June 15, 2012
Political partisanship
By Russell Shaw *

By Russell Shaw *

A prominent Republican congressman, a Catholic, says his economic proposals reflect the social doctrine of the Church. Statements from the bishops’ conference dispute that, and some faculty at Georgetown University tell the congressman he isn’t welcome there. (They aren’t known to have objected when, several weeks later, Kathleen Sebelius of ‘HHS mandate’ fame spoke at a Georgetown commencement event.)

The Bishop of Peoria, Ill. likens policies of the Obama administration to the anti-religious stance of the Hitler and Stalin regimes. Some faculty at Notre Dame urge the Bishop to resign as a university trustee for having said so dreadful a thing. (They aren’t known to have objected three years ago when Notre Dame gave Barack Obama an honorary degree despite his pro-abortion views.)

Disturbing? Disconcerting? Symptoms of division in the nation and the Church? As a matter of fact, yes. But let’s not exaggerate. This is how Catholics, like other Americans, typically carry on in an election year.

Nearly two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville captured the messy reality of an American election in these words: “The election becomes the greatest and, as it were, the only matter which occupies people’s minds. Then political factions redouble their enthusiasm, every possible phony passion that the imagination can conceive … comes out into the light of day.”

If you think things have been bad lately, count on it – they’ll get worse before November. Count also on Catholics to do their share of bashing one another along the way.

Against this background, exhortations to civility have become a pious cliché of political discourse. Civility is good, but for people who profess to be members of the Catholic Church, fairness and even – heaven help us! – charity would be better. To that end, here are a couple of suggestions.

For one thing, it would be helpful if Catholics with partisan political commitments stopped accusing the bishops of partisanship whenever they speak up strongly against some Obama policy. It isn’t the bishops’ doing that the Democratic party officially supports legalized abortion and the Republican party officially opposes it. No Catholic prelate twisted President Obama’s arm to get him to support gay marriage. To put it bluntly, allegations of episcopal partisanship are a red herring in this context.

Among other things, the charge ignores the fact that bishops have an obligation to do their jobs as moral teachers, with the political chips falling where they may. Declaring the wrongness of abortion and upholding traditional marriage are unavoidably large parts of what that entails. But anyone who claims these are the only things bishops talk about obviously hasn’t been paying attention and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Nor is it reasonable to accuse bishops of picking on the Obama administration by putting up a fight against its plan to force Catholic institutions to cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients under Obamacare. This, remember, was the administration’s idea, not the bishops’. Did Catholic critics expect the Church to roll over and play dead?  

It would be well, too, if people professionally engaged in applying principles of Catholic social doctrine to complex issues weren’t too quick about judging others. In the case of the Catholic congressman mentioned above, Paul Ryan, his approach may or may not be right – and those who think he’s wrong are free to say so. But a Catholic legislator attempting to be faithful to the Church in an area where the correct application of principles isn’t so clear deserves some slack.

Too much to hope for in an election year? Tocqueville would probably say yes. 

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus


Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic

Liturgical Calendar

April 23, 2014

Wednesday within the Octa ve of Easter

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 28:8-15


Daily Readings

First Reading:: Acts 3:1-10
Gospel:: Lk 24:13-35

Saint of the Day

St. Adalbert of Prague »


Homily of the Day

Mt 28:8-15


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: