"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, January 19, 2007

Collars in the Ring

At Open Book (click the title of this post), Amy Welborn has sparked an almost interminable discussion by noting that two prominent Catholic priests have come out and endorsed very different candidates for the Presidency. Fr. Frank Pavone, President of Priests for Life, has endorsed Republican Sam Brownback; Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the large evangelical-Catholic parish St. Sabina in Chicago, has endorsed Democrat Barack Obama.

I cannot help finding this sort of thing unseemly, even while finding the latter's endorsement more so than the former given the difference in tone. All that's accomplished by Catholic clergy endorsing political candidates is to reinforce ideological syndrome-thinking and thus harden the already grievous polarization in the Church. By 'ideological syndrome-thinking' I mean thinking that assumes, without justification, that certain political positions go with certain theological ones.

Thus, on the Left it is taken for granted that adherence to the social teaching of the Church entails support for increasing the minimum wage, for universal, tax-funded health care, and for lenient treatment of illegal immigrants; support for just-war doctrine is assumed to mean opposition to most if not all military action, at least when undertaken by the United States without permission from that bastion of harmony, virtue, and long-sightedness, the United Nations. At the same time, Church teaching about anything having to do with the pelvis, including abortion, is not supposed to be reflected in legislation or policy; indeed, government policies directly contrary to such teaching are not to be resisted and may even be supported. Thus, to a substantial segment of the Catholic population, being a good Catholic entails, politically, being a Democrat. Similarly, on the Right it is taken for granted that, while dissent from papal and episcopal admonishments about the political status of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and embryonic stem-cell research is out of bounds, we are entirely free to exercise our "prudential judgment" about how Church teaching on war, capital punishment, and the economy is to be applied in public policy. Thus, to a substantial segment of the Catholic population, being a good Catholic means going Republican.

Now, for purely theological reasons I am more in sympathy with the Right than with the Left. What the Right tends to consider non-negotiable is indeed non-negotiable, whereas what the Left tends to consider non-negotiable often does have room for negotiation. Nevertheless, the Right only shoots itself in the foot by treating the negotiables as entirely negotiable. The fact is that what America has become is not, in any respect, in keeping with the social doctrine of the Church, and in some cases the Left is more faithful to that teaching. There just isn't enough dispassionate discussion on the Right of where the lines between binding doctrine and prudential judgment need to be drawn. The issues of war and capital punishment, which I have often discussed lately, are classic illustrations of that. All the same, there is even less such discussion on the Left.

When priests start endorsing candidates at opposite ends of the spectrum, all they do is rouse passions and distract attention from the discussions that really need to take place.
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