With the very strange goings on in evangelical Protestant circles toward Mormonism, especially those led by the amiable denier Mike Huckabee, , one begins to see importance in the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who insisted on a separation of Church and state. For instance, when the Holy See wrote President Jefferson to ask what say he expected to have in the naming of Catholic bishops, he politely wrote back that in America there was no such interference. Indeed, it would seem that such a division has worked most to their benefit; as it isn’t in Europe or in the Middle East, the churches under this division have been left free to practice their beliefs.
That does not mean that you and I do not make moral judgments in politics. We do. But it is one thing to have one’s judgments informed by ethics, religious traditions, and philosophy. It is something else for priests and ministers to tell their congregations how to vote and for whom to vote for.
The Catholic Church in America, starting with the great bishops Carroll and Gibbon, insisted on respecting the US Constitution’s guarantee of liberties for all peoples. They did well with that principle, which despite the Vatican’s disagreement in the 19th century, eventually was embodied in the works of Jesuit John Courtney Murray and eventually in the understandings of Vatican II.
Since abortion has become a public issue, the Catholic hierarchy has decide to make partisan appeals to its laity-an actual violation of the Vatican II statements. Some neo-conservatives in the Catholic community like Father Richard Neuhaus, formerly a Lutheran minister, has decided that it is his role to preach the need for a “public square” in which religious denominations are allowed to run rampant over the civil liberties of others. Oddly enough, when he was a Lutheran, he wrote that the Catholic Church has benefited from religious diversity and has been successful by persuasion in asserting its strict values. Now we get him on conservative TV, especially Mother Angelica’s EWTN, and he has become the guardian of everybody’s conscience. When he was asked if John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Houston Baptists was a denial of his faith, he agreed, and added arrogantly that Kennedy wasn’t much of a Catholic. Thus speaks Rome.
But the most egregious movement is the insistent fundamentalist Catholic elements led by opportunists like Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and some bishops in the Midwest to push the rest of the Catholic bishops into a declaration that all Catholic politicians who do not agree to repeal Roe v. Wade should be denied the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the very center of worship for Catholics of all stripes. The recent session of the US Conference of Bishops has insisted that abortion and euthanasia are top tier moral issues, and the destruction of war, poverty, the state and the environment are lesser concerns. I am not sure where Jesus says any of that but who cares?
In any case, now Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, whose diocese has been racked by pedophilia (before he came), has decided that he can somehow make up for that bad press by insisting that the issue is now abortion. Even more troubling, he has called the Democratic Party “extremely incentive to the church’s position on the Gospel of life in particular and on other moral issues.” I don’t recall him speaking up once on the destruction of Iraq, or about the destruction of the orthodox Catholic community which has been there since the time of the Apostles and which speaks the language of Jesus, Aramaic. O’Malley’s other great crusade in Boston is the leading voice of intolerance toward gays in Massachusetts. A Cardinal Richard Cushing he ain’t.
More moderate members of the hierarchy like Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio of Brooklyn, and Theodore Cardinal McCormick of Washington DC, have tried to steer the Catholic clergy away from attacks on the Democratic Party-especially on political leaders. But they are clearly in a minority.
So what is to be done as we approach this presidential election? Well, opportunists like Pavone, who raced down to Terri Schiavo’s death bed, , are continuing their television appeals to Catholics and urging them to be one issue voters, to get on those deletions. Yet, the leaders of the Democratic Party like Ted Kennedy, Nancy Polios, Joe Bidden, and Chris Dodd are Roman Catholic and support Roe v. Wade.
Why a church declining so much in the United Sates (and in Europe) wants to cut itself off from the majority party is difficult to explain. In part, it is the belief that we are right, and we cannot temporize with expediency. If that is so, and Catholic politicians that support abortion rights are to be permanently cut off, in a sense excommunicated from the Church of their fathers, then that same rule must apply across the globe. The Church bishops must excommunicate Catholics in Italy, in Ireland, in Spain, in France, in Canada, in England, and even in beloved Poland where abortion rights exist. The first bishop to start should not be in St. Louis or Louisville, but the bishop of Rome should set example. The pope should excommunicate all Italian politicians and political figures who support abortion, divorce, gay rights, and euthanasia in his diocese.
Increasingly, American bishops have become shills for the Republican Party, just as African American ministers have become cheerleaders for the Democrats. Let us give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. And if we see that political issues have a moral context, then let us persuade each other and not use the legal process to force down each other’s throats our views or call minority faiths like Mormonism deviant and un-American. This Christmas season deserves better.