WE’VE MOVED!

November 18th, 2020

 

Be sure to check out my blog at its new location:

https://edwardmechmann.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Some Post-Election Thoughts

November 17th, 2020

We have just been through a bruising and difficult election. In some cases, elections are still being contested and finalized. But now that the dust has mostly settled, I think it’s a good time to offer some post-election thoughts – my amateur political analysis and some glimpses into the future.

The President Lost Because He is Unpopular

In some circles, this is still a controversial statement, but I’ll say it anyway: the President lost the election. He lost both the popular vote and the all-important Electoral College vote. And the main reason this happened is strikingly simple. It’s because he is unpopular.

He was never really popular. In fact, he was historically unpopular. Here’s a page with an interesting chart comparing Trump’s approval poll ratings with every president back to Truman. The President has approval ratings that are consistently worse than every prior, except Carter (who lost his second run) and George HW Bush (ditto). Notice the unsurprising pattern – unpopular presidents lose reelection races.

In fact, the President’s disapprovals were always more than his approvals. This is astonishing. Every single prior president in the last 75 years managed to stay net positive for most of their terms. Even Johnson was above water in his popularity ratings until the very end. Nixon never had popularity ratings below his unpopular ratings. Even at the very end, when he was about to be impeached for the crimes he had committed, his approvals were going up! The President’s consistent unpopularity was truly unprecedented.

It’s hard to win when more people disapprove of you than approve. In fact, in both 2016 and 2020 more people voted for other candidates than for the President. So the result in 2016 was actually the fluke, while 2020 was a reversion towards a more normal voting pattern.

It’s Hard to Win Presidential Elections

The 2016 results were so surprising because the President did something that was very difficult.

The electoral map is hard for a Republican. The Democrats start out with a huge lead in the Electoral College thanks to the guaranteed blue states (like California, NY, NJ, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia). Those alone get a Democrat well over halfway to 270. The guaranteed GOP states fall far short of that, and some of them are clearly shifting toward the Democrats (e.g., Arizona and Georgia).

The big “swing” states that Trump won in 2016 are hard to win for a Republican. Pennsylvania and Michigan had been consistently blue – before 2016, they had last voted for a Republican in 1988. Wisconsin hadn’t gone for a Republican since 1984.

It’s also a fact that there are just more Democratic voters in America than Republicans. And their numbers have been growing enough that they are putting states like Georgia and North Carolina in play. The GOP hasn’t gotten a majority of the presidential vote since Bush 2004. Before that, the last GOP majority was in 1988!

So to win the presidency, a Republican has to capitalize on the nature of the Electoral College and win a few key swing states. Democrats have an easier time getting their electoral votes to 270, but even for them it’s difficult because only a couple of states can make all the difference.

If the President had held onto the three swing states he won in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin) he could have won this election. He just couldn’t pull it off.

This Was a Winnable Election

Going into 2020, it was generally understood that this was going to be a close election, and that the President has a good chance of being reelected. The economy was doing well, which always benefits the incumbent. No major wars had broken out, and there had been some noteworthy foreign policy successes. The Democrats were significantly divided, and their front-runner was a multiple loser in prior presidential races.

Coronavirus intervened, of course, and completely changed the political landscape. It tanked the economy, thus neutralizing the strongest issue that the President had going for him. But it also offered an opportunity to show genuine strong leadership. A good politician would have grabbed that opening with both hands and could have won this election. Professional politicians are actually good at winning races. That’s their specialty.

The President isn’t a professional politician – that is a large part of his appeal and why he was elected in 2016. But it hurt him this year. He bungled the Coronavirus response with conflicting messages and unnecessary conflicts. And he ran a terrible campaign – no message discipline, no consistent themes, no plan for the future, no touting the genuine accomplishments, too much time in red states and not enough in purple. He almost unfailingly chose to take the unpopular position on the issues most people cared about (e.g., the COVID relief bills). He was short of money when it mattered most. He relied too heavily on ad hominem attacks, and those backfired. That doesn’t sway independents or cross-overs, particularly those who voted early before the President put on his big push. The opposition was highly motivated by their hostility to the President, which he unceasingly fueled.

The President had to thread a needle to win this year. It was doable, but he just didn’t pull it off.

Facing Electoral Reality

There have been a lot of allegations that the election was stolen. But no real evidence of any kind of widespread fraud has been presented thus far. Localized misconduct and errors undoubtedly happened, but there is no evidence that it occurred at such a scale that the election results would be overturned.

For those who are interested in following the various allegations of fraud, here’s a useful website, which is run by the Daily Caller (a conservative magazine) and associated with Fox host Tucker Carlson.  The Annenberg Center, which is a mainstream journalism/academic think tank, also evaluates them. They’ve both debunked virtually all of the allegations that are floating around in social media.

The way to adjudicate these issues is in court, not on Twitter. If there’s any real evidence, they’ll have to put it before courts. That’s the way the process works. But court challenges and recounts very, very rarely overturn the initial vote counts. And the cases so far have been almost all decided against the President.

The final votes still have to be certified by state officials, and the remaining challenges will work through the courts. But I have no real doubt that when the Electoral College meets in December, there will be a new President.

It’s hard to admit defeat. But reality is an uncompromising thing.

Elections Have Consequences

The President’s defeat is a significant loss for our causes. His Administration has done a number of very significant things to promote the cause of life, to defend religious liberty, and to oppose gender ideology. His judicial nominees will hopefully lead to a re-balancing of the federal bench and a more favorable interpretation of the Constitution. Unfortunately, however, most of the Administration’s accomplishments were done through executive orders and regulatory actions, which will be reversed by the incoming Administration.

We have to remember that an election is not just about candidates, but also what the administration will be like. A dysfunctional and divided Congress has led to less legislation and thus a more active Administrative State. In recent years, the number of executive orders and regulations has mushroomed. In fact, most of what government does these days is through regulatory and enforcement actions by political appointees.

A Biden Administration would be a disaster for some of the causes we hold most dear. There is no question that the Democratic Party has been getting more and more radical on abortion. The party’s platform is adamantly opposed to any limitations on abortion. It stonewalls and calumnies judicial nominees who might be inclined to cut back on abortion. The Chairman of the national committee has said that support for abortion is “non-negotiable” for Democratic candidates. As a result, there is not a single pro-life Democrat in Congress, and support for abortion will be the non-negotiable criteria for judicial nominees.

On religious freedom, we can expect very narrow interpretations – or outright or non-enforcement — of federal conscience protection laws. Very few and narrow religious exemptions will be granted to regulations and contracting provisions. Most alarmingly, the Democrats are committed to gutting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by way of a bill with an Orwellian name – the “Equality Act”. We will also see a serious promotion of gender ideology, particularly through conditions imposed on federal funding for schools.

On the other hand, the new Administration will certainly lift some of the harsh immigration policies of the Trump Administration. We can look forward to a restoration of the refugee program to more normal levels, and a renewal of the Dreamer program. I also hope that the new Administration will stop any federal executions, make care for the environment a priority, and put human rights at the forefront of our foreign policy. These policies won’t outweigh the negatives outlined above, but they would still be welcome.

Now What?

So we have a tough road ahead of us in the public policy arena. The pro-life movement will have to reorient itself away from its “all in” support for Trump, and re-calibrate its political priorities away from Washington and back to the states. There have been tremendous strides in pro-life legislation on the state level, and this should be built upon. Of course, most of these gains have been or will be challenged in court, so the battle will certainly continue there.

The fight to defend religious liberty will become much more significant in the coming years. We need to prepare for this, and support the organizations that are leading the fight, like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom. We also have to seriously discuss the options of conscientious objection and civil disobedience. And we will have to make difficult decisions about the Catholic identity of institutions and whether they merit continues sponsorship by the Church.

And so the work goes on. The Church has been in the business of dealing with governments for a long, long time. She is an expert in not trusting princes, but instead trusting the Lord. So perhaps in the aftermath of this difficult election, we could all pray for a renewal of our trust in God.

Words of Wisdom About Elections

November 4th, 2020

Every four years, we hear people say that “this is the most important election of our lifetime”. Those people have short memories. While our nation is politically polarized and emotions run high now, I would remind people of the two Civil War elections, 1860 and 1864. In both of those years, Abraham Lincoln was elected in a nation that was divided by secession and warfare. And in his inaugural addresses, he offered words of wisdom that we would be advised to heed in our day.

The First Words of Wisdom

Recall the context of the 1860 election. The nation had been divided by the slavery issue for decades, and the issue had come to a head in the late 1850’s with the Dred Scott decision, the Fugitive Slave Act, and intermittent combat in “Bloody Kansas”. Lincoln was well-known as an anti-slavery advocate, and his election led southern states to attempt to secede from the Union. Everyone feared that a civil war was imminent once Lincoln took office.

In his inaugural address, Lincoln sought to reassure the nation that he wished for a peaceful reconciliation. But he was also clear that the decision depended on whether the southern states took up arms to interfere with the activities of the federal government.

But most important, he closed with a soaring appeal for reconciliation, a magnificent example of political rhetoric:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/firstinaugural.htm

Nobody expects a bloody civil war to break out now. But political violence is becoming more common, as we have seen in many cities, including our own. A shocking number of people – one-third of both Republicans and Democrats – tell pollsters that they believe that violence is justified to achieve their political goals. Even more have said that violence is an acceptable response if the other side wins the election. That is very scary.

We need to remind ourselves of Lincoln’s words, and focus again on our bonds of affection and mystic chords of memory that unite us as Americans. We certainly have our political differences, and we can deeply regret the election results, but we must still love our country – and our neighbor.

The Second Words of Wisdom

The election of 1864 was even more fraught. It was taking place in the middle of the Civil War. All the southern states were still fighting against the Union. Hundreds of thousands of American men had been killed or wounded. The Emancipation Proclamation had taken the first step towards the full liberation of the slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment, which would finish the job, had already been passed by the Senate but was stuck in the House. Everyone understood that if Lincoln lost the election, the new president might end the war and recognize the independence of the Confederacy.

It was a political triumph that our nation was even able to conduct a smooth election during a major war, and a blessing Lincoln was re-elected.

When Lincoln rose to give his second inaugural address, the war was virtually at an end. He gave the most powerful and beautiful speech in American history, with the possible exception of his own Gettysburg Address. After reflecting on the deep spiritual meaning of the war, he closed with another plea for reconciliation and unity:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

https://www.nps.gov/linc/learn/historyculture/lincoln-second-inaugural.htm

Those were challenging words then, and they are so now. It is tragic to read about families divided and friendships ended over politics. But there is no question that we must follow Lincoln’s advice going forward if we are to live in peace together. For Christians, this is a very serious obligation – we must help our nation heal.

Final Words of Wisdom

No matter how this election comes out, we will all go about our normal lives. We will pray, read the Bible, say the Rosary, go to Mass and Confession, and “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). We will continue to do the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy to show our love for neighbor. For the vast majority of us, the results of the election will have little or no effect on our daily activities. Elections matter, but they are far less important than our relationship with God.

The best way I can close is to quote some words of wisdom not from Lincoln, but from Pope Francis. In his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, he calls for us to overcome our divisions and create a society based on fraternity and friendship:

Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all. (8)

http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html

Voting With a Clear Catholic Conscience

November 1st, 2020

The election is finally almost over. Many people have already voted by mail or at early sites, but many of us still have not. I am a Catholic who is very serious about both politics and following the guidance of our bishops. So I want to vote with a clear Catholic conscience. I’d like to show how the Church’s teaching helped me decide how to vote, in case this will help others make their own decision.

Forming My Conscience

Deciding how to vote is an exercise in forming one’s conscience. As with many moral decisions, there is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all Catholic answer. But there is a correct approach to forming a good conscience and making a prudent decision, guided by the teaching of the Church. It is outlined by our bishops in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

This document can be a guide not just for Catholics, but for all people of faith as they wrestle with the difficult choices in this election. It’s a shame that more Catholics don’t know about it. It’s especially a shame that so many Catholic politicians don’t use it to form their consciences, and instead adopt positions that are totally in violation of Church teaching.

The bishops make clear that we must always oppose all intrinsically evil actions and laws (FC 22). This would include direct assaults on innocent human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, cloning, genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, racism, violations of religious liberty, redefining marriage, etc. (FC 23)

But they left no question about which issues are most important. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (FC 22, emphasis added). There is no wiggle room here – “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (FC 28, emphasis added)

Nor can we pretend that a candidate’s other favorable positions give them an excuse for their evil position. In an earlier document the bishops said that “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.” (Living the Gospel of Life 22, emphasis added)

This does not mean that other issues are unimportant. But if life itself is not defended when it is most vulnerable, all other rights are meaningless.

Candidates and Intrinsic Evil

The bishops have said that we cannot vote for a candidate that promotes intrinsic evil in order to support that position. “In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.” (FC 34). So I can’t support a pro-abortion candidate in order to advance abortion rights. No surprise there.

Despite a candidate’s intrinsically evil position, we can vote for them – but “only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (FC 35, emphasis added). This is a crucial point. We have to have a very good reason to vote for such a candidate. Party loyalty isn’t a good enough reason. And we can’t take abortion off the table, pretend it doesn’t matter, and look only at other issues. In fact, it’s perfectly responsible to reject a candidate simply because they support an evil like abortion (FC 42).

However, we can’t just be single-issue voters: “A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” (FC 42) This makes sense. A candidate may be right about abortion but favor other intrinsic evils or be unqualified to hold office because of their character. It would be irresponsible to vote for such a person.

But what if all candidates promote grave and intrinsic evils? Here are our options: “The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (FC 36, emphasis added)

In other words, when all the choices are bad, we can vote for damage control.

The Current Presidential Race

It’s clear that both the major party candidates present significant problems for a Catholic voter. Both candidates espouse positions that support intrinsic evil, which means that to vote for either would require a “truly grave moral reason”. That’s a very hard burden to meet. But it should be hard for a Catholic to justify voting for someone who supports a grave injustice.

In Mr. Biden’s case, the problem is his unequivocal support for legalized abortion and gender ideology, and his lack of support for religious freedom. For Mr. Trump, it is his cruel and xenophobic policies towards migrants and refugees, and his inflaming of racial tensions.

Is there enough in their favor to provide a “grave moral reason” to vote for either man despite those evil positions?

Those who support Mr. Biden cite some of his positions on immigration, economics and race, which they say are in general alignment with the bishops’ policy preferences. Supporters of Mr. Trump point to his support for religious liberty, his anti-abortion policies and his judicial appointments. Both campaigns have focused heavily on arguments about character – essentially saying that “the other guy is worse”.

Many Catholics and pro-lifers believe Mr. Biden’s position on abortion is disqualifying. They argue that Mr. Trump’s positions on abortion and religious liberty are alone enough to overcome his negatives. They also believe it is imperative to prevent the damage that would be done by a Biden Administration.

Are these arguments enough to justify voting for either of these men?

How I Decided

To give an example of how to answer that question, let me explain how I made my voting decision. I have to say, to make it perfectly clear, that what follows is my opinion only, it is not in any way an official statement of the Archdiocese, and it is not an endorsement or non-endorsement of any candidate.

I relied heavily on the teaching of the bishops in Faithful Citizenship to form my conscience. With the bishops, I believe that abortion is by far the preeminent issue in this election. No other issue is anywhere near as significant. But I also consider religious liberty, gender ideology, race and immigration to be significant issues.

I cannot conceive of a “truly grave moral reason” to vote for Mr. Biden. He supports the legalized killing of over 800,000 children a year, even up to the moment of birth. He considers gender ideology to be the “civil rights issue of our time”, and will not protect conscience rights. His administration will be staffed by people who have radicalized on these issues, and will do much harm to the Church in enforcing them. They will also advance the radical Critical Social Justice agenda (also known as “wokism” or “political correctness”). I just can’t see how any argument in his favor could be enough to overcome his unequivocal support of intrinsic moral evils.

But just because I won’t vote for Mr. Biden, that doesn’t mean that there is automatically a “grave moral reason” to vote for Mr. Trump. I cannot justify voting for a man whom I consider to be the worst person to hold high public office in American history. His cruelty, incivility and dishonesty have significantly contributed to the degradation of our politics and divisiveness in society. His stand on racial issues and his migration policies are an abomination. I agree that his administration would prevent damage on abortion and religious liberty, but I cannot in good conscience say that I think he should be president – which is what my vote ultimately means.

So I will not vote for either major party candidate. That’s just me. Everyone has to live with their own decisions, and be able to justify them to the Lord in the end.

Escaping the False Binary

This decision liberated me from the false binary that we can only vote for a Republican or a Democrat. There are other parties, including one that very closely reflects a Catholic position on the major issues – the American Solidarity Party. I believe their platform best represents my moral and political values. So on Election Day I will vote for their candidate, Brian Carroll. I will do so with a clear conscience.

I know that many people consider it a “wasted vote” to support a minor party candidate who has no chance of winning. But I believe the only way that we can influence the political culture is to vote based on principle. As John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” If enough people vote on principle, then the parties will eventually have to listen, and they will start to offer better candidates and platforms. If I just hold my nose and acquiesce in whatever the major parties offer, they’ll keep serving up the same unpalatable dish.

Our Difficult Duty

This is a hard election for Catholics. We have a duty to do better than choosing the less terrible of two awful choices. That’s difficult in this imperfect world. But ultimately we are called to give public witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to reject a politics of power, and promote a politics of principle and virtue. If we don’t, then our politics will only continue to get worse and worse.

Dealing With Papal Mistakes

October 21st, 2020

One of the most common misunderstandings, both by Catholics and non-Catholics, is that we believe that every word from the Pope must be accepted as infallible Church teaching. That’s not at all what we believe, as I will explain in a moment. But we must be clear about this, because sometimes we have to deal with and explain papal mistakes.

This is really important, because like every other human being, popes make mistakes. I think it’s fair to say that every single pope who ever lived has made mistakes. Nobody is error free. But it does us no good to ignore these lapses when they happen, or try to explain them away as if they don’t matter.

I want to make clear that I deeply love Pope Francis, and am making these comments with great respect for my brother and father in Christ. I unequivocally accept and submit to the teachings of the Church. May God forbid that I ever say anything contrary to the teachings of the Church or anything that leads anyone astray from the truth.

The Pope’s Comments

The reason for writing this is a news story that broke today. In an interview for an Italian documentary, the Holy Father made a serious mistake (assuming that the reported quotations are accurate). But we have to be clear about what this error means – or doesn’t mean – for our faith.

The mistake came in comments made by the Holy Father about homosexual relationships. Here is the first part of what he is reported to have said:

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-calls-for-civil-union-law-for-same-sex-couples-in-shift-from-vatican-stance-12462

This is certainly true, with one exception that will become apparent in the Pope’s next comment. All human persons are made in the image and likeness of God. We are all part of the human family as well as our natural family.

Our Church has always, and will always teach that homosexual acts are gravely immoral and can never be justified (Catechism 2357). It is also Church teaching that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 251). But we also are taught that we must always treat our homosexual friends and neighbors “with respect, compassion and sensitivity”, and not subject them to unjust discrimination (Catechism 2358).

The problem arises from the next reported comment by the Holy Father:

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-calls-for-civil-union-law-for-same-sex-couples-in-shift-from-vatican-stance-12462

Unfortunately, supporting the legal recognition of any kind of same-sex union is contrary to Church teaching.

The Pope’s Mistake

As the battle over the legal redefinition of marriage and recognition of same-sex unions was heating up, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document called Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (June 3, 2003). This was done under the supervision of the Prefect of the CDF, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and promulgated with the approval of Pope John Paul II.

The purpose of the document was made clear at the outset: “The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question” (Considerations 1). It then went on to explain, in abundant detail and based on arguments from the natural law, the common good and reason, that there was no possible justification for the legal recognition of any kind of same-sex union. In fact, it repeatedly called such laws “gravely unjust” and support for these laws is “gravely immoral”.

Here’s the teaching of the Church, as summarized in Considerations:

The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself. (Considerations 11)

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

As for how Catholics should deal with proposals to recognize such unions, the document is also very clear:

One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. (Considerations 5)

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

Even though the Holy Father’s comments were informal and not an official pronouncement of policy, they clearly can be construed as “formal cooperation”. So this is a serious mistake by the Holy Father and it can lead to a lot of confusion.

The Teaching of the Church

The teaching of the Church is clear that the Holy Father exercises great authority in his regular teaching on faith and morals. This is called his “ordinary magisterium”, and Catholics are bound to “adhere to it with religious assent” (Catechism 892). This is especially true when the Holy Father is teaching in union with the College of Bishops, either gathered together or in their own home dioceses.

This is in contrast to the formal exercise of his “extraordinary magisterium”. This only takes place when the pope makes a solemn proclamation of a doctrine that must be accepted as a matter of faith. This is also called a teaching ex cathedra because it is (at least figuratively) given from the papal throne (the “cathedra“) as the Successor of St. Peter. These teachings are guaranteed by the Holy Spirit to be free of error (the doctrine of “papal infallibility”).

An example of how the Pope exercises this ordinary magisterium is the issuance of an encyclical. Pope Francis just issued one last week, Fratelli Tutti, on the need to develop a fraternal society based on love. Other ways in which it is done is through the regular formal addresses given by the Pope, such as his Wednesday Catechesis, his comments at the weekly Angelus, or in his homilies at pontifical Masses.

Informal comments during an airplane news conference, or remarks to documentary film-makers, are clearly not formal exercises of the Pope’s teaching authority. While we are always bound to respect the Holy Father and his statements, we are not bound to accept as infallible every word that comes from his mouth. These are subject to all the ordinary human fallibilities – ambiguity, incompleteness, and even outright error.

And that’s what happened here. The Pope said something that was incorrect.

What Do We Do?

It’s not my place to counsel the Holy Father what to do about this. It may well be that he was misquoted, or taken out of context. But I would hope that he immediately clarifies the comments and reaffirms the correct principles. But that’s up to him, and I doubt he will ask my advice.

My concern is how we should respond.

In this case, I think we have to recognize that the Holy Father has plainly erred. Catholics cannot promote the legalization of same-sex unions. But we also have to be clear that he isn’t changing the teaching of the Church on homosexuality or same-sex unions in any way. He can’t do that, and he has himself repeatedly upheld the teaching – including in a formal encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, a few years ago.

Unfortunately, the Holy Father has a history of off-handed comments that are unclear or can be construed as erroneous. This has caused a lot of anxiety and confusion, and even a lot of division in the Church. I wish the Pope had better “message discipline”, but you could say that about just about every public figure. At least he doesn’t say outlandish things on Twitter every few minutes, like the President.

So instead of getting all upset and hysterical about this, we should take that for what it is. It was a mistake by a man with good intentions but who just got it wrong. He was trying to give expression to his long-standing desire that we reach out to and include those who are marginalized or alienated from the Church or society. It was an unforced error, and it will have to be corrected either by the Holy Father, his press team, or our own bishops. It’s an opportunity for all of them to publicly reaffirm the true teaching of the Church, which would at least bring something good out of the situation.

In the end, I don’t see any reason for people’s faith to be shaken by this. The teaching is clear and will never change. The gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church. It would be nice if we all prayed for the Pope, instead of critiquing everything he says or does. And as a weak and foolish man who has made millions of mistakes, I would like to think that we can extend to the Holy Father the same degree of mercy that I hope others give to me.

Pandemic Panic and Our Religious Freedom

October 16th, 2020

Back in April, when the pandemic was raging at its peak in New York, I wrote about the legal considerations relevant to quarantines and lockdowns. The regulations were very severe, and for several months our churches were closed to in-person liturgy and all our schools were closed. Nevertheless, given the situation at the time, I concluded that the restrictions were reasonable and thus constitutional.

Now, circumstances have clearly changed. The pandemic levels are significantly lower in New York. The experts have learned a lot about how to treat the disease and where it is most easily spread. The best practice now is to conduct more testing to isolate those who are sick, protect vulnerable populations, diligently practice social distancing (especially wearing a mask), and avoid large indoor gatherings that fail the social distancing rules.

The Constitution and Pandemics

The law makes clear that when the crisis changes, the regulations and the legal analysis must also change, and what was permissible earlier is not permissible later. The law governing pandemic response was well summarized by a federal circuit court earlier this year:

[W]hen faced with a society-threatening epidemic, a state may implement emergency measures that curtail constitutional rights so long as the measures have at least some real or substantial relation to the public health crisis and are not beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law. Courts may ask whether the state’s emergency measures lack basic exceptions for extreme cases, and whether the measures are pretextual – that is, arbitrary or oppressive. At the same time, however, courts may not second-guess the wisdom or efficacy of the measures.

In re Greg Abbott, (5th Cir., April 7, 2020) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)

The Supreme Court has also made clear that “where the State has in place a system of individual exemptions, it may not refuse to extend that system to cases of ‘religious hardship’ without compelling reason.” Employment Div. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 884 (1990). That requirement of a “compelling reason” is a very high standard. When they give exemptions to other activities, the government has the heavy burden to justify any restrictions on our religious freedom.

In short, the Constitution does not give public officials carte blanche for as long as the medical problem persists. There’s no such thing as a permanent “state of emergency” that allows the government to suspend civil liberties for the duration. As the experts gather more medical and scientific evidence about the pandemic, the government has the time, ability and obligation to develop its policies accordingly. And, most critically, the government has to craft reasonable responses that also respect constitutional rights, including the free exercise of religion.

The Governor’s “cluster initiative”.

There has recently been an uptick in the number of positive COVID cases in certain areas of Brooklyn, Queens, and some upstate areas. City and state public health officials trace these outbreaks to violations of social distancing rules by some Orthodox Jewish congregations. There is no question that there have been some violations in that community – there are numerous photos available of mass indoor and outdoor gatherings with people close together and few masks.

But rather than enforce the existing rules in those cases, the Governor chose instead a draconian blunt sweeping response. He calls it his “cluster initiative”. He ordered a complete shutdown of all “non-essential” businesses in “red zones”, as well as other restrictions in “orange” and “yellow” zones nearby. Included in that shutdown is the closure of all public and private schools, and very strict limitations on the numbers of people who can attend any kind of religious service – only 10 people in the “red zone”.

This is utterly unreasonable. Catholic schools and churches are being shuttered despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that they have been the source of any kind of outbreak. Our institutions have been exceedingly diligent and have spent $18 million in implementing safety codes. It is outrageous that our law-abiding and safe schools and parishes are collateral damage from the City’s utter failure to enforce the law.

This is an egregious violation of our religious freedom. Check out the Governor’s explanation of the “cluster initiative”, which he gave in a recent phone call with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community:

I am 100% frank and candid. This is not a highly nuanced, sophisticated response. This is a fear-driven response. You know, this is not a policy being written by a scalpel. This is a policy being cut by a hatchet. It’s just very blunt… But it’s out of fear. People see the numbers going up. ‘Close everything! Close everything!’ It’s not the best way to do it, but it is a fear-driven response. Your point is right. ‘Why close every school? Why don’t you test the schools and close the ones that have a problem?’ I know… the fear is too high to do anything other than ‘Let’s do everything we can to get the infection rate down now. Close the doors. Close the windows.’ That’s where we are.

This doesn’t even come close to satisfying the constitutional standard of a “compelling reason” to restrict our religious freedom. It doesn’t even try to offer any basis for treating our churches and schools differently from all the other random businesses that are allowed to be open, much less the places where there have been violations. There’s no science or medicine in that statement. It’s as if the public health community has learned nothing since March about how to contain the virus.

Closing our churches and schools – which have proven to be completely safe – has no “real or substantial relation to the public health crisis”. It is “beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law.”

This is not a well-crafted policy driven by reason. As the Governor himself said, it’s “a hatchet” and “a fear-driven response”.

That’s panic, not sound public policy. And our religious freedom is a casualty.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Diocese of Brooklyn went to federal court to fight these unreasonable restrictions. They were denied a temporary restraining order by a judge who erroneously gave essentially unlimited deference to the Governor. They are back in court, but lawsuits take time, so there’s no relief in sight. [UPDATE: They lost.]

Everybody wants to overcome this pandemic and stop any incipient breakouts. We have proven that we can operate safely with no spread of the disease. We have respected and followed the scientists and public health officials. And we have shown that we good and law-abiding citizens who will comply with reasonable and fair laws.

But we do not have an obligation to obey unjust laws. We have a duty to defend our sacred rights, particularly the right to worship God and to teach our faith.

There are many who say that the time has come for civil disobedience, and urge us to open the churches and open the schools. When the government is so heedless of our rights, that option becomes more and more compelling.

A Catholic Lawyer’s Confirmation Hearing

October 7th, 2020

After Justice Ruth Ginsburg died, a friend jokingly suggested that she would contact the President and suggest that he nominate me for the vacancy. The chances of that happening are as far below zero as the temperature in outer space. But as a Catholic lawyer, I think it would be amusing to present my legal philosophy to an imaginary confirmation hearing. I think it would add a refreshing bit of honesty to hearings that are almost exclusively political theater and obfuscation. And the reaction to my remarks would be amazing to see. So here goes.

What My Legal Philosophy is Not

Let me first make clear what my philosophy is not.

I am not an “originalist”, as most conservative legal thinkers style themselves nowadays. That term refers to a particular approach to interpreting the Constitution. It has been described very well by Judge Amy Coney Barrett:

Originalists, like textualists, care about what people understood words to mean at the time that the law was enacted because those people had the authority to make law. They did so through legitimate processes, which included writing down and fixing the law… And, as with statutes, the law can mean no more or less than that communicated by the language in which it is written.

All of that is important and is true up to a point. Judges should apply the law as it is written, and respect the lawmaking process. But no written law can possibly be clear and comprehensive enough to apply unambiguously to all conceivable situations. Judges necessarily “fill in the blanks” to decide the inevitable cases that do not fit squarely into the text of a law. They have to draw on principles that are not contained in the text.

The question is, how to you fill in the blanks?

Originalism has no answer to that question. It is just a version of legal positivism. Positivists reject objective moral truth. They consider the law to be only what is enacted by those with the power to do so. They would strike down a law only if it conflicts with another higher one.

So originalist judges try to decide cases without any reference to objective moral truth. Instead they rely on linguistics and legislative history to discern the “original public meaning” of the text, and nothing else. But even the most committed originalist always has to reach out for moral and legal principles that are not in the text of the Constitution. The notion of originalism itself is one of them – it is not contained anywhere in the Constitution. The same is true of Justice Antonin Scalia’s influential “canons of interpretation” to guide judges in interpreting legal texts.

I understand why originalism has become the dominant legal philosophy among conservatives. It is a reaction to the abuse of power by “progressive” judges who believe in a “living constitution”. They filled in the blanks with their own political and moral beliefs under the guise of “substantive due process”. They are absolutely guilty of “legislating from the bench”. That is certainly an abuse, but originalism is an incomplete answer.

Ultimately originalism is a dead end by itself, and the question remains:  how do you fill in the blanks?

I am a Natural Lawyer

This brings me to the point of telling you what my legal philosophy is.

My legal philosophy rests instead on some basic principles. There is an objective moral truth that is found in the natural law. The only proper way to interpret any man-made law is in light of the natural law. And all human law must ultimately conform to the natural law in order to be valid and binding.

The natural law is rooted in reason and the universal moral values that it can discern. It comes from a deep understanding of the authentic nature of the human person and of the human community. It understands what is good and true for human happiness and fulfillment. And it teaches us what is evil and destructive for us. The natural law is not something completely distinct from man-made law. Rather, its basic principles of fairness and reason pervade our laws so thoroughly that we take them for granted.

The relationship between human law and natural law was stated most clearly and powerfully by William Seward. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, during a debate on slavery in the territories, he said:

But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. The territory is a part, no inconsiderable part, of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator if the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure in the highest attainable degree their happiness.

Seward was excoriated for that statement at the time by defenders of slavery, and he would certainly be ostracized from polite legal society today. Yet that principle was inherited by our nation as part of the English common law. The Constitution actually embodies natural law principles and empowers the government to give them effect. This was clearly understood by the Founders and the early generation of lawyers and judges.

The Founders knew very well what William Blackstone, the great compiler of the English common law, wrote:

This law of nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.

James Wilson was one of the first Supreme Court justices, and one of our greatest legal minds. He said “it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: It is the law of God . . . Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine.” He also stated “That our Creator has a supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law, are truths established on the clearest and most solid principles.”

The role of the natural law was also affirmed by another of our greatest legal thinkers, Abraham Lincoln. He rejected the morally vacant “popular sovereignty” argument offered by Stephen Douglass in defense of slavery. That was about as pure an expression of positivism as one can find. Lincoln understood instead that all law must rest on universal principles of morality about the true nature of the human person. He rightly invoked the basic equality of all people as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. That is a key tenet of the natural law. The abolition of slavery took place only because people eventually conformed human law to the natural law.

It is ironic that Douglass’ legal theory has become the dominant one today. It is, in fact, defended by originalists. For example, Justice Scalia once wrote, “The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.” Lincoln would have recoiled from the idea that one class of humans could have their lives taken with impunity, merely because the people have voted that way. It is difficult to think of a concept that is more at odds with the natural law, moral truth, and reason.

Only Natural Law Fills the Blanks

Originalism is morally bankrupt without the natural law. So are the competing theories of the “living constitution” and “substantive due process”. The only legitimate way to fill in the blanks in the Constitution is to rely on natural law.

Without the natural law, lawmakers and judges will inevitably fill in the blanks with idiosyncratic and erroneous views of the human person and community. That road leads to incoherence. For example, the “progressive” theory of “substantive due process” is really just a false version of natural law based on the bogus theory of absolute individual autonomy. The “living constitution” is just an excuse to enact contemporary political values. The result is that the law is always up for grabs.

Any judge who says they can decide cases purely by originalism, without any recourse to extrinsic principles of morality or reason, is deluding themselves or misleading us. The natural law is ultimately the only source of clear and firm principles to decide cases.

My Legal Philosophy is Catholic

The need to link positive law with natural law is not just an American and English tradition. It is also the position that I hold as a matter of my Catholic faith. St. Pope John Paul II put it this way: “The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church.” And again, “Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law”.

In fact, Catholic belief goes even further. Pope John Paul also wrote, “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law.” By “eternal law” he is specifically referring to God’s law, the same ultimate source of law referred to by Seward, Blackstone, Lincoln, Wilson, et al.

Catholic legal philosophy thus is originalist, but in the truest sense because it fills in the blanks by consulting the natural law. It is thus the best way to interpret our Constitution.

Cutting to the Key Questions

So I’ll be blunt about the questions you are dying to ask.

My legal philosophy would never agree that a court decision contrary to the natural law is “settled”. Adherence to erroneous precedents is simply irrational. As the great American legal scholar, Chancellor James Kent said, “If, however, any solemnly adjudged case can be shown to be in error, it is no doubt the right and the duty of the judges who have a similar case before them, to correct the error”. That is true originalism.

In my view, Roe v. Wade and its progeny Planned Parenthood v. Casey are wrong as a matter of moral and legal reasoning and are profoundly unjust. They defined an entire class of human beings to be non-persons with no rights, who can be subjected to violence with impunity. That violates not only the natural law, but the promise of equality in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I would vote to overrule those decisions and any decision based on them. I would also vote to invalidate any law that authorized the killing with impunity of unborn children. I would uphold any law that restricts it.

There are other cases that in my view conflict with the natural law and which I would vote to overrule. Bostock v. Clayton County (redefining “sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation) and Obergefell v. Hodges (redefining marriage) are the most prominent recent cases that violate natural law, because they are inconsistent with the true nature of the human person. I would also overrule Employment Division v. Smith(eviscerating the Free Exercise Clause), Herrera v. Collins (executing an innocent man does not violate the Constitution), and Hawaii v. Trump (permitting an immigration policy that was based on anti-religious animus), to name a few others. All of them violate fundamental human rights.

To be clear, I would certainly uphold the great civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education (school desegregation), Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (desegregation of public accommodations), and Loving v. Virginia (eliminating bans on interracial marriage). All of those are based firmly on the natural law principle of equality before the law.

Where I Stand

I realize that these views put me “outside the mainstream” of contemporary legal thinking. Modern legal thinkers laugh at the natural law and are horrified by Catholic principles. It would be easier for me just to say that I am an originalist and remain silent about how I would fill in the gaps. By espousing my actual beliefs, I am sure I would never be confirmed for any public office.

But I would rather stand with Lincoln, Wilson and Blackstone, as well as with St. Pope John Paul and the Catholic faith. There are eternal truths worth more than any worldly position or honor. That’s a principle of the natural law too.

Some Clarity about Racism

September 10th, 2020

It is very difficult to talk about racism, particularly at this highly polarized and emotionally fraught time. Some would say that people like me, a man descended from Europeans, cannot do so without confessing my “white privilege”. I believe that a productive conversation is possible, but we need to have some clarity about the subject. With some trepidation, I would like to offer my thoughts.

The False Idea of “Race”

The modern notion of “race” developed as a pseudoscientific justification for colonialism and the subjugation of native peoples, mainly in the Americas and Africa. It proposed that every person belongs to a fixed, unchangeable group that invariably determines their physical and even moral characteristics. It also holds that some groups are superior to others.

This can be seen in its purest forms in the “scientific racism” of the Nazis, the “white supremacy” of American slave-owners and the defenders of Jim Crow, and the drive for “racial hygiene” by the eugenics movement. It is a thoroughly evil concept, a monstrous lie born from a sinful lust to dominate others. It has no basis in science or in reason.

This is not the same thing as ethnicity. That means a sense of membership in a group that shares traits like language, values, religion, customs, cuisine and history. All of us have some kind of ethnic identity, and many of us have more than one. But it is not a fixed destiny that forever defines us. One can freely choose to assimilate into another ethnicity by adopting their way of life – as my Irish ancestors did when they came to America – or holding onto it.

The Christian View

The concepts of fixed distinct “races” and racial superiority are utterly incompatible with a Christian understanding of the nature of the human person. We are all equal, made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of any outward appearance, geographical residence, ethnicity or cultural heritage. We are united as children of God in one human family.

When Jesus became man, he sanctified human nature and restored the universal fraternity that had been broken by sin. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.” (Nostra Aetate 1)

The U.S. bishops have called out the sinfulness of racism very clearly:

“Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love.”

Open Wide Our Hearts

The Legacy of Racism

Unfortunately, there are many people who hold irrational and evil beliefs about “race”. They see different ethnicities and cultures and mistake them for fixed biological identities (this is usually the error of Reasoning from Ideology). They take characteristics or behaviors of individuals and project them onto an entire group (this is the Fallacy of Composition and Stereotyping). Or they assign to individuals the characteristics they believe are possessed by the group (this is the Fallacy of Division). They view membership in the group as inescapable and unchangeable (which is the error of Determinism). These judgments about other groups are of course always negative, and they view their own group as inherently superior. And, as a result, they feel free to mistreat or use violence against others purely because of their perceived inferiority.

In our nation’s history these deplorable attitudes have been primarily directed by those of European ancestry against African Americans and indigenous Native Americans. Darker skin color or even “one drop” of the “tainted” blood has been seen as sufficient to incur the curse of perpetual inferiority. This is the lie of “white supremacy”. This ideology of subjugation has also been repeated against every wave of new immigrants, from the Irish to the Italians to the Jews to the Chinese to the Puerto Ricans and on and on and on. We see it very strongly now in the hostility towards Mexican and Central American migrants and people from Muslim nations.

This is deeply embedded in American history, law and culture. It has often been called our “original sin and it has created powerful structures of injustice in our society. The legacy of slavery and segregation continue to have substantial negative effects on where African-Americans live, the schools they attend, the jobs they have, the way they interact with law enforcement and the courts, and on and on. Americans of European ancestry have benefited from this same legacy. This is what people refer to as “systemic racism” and “white privilege”.

Caution about Collective Guilt

But in recognizing this, we have to be very careful not to impose some kind of “collective guilt” on people for the sins of others. The Church has flatly rejected that idea (see, for example, the rejection of the idea that Jewish people are collectively guilty of the death of Christ, Nostra Aetate4). It is, in effect, the same kind of error that leads to racism – treating people as merely part of a group, rather than as individuals, and judging them negatively.

The Catechism makes clear that I am responsible for the sins of others only if I personally cooperate in them “by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil-doers.” (Catechism 1868) So the mere fact that I live in a society with structures of racism – and, frankly, have benefitted from them – does not make me personally guilty of the sins that created them. The notion of some kind of general “white guilt” is just as false as any idea of racial superiority.

To hold otherwise would also make me answerable for other structures of sin in our nation like legalized abortion, sexual license, gender ideology, harsh treatment of migrants, or unjust wars. I do not have to go to Confession for the sins of slave owners, Jim Crow enforcers, or lynch mobs.

What Must be Done

However, I still have a clear duty to do whatever I reasonably can to eliminate these structures of sin. I cannot evade my own responsibility by blaming those in the past and ignoring the lasting effects of their sins. I certainly cannot stand by mutely while evil is being committed in our present day or pretend that those are just the acts of a few “bad apples”.

Every one of us has a personal responsibility to fight against the structures of sin in our society. Whether it’s the legalized destruction of unborn children or the perpetuation of racist attitudes and behaviors, I must actively resist them. Our bishops have proposed some concrete steps to take to fight racism, and I’ll discuss them in my next post.

As I said at the beginning, eliminating racism requires clear thinking and a foundation in the truth. The goal is to change our hearts so that we will treat everyone as a fellow child of God, regardless of their culture, appearance, or ethnicity.  With that firm foundation, we can then build a structure of virtue that will help everyone make good moral decisions about how to treat our brothers and sisters.

Questions About Sin and Voting

August 22nd, 2020

Following up on my recent blog post about the sad state of pro-life Democrats, I received an email that asked an interesting question about sin and voting. It’s a good question that deserves an answer. But I think it raises a different and more important question.

Here’s what my correspondent asked:

According to you: [1] Is it the official position of the Catholic Church that voting for Joe Biden could be a sin? [2] Is it the official position of the Catholic Church that voting for Donald Trump could be a sin?

Many, many people ask that or a similar question. It shows that people are struggling to form their conscience and make a good decision in keeping with the Church’s teaching. That’s good. But there’s a better question.

First, let’s be clear about a couple of things. The Church does not take “official positions” about particular partisan elections, and I have no authority to promulgate one. And Christ was very clear that we cannot accuse others of sin but must leave judgment to God (Mt 7:1).

And, more importantly, Christianity is not just about avoiding sin. It’s not a set of rules to help me avoid going to Hell. We have those rules, and I should never transgress any of them. But nobody was ever saved purely by following rules (just read St. Paul, he’ll talk your ear off about that). I can’t earn my way into heaven by my own efforts. But I can act in a way that God, in His mercy, will grant me the promise of salvation won by Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

So the better question is the one put by the rich young man to Christ: “what good must I do to gain eternal life?” (Mt 19:16) Our Lord gave a very challenging answer to that question, and we’ll get around to that in a minute after I answer the first question.

Question Number One

The bishops of the United States have issued a document to give us guidance about voting, called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. They teach in this document that I cannot vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evil, in order to advance that evil.

The obvious example is a candidate who favors legalized abortion. I cannot vote for that person in order to support or perpetuate legalized abortion. I “would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil”, which is forbidden (FC 34). I may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate only “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FC 35).

The same analysis would apply for other intrinsically evil act, such as torture, killing non-combatants, using nuclear weapons on cities, redefining marriage, human trafficking, racism, and so on. I cannot vote for a candidate in order to support those things.

Our bishops have consistently told us that abortion is the “preeminent issue” for Catholics and for society as a whole. Of course it is — it’s the most egregious violation of the right to life imaginable, and can never be justified under any circumstances. Personally, I can’t imagine a reason that is sufficiently grave to justify me voting for a candidate who thinks it should be legal to murder unborn children by dismemberment. I can’t see how I could stand before God and explain that.

Everyone has to make their own decision in keeping with this teaching, and be ready to be accountable to God. But again, avoiding sin isn’t enough. This brings me to the second question, which in my view is more important.

What Good Must I do to Gain Eternal Life?

We Catholics are extremely lucky, because our Church has given us a wealth of teachings about how I can live a life of virtue, according to the will of God. We have thousands of examples of how to do it under different and difficult circumstances, the first being Our Blessed Mother, but also all the saints. We also have many teachings about the best way to order society so that people can fully develop and be good children of God – Catholic social teaching.

Faithful Citizenship draws on all this Church teaching. I strongly urge everyone to read it and prayerfully consider it. I believe that it provides me with an answer to this important question.

Here’s how the bishops begin the section entitled “Goals for Political Life: Challenges for Citizens, Candidates, and Public Officials”:

As Catholics, we are led to raise questions for political life other than those that concentrate on individual, material well-being. Our focus is not on party affiliation, ideology, economics, or even competence and capacity to perform duties, as important as such issues are. Rather, we focus on what protects or threatens the dignity of every human life.

FC 91

They go on tell us “policy goals that we hope will guide Catholics as they form their consciences and reflect on the moral dimensions of their public choices.” It can’t get much easier than that — it’s a fantastic guide for forming my political opinions and making voting decisions accordingly. I consider it to be the Catholic “platform” for our public policy goals (I’ve edited some of them for length):

  • Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst— innocent unborn children—by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion and providing women in crisis pregnancies the supports they need to make a decision for life.
  • Keep our nation from turning to violence to address fundamental problems. This involves opposing abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, capital punishment and complying with moral limits on the use of military force. (Abortion is mentioned here again – that tells you that our bishops aren’t kidding when they say it’s the “preeminent issue”)
  • Protect the fundamental understanding of marriage as the life-long and faithful union of one man and one woman and as the central institution of society; reject false “gender” ideologies.
  • Provide better support for family life morally, socially, and economically,
  • Achieve comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Help families and children overcome poverty: ensuring access to and choice in education, as well as decent work at fair, living wages.
  • Provide health care while respecting human life, human dignity, and religious freedom.
  • Oppose policies that reflect prejudice, hostility toward immigrants, religious bigotry, and other forms of unjust discrimination.
  • Encourage families, community groups, economic structures, and government to work together to overcome poverty, pursue the common good, and care for creation, both at home and internationally.
  • Join with others around the world to pursue peace, protect human rights and religious liberty, and advance economic justice and care for creation.

Jesus’s answer to the rich young man was that he needed to go above and beyond his former beliefs, turn away from his own interests, and instead devote himself to serving poor and needy people. In my voting decision, I need to do just that — go above and beyond mere political opinions and partisan loyalties, and put the needy first.

So instead of just avoiding sin in my voting decision, I ask “what good must I do to gain eternal life?” This platform from our bishops offers a good answer.

Condolences to Pro-Life Democrats

August 12th, 2020

It is time to offer our condolences to pro-life members of the Democratic Party. For decades the party has touted itself as the advocate for the underdog and for the “little guy”. But when you look at their current position on abortion, there’s only one possible conclusion – that party is dead.

The Decline of the Party

Once upon a time, there were major Democrats who were pro-life. Leaders like Edward Kennedy and Jesse Jackson defended the unborn, until they decided that presidential ambitions were more important than defending helpless children. Others held to their pro-life beliefs, particularly such giants as Sergeant Shriver, Cesar Chavez, and Bob Casey Sr. Some Democrats even came to regret their earlier support for abortion, such as former New York Governor Hugh Carey. Many Democratic representatives in Congress could be counted on for their pro-life votes.

But those days are clearly over. For years the Democratic Party has been getting more and more radical on abortion. Years ago, Bill Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal and rare”. Now, the party supports absolutely no limitations on abortion. It opposes any common-sense regulation. It stonewalls and calumnies judicial nominees who might be inclined to cut back on abortion. Language about limits on abortion, protections for religious liberty and rights to conscientious objection have been completely scrubbed from the party platform. The Chairman of the national committee has said that support for abortion is “non-negotiable” for Democratic candidates. As a result, few pro-life Democrats remain in prominent offices.

The current nominees for President and Vice-President are perfect examples of this drift to abortion extremism. Joseph Biden once considered himself a “moderate” on abortion. Yet now he calls abortion a “constitutional right”, he would make support for abortion an absolute litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, wants taxpayers to fund all elective abortions, is enthusiastically endorsed by all the major pro-abortion advocacy groups, and defends federal funding for Planned Parenthood (the leading killer in America, with over 300,000 deaths at their bloody hands each year).

The Vice-Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, has all the same awful positions, but is actually even worse on abortion. She opposed giving medical care to babies born alive accidentally during an abortion, opposes any limits on late-term abortions (when a child can feel pain as she is dismembered), and would require all private employers to give health insurance coverage for abortion. She even shows an authoritarian tendency by promising to block state laws that limit abortion – a gross abuse of executive authority that is utterly unconstitutional in our federalist system.

Ms. Harris has even shown a streak of anti-Catholicism and anti-Christianity. In October 2018, she submitted written questions to a nominee to the Fourth Circuit asking about her involvement with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group. In December 2018, she asked a District Court nominee questions about his membership in the Knights of Columbus. This kind of behavior reflects a view that one cannot be faithful Catholic or Christian and hold public office. It is tantamount to anti-Catholic McCarthyism and is utterly reprehensible. These and other senatorial displays of intolerance were widely condemned as bigotry, and were unanimously repudiated by the Senate as an unconstitutional religious test for public office.

There is no question that the Democratic party’s current abortion extremism is far out of step with the opinions of ordinary Americans and rank-and-file Democrats. Recent polls show that 45% of Democrats believe that abortion should be legal only under some circumstances, and 29% consider themselves to be pro-life. Large numbers of Democrats – and all Americans – support reasonable restrictions on abortion such as late-term bans, parental involvement laws, and restrictions on public funding. Yet the party stands in the way of pro-life legislative victories that should reflect bipartisan agreement on protecting vulnerable lives.

Where This Leaves Pro-Life and Catholic Democrats

This leaves pro-life Democrats in a difficult quandary. Many see no way to remain in a party that doesn’t seem to want them – as Ronald Reagan once said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me”. Others feel politically homeless because they also consider some positions of the Republic Party to be morally repugnant. Minor parties that might be more amenable to their views, like the American Solidarity Party, have not yet gained enough political traction. Some remain, hoping that their party will regain its senses.

Pro-life Catholic Democrats are in a particularly difficult situation. Catholics are required to make political and voting decisions in accord with the teachings of the Church. Our bishops have been very clear about what issues we must consider. Abortion is at the top of the list. “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life” (Living the Gospel of Life 22). Catholics cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate in order to advance that evil agenda. Voting for such a candidate would only be permissible “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 35).

It’s a tragic state of affairs when a major political party is completely in the grips of an ideology of grave moral evil. Pro-life Catholics and Democrats, and the entire American political system, suffer as a result of this extremism.

But, of course, the 800,000+ unborn children who will be aborted this year will suffer the worst consequences of a political party that no longer sees their lives as worth living.

(Please note an important point: the opinions I express here are my own. They are comments about important public policy issues, in keeping with many other blogs that I have posted over the years. They do not in any way reflect an intervention in partisan politics or an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.)