Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

09 November 2012

On Anonymous Letters and Public Policy

Life in the ‘Kingdom of Whatever’ | Public Discourse

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, has for many years been a the Church's champion in public life, challenging the unfaithful to become faithful, and challenging the faithful to become more faithful.  The Archbishop articulates the Church's uniquely comprehensive regard for human life that no single political party or candidate seems able to endorse.  He further traces the breakdown of the unity of matter and spirit that has given rise to every cultural malady--especially materialism and relativism.

I wonder how he has the time and energy to conduct daily archdiocesan business such as parish and school visitations, not to mention the Divine Office.  Minds of this caliber are a real treat, especially when they inhabit consecrated bodies.

A couple of weeks ago I received an anonymous letter from a parishioner who thought I was weighting political evaluation too heavily on abortion, to the neglect of the entire spectrum of life-respect.

I would say that I don't respond to anonymous letters, but I have no policy on responding to anonymous letters, because (sad to say?) I have received very few over the past ten years of preaching...this recent letter may be only the second.  I get very few comments on this blog, positive or negative--and very few hits!  I suspect that an increased number of comments results from (a) having many readers, (b) writing regularly, and (c) taking controversial stands on controversial topics.  A prominent priest-blogger recently told me that he attributes his success in part to his voluminous output and what he called his "edgy" posts.  This is a new relecture on Sirach 2:1, "My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials."  When you put yourself out there, boldly and often, it increases your risk of being noticed...and opposed.  (Ask Jesus!)

So my provisional "policy" has two points: 1. Look always for the truth in what the writer is saying, and respond to that, first mentally and only then (if at all) externally.  2. The value of an external response depends on whether the matter in question is the truth or only my opinion; the latter deserves little if any place in a liturgical homily, although a blog seems to be an acceptable venue if I make clear that the proposition is my opinion.

The anonymous writer was not correct in asserting that I instructed ("forced") people to vote for a particular political party or candidate and specifically "against the Democrats."  He or she incorrectly insinuated that I consider abortion and contraception the "only moral issues of the future...the only problems in the world."  He or she incorrectly attributed the source of my statement to "pop culture and the propaganda of [a major] news channel," as opposed to magisterial documents such as Evangelium Vitae, in which Blessed John Paul II  said:
by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops -- who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine -- I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
The preceding quote may well support what I did say in that homily, to wit, "How one can vote for a candidate that supports 'reproductive rights' is beyond me, and more important, beyond the Church, and even more important, beyond human reason."  If anything in that statement is contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium, I will retract it and offer a worthy substitute.  People may indeed have "reasons" to vote for such a candidate, but the conscious and willing endorsement of a pro-abortion candidate seems unacceptable by my reading of the above paragraph from Evangelium Vitae with its appeal to the natural law.

The same homily also noted the typical connection of support for abortion with support for same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and contraception (government-mandated or not).  The only support available for that connection is the standard "Voter's Guide" furnished in most any Catholic newspaper.

Now I mention all of this after the election of such candidates on every stratum of government with the support of a majority of Catholic voters (q.v. for the incumbent U.S. President).  Enter Archbishop Chaput's article, one paragraph of which I would present in defense of my anonymous adversary's unrest:
Still, elections are tough times for serious Catholics. If we believe in the encyclical tradition—from Rerum Novarum to Evangelium Vitae; from Humanae Vitae to Caritas In Veritate—then we can’t settle comfortably in either political party. Catholics give priority to the right to life and the integrity of the family as foundation stones of society. But we also have much to say about the economy and immigration, runaway debt, unemployment, war and peace. It’s why the US bishops recently observed that “in today’s environment, Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to human life and dignity.”
Maybe the writer belongs to a particular party, and devoutly so.  But, like the Archbishop, he or she referenced earlier papal encyclicals, to fortify the assertion that abortion isn't the only issue.  (It certainly wasn't en courant during the time of, say, Leo XIII, at the very least because it wasn't legal.)  Yes, the proponent of a truly Catholic social justice will be out of place, if that proponent does not overly identify with a particular party for reasons that once seemed acceptable if not praiseworthy in previous generations.  I would imagine that it's very hard for entrenched partisans to rethink their party affiliation, just as it is for staunch religionists to examine their religion's beliefs critically.

The issue today is the centuries-old divorce of faith and reason that has given rise to what Chaput calls the "culture of unbelief and...the inhuman politics that flows from it."  What is most disconcerting is the number of believers who have fallen prey to this culture and politics, in large part because of the suffocation caused by materialism.  The latter I define not merely as an undue attachment to "stuff," but also as the over- or under-emphasis of the value of the human body and what we do with it, in favor of an intentionally-vague "spirituality" that places subjectivity above objectivity--good intentions above good choices.

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