Reconciliation after election: Possible, but it will take time
By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
Published in The Tidings
Southern California's Catholic Weekly
November 7, 2008
The woman at Buffy Barkley's door had fire in her eyes. The Obama-Biden
2008 campaign sign in Barkley's yard probably had a lot to do with it.
What Barkley experienced next illustrates some of the polarizing actions
that separated people of faith during the election cycle.
"She asked me, 'Are you Catholic?'" Barkley said, recalling the Oct. 25
encounter at her suburban Cincinnati home. "I said 'Yes.' And she said 'Are
you pro-choice?' and I said 'I'm not going to answer that. I have no reason
to answer that.'"
That's when the unexpected visitor launched into a tirade aimed at the
widow, the mother of three and a former vowed member of the Sisters of
Charity of Cincinnati. "You don't know what you are doing!" she shouted,
stunning Barkley, who is involved in various ministries at her nearby
parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
"I told her I felt I was very well-informed. I read the (U.S. bishops')
'Faithful Citizenship' document a year ago. I feel like I know the teaching
of the church and I feel fine with my conscience," Barkley said.
Not persuaded, the woman's anger grew. "She was furious with me," Barkley
said. Thrusting an envelope at Barkley, the woman turned and began walking
away. "I will be back and I will bring others with me," she said in a shrill
voice. Halfway down the drive she turned and shouted again, "I will be
The envelope, along with another that Barkley received in the mail four days
later with the return address only indicating "Friends of Immaculate Heart
of Mary," contained graphic images of aborted children, excerpts from
Scripture and references to a Web site focusing on the "tough love" of
The irate visitor's threats never were carried out, but Barkley was shaken
enough to call the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department. The dispatcher
advised her to call 911 should the women or her supporters return.
"What I'm feeling is why do I have to prove to these people that I'm a good
person," Barkley later told Catholic News Service. "It bothers me that they
perceive me as evil and it's very hurtful."
Seemingly, the most heartfelt anger has revolved around the issues of
pro-life and family concerns --- abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research,
traditional marriage, all keystones of the Catholic faith. Some of the most
strident voices have questioned the faithfulness of Catholic supporters of
the Democratic ticket of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Likewise, the din of malicious rhetoric has hardly left supporters of
Republicans Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin untouched. Not only have
staunch partisans attacked the candidates themselves in humiliating ways
unheard of in 20th-century campaigns, but voters supporting the GOP duo have
been degraded and mocked for their positions as well.
So what lies ahead? After the rancor of the campaign, can America overcome
the contempt that at times has bordered on hate? Can people of faith be
reconciled so that they can stand behind the White House's new occupant as
he attempts to unify an increasingly polarized country?
"It's a tall order," said Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office of
Global Concerns in Washington. She said the basis for reconciliation can be
found in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2007 document on political
responsibility, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."
"The bishops' political responsibility document was excellent," Dennis told
CNS. "It really laid the groundwork for that kind of reconciliation because
it really embraces the moral dilemma that we face that I think is at the
root of the conflict. Part of the challenge is we all know we are faced with
imperfect choices, and that makes everybody anxious that there is not going
to be a definitive answer to the great moral challenges of our time in the
The key, Dennis offered, is for Catholics to open an honest discussion with
"You have to listen to each other respectfully," Dennis said. "We have to
begin with the belief that we are all people of good will and that if we are
caring enough to pay attention to these serious moral issues, that we're
trying to do it from the deepest place in our hearts.
"That may be the prophetic role of the church right now ... to insist that
that is necessary, that we as a Catholic community model the kind of right
relationships that we wish for the world."
That will be difficult, in the eyes of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn,
N.Y., who chaired the USCCB committee that wrote "Faithful Citizenship."
He told CNS that while there is a need for people to stop "looking for the
worst in the other" Catholics still must challenge intrinsic evils such as
abortion as long as they remain the law of the land.
"There's no compromise and no easy way around it," Bishop DiMarzio said.
"There's ways on how we can limit an intrinsic evil and we should take those
"But there's a culture of death you are supporting and it's not going to go
away," he said. "We are going to have a hard time reconciling."
Even as the life issues are of foremost concern, Vincent Rougeau, associate
professor of law at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said Catholics
of differing perspectives must reach out to each other so that the wounds
opened by those who question the validity of someone's faith because of
their voting preferences are not left untended.
"When really hurtful words have been exchanged and people are diminished and
demeaned in ways that are debasing and demoralizing, you've got to do some
repair work," explained Rougeau, who has widely taught and written about
Catholic social teaching and its intersection with public life.
"Part of that is extending a hand and saying, 'Let's have a conversation
from the places that we share and recognizing that we don't live in a
perfect world and that there are difficult decisions we have to make and we
may not come to the same conclusions,'" Rougeau told CNS.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, lamented that
"we have lost the ability within the church and society in general to
constructively challenge and criticize one another." He called for
reconciliation where there has been "rash judgment, harshness, lack of
charity, real anger, sometimes rising to the level of hatred."
"What needs to be done is that people who have crossed the line of charity
and justice simply need to apologize," he said. "Catholic faith and
Christian morality require that we make up for it somehow. You can't put the
feathers back inside the pillow when you harm someone's reputation, but you
can make amends."
Despite such calls, the question over whether Catholics can be reconciled
with each other remains.
Notre Dame's Rougeau said the answer can be found in Catholic social
"You have to say you're available," he said, "and you're willing to talk and
think about one of the core messages of Catholic social teaching -- openness
to the other, the people you least want to deal with to have the
transformative experience of Christian love.
"If black South Africans (now) can talk with white South Africans," he said,
"and if Jews can talk to former Nazis, we can talk to each other."