Editor’s note: Vincent Miller is the Gudorf Chair of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton.
By Vincent Miller, Special to CNN
President Obama’s narrow victory among Catholic voters this week will be seen by many as a political loss for the U.S. Catholic bishops, who appeared to be openly opposing Obama during the presidential campaign.
The Catholic Church was well within its rights to conduct its campaign on religious liberty, but its “Preserve Religious Freedom” yard signs were clearly designed to be placed alongside partisan candidate signs. And they were - in very large numbers.
The technically nonpartisan nature of the Church’s religious liberty campaign was further drowned out by a small chorus of strident bishops who left no doubt about how Catholics ought to vote for president.
In a letter he ordered read at all parishes last Sunday, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria juxtaposed the Obama administration's new contraception mandate with the scourging and mockery of Jesus. Jenky declared that “electoral supporters” of pro-abortion rights politicians reject “Jesus as their lord,” as did the crowd that roared, "We have no king but Caesar.”
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Such forceful statements were never balanced by significant challenges to the Republican presidential ticket.
There is more at stake here than politics.
Though I agree with the bishops that the exemption for religious employers in the White House contraceptive insurance mandate is too narrow, the bishops’ posture toward the administration during the election poses a major risk to the Church because it left the impression that there was only one legitimate Catholic choice for president – Mitt Romney.
The result is that half of the Catholic electorate felt it was being judged as voting “against the Church,” even though such voters weren’t actually dissenting from Catholic teaching. They were, instead, making the complex decisions that any serious voter must, weighing their own moral commitments against a candidate's professed values, the policies they propose and how much is likely to be accomplished on a given issue given the political climate.
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Voters must weigh the mix of positions of both candidates, not just the objections against one. This year, they had to weigh, among other things, a new problem with religious liberty against the Republicans' earnest proposal to replace Medicare’s guaranteed coverage with a subsidy for private insurance.
By putting voters in a “with us or against us” bind, some of America’s bishops have risked eroding their own authority. They imply that specific political judgments are matters of Church teaching, when by Catholic tradition, the more they descend into the details of policy, the less certain their judgments become.
Bishops must allow room for and respect believers' own specific political judgments. The Second Vatican Council taught that it is primarily the responsibility of the laity to undertake the secular work of inscribing “the divine law…in the life of the earthly city.”
The way out of this crisis is for the bishops to carefully respect the necessary limits involved in the task of forming the consciences of lay believers. They must teach moral principles and, yes, argue for their specific application, but always in a way that respects individual judgments about how best to enact these principles.
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At times this formation might even require forceful challenge, but it should never assume ill will or ignorance when the faithful vote differently than they desire.
Trusting laypeople to make the political decisions that are properly theirs gives them room to embrace the Church’s doctrines, even if they cannot enact all of them in their voting choices. This is essential to sustaining a Catholic identity separate from the divisiveness of partisan politics. This election season like none before left many Catholics feeling like the Church gave them no such room.
The Catholic Church will enhance its public authority by speaking out in a way that supports and challenges both parties. Prophets are respected when they are perceived to be an independent and fair voice. When the deep coherence of Catholic moral teaching is communicated, it can free people from our partisan moral straightjackets. But when parts of this teaching are passed over in silence, the Church puts itself in a partisan straightjacket.
The official Church response to the candidacy of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan displayed this failure to forcefully challenge both parties. In the spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had challenged Ryan’s proposed federal budget for failing to put “the needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty” first. But the bishops were largely silent on this issue during the campaign.
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The response of Catholic voters, however, displayed a decidedly Catholic instinct for the common good. Introduced as a “faithful Catholic” by Romney, Ryan brought no significant bump in Catholic support for the ticket.
Indeed, Ryan’s radical budget and ideologically driven plan to end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit program did what decades of work by Catholic social justice advocates had never been able to achieve: It activated a gut level Catholic concern for solidarity and the common good. President Obama’s Catholic poll numbers peaked in the weeks following Ryan’s selection.
The Catholic Church can never turn its back on the moral dimension of politics. But it must beware the divisiveness that even the appearance of partisanship can bring into the Church. Teach and preach the fullness of the Church’s doctrines forthrightly and forcefully, but honor the decisions of the laity. The danger is not that the Church might inappropriately interfere with politics, but that partisan politics will infect the Church.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vincent Miller.
WHERE is the IRS? WHY hasn't the Catholic Church LOST it's "tax free" status! THIS should be Obama's "Number one" thing to do on his first day in office!
Taxes are "where you find it"...and...A "taxable" Catholic Church makes my knees weak with anticipation. Hey...I would bet we could pay off the national debt in 2 weeks if we could tax all the money currently being shipped out of the country...to Rome!
The Lord will provide.
Oh and right. He should forget about all those people out East, the problems in the middle east, schooling and all the other government problems and seek revenge on those who didn't support him. Get real. That makes absolutely no sense. How unprofessional is that.
Churches are the first line of defense in national emergencies. Churches care the first to mobilize and provide for the needs of the hurting right after a disaster and the last to leave. Many churches remain on the ground helping in all areas of life long after fema and other government agencies are gone. Leave the churches alone and double your tax if you want to be fair.
"They must teach moral principles and, yes, argue for their specific application, but always in a way that respects individual judgments about how best to enact these principles."
Mr Miller, If the church MUST teach moral principles to its flock (such as not murdering a baby), and one of the flock (or party) wants to enact the principle of murdering a baby, should the church "respect that individual judgement?"
Sir, if you hold the Chair of Catholic Theology at a University, I would love to hear how you clear this premise with Catholic doctrine.
I await the reply (from Mr Miller)
I am a catholic and I am against abortion except in certain case but I am for contraceptives. I do not believe in creationism but I do believe in an all loving God. I am not sure that Jesus was sent by God to save us nor am I sure of his resurrection. Jesus was more likely a good man who after studying the bible saw some of the crazy things in it and went about proposing better ways for people to live their lives. I believe in separation of Church and State and allowing people to use their own free will and conscience to decide on social issues. Politicians should only concern themselves with helping to bring about a fair, healthier, safer and more educated society backed by a good economy.
Very FEW people would disagree with the Catholic Church's position on abortion: Namely "It's immoral and should be avoided wherever possible". BUT...MANY people would disagree that Civil Law should be amended to make abortion ILLEGAL! If the Catholic Church LIMITED itself to a statement of morality, there would be very little controversy!
@ James: May I suggest that you get involved with RCIA at your parish? It may be a helpful study for an adult and fill in that which was missed or forgotten from earlier training. Just a thought....
NO ONE would have an issue with the Catholic Church..(.IN FACT...most Americans would AGREE with the Catholic Church) if the Church limited it's commentary on the subject to: "Abortion is immoral and should be avoided wherever possible". BUT...that's NOT what the Catholic Church is saying OR doing. The Catholic Church wants to amend CIVIL LAW and make abortion illegal for ALL CITIZENS, Catholic and NON-Catholic. THAT'S where the Catholic Church steps "over the line" and THAT'S why it is making so many enemies in the United States.....AND.... around the world.
How dare they insist that murder be stopped. You should be free to murder anyone you want to.
truth – THAT's the PROBLEM. Your and the Catholic Church's definition of Murder DOESN'T match that of most Americans...plain and simple. That's why Roe-vs-Wade STILL stands!
Call it by another name it is still murder.
Now I see why your name is BADGUY. Check out my response to you under Faye62's comment. You are so wrong in your thinking. I hope someday you come to know the truth.
Murder is a legal term. Call abortion what ever you like, it's not murder.
It didn't take long for the administration to realize there would have to be an exception for religious objections, so that mandate is no longer relevant. What is relevant is that this church tried to bully people into how to vote. I have heard two tapes of Romney telling business owners that they should tell their employees that their jobs just might depend on how they vote. This was as disgusting as voter suppression and shows the moral bankruptcy of the Republican party.
...and...it's ILLEGAL in many states. Those employers who did that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law!
Not to mention that the "pink beanies" they are wearing in the photo makes them look like a bunch of dunces!
This is just another glaring reminder that the Catholic Church wants to impose its dogma on even non-Catholics. These bishops need to come to Jesus on the reality that we are free to choose how we are to express Life and we don't need old men wearing dresses to tell us how to do it.
KC – If the Catholic Church does NOT want to follow civil law regarding businesses funding employee Contraceptive Insurance coverage..the Catholic Church SHOULD GET OUT OF business. The Church MUST "give to Cesar what is Cesar's" and Contraceptive Insurance Coverage for employees...... IS Cesar's!
it is an intrinsic evil and can't be forced
Then the Catholic Church is in Criminal Contempt of our laws and should be treated as such!
Contraception is wonderful; teaching uneducated people in AIDS infested regions of Africa that condoms are bad, is intrinsically evil. See the difference?
The Catholic church needs to worry about it's own issues- pedophilia...Jesus gave us all free will; it's not Obama's or government right to take that free will away. A personal relationship with Jesus and reading the Bible will direct you into what and what not to do. Raping little boys is right up there with abortions, in my opinion. The Catholic's doctrine is wrong; God never told us to worship and exalt Mary. That is why they've brought so much trouble on themselves.
always using the pedophilia scandel to hide behide. Doesn't change the fact abortion is mur.. der.
First of all Faye62 Catholics do not worship Mary. We too have personal relationships with Jesus. It's just that with any one you would have a relationship with and love you want to know their family and Mary is his mother and when we are adopted into his family, she becomes our mother too. Just like any other way of being adopted, you become part of a family and yes the bible does say Jesus is the first born of those adopted into the faith.
Then, the Catholic church is the only way to find the truth of the Bible. I ask you, if you are following scripture ONLY for truth, whose interpretation are you following? Yours? The Methodists? The Baptists? The Presbyterians? The Pentecostals? The Evangelicals? God did not leave us to figure it all out on our own, He gave us Holy Mother Church, to guide us into understanding what scripture meant. I am sure you know that is right because it only makes sense. Everyone can't interpret scripture by themselves. Wow what a mess that causes. Thank God He sent us a wonderful place, the Catholic church.
Mark – Abortion is "murder" in YOUR dictionary..NOT IN the rest of America's dictionary.
Also, pedophilia is not just a Catholic problem, it is a society problem. You should know that if you are reading scripture. We are all sinners.
Bad Guy, you better bone up on your science because even science has proven it is the murder of a human life. Actually, you don't need science it just makes sense.
Prayer changes things .
God must really hate amputees – since at no time has he EVER grown back an arm or a leg for someone who's prayed really really really really hard.
Either amputees just don't know how to pray hard enough – or God just hates them.
Which is it?
"Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
"Salvatore" degenerates to:
"Douglas" degenerates to:
"truth be told" degenerates to:
"Thinker23" degenerates to:
"Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
"another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
"Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
"tina" degenerates to:
"captain america" degenerates to:
"Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
"Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
"just sayin" degenerates to:
"ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
"Kindness" degenerates to:
"Chad" degenerates to
"Bob" degenerates to
"nope" degenerates to:
"2357" degenerates to:
"WOW" degenerates to:
"fred" degenerates to:
"!" degenerates to:
"pervert alert" is the degenerate.
This troll is not a christian. .
You really do this for EVERY religious blog. You know what else changes things? Having a job. Or a life.
Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.`
Well , the spin continues. Media shutting down the message as always and now we will pay.
Theologian- what job security do you have without freedom. For how long?
The majority of Catholics in our state voted against the pending attack of Obama on our all of values.
That # was up by 9 % I am reading.
I don't understand why this even matters? These guys shouldn't be important and they aren't to me at all. They probably still believe that knowlege should be theirs and that everyone shouldn't even know how to read. Those days are over and you're authority is meaningless and will mean even less in the future when we understand ourselves even more.
Please Oh Most Holy Hitler Youth Pope! Save us from those unholy abortion Obamites! Keep us safe for your pedophiles and lead us not into temptation!
such a comedian....see how that act works for you a second or too after you die.
Probably not well since dead people can't tell jokes, but it won't matter because nothing happens after you die.
No matter what side you are on, both have to admit that the other has very compelling arguments. A woman absolutely has the right to do whatever she wants to her own body. But on the other hand, no amount of euphemisms in world changes the fact that abortion terminates a human life that would have otherwise lived, loved and been loved. You can't get rid of abortion through law. It will take a monumental shift in culture.
Anti-abortion folks like to talk about the culture of life and the culture of death. This country no matter what side of he political spectrum you fall on embraces the culture of death. You can not tolerate the death penalty, unjust wars, the highest incarceration rate in the developed world, inhumane immigration laws, and quality education and health care that is out of reach of the most vulnerable, and say that you embrace the culture of life.
Know what is insane? We give video games like Medal of Honor and Grand Theft Auto to our children as Christmas gifts on the day that celebrates the Lord's advent. Simulated killing is a form of entertainment for our children. This is why abortion still exists among many other evils in our society.
Congratulations on one of the most well-written posts I've read on this subject (or any subject for that matter). Well said.
I agree with the pro-life people's assertion that abortions are bad and we should eliminate them. Making it illegal will not do that. Studies repeatedly prove that the abortion rate in any country, state, city, or any other subdivision is determined entirely by socio-economic status. Legallity has no impact. By making it illegal, you push it underground and cause more women to die in back room clinics or at the hands of friends and family trying to help them.
Abortion is horrible, but some women find themselves in a situation where they think it is not the most horrible possibility. I don't think government should be the one to make that decision on our behaf. You can say "it's a child not a choice" all you want, but it's still a thing you can do or not do and therefore a choice.
Saying it's illegal accomplishes 3 things. It gives us more dead women, more women and qualified doctors in jail, and it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling from the illusion that we're protecting babies. On that basis, I think it's the immoral choice. I'd rather take the money we would spend enforcing this backward law and spend it on birth control and education, so we can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. That'll reduce the abortion rate.
Let's actually accomplish something instead of making the choice that makes us feel good and sweeps the problem under the carpet.
Why bring in violent video games? As an adult I have the right to "kill" pixels. Often violent games are the ones that have detailed lore, interesting characters, and impressive worlds. Besides games have ratings parents should follow them. Also the issues about games like CoD or Medal of Honor is not the violence but the military propaganda and the horrible gameplay.
Our priest at our congregation OPENLY endorsed the Republican party. Not all priests did this. I will be going to a different church.
Most people who call themselves Catholic go to Mass when ever they feel like it. You should see how crowded Christmas and Easter are. They chose to ignore the fact missing Mass without good reason is a sin. Only 25% attend Mass every Sunday. As Jesus said, how narrow the gate to life and how Jew who enter, how wide the road to death and many chose to travel. So many of you think that the only sin there is are those who call out your sins. Death is great equalizer, for all arrogance will come crashing down. As John the Baptist said, the ax is at the foot of the tree. Republicans will do worse in the future because sin keeps on increasing. Pilate tried to wash his hands of Jesus death, and so are all of you. Supporting the party of death will not leave you unscratched. The people killed Jesus because he told them their ways were evil. If Jesus lived today, He would say the same thing and you would kill Him again.
Good for your priest. He was courageous and bold. I would stay there and let him lead you. More priests need to be speaking truth.
@mark – Hypocritical smug windbag Pharisees were the party of death 2000 years ago. They drove people away from God by bashing them over the head with rules instead of welcoming them with compassion.
Killing unborn children sends their souls straight to heaven. Killing thousands of Iraqis (where are those WMDs?) consigns many of them to hell. Both are terrible – however spiritual death is infinitely worse than physical death.
The Republicans are guilty of many forms of spiritual death – racism, bigotry, elitism, intolerance, social injustice, warmongering, paranoia, hatred. I'm Catholic, and I voted Democrat – the lesser of two evils.
At the end of the day, it's all about counting souls – who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell. Do the math.
Then you have the wrong idea of what it means to be a Catholic...or a Christian for that matter.
To leave a community of faith over a political endorsement shows that you are more interested in having your ears massaged than being the Body. Instead, stay and see if you can learn from others and have them learn from you.
Retreating into factions will only cause us to grow farther apart and prevent dialogue.
REPORT him to the IRS and DEMAND the tax status of his Church be revoked!
Refugeek. There is no heaven, no hell, and almost certainly no god. So save your judgements.
"missing Mass without good reason is a sin."
God doesn't exist. That's a good enough reason for me.
Mark – Missing Mass IS a sin, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. Missing that donation in the basket certainly can be classified as such...if your in the Catholic Hierarchy!
The Bishop's crossed a line when they began tacitly endorsing a political candidate. They have "meddled" in politics and skirted this line many times. When they begin ordering their priests to read statements regarding political candidates they have crossed that line and become an active participant in a political campaign. If they continue this trend the IRS should begin enforcing the rules regarding tax exempt organizations.
ojohnson; very well said...
Catholics have a right to speak out against the party of death.
You can not separate your faith from what is happening in the world. The priests and bishops are doing exactly what they are to do, spread the truth of the gospel and lead people away from lies. Fortunately, and by the grace of God, they are not going to stop, they will keep on doing God's work, spreading the gospel and reaching out to lost souls. Politics is not just about who gets a job, but about the happenings in peoples lives. The Catholic faith is the way to follow God, know him and spend eternity with him.
Mark – The Catholic Church DOES NOT have the "right" to campaign against the "party of death"....UNLESS...the Church is willing to be taxed like the rest of us. They CAN'T have it BOTH WAYS!
This isn't just for Catholics. Anytime a a church tries to push its political agenda above its religious teaching, it has crossed a line (see example: Billy Graham). Yet this is so prevalent in today's churches, no wonder church membership is dropping every year.
The Catholic bishops should emulate Jesus. Jesus acknowledged that secular authority should be obeyed and Jesus understood that openly challenging secular authority leads to bad things happening in this earthly domain. There is even a lesson to be learned by the Catholic bishops from Pilate who was willing to provide religious freedom and tolerate a charismatic religious figure who did not challenge Roman authority.
So Christians should step aside to let instrinsically evil things happen? That's not a good solution this country.
Honus, the people wanted Jesus to strike down the Romans who suppressed them. When he did not, the people called for the Romans to crucify Jesus. Think about your comment from this perspective.
The Catholic Church believes "there's NO place for Jesus Freaks", like Obama, who want to RE-DISTRIBUTE the Church's wealth to the lower and middle classes of America. That religious "extremist" wants to require the Catholic Church to provide contraceptive coverage for its non-Catholic employees! The NERVE! Why.....That's COMMUNISM!
HONUS – No. You teach the people their religious values so that you stop it on a cultural level, not a governmental one. The bible was very clear on respect for secular authority. Romans 13.
Where's the IRS? This FOREIGN, "quasi-religious, quasi-political", organization, has "meddled" in our political landscape AND escaped taxation for FAR TOO LONG! THE IRS SHOULD CRACK DOWN NOW...AND REMOVE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'S "TAX FREE" STATUS!
I agree. You want to meddle in politics then. you are treated just like any other business.
Oh, the ignorance is strong with this one... The church recommended voting for candidates who supported our values. Nobody said that we had to vote for Romney.
By the way, where is your outrage for black churches who endorse specific CANDIDATES?
Honus – The LAW is clear. If a church promotes ANY candidate, left or right, they will LOSE their tax free status. WHO CARES which candidate a church backs?
You still don't understand. The Church didn't endorse Romney. They listed the values we believe in, and said that we should evaluate which candidate supports them best. Never once did my priest say to not vote for Obama.
Honus – Any diatribe that says "Good Catholics can ONLY vote for candidates who support the revocation of Roe-vs-Wade" or "Good Catholics who DON'T vote for candidates who support pro-life stances will GO TO HELL and NOT receive the Sacrements" are endorsements of a candidate...plain and simple!
I agree with those who say a church that engages in political lobbying should be taxes
What I don't get, is why people who are called to a "higher purpose" would want to delve into politics anyway.
"Render onto Ceaser what is Ceaser's and render onto God what is God's."
When you lay down with the dogs of politics you should expect to get up with the fleas of distrust and disrespect sucking your blood.
The Catholic Church (Hierarchy) NEVER liked Progressives, Socialists or Communists. That's why they sided with Adolf Hitler AGAINST Joe Stalin in the 1930's. The Church OWNS TOO MUCH PROPERTY and HAS TOO MANY MONETARY ASSETS to stand aside while a left leaning movement takes control..in ANY country in which it has assets.
The Church has the right to call out moral evil The Catholic Church regards abortion as murder of innocent life. You might think that they should not impose this restriction on others, but the government should not force Catholics to violate their consciences by ordering them to pay for something totally immoral for them. I don't think they should go so far as to name a candidate in any way, and my bishop did not do so. People do resent being told how to vote, but how can a church remain a church when it is violating its own deeply held moral beliefs. After you cannot have liberty or pursue happiness if you do not have life. The church has not waded into Caesar's business, but our government has gone against the First Ammendment. Maybe you should have the right to kill the product of our irresponsiblity, but you have no right to ask me to help you do it.
We all have the right to call out moral evil. What does the Catholic Church do in regards of all the other ways people die. Very little! They have amassed huge wealth and power. Their position on abortion and contraception are essentially conflicting (the more contraception less, the likelihood of abortion) but also self-serving. I doubt that it is about sanctity of life more about the likelihood of recruiting more sheep. After all, most religions are expensive operations to run.
Thank you for the separation of church and state reference. As a member of the Peoria archdiocese, the letter from the bishop implying a vote for Democratics is a "grievous sin" stepped over the line. The Catholic Church should call out government for not serving the mission of the Church. This includes NOT tacitly endorsing candidates, because both parties have programs out of sync with the Catholic teachings.
As for the religious freedom campaign, that stuck in my craw because the United States continues to be one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. This one issue that restricted the non-religious assets of religious organizations does not classify a persecution. For right or wrong, the government sees it as a workplace and health care issue.
The Catholic Church looses credibility when it chooses political sides. Respecting life issues are a important part of making a political decision, and extends beyond abortion to death penalty, assisted suicide, etc. Programs caring for the poor are also part of the political decision. For the Catholic Church leaders to prioritize "sins" to point where they tolerate some sins and blast other "sins" starts down a slippery slope.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.