Watchdog Blog

Mary C. Curtis: Catholics Count, Again

Posted at 10:21 pm, October 29th, 2008
Mary Curtis Mug

Every four years, Catholics matter.

We get a lot of non-Catholics telling us how we have to vote, what issues matter most and why we will go to hell if we don’t listen to their advice.

Bishops and priests weigh in, telling us in letters and from the altar that we should vote. Sometimes they come awfully close to telling us the “right” choice.

It was only four years ago that some bishops threatened to withhold the Eucharist from John Kerry and any pro-choice politician. Others disagreed, preferring not to use the body and blood of Christ as a weapon. George Bush won the Catholic vote.

So it’s no surprise that a week until the big election, there’s a flurry of activity on the Catholic vote front.

Here in Charlotte, N.C., we had a letter from the bishops of Charlotte and Raleigh read at Mass last Sunday.

It said, in part: “The Catholic Church proclaims a consistent ethic of life that covers a wide range of issues: the family, global solidarity, human life, social justice, environmental stewardship…While all these issues are important, the intentional destruction of innocent human life is an intrinsic evil that can never be supported, and the protection of human life from conception to natural death is preeminent among our moral values.”

It’s pretty clear to read the lines as well as between them and claim abortion as the No. 1 issue. You’ll get no argument from conservative Catholic groups if you come to that conclusion.

But there was a more nuanced message at a weekend meeting with Father James Hug, a Jesuit priest out of Washington, who is president of the Center of Concern. The center is described as a “a faith-based organization working in collaboration with ecumenical and interfaith networks to bring a prophetic voice for social and economic justice to a global context.”

Of course, some might say his Jesuit status makes his Catholicism questionable. Hug talked about the need to think critically about issues ranging from education to health care to housing. He talked about the evils of torture, racism and genocide.

While he said that Catholics are not single-issue voters, he did affirm the values of compassion, fairness and, yes, life. He said Catholic could disagree on the best way to achieve that culture of life. If the end is protecting life and reducing the number of abortions, the means could be to vote for someone who supports services that enable families to keep their children.

Both the bishops’ letter and Hug send Catholics to, where all sides can find quotes to support their views.

On the site, the bishops’ statement–Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship–says, in part: “Defending human life, building peace, combating poverty and despair, and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives — they are wise national priorities that will make our nation and world safer.”

It goes on to a say: ”A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.”

So the Catholic Church, despite efforts to align it with a party or policy, continues to resist. Reconciling faith and conscience is still far from an easy call.

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