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Does Inaction Politicize the Faith? Print E-mail
By Kristina Johannes   
Friday, 04 April 2014

I recently had lunch with a friend who is a revert to the Catholic faith.  Now fervently Catholic, she has maintained the fiery and no nonsense evangelical spirit she picked up during her Protestant sojourn – one of the many reasons I enjoy spending time with her.

         This particular day she wanted to know why something hasn’t been done about politicians who support abortion or other practices that directly contradict the faith, and then are able to present to the public what amount to Catholic selfies.   She mentioned how much this scandalizes many Protestants, causing them to think the Catholic Church is soft on these issues.

We talked about the much-cited Canon 915, which states that, those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” 

         When I mentioned the concern of many bishops that withholding Holy Communion in these situations would politicize the Eucharist, a thought occurred to me.  Ironically, perhaps in not enforcing 915, we might actually be doing just that and even more – we might be politicizing the faith itself.

How so? 

Most people understand politics as the art of furthering the common good.  On the one hand, it’s not a straight-line activity, which means that it requires negotiation and compromise in order to achieve the most good possible in a particular situation owing to the many individuals and opinions involved. 

On the other hand, one can never legitimately compromise a principle. The principles by which one lives should never be affected by the negotiation involved in politics, even as a voter.  These principles exist above the fray. These should and do remain sacrosanct in our hearts and minds as we navigate thorny situations where only a little good can be accomplished, such as when a vote may decrease abortions while not abolishing them.


 

People entering politics should be expected to articulate the principles upon which they intend to act. Once elected, even the most idealistic Catholic will soon realize the impossibility of perfectly formulating positive law in line with moral law in every circumstance. But at the same time, that person can certainly not abandon the principles of the moral law. These principles will provide the unwavering goals to which all efforts in a particular political situation are directed.

Although it’s sometimes said you can’t legislate morality, you will try in vain to come up with a law that is not an attempt to legislate someone’s view of morality, even if just a teeny bit.   As confirmed in Vatican II, the Church recognizes “the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church – but not from that of morality.”  

Because of this the Church typically leaves political activity to the laity while providing clear guidance on moral principles.  It’s the laity’s role, not the clergy’s, to sanctify the world by infusing the temporal order with Christian values to the extent possible. That’s why priests aren’t permitted to run for elective office.

This does not mean imposing doctrines that can only be known through divine revelation, but simply drawing on the natural moral law accessible to every human heart to correctly order society.  Everyone is subject to the dictates of this law by virtue of being a part of God’s creation.  St. Paul pointed out that we all have this law written on our hearts. We can discern this law more or less clearly, depending on the condition of our consciences. 

As proof of this, one could point out that every civilization has had some form of the commandments incorporated into its laws (C. S. Lewis gives examples of what he calls the universal Tao, which testify to this transcultural morality, in an appendix to his great book The Abolition of Man).  It just comes with being human.

A bonus for Catholics is that the Catholic Church has meditated on these commandments for millennia in a variety of circumstances, which means that Catholics have a clearer idea of the natural moral law because of accumulated wisdom and experience.  

In recognizing the role that morality plays in politics, the Church is also recognizing that she cannot be silent when principles of the moral law are in dispute, especially so when her own children are involved.  Morality is her business, even if political activity itself is not her role.

Where moral principles are being flouted, she must speak up.  When her own children are verbally abandoning those principles, she must render them every assistance at her disposal, no matter the walk of life. This assistance has a two-fold purpose: to recall the errant and to protect the innocent from scandal. As to scandal, the greater the ability to spread error, the more critical it is to act. To do otherwise is to abdicate the role given the Church by Christ Himself to shepherd His flock.

If bishops hesitate to act because a situation is “political,” they are giving the public impression that the Church’s moral principles are also political, in and of themselves. Thus, it is very possible that in refusing to apply one of the possible remedies – Canon 915 – to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who obstinately continue to make statements that are antithetical to the moral law, the teaching of that law becomes subject to politics. 

And the broader upshot may very well be not just that certain hot-button moral positions appear mere policy preferences, but so does the Catholic faith.



Kristina Johannes is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning. She has served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.
 
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Comments (23)Add Comment
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, April 04, 2014
Is Natural Law a sufficient basis for political action? If so, are not liberals right to relegate religion to the private sphere?

In a great debate in 1910, in L’Annales de philosophie chrétienne, the Oratorian, Lucien Laberthonnière memorably accused the Jesuit writer, Pedro Descoqs, who thought so, of being influenced by “a false theological notion of some state of pure nature and therefore imagined the state could be self-sufficient in the sense that it could be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.”

Likewise, the philosopher Maurice Blondel, insisted that “one cannot think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly complete (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order” and he claimed that we “find only in the spirit of the Gospel the supreme and decisive guarantee of justice and of the moral conditions of peace, stability, and social prosperity.”

The great Thomist, Jacques Maritain agreed, when he wrote “Man is not in a state of pure nature, he is fallen and redeemed. Consequently, ethics, in the widest sense of the word, that is, in so far as it bears on all practical matters of human action, politics and economics, practical psychology, collective psychology, sociology, as well as individual morality,—ethics in so far as it takes man in his concrete state, in his existential being, is not a purely philosophic discipline. Of itself it has to do with theology, either to become integrated with or at least subalternated to theology. . . . Here is a philosophy which must of necessity be a superelevated philosophy, a philosophy subalternated to theology, if it is not to misrepresent and scientifically distort its object”
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written by Jack,CT, April 04, 2014

Very Nice....Can not see how anyone could
not agree!
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written by Manfred, April 04, 2014
Ms. Johannes, at the end of the day, when a reader who has read sentiments simlilar to yours a thousand times in the last fifty years writes to you and simply states that 55 million American human beings have been aborted in the last forty years, do you think that the Church, such as it is today, or he, is closer to reality? The Church has learned to live with that. It has also come to live with a man marrying another man. What arouses the American Church? Amnesty.
Your last paragraph is spot on. The Church is irrelevant. Abp Burke, President of the Signatura, has specifically ordered that Nancy Pelosi (BY NAME!) be denied Communion, and not one bishop has obeyed that order.
Forget all these ideas about Natural Law. You might as well write that the Titanic should be impregnable to icebergs and it is still sailing between Liverpool and New York. The Church is merely a collection of memories for people of a certain age. It exists in scattered, small communities throughout the U.S. and the world. Thank you for your thoughts.
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written by Manfred, April 04, 2014
Post Script: :est any reader be squeamish aboiut my comment on the Church being irrelevant, one need look no further than Barack Hussein Obama giving a blessed Rosary, just given to him by Pope Francis, to, wait for it, Nancy Pelosi who just recently was awarded Planned Parenthood's highest honor. Was this not a slap in the face to the Pope? Do you think Obama has any concerns about how American Catholics will respond?
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written by Nathan, April 04, 2014
Nicely written. I look forward to reading more from this contributor.

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written by Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick, April 04, 2014
Denial of Communion is not a "remedy." That is, it is not a penalty or a punishment.

Denial of Communion is a duty, because giving Communion to manifest grave sinners is always gravely wrong--always a mortal sin.

It is vital, in order to understand the nature of the ongoing scandal, to grasp that Denial of Communion is not just an excellent idea that might be beneficial for the Church and society, but is a strict, grave obligation. Those bishops and priests who refuse to obey Canon 915 are not merely failing to "apply" or "implement" a good idea, they are committing mortal sins.
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written by Dennis Larkin, April 04, 2014
Bishop Bruskewicz excommunicated ten categories of persons, and was openly ostracized by his fellow bishops.

The bishops were and are afraid.

Not only has the public square been rid of Christ and the teaching of His Church, but progressively, Catholic schools and parish councils and homilies now dare not proclaim the Church's teachings.

Until bishops lead, we cannot follow.
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written by Myshkin, April 04, 2014
Dr. Edward Peters, J.D., J.C.D., has written extensively on this topic. His article at First Things titled "Fencing the Altar" does a very good job of laying out the canonical issues. I recommend reading it.
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written by Ted Seeber, April 04, 2014
I can't defend abortion or euthanasia under natural law.

I simply no longer see the "choice in matters of life and death" side of things at all. Abortion and euthanasia are irrational demands, because they require us to act to end life that we are bigoted against: the unwanted and the burdensome.

So therefore, rightly, abortion and euthanasia are not topics of faith for me, they're topics of fact and reason. The church can no more change scientific fact than the Pope can defy gravity.
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written by florin, April 04, 2014
April 4th..I am so grateful for this writer. I have long said that not to refuse the Eucharist to politicians who publicly and aggressively promote, aid and abet the mass slaughter of human babies in the womb because it would seem to politicize the Eucharist is, in fact, a politicization of the Eucharist. Nancy Pelosi mocks the Bishops and the Church publicly and fights aggressively in her 'sacred war' to keep this slaughter of the innocents legal. Surely Pope Benedict spoke to her and advised her not to receive the Eucharist but she does not care; also, to allow public persons like Pelosi and Biden to continue to promote and advance this killing of human babies is keeping their own souls in danger...they are not offered the catalyst for conversion that might happen if they were informed that they are NOT Catholics in good standing with the Church and therefore must not receive the Eucharist. If they were promoting pedophilia, there would be an immediate demand that they not receive the Eucharist because it would be politically correct to stand against the molestation of children while it does not seem to be as politically correct to stand against the killing of babies in the womb.
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written by cermak_rd, April 04, 2014
I'm not sure that anyone has done the hard work to prove that merely voting (whether personally or as an elected leader) for something the Church doesn't like, is the same as abetting an immoral act. Until that work is done, then I don't see how such political work is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Don't forget, if there's an Canon law penalty, there can be an appeal and it will quickly become a media event.

And where does it end? If voting to allow abortion to be legal is being in grave sin, then what about a city council member voting to allow an abortion clinic to get a zoning variance? Or voting not to allow the local Catholic church to expland its parking lot?
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written by Mick Chandler, April 04, 2014
Yikes! I find myself in total agreement with Manfred. Well put Sir.
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written by schm0e, April 04, 2014
Pardon me, I'm slow. Did the writer opine that a law that reduces the number of abortions is a satisfactory compromise to a law that eliminates them totally, in light of "political realities" or something like that?

I'll check back later.
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written by Jack,CT, April 04, 2014
@schmOe, No NO and NO
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., April 04, 2014
One of the most damaging aspects of the scandal of ignoring obejctive evil is that it leads some of the faithful to susepect that those bishops and priests who calim to want to avid politicizing the Sacarments are just secualairists who are using the trappings of the Bride of Christ to advance a materilasit agenda. When we see those who are supposed to be our shepherds behaving as mere appartchiks of a Satanic Worldd Order how can some of us not wonder if if there is not anyting but the material world and that there is therefore no real difference between good and evil?We have to say out loud that there are too many shepherds who have no problem with either abortion or sodomy and object only to wealth. Was the time of the Borgia's really worse? Were more souls lost then?
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written by kristinajohannes, April 04, 2014
SchmOe, no I’m not saying that so thanks for the opportunity to clarify. I’m merely attempting to reflect what John Paul II said in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae #73:
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 04, 2014
I am in firm agreement with Michael P-S above; I have come to believe, with Newman, that the absence of theology from a curriculum of study radically mistakes the nature of man and the world, and deprives the curriculum of anything that can truly unite it; and that any "practical atheism" -- the words are Leo XIII's! -- on the part of the State is similarly incoherent, mistaking man and the common good.

The bishops should not be afraid of being hated. Our Lord said as much. They should be afraid that the world will speak well of them; they should be terrified of that. The Milwaukee Sentinel always spoke well of a certain disgraceful and disgraced bishop, and still speaks well of him. In any case, no matter how "nice" the bishops as a whole can possibly be, they are going to be either hated or, worse, looked down upon with contempt -- despised. Better to be hated for good reason, than to be despised for bad.
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written by Rosemary, April 04, 2014
A lawyer (a lawyer!) once told me, "You can't legislate morality".

I asked him, "Really? When was the last time you ran a red light?"
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written by schm0e, April 05, 2014
@ kristinajohannes

Thank you. I was relieved, momentarily, by Jack's response and the beginning of yours. Then I read the quote.

The logic is clear. It might even be the *best* that can be hoped for in the exercise of politics, in a "civil" society, under conditions of public debate (as opposed to, say, conditions of outright revolution or war).

I have said (long ago) many rosaries in front of abortion clinics (I do not boast, please. I merely relate). Sometimes, during those rosaries, one's mind wanders. It might follow one of those young women through the door. It might imagine that it knows her thoughts. It might allow itself to fully form the idea that inside that girl *really is* a tiny, defenseless child.

Once that happens, discussions of "politics" ring hollow. Once that happens, when the new Archbishop in town is said (by one who would know) that, "OK, if you want abortion to be safe, rare and legal, let's work to that"...well, what can one say to that? Back to the rosaries.

It do not gainsay the Pope, or even the Archbishop (this time). Rather, perhaps I confess my own stunted formation, or childlikeness, or both, by saying that once the will, emboldened by a reckless human courage born of a perhaps juvenile faith, permits the mind to behold the actuality of what we all *say* about life, conception, humanity and abortion, anything deemed "politically acceptable" under the conditions described above is merely pragmatic and quite sickening.

I suppose somebody has to "negotiate" such things - and write about them - I'm thankful it's not me.
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written by Paul Gagne, April 05, 2014
One unfortunate reality must also be considered--neither the bishops nor the clergy are agreed on the actions to be taken. The offending politician will go to another priest's or (perhaps) bishop's Sunday liturgy, receive communion and say, "See, the Church blesses what I am doing." There is precedent for this in the way politicians manipulated various groups within the Church in the discussion phase leading up to the passage of the ACA. The Church as a whole needs to pursue serious dialogue that leads to unity on these issues. The Church must be
One, or it has no say on these issues.
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written by kristinajohannes, April 05, 2014
schm0e, I understand, I read your post right after coming home from praying in the 40 days for life campaign...

It's important to note that the pope was not recommending a political strategy, he was clarifying a disputed question that had arisen in the prolife community in regards to whether or not these political attempts would be any kind of material cooperation with abortion. He was not saying that this approach had to be taken or should be taken. One could decide not to take this path. It's not up to the church to devise or propose political strategy.

I think Pope Francis gave an important reminder in Joy of the Gospel about politics: "Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good." He footnotes a message of Pope Pius XI for this.
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written by JRF, April 05, 2014
Great article and some very insightful comments. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians 11:22-30 gets at the heart of the matter about worthy reception of the Eucharist and the consequences for failing to honor the true body and blood of Christ. All bishops and priests should read Ezekiel 3: 17-22 on the Prophet as a Watchman; if Chapter 3 doesn't satisfy read chapter 33:1-9, again, Prophet as a Watchman. Cafeteria Catholic leaders lead to cafeteria Catholics in the pews.
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written by kristinajohannes, April 08, 2014
cermak_rd, sorry for the late response. My discussion was limited to the statements made by politicians. These statements of dissent have already become media events!

Re the hard work you mention, The Declaration on Procured Abortion by the CDF in 1974 does proscribe voting for something that is "in itself immoral" but I agree that weighing votes can present more complexity.

Fr. V, I did not intend to imply that this particular application was a penalty to the person. Your comment did make me realize I left out a purpose for the application-to respect the holiness of the sacrament. My column was only addressing a limited part of the controversy--the argument being advanced in regards to making the Eucharist political.

As to the duty to impose, I assume it requires the judgment of the bishop to determine when the point of "obstinately persevering" has arrived.

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