Notre Dame University scholar lectures on connection between Catholism and politics

By Christine Graf
November 6, 2008

A leading authority on the role of the Catholic Church in politics said that Catholics should not be one-issue voters. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University, author of 21 books on Catholicism, said that those Catholic bishops who say that the abortion issue is the only issue Catholics should look at in presidential elections are actually not in accord with the American bishops’ own teachings.

Students who went to McBrien’s talk looking for black-and-white answers on who to vote for would have been disappointed. McBrien said that a small group of bishops stress that abortion is a moral issue that trumps all other moral issues.

McBrien said that, in fact, the general policy of the bishops is that while abortion is a moral issue of great importance, the bishops said it must be placed in the context of “the whole teaching of the church on justice and peace, serving the poor and advancing the common good.”

McBrien frequently cited a document of all the American bishops called “Faithful Citizenship.”

The bishops issue a document like this every four years in advance of the presidential election.

The Rev. Michael Bielicki, campus chaplain, said, “There are many issues at stake when choosing a candidate and from Fr. McBrien’s point of view, which is in agreement with the Bishop’s document on Faithful Citizenship, we must choose candidates who are concerned for the common good and not just concerned about one issue, for example, abortion, but not the death penalty or war and its effect upon society.”

McBrien explained that the American bishops have consistently taught that the church should not be endorsing or opposing candidates. He cited instances of bishops who said they would deny communion to Catholic politicians whose position on abortion was not what they wanted.

In the 2004 campaign, McBrien said that the archbishops of Boston and St. Louis said they would not give communion to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, because of his pro-choice stance. Kerry is a Catholic.

The bishops, in their 2007 statement, Faithful Citizenship,” wrote, “We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”

Bielicki said Catholics must pay attention to many issues that the bishops cite, including the right to life.

Dr. Nicholas Rademacher, assistant professor of religious studies, said McBrien “pointed towards the wide range of important issues covered by Catholic Social Teaching and the bishops’ commitment to what is referred to as a ‘consistent ethic of life.'”

McBrien said the bishops point to a range of issues that Catholics must weigh in determining their vote in addition to the right to life. These issues include war, racism, ethnic and economic inequality, immigration, challenges to family life, poverty, health care and environmental degradation. Bielicki said, “The task of the church is to help people choose, in conscience, the person best suited to promoting the common good and not just candidates who promote the good of the wealthiest

population at the expense of the poor or middle class.”

Christine Graf

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