Thursday, April 30, 2009

What the Governor Sebelius Dispute Has Taught Us About Voting

I submitted the following piece one Catholic website and was told it was too long. I should remove all the parts about charity. Then I sent it to Campus Magazine Online on March 26 and was told it would put online shortly. I have been waiting to see it appear and it has not. I was told they were just slow on getting things online, but more recent news has made it to their website, and so I have decided to post this here. I hope you all enjoy it.

What the Governor Sebelius Dispute Has Taught Us About Voting


"Woe to me if I say: 'I believe' and feel safe in that belief. For then I am already in danger of losing it (see Cor 10:12). Woe to me if I say: 'I am a Christian'---possibly with a side-glance at others who in my opinion are not, or at an age that is not, or at a cultural tendency flowing in the opposite direction. Then my so-called Christianity threatens to become nothing but a religious form of self-affirmation. I 'am' not a Christian; I am on the way to becoming one---if God will give me the strength. Christianity is nothing one can 'have'; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God's help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is most sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping, and praying" (The Lord, Romano Guardini).

There has been much ado over the recent letter from 26 prominent Catholic, many of whom are theologians, who came out in reaction to those who were being critical of Gov. Sebelius. Their document, “Catholic Citizens Defend Sebelius,” was co-signed by three members of the Boston College faculty: Dr. Lisa Cahill and Rev. David Hollenbach SJ of the theology department and Rev. Thomas Massaro SJ of the School of Theology and Ministry. As a student at Boston College, although I do not know any of them very well, I am familiar with all three.

Professor Cahill and I met for coffee last semester. Professor Cahill struck me as a very nice woman, I was impressed with her great love of her family and her desire to lead students to God, asking me what I, as a young Catholic, thought would be helpful for others. Since then, she has e-mailed me to tell me about campus events that I would find interesting.

Similarly, I have had an e-mail exchange with Fr. Massaro, and I was impressed with his profound charity and wisdom. My peer and friend Max Bindernagel quoted Fr. Massaro in the March 17, 2009 issue of The Observer: “Abortion is seriously wrong, as it ends a human life. As the church teaches, procuring or performing an abortion is a grave sin. Nobody should choose abortion, and it is unfortunate and tragic that our nation's laws do not protect unborn life…I am sad when I read opinion polls reporting that less than half of Catholics reject abortion in all circumstances. I wish we could count on 100% consensus against abortion in our faith community.” There can be no doubt that even if Father Massaro and other Catholics disagree on Gov. Sebelius’ appointment, he cares about the life issues.

Furthermore, Father Hollenbach I have the privilege of attending Mass with sometimes. It is so wonderful that we as Catholics can come together to worship God from all our different places in life: rich, poor, white, black, saint, sinner, young, old, cleric, lay, conservative, liberal. I say this about the three of them to make it very clear: I have much respect for all of them.

The buzz surrounding the nomination of Gov. Sebelius has at times been loud, uncharitable, and not very fruitful. Catholics deserve a serious discussion about the matter, one which takes the time to listen to the other before shouting responses down each other’s throats. This listening must take place. What if one is merely saying that Gov. Sebelius is the best appointment we can expect from President Obama? This would be a reasonable position, and I think most people know this already. If his appointee was not a Catholic, there might be such an uproar in the Catholic community. Catholics aren’t upset at the appointment of someone who holds her views; they expected this. They are upset that it is a Catholic, who should know better, who holds these views.

Let us return to the quote from Guardini: I am not a Christian. I am en route. Although I have no problem saying to a fellow Christian that, as a friend, brother, (and in this case, son) I see something wrong with the way he or she is acting, I am not comfortable playing the “I’m more Catholic than you” game. When this act is public and confuses others, it may required a public response. I do not offer this response as a bishop with authority and I don’t like calling people “Catholics in name only” because of their views or sins. That’s outside my competency.

The statement put forward by the 26 Catholics is very different from support coming from other Catholics. For example, Senator Sam Brownback also endorsed the nomination of Gov. Sebelius. Senator Brownback listed his reasons for endorsing her, being that it is good for Kansas to have someone from Kansas close to the President. He also said that there are disagreements with the Administration on issues. This was not a blanket endorsement. The statement was very nuanced, and those who saw this as a betrayal of the pro-life movement read into the statement things that were simply not there. Additionally, for Senator Brownback, he may be happy that he can now run for governor more easily and not have to worry about Governor Sebelius seeking his seat, if this is what he really does when his current term in the senate expires.

The statement from the 26 prominent Catholics did not contain the same nuance. In fact, it was at times simply false. The statement asserts that the groups opposing Gov. Sebelius solely pick on Democrats. “They politely ignore pro-choice Catholic Republicans like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.” While it is true that pro-abortion rights Democrats come under more fire often, it is because there are simply more of them than Republicans. When there are pro-abortion rights Republicans, they are criticized as well. The signers have forgotten about the American Life League and their "Deadly Dozen" campaign, which targeted people on both sides of the aisle for being both Catholic and pro-abortion rights. In addition, during our Holy Father’s visit to the United States, Cardinal Egan of New York criticized Mayor Rudy Giuliani for receiving the Eucharist. INSERT LINK

Additionally, on May 3, 2007, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI wrote, “Without a Doubt: My R.S.V.P to Rudy Giuliani” in which after clearly stating he is not a Republican, he proceeds to blast Mayor Giuliani for his position on abortion and his logic to justify it. At the end, he mentions that this is an issue for both Republicans and Democrats. As for Gov. Schwarzenegger, I don’t think his bishop has criticized Democrats for their position either, so it’s a moot point that he hasn’t been criticized. Clearly, this isn’t partisan politics.

The statement also claims that Gov. Sebelius is pro-life. This is very hard to reconcile with her statement from 1989 when she said, “There are certain inalienable rights established for a person, but those are not applied in utero.” It is not merely enough for a Catholic lawmaker to never have an abortion; she must also fight to protect life. This is what justice demands and to what the Church calls Catholics. If Democrats want to convince Catholics that their method of reducing abortion works better than the Republican one, we should have that discussion while still trying to outlaw abortion. To argue that Democrats have the right means (providing for women) while they have the wrong ends in mind (reduction of abortions to a number other than zero) is not acceptable. However, this does not mean that the members of the pro-life movement want to pass laws which throw women into prison for having abortions. Women are normally the second-victim in an abortion. When those who are pro-abortion rights say this, they are using a red-herring. Gov. Sebelius’ record on abortion from her entire career can be found easily enough by Google. It’s not as glorious as these signers would have us think. The rate at which abortion went down under her tenure was not much more than the national average, and she has more to explain than just one gubernatorial veto. It is not my place to get into that here. I’ll leave that to the confirmation hearings, but I will quote again from the aforementioned article by Max Bindernagel, “For example, even though abortion has declined at least 7% since 2003 during her terms as governor, Michael J. New of the University of Alabama noted that such a decline is consistent with a 6% decrease in abortions from 1999 to 2003, before her election. In Sebelius’s own gubernatorial online column, she noted that those who go without health care insurance has increased in Kansas for three consecutive years as of 2008 (column dated Oct. 22, 2008).”

Additionally, in that same article by Bindernagel, Prof. Cahill said, “There seems to be a priority given to abortion as the number one issue Catholics are interested in….People think Catholics are about abortion and that’s it….It’s not right to me for the focus to be on abortion. It has a priority as an issue that it should not have… [giving it that priority] is not what the bishops, or the pope, have said.” This can be seen as in line with the original statement signed by Cahill which said, “Finally, contrary to the right-wing blogosphere, abortion is not the only issue of concern to Catholics.”

It is certainly correct to say that abortion is not the only issue of concern to Catholics, but it is also correct to say it is the primary concern in the United States today, as it is one which involves life and death. Has Prof. Cahill become used to the status quo and forgotten what is at stake here?

As the bishops of Kansas wrote in a joint pastoral letter in 2008, “A properly formed conscience must give such issues priority even over other matters with important moral dimensions.” When he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI said in a letter to the US Bishops, “When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” The Kansas bishops say that no such proportionate reason existed in the last election cycle. A proportionate reason would have to be another life-and-death matter, not merely health care. The Kansas bishops were not alone in their understanding, with many bishops issuing statements clarifying on how Catholics should form their consciences before voting.

It is ironic that Professor Cahill would say that the bishops have not said that abortion gets priority before. She must have forgotten that just a few months earlier in National Catholic Reporter, she published a piece titled “U.S. Bishops damaging rich Catholic faith tradition.” In it, she argued that the bishops were abusing their power by saying that the life-issue gets priority. Either Prof. Cahill was imagining statements from the bishops which never came out when she wrote her first piece has since realized this, or she is wrong now and forgotten that they had issued these earlier statements that so bothered her.

However, the greatest problem with the statement from the 26 Catholics is that it confuses the faithful. While it may be that Gov. Sebelius is the most qualified person that a rabidly pro-abortion rights president such as the current one would ever appoint, all Catholics should be in agreement that a 100% pro-life version of Gov. Sebelius would be preferable. Where will we find such a person? Well, ideally, it would come to the point in our nation where every elected Republican and Democrat was in line with the Catholic Church on these matters. One would think that with so many Catholics and other pro-life people we could have achieved this by now. However, Catholics are confused on how to vote for two reasons. One, they are often told not to worry about the pro-life issue at the lowest levels of voting, such as their town mayor, who will not really affect abortion policy. This is true, but someday Mayor Abortion-Rights is going to run for senate, and then his position on abortion will matter. At the same time, theologians (on both sides) say things such as, “If it came down to Mayor Giuliani and Senator Clinton for president in 2008, it would have been morally acceptable to vote for Mayor Giuliani since he would have been more likely to appoint a conservative justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade.” Maybe this is true. However, such compromises do not need to be made at the local level, where a Catholic write-in campaign could have a chance of electing a representative to the state house without compromise. Catholic theologians need to say that there is at times a moral obligation that when there is no pro-life candidate running for local office, some Catholic step-up and do it. Such a campaign is not a viable option for higher offices, but without ever taking advantage of this option locally, there is never going to be a day when the only members of both party who could run for president are pro-life because the only people who are currently qualified office-holders are already pro-life.

Catholic theologians need to stop justifying compromise, confusing the lay faithful with vague documents that do not do a justice to the full body of Catholic thought, and uncritically stating false facts about politicians. At the same time, the Catholic discussion on who is right on the negotiable issues like tax-structure or how to provide health care needs to take place. Our entire discussion cannot be about whether we can compromise on the non-negotiable issues like abortion in order to get health-care, since we haven’t even discussed whether we want health-care. It makes no sense. Finally, Catholic theologians must explain to the lay faithful that compromising when it is not necessary is not a moral option. It’s time to take back our state houses one district at a time so that fifteen years from now we aren’t in the same place we are now: a radical pro-abortion rights president that Catholics elected because both candidates were lousy.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

And let's not forget wisdom from Archbishop Chaput:

"What is a 'proportionate' reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It's the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life - which we most certainly will. If we're confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed."