Catholics Fed Up with Partisanship

At least, that (what my headline says) would probably have been the name of this group if I had been the one to start it. Or perhaps, "Catholics Cracking Heads for Civility."

But Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is kinder and gentler than I am, so they take a more easygoing approach in their approach to promoting our common goals — more civility, more respect for reason in debates, and less mindless partisanship.

I just received a release from the group announcing that "A diverse group of prominent lay Catholics — including 11 former U.S. ambassadors and former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees — have called for a more civil tone to replace the divisive rhetoric and partisan attacks that define our national political debates." The release provided a link to the document signed by those leaders, "A Catholic Call to Observe Civility in Political Debate." So I went and read it.

You gotta love such statements as this:

  • As Catholics we must learn to disagree respectfully and without judgment to avoid rudeness in expressing our opinions to those whom we suspect will disagree with us, or in reacting to others’ expressions of opinion.
  • As Catholics we need to keep in mind the common humanity that we share with those with whom we disagree. We must avoid seeing them as "the enemy" in a life-or-death, winner-take-all political contest.
  • As Catholics we should never lose faith in the power of reason – a unique gift from God to mankind – and we should always keep ourselves open to a reasoned argument. In this spirit we should defend our views and positions with conviction and patience, but without being obnoxious or bullying.

I’m a little less certain over the signatories’ tiptoeing around the issue of whether the church should act to correct Catholics who clearly do not support the Church’s social teachings, whether it’s Democrats embracing abortion or Republicans dissing various forms of public assistance. Ultimately, I have to applaud the nuanced, soundly Catholic approach that the document takes, including the following elements:

  • It chides "Catholic politicians who advertise their Catholicism as part of their political appeal, but ignore the Church’s moral teachings in their political life…"
  • It adds that "we should not enlist the Church’s moral endorsement for our political preferences," and "we should not exhort the Church to condemn our political opponents by
    publicly denying them Holy Communion based on public dissent from
    Church teachings."
  • At the same time, it says, as "lay Catholics we should not pass judgment, and should avoid public
    statements that undermine the authority of the Church’s leaders.
    American Catholics know who their Church leaders are: their Bishops,
    Archbishops, and Cardinals." While an "individual’s fitness to receive communion is his or her personal responsibility… it is a bishop’s responsibility to set for his diocese the guidelines for administering communion."
  • In other words, it’s up to bishops whether they want to deny communion. A very Catholic answer, and I agree with it.

But… the group that’s promoting this laudable call for civility is also one that promotes Catholic Social Teaching, and I wish priests and bishops would speak from the pulpit more about our moral obligations in those regards, and do so without worrying who’s getting their feelings hurt.

It’s one thing to engage in the idiocy of the perpetual struggle for supremacy between the two, equally morally objectionable political parties. Catholics should never engage in the dumbing-down of issues or ad hominem rhetoric that the parties and their auxiliary interest groups promote. All of that is extremely destructive. (And we Catholics should challenge ourselves whenever, in others’ eyes, we are seen as guilty of this.)

But if the Church truly believes in the dignity of all human life, in our obligation to be stewards of the Earth, our duty to the poor, and so forth, then it ought to be no respecter of persons as it speaks out in a bold way that makes these positions crystal-clear. (That would of course include challenging me on my support of military action, which puts me in the position of justifying whether our presence in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else is in keeping with the Just War doctrine, or can be made to be in keeping with it.)

I realize I’m not being terribly clear myself here. OK, go back and read what I wrote about the moral instruction regarding political issues that I heard in a synagogue a couple of weeks back. No individual was trashed or called names; no political party was condemned. But it was made clear that as Jews, you are expected to believe in certain things, and act accordingly in the public sphere.

That ought to go double for Catholics. Jewishness is to some extent tied up with ethnic identity, whatever one chooses to believe. Catholicism is purely a matter of what you believe, and there should be no shyness about pointing out where Catholic teaching begins and ends, and when policy proposals are in keeping with it and when they are not.

If this petition leads to less of the vicious nonsense that I decry constantly on this blog, then praise be to God for the miracle. But I hope it will also encourage bold declarations of what is right and wrong in terms of policy, and whether a given proposal is in keeping with such standards or not.