‘What kind of society will we choose to be?’

Archbishop speaks on faith and politics at Dole Center

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by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

LAWRENCE — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann opened his address on faith and politics with the first recorded “gotcha” question posed to a public figure.

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him a question about taxes, the archbishop said, Jesus stopped them cold by replying, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:22). “Jesus, of course, is very shrewd in his reply,” said Archbishop Naumann. “He doesn’t allow his message to be reduced to political opposition or support for a particular regime.”

And so it was with Archbishop Naumann. He did not endorse any candidate or party during his talk on Oct. 21 at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, located at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Rather than offer endorsements, the archbishop explained how the church’s teachings should be used for dealing with society’s vital issues in the context of an election year.

The St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center sponsored the archbishop’s speech as part of an effort to educate people about the church’s role in our democratic society’s political process and civic life. Approximately 125 people attended.

The stage was set early in America’s history when Archbishop John Carroll advised the clergy to keep themselves distant from politics, said the archbishop.

“It’s equally important to note that while adopting this policy of keeping ourselves disengaged from partisan politics, declining to support particular parties and candidates, the Catholic Church in the United States has always cherished its right, but also its responsibility, to speak to the moral issues confronting our nation and to strive to form properly the consciences of her members,” he said.

The greatest issues that confront American society today, said the archbishop, are those that concern human life, including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and same-sex marriage.

“There are some actions and activities that are against the innate dignity of the human person and that really infringe on the rights and dignity of others,” said Archbishop Naumann.

Paraphrasing Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “The Gospel of Life,” the archbishop explained how relativism corrupts democracy and propagates outrages against human dignity.

“When the essential connection between freedom and truth is severed, then democracy itself is in jeopardy,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Freedom no longer anchored to the truth quickly becomes the freedom of the strong against the weak.”

The archbishop said that he believes that this is an important moment in our nation’s history, not unlike the 19th-century struggle over slavery — another great moral issue.

“We are at battle for the soul of our nation,” he said. “What kind of society will we choose to be?”

The central question, said the archbishop, is: “What does it mean to be a Catholic in today’s democratic society?”

It means having freedoms and responsibilities, he answered. Every Catholic should be an active citizen, but simply voting is not enough.

“Our most basic civil responsibility is to vote; however, just voting is not sufficient,” he said. “In fact, it may be counterproductive if we are not well-informed about policy issues pertaining to the common good and the positions of particular candidates.”

In addition to being knowledgeable about issues and candidates, Catholics have the obligation to properly form their consciences. They do this by learning the moral and social teachings of the church, he explained.

Catholic voters may have differing views on the application of Catholic teaching to a variety of public policy issues, he said, such as the economy or for- eign policy.

“Because these prudential judgments do not involve a direct choice of something evil and take into consideration various goods, it is possible for Catholic voters to arrive at differing and even opposing judgments,” said the archbishop, quoting “Moral Principles for Catholic Voters,” published by the Kansas Catholic Conference.

Some choices, however, always involve doing evil — such as actions against the innate human dignity of the person, he said. These are intrinsically evil acts, regardless of motives or circumstances.

“Every Catholic should be concerned about a wide variety of issues,” said Archbishop Naumann.

“While [many] issues are important, we must realize that those issues which involve intrinsic evils, such as direct attacks on human life . . . must assume a moral priority. While all issues are important, all are not equally important from a moral analysis.”

Catholic voters will probably not find “perfect” candidates, he said. In these cases, they must choose the “the choice that will yield the greatest good.”

“We should not allow ‘the perfect’ to become the enemy of ‘the good,’” said the archbishop.

It might be possible to vote for someone who supports an intrinsic evil like abortion, he continued, but that choice would be subject to a severe test.

He quoted a letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

“Well, this inevitably leads to this question,” said the archbishop. “What could be a proportionate reason for more than 45 million children killed by abortion during the last 35 years?”

The goal is not to “capture” a party, but to move both of the major parties to the point where they will not tolerate these intrinsic evils, he said.

“If the Catholic community is impotent to influence public policy on such a fundamental moral issue such as the life issue, we’ll have little ability to influence public policy in other areas where there is less moral clarity,” he said. “On the other hand, if we can use our voice and votes to influence our nation in this area, we will be strengthened in our efforts to make a positive contribution in other areas of public policy as well.”

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