Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elections and Citizenship, Catholic Style

Between the news and political advertising, I sometimes get the idea that it's 'all politics, all the time' here in America. Sort of like the end of football season, back before cable television brought some relief from the interminable pre-pre-post-pre-game shows and commentaries on the post-game commentary.

Despite my urge to walk away from campaigns that make get-rich-quick infomercials look stodgy and reasonable by comparison, I can't.

There's a presidential election coming up, and as a practicing Catholic I need to think about how to vote.

That's "and as a..." not "but as a...." As a Catholic, I don't have much of a choice. We're required to be good citizens. It says so in the Catechism: 2199, 1915, 2238-43, for starters:
"It is the duty of citizens to work with civil authority for building up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2255)
That's a pretty good summary of what's expected of a Catholic citizen.

America's government is a constitution-based federal republic with a strong democratic tradition, voting responsibly is one of a citizen's duties. So, I vote. Responsibly, to the best of my ability.

The Catholic Church, Forms of Government, and the Myriad Ways of Humanity

I'm not saying that God favors the American political system. Again with the Catechism: 1901 and 1902 are summed up a little later:
"The diversity of political regimes is legitimate, provided they contribute to the good of the community."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1922)

You Mean, I Have to Think?!

The Catholic church doesn't believe in making life particularly easy for Catholics. We're supposed to use our brains, experience, and a well-formed conscience, to decide which candidate to vote for.

That's a lot of work. Happily, American bishops put together a website, Faithful Citizenship, with resources and information that tell us how to decide who to vote for. One of these is a 42-sheet statement, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. (It's in 'pdf' format, but odds are that you have that free Acrobat reader already.)

Bishops Luring Catholics With iPods!

Sounds pretty suspicious. Anglers use lures to catch fish, predators lure children away from playgrounds, and Catholic bishops are luring voters.

It must be true: I read it in the news.

Actually, it is true. In fact, the editorial piece with "lure" in the headline was what I think was a well-intentioned effort to discuss that Faithful Citizenship website.

The free iPod is given to a few people, chosen at random, who sign up for the Faithful Citizenship e-mail list. You don't have to sign up to use the website's resources.

I was impressed with how different news services handle similar stories:
  1. "U.S. Bishops Offering iPod to Faithful Citizen" News Agency (September 22, 2008)
    • "WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 22, 2008 ( As the U.S. presidential elections approach, the nation's bishops are seeking new ways to reach citizens with guidelines for voting according to conscience.
    • "To encourage people to visit its website, the bishops are offering an iPod to a winner randomly selected from among those who register at the site to receive faithful citizenship resources...."
  2. "Bishops Use iPods to Lure Faithful Voters"
    The Trail (A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008), Washington Post (September 17, 2008)
    • "You know competition for American voters' attention has gotten intense when the Catholic Church starts giving away iPods.
    • "Yes folks, it's come to that, in this intense, information- (and misinformation) saturated campaign season. In an effort to get Americans to read their voters' guide, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops announced today that they are giving away a free digital recording device to a randomly-selected person who registers on the guide's Web site...."
    • "...This year's guide, called 'Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship,' repeats what other guides have said, which is that the church is against abortion, torture and deliberate attacks on noncombatants in war. And the guide acknowledges that Catholic voters have to weigh a range of 'intrinsic evils' and pick among candidates who never match up exactly with the Catholic Church on everything.
    • " 'There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons,' it says.
    • "However the bishops meant the document, the new multimedia push will certainly be watched closely by partisans on both sides, as Catholic voters -- who make up some 20 percent of all voters -- have been narrowly divided in recent years and are now squarely under strategists' microscopes...."
  3. "Catholic Bishops Offer Voting Guide, Allowing Some Flexibility on Issue of Abortion"
    The New York Times (November 15, 2007)
    • "Correction Appended
    • "BALTIMORE, Nov. 14 — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops approved principles Wednesday intended to guide Catholics in choosing whom to vote for but leaving the door open for them to back candidates who support abortion rights...."
    • "...Correction: November 16, 2007
      An article yesterday about the approval of principles by American Roman Catholic bishops to guide voters misstated what the principles said about 'intrinsic evils,' notably abortion. The document defines them as actions that must be opposed; it does not 'defend' them that way.
All three cover the same general subject: Catholic bishops in America providing guidance to Catholic voters. However:
    • This "is a non-profit international news agency, made up of a team of professionals and volunteers who are convinced of the extraordinary richness of the Catholic Church's message, particularly its social doctrine. The ZENIT team sees this message as a light for understanding today's world."
    • They are specifically sympathetic to Catholic beliefs
    • Just as important, ZENIT understands Catholic
      • Beliefs
      • Practices
    • ZENIT seems to understand that the American bishops are trying to inform American Catholics
  2. Washington Post
    • The Post is a traditional American newspaper
    • This particular article is a "daily diary," a sort of op-ed piece
    • I don't know what to make of the word "lure" in the headline, but the author seems to make some attempt to respond to, and perhaps understand, the bishops' efforts
  3. The New York Times
    • Another traditional American newspaper
    • At best, The Times seems to have a little trouble understanding the Catholic church.
    • The headline "Catholic Bishops Offer Voting Guide, Allowing Some Flexibility on Issue of Abortion" can be interpreted as implying that the Catholic church has been inflexible, rigid
      • Which is true enough, in some ways
      • Although I prefer terms like "firm" or "definite"
    • The "correction," published a day after the original article, suggests that the original claimed that the American bishops had come around to a more 'tolerant' view of abortion

In Conclusion (FINALLY!)

Glitches Happen
A bit of trivia about the Washington Post article: It has a link that's supposed to lead to "the guide's Web site." At this point, when you click on it, you get an error page that says: "We are unable to locate the page you requested. The page may have moved or may no longer be available"

I checked the link's code. It contains the correct URL, which is valid, and led me straight to the website. Looks like the Post's IT people may have a glitch on their hands.
Catholic Flexibility
Here's an excerpt from that "Faithful Citizenship" publication. I think it gives an idea of what the "flexibility" of the American bishops really is.

"...34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. 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.

"35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil...."

Update (November 2, 2008)
I've been told, and believe, that the "Faithful Citizenship" is not the best publication for a Catholic to use, when deciding who to vote for. Part of the problem is that it is, as my source put it, a "400" level document, and what most voters need is more of a "Catholic Voting 101" guide.

A clearer set of guidelines is available at Priests for Life.
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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.