Catholic Voters and Campaign 2008


Deacon Keith Fournier

  Catholic Online

Any candidate who supports the taking of innocent human life in the womb should be unacceptable to a Catholic voter. Any candidate who says they support marriage as the lifelong relationship between one man and one woman but then supports its redefinition should be unacceptable to a Catholic voter. Catholic Social teaching also demands that we hear the cry of the poor and any acceptable candidate should detail how they will answer it.

LOS ANGELES (Catholic Online) - The Presidential endorsements are flying. Former candidate Sam Brownback endorsed John McCain. Dr M.G. “Pat” Robertson, evangelical leader and founder of both the American Center for Law and Justice and the Christian Coalition endorsed Rudy Giuliani. The candidates are being weaned out, at least on the Republican side. The primaries of both major parties are only months away due to an expedited schedule that is historic in its implications.

What is a Catholic voter to do?

Groups are lining up claiming to speak of the “common good”, a concept which is the polestar of Catholic social teaching. Yet it is not entirely clear what they mean when they use the term. In addition, groups alleging to represent “new alliances” are “popping up” as they do every four years. Ironically they seem to have some of the same members and hold press conferences in the same old haunts. The most recent example may be the group that gathered on Election Day in D.C., calling for “more civility” in the election process.

What do they mean?

Catholic voters need to understand the Social teaching of the Catholic Church, put it before anything else, and inform their vote in accordance with it. The Social teaching of the Catholic Church is NOT simply for Catholics, other Christians or even just “religious people”. It is for all people and all Nations. Its principles are offered by the Church to those who seek to build a truly just society and promote this “Common Good.” The Church offers these insights because she is called to continue the redemptive work of her Lord which includes the promotion of social justice.

The Social teaching is not “left” or “right”, “liberal”, “conservative” or “neo-conservative”, Democrat or Republican. Efforts to co-opt this body of teaching by each of these groups in the past have brought me to a decision. In this upcoming political season I will commit myself even more to the task of making this teaching known and offering it as a framework for the debate which is underway in this campaign. I predicted months back: that the entire Presidential campaign of 2008 would be framed around this concept of “The Common Good”.

Where do Catholics find the Social teaching of the Church?

The answer is quite simple. It has been compiled in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church”, the seminal compilation. In its introduction it sets forth the ground for the entire work: “Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all mankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.” One aspect of this “integral salvation” involves efforts to transform the social order.

That includes politics.

The Compendium proclaims that Christian faith is not simply about “saving souls”, but offers the fullness of salvation for the entire human person; body, soul and spirit, lived within the social and political and economic community: “At the dawn of this Third Millennium, the Church does not tire of proclaiming the Gospel that brings salvation and genuine freedom also to temporal realities”. This Social teaching of the Catholic Church addresses the entire fabric of social relationships between persons, families, human communities, nations and the international community.

The roots of this body of teaching called the “Social teaching” go back to “the beginning”. In the first Book of the Sacred Scriptures, the Book of Genesis, we find within the doctrine of creation the clear beginning of the social doctrine of the Church. It reveals that we were created for relationship, with God, with one another, and with the created order.

Throughout the Old Testament we find clear social instruction concerning social relations. In the great event that forever changed human history, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, we find the fullness of the truth concerning the human vocation, and the invitation to all men and women to find true happiness and human flourishing through a relationship with the Father, in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. That relationship is lived out within the Church, which is the seed of the kingdom to come. The fullness of humanity is revealed in Jesus Christ, who is true God and True man, the New Adam, the One in whom the new creation has begun.

Through His Life, Death, resurrection and ascension, heaven is brought to earth and earth is brought to heaven. Christians are incorporated into Him in and through Baptism, and made new. They are sent into the world as a part of His Body, the Church, to continue His redemptive mission. Through His Paschal Mystery, His life, death and Resurrection, we find the deepest meaning of all of human existence revealed and the path to the fullness of salvation opened to all.

The New Testament is filled with this “Social teaching” For example, the Sermon on the Mount contains the very essence of all of the moral and social teaching of the Church. Jesus Christ, in His sacred humanity is the Social Teaching- made visible in its complete perfection. How he lived, loved and related to others is the pattern for all truly human relations. The Church proclaims the truth about Jesus Christ - that He came to redeem the whole person - and to begin a new creation – both of which begin now and will be completed and fulfilled in the resurrection of the body and life in a new heaven and the new earth.

In the history of the early Church we also find the roots of Christian Social teaching in the writings of the early Fathers. In the last one hundred or so years, the teaching office of the Catholic Church has continued to expound, develop and update this beautiful patrimony of social doctrine. Contemporary Catholic Social teaching is often associated with the promulgation of Pope Leo XIII’s “On Capital and Labor” and the trajectory of modern papal encyclicals since. They include the writings of Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and, of course, the extraordinary contributions of the late Servant of God John Paul II.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Church, which is His Body on the earth, continues to walk the way of the human person. As a society in her own right, she lives in the midst of every age, with one foot in this passing world and another in the eternal. She offers insights for every age, and principles for action addressed to the citizens of every Nation.She offers wisdom on how to structure human society in order to promote true justice and human flourishing. She exists to serve the various societies within which she resides and is committed to improving the social conditions of all men and women by promoting authentic social and economic justice, both nationally and internationally.

Catholic citizens are called to inform their entire lives, personal, familial, social, cultural, economic and political, by their faith and thereby live what the Compendium calls“integral and solidary humanism”. The Introduction of the Compendium addresses all men and women with these words: “To the people of our time, our traveling companions, the Church also offers her social doctrine. In fact, when the Church ‘fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons.”

This teaching is called “social” because it speaks to human society and to the formation, role and rightful place of social institutions. It reveals principles and truths that can be known by all men and women - because they are revealed in the Natural law and expounded upon in Revelation.

The Social teaching addresses unchangeable truths such as the dignity of every human person and the primacy of authentic marriage and the family founded upon it. These truths are “non-negotiables.” They must be reflected in our political participation. They must also be reflected in the positions taken by any candidate if he or she is to be acceptable to Catholic voters.

For any candidate to support the taking of innocent human life in the womb, either by actively supporting the current approach which renders abortion a “right”, or by claiming that they hold a personal opposition to this position but will, in effect, do nothing to stop the killing, should make a candidate unacceptable to a Catholic voter.

Similarly, for any candidate to say they support marriage as the lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, but then support its redefinition, from the bench or from the legislature, should make a candidate unacceptable to a Catholic voter.

Catholic Social teaching also demands that we hear the cry of the poor and answer it. Thus, any candidate acceptable to Catholics must have a demonstrated and real concern for the poor and be committed to doing all they can to alleviate their suffering and expand their economic and social participation.

The Church also proposes ordering principles such as subsidiarity, which can assist in developing good governance, in its’ myriad of expressions and polities. It addresses war and peace, economic justice, our relationship to the goods of the earth and the environment. These are also vital issues. However, their being worked out in public policy allows for the exercise of prudential judgment in application. Catholic Social teaching offers principles to help guide national as well as international policy and relations.

The Social Teaching of the Church is a dimension of Moral Theology. That fact has been underscored in the modern magisterial documents and is set forth with crystal clarity in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It was succinctly expressed in the Second Encyclical letter of the pontificate of the late Servant of God John Paul, entitled On Social Concerns:

“It will thus be seen at once that the questions facing us are above all moral questions; and that neither the analysis of the problem of development as such nor the means to overcome the present difficulties can ignore this essential dimension. The Church's social doctrine is not a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own.

Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church's tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior. It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.”

As more individuals, groups, associations and organizations line up to present to the public their version of the “Common Good”, Catholics need to personally read the Social teaching of the Catholic Church for themselves. Then, we need to inform our political action based upon it.

There is a hierarchy of truths in Catholic Social teaching. Defending innocent human life, protecting marriage and concern for the poor are at the top of it. To not compromise on these positions is not, contrary to what some may assert, to engage in “single issue” politics. Rather, it is to judge all other important issues through a lens of truth and a genuine concern for the “common good” of all.

For Catholic voters to hold an unwavering position that every single human life from conception to natural death (and all in between) has dignity and should be protected by law from being killed is not to be “uncivil.” Rather, any candidate who fails to defend life misunderstands the very foundation of civility.

For Catholic voters to insist that marriage and the family founded upon it is a non-negotiable because it is the first church, first economy and first cell of society is not to be “uncivil”. Any candidate who fails to protect marriage and the family fails to understand the path to the survival and future of civilization itself.

Finally, Catholics should insist that the candidates show a concern for the poor and recognize our social and individual obligation to them, even if individual candidates may offer differing solutions as to how that obligation is best discharged in public policy. This is not to favor “big government”, but rather to believe in “good” government.

As the Presidential Campaign of 2008 unfolds, Catholics must ask an important question. As the phrase “Common Good” rolls off the tongues of candidates and appears in organizational titles, we need to ask which vision of the Common Good is being promoted. If it is not pro-life, pro-marriage and family and pro-poor it does not support the common good.