointed in me," remembers Pignanelli, who was House minority leader. Later, the bishop invited Pignanelli and other Catholic legislators over for lunch to again express his disappointment in them.
Utah legislators who are Catholic are in a tough position, Pignanelli says, because the Catholic Church's position on abortion is even more conservative than the LDS position, yet many Catholics are Democrats who are often pro-choice and Catholic women tend to seek abortions at high rates.
What about LDS politicians? Are they expected to vote in accordance with church teachings on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage? What about other issues the church might have a stake in, such as the development of the Crossroads Mall? Are LDS politicians ever called on the carpet by church leaders?
"I think the leadership makes a distinction between policy and practice," says University of Utah political science professor Ted Wilson. So someone like Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is LDS, can come out as an abortion-rights candidate, "as long as he doesn't personally get involved with an abortion situation," says Wilson.
Church members, on the other hand, "perceive it in a more hard-line fashion," he says. An issue like abortion becomes a litmus test for candidates, he says. "Those (Mormon politicians) who are pro-choice don't worry about the church punishing them, but they're scared silly of the voter."
Wilson says he has never heard of politicians being chastised by church leaders because of a political position. Ditto, says Farmington Mayor Dave Connors, who once voted to keep the town's swimming pool open on Sundays.
"I never felt any pressure one way or the other from any church source on that issue," says Connors, who is LDS.
In describing his position on the pool closure, Connors uses the very phrase that infuriates Catholic bishops: "I said I wouldn't be in the pool on Sunday, but it's not my right to tell someone else what they should do on Sunday."
Connors, who notes that he spent the first half of his life as a Catholic, says the intersection of conscience, religion and politics is "an interesting dilemma, not just for the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church but for all religious leaders." And for politicians who are religious, he adds.
Do LDS politicians in Utah mostly just vote the way their church wants them to?
"Most elected officials feel there should be a separation of church and state," Connors says. "At the same time we are who we are. I was raised a certain way. I have certain values. There's no way I could say that my background doesn't affect how I analyze issues. That's a part of the package when you elect someone. You elect a person, not a conduit to express the majority views." Religion, he says, "is one of the many factors you fall back on as you analyze an issue. But in my mind that doesn't dictate a resolve."
Former state legislator Dave Thomas, who is LDS, says he hopes the Catholic Church doesn't adopt sanctions against maverick politicians. "I believe the Constitution is a sacred document. It calls for some real separation between church and state."
Salt Lake City Council member Jill Remington Love agrees.
"As elected officials we should feel free to vote our conscience," says Love, who is LDS. She recently voted on a council matter that went against a business concern of her church she voted to allow Nordstrom to move to The Gateway even though her church lobbied against the move and says no church leader called her later to complain. "I would be surprised to hear that an elected official (in Utah) has been called in or called on the carpet because of a vote." She adds, however, that "I think they (church leaders) do a good job of articulating their position on the front end."
"My father reminded me of a JFK quote," says Love, paraphrasing the words of President John F. Kennedy that a politician is elected to serve the people who elected him, not the church he belongs to.
"Coming from a community where we do have the presence of one religion that's very strong," says Love, "I've always hoped churches would show restraint when it comes to political issues. It's OK for any church to take a stand on moral issues, but they should let elected officials do their job."
Task force? Consistency?
If there is an issue of concern, isn't the Bible at hand to help resolve such issues?
Alas, the Churches way of resolving issues can be confusing at times.
A politician who works the church for votes on Sunday morning and puts his religious affiliation all over his brochures, then votes against the tenets of his religion, is not only a liar, he's a traitor. He's getting a benefit from the church and then betraying it.
That's what you'd say about a man who was hired to work for a company, but sneaks around undermining his supposed employer and working for its largest competitor. Why should it be any different for politicians?
ADDRESS TO SOUTHERN BAPTIST LEADERS
I am grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only ninety miles off the coast of Florida -- the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power -- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor's bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.
But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe -- a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test -- even by indirection -- for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none -- who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill -- and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened "the freedoms for which our forefathers died."
And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths, that denied office to members of less favored churches, when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today -- the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes and McCafferty and Bailey and Bedillio and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.
I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress -- on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I attended myself) -- and instead of doing this do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we have all seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here -- and always omitting of course, that statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation.
I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts -- why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution at any time, by anyone, in any country.
And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland -- and the independence of such statesmen as de Gaulle and Adenauer.
But let me stress again that these are my views -- for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.
I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me.
Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected -- on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office, and I hope any other conscientious public servant would do likewise.
But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election. If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate satisfied that I tried my best and was fairly judged.
But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency -- practically identical, I might add with the oath I have taken for fourteen years in the Congress. For, without reservation, I can, and I quote "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution so help me God."
Source: New York Times, September 13, 1960.
The United Methodist Women gave money (raised through "undesignated giving" )to lobby Bill Clinton to veto the ban on partial birth abortion. Many churches, under pressure from vocal radicals within their membership sponsor "social justice" agendas that have nothing to do with following Christ.
It is one of the strange quirks of Christianity that the Church thrives most when its members are willing to stand up to opposition and share in the suffering of Christ through persecution. In fact, if Christians are not facing persecution in this world, then we are probably not doing our job.
Although I am not a big fan of "bumper sticker theology" it is still a good question: "If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
For men like Thomas More and Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the answer in their times, was "yes."
The guy who's the origin of the "leave my faith (if any) at the door" philosophy? Ew . . .
What's that supposed to mean?
It has been found that "finances before conviction" has been a promoted concern with religious "foundations" in the past.
We are getting into unknown territory. But the traditional belief is that Purgatory is the place where venial sins and the remaining effects of confessed mortal sins are purged away. If you die with mortal sins on your head, you are in trouble. And there are few worse sins than being responsible for the murder of thousands of innocents.
Even this could be confessed and repented. I have no idea what the state of Kennedy's soul is, but it's also a traditional belief that if you confess sins with no real contrition and no intention of amending your ways, the confession is valueless. Kennedy obviously intends to keep voting for abortion every chance he gets, so it probably would do little or no good for him to confess his past sins in this area until he resolves to change his ways.
And you consider him a role model for sacrificing his religion for power?
But if they want to call themselves Catholic they had better adhere to core Church doctrines. We're talking about a small handful of issues - not supplemental MOhair funding. Or even the war in Iraq.
Otherwise they probably need to consider another denomination more amenable to their views.