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.”
Opinion: Moving on from elections as American rite
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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
Election results raise questions about Christian right’s power
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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
The Catholic Church says it's built on Scripture and Tradition. The "church" is the members, not the hierarchy. When has the real "church" ever been polled about any issue ? Why is an old man Rome, appointing old men in red dresses, and red beanies, (they ARE fabulous, I must say), to tell Americans what they must think. What's wrong with this picture ? Isn't this the insti'tution that says it's built on scripture and tradition ? In scripture, "presbyters" were elected. For many hundreds of years, bishops were elected, and then for many hundreds of more years, bishops were picked by the local gentry, or purchased by the local gentry. Even the papacy was bought, or "finagled". I suggest they get a "Bishop Fund" started, and ask one of their local gentry to go buy them different bishops, in the traditional manner.
If alter boys could get pregnent the church would change its stance on contraception.
What's so special about the Cheesemakers?
Apparently it was not meant to be taken literally, but refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.
(If you hadn't been going on, we would have heard that, big-nose!)
lol....always nice when someone gets the reference....especially since the Catholic church banned viewing The Life of Brian
Tax them...they will stop interfering with the political process!
And if you tax them, then you must tax all the churches whose ministers also openly preach in the political arena.
Yes – this issue might be worth some activism. There ought to be a visible protest, and various media condemnation of such practices. People need to know if belying their tax exempt status.
That one sentence was not clear.
People need to know when religious institutions are belying their tax exempt status.
Too bad the Catholic heigharchy are more worried about defeating a candidate that supports the position that a woman should make decisions concerning her body rather than dealing with what thier preists are doing with the bodies of little boys. GO GOD!!!
Because Joe Biden's comment regarding abortion in the VP debate was really logical. "I believe life begins at conception, ... but I think women should be given the choice." Um, so abortion is murder in Biden's mind, but he thinks women should be given the choice to murder. Yeah, makes a lot of sense.
Exactly! What Biden essentially proposed is a two tiered hierarchy of citizen ship where, by virtue of gender, one class of citizens is entiitled to murder another at will.
Abortion may be murder in Biden's mind, but he accepts the fact that not everyone believes the same as him. Therefore he allows people to make their own decisions, something you seem to have a problem with.
The Bishops are liars, they are the front of the Catholic Church which itself is an instrument of Satan. Jesus Christ was against the Church in general because of it's tendency toward hypocrasy and politics. Jesus did not create the Church. The Church was created by Saul the anti-Christ after Jesus died. One does not have to support The Church in order to believe in Jesus Christ. I am against the cults that have grown-up around Jesus – Catholicism, all forms of the Christian Church, and Mormonism – but I am not an Atheist. All of you Church followers are the ones that Jesus refers to in scripture when he says "many will call Lord, Lord, and I will reply I do not know you, get away from me Satan".
Um, Christ did organize his church with 12 apostles; the New Testament also talks about seventy and priests, etc. Paul, by the way, who you refer to as Saul, had nothing to do with the organization of the church. The Acts of the Apostles clears that up pretty easily. I love it when Christians make arguments when it is clear they haven't even read the Bible.
I read the Bible. Most of the New Testament was written by Paul after Jesus died. In my opinion, it is all lies – it is nothing like what Jesus said while he was on Earth, it doesn't echo Jesus thought. The Gospel is the record of Jesus, and however many holes it may have, it is the only truth, the Gospel Truth.
Mike – you clearly have no clue what you are talking about. Look at history, the bible, and go to Church – and maybe you will learn a thing or two about it. There is nothing negative about the Bishops or the Church – trying to straighten out this messed up nation.
NOBODY cares what a bunch of pedophile apologists and shelterers have to say or do.
Didn't hear any such message in our parish, but I think it is rich for the media to ask anyone to not be so partisan. How big was the Obama sign in Candy Crowley's yard. Spare me. Where can we vote for a non partisan media? Look at yourself first. Has anyone asked about Bengazi lately? CNN looked the other way while the WH let 4 americans die so as not to bring up the term Muslim Terrorist. There I said it.
Matt, give it a rest on Benghazi. It seems you republicans are just looking for ways to find faults with Obama to counteract the many faults of Romney. If you really want to push the issue, then would you blame Bush for the 9/11, in which far more people lost their lives, and destructions beyond belief. And what about weapons of mass destructions? This was one of many pretexts to go to war with Iraq. There were none. And again, countless people has lost their lives. You wont give Obama credit for killing Osama Bin Laden, but you are quick to blame Obama for the Bengazhi incident.
I didn't initially blame Obama for Bengazi. Americans are everywhere so it is impossible to defend us all alll of the time. My issue was the blatant cover-up so that it didn't ruin his "I killed Osama" TD dance. It ruined his story so ALL of the media got together to help him run out the clock and win. Congrats it worked. But that doesn't mean we forget what happened. He Lied to the Press or had his Staff lie and then lied to the UN. Those are not points of discussion but inconvenient points of FACT. They knew it was MUSLIM TERRORISTS but didn't want to tell us. They wanted to blame it on some dumb movie and then arrest him. If we arrested everyone who made bad movies that offended someone 90% of Hollywood would be in Jail. Why are you so scared of unbiased media? President is a serious job and NO one should be given a free pass. Exactly how ignorant do the think we are that an attack on a US Embassy wouldn't be a terrorist attack. It should have been initially thought to be terrorist related given the date it occured, then if it didn't turn out to be that so be it. But to go with a youtube video. CNN HAS NO PLACE LECTURING ANYONE ON BEING TOO PARTISAN, WHETHER YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. He may be right about the church, but why not also call out the Black Churches for their busing of folks and brainwashing support of Obama. FAIRNESS is all I am looking for from the media. If someone on the Right screws up – call them on it. But if someone on the left screws up call them on that as well. FAIRNESS.
The Catholic church only has two issues: against abortion and against gay marriage which boils down to one
theme: MAKE MORE CATHOLICS! "As it was and ever shall be" Amen
Must be nice to have such a simple world view
Church-going catholic in a progressive parish – but when I rec'd email from Archidocese of Atlanta asking me to speak out against Obama-Care (I say this with pride by the way), I sotpped giving to the Archidocese's annual appeal. Separation of church and state is there for a reason – How Dare they tell me how to choose my party or president.
Whatever just keep the loony Cathoholics off my lawn and clean up the poop.
Dee, as i read your statement, no one asked you not to support Obama as a candidate or elected official, just to oppose legislation proposed by his administration. Are you unable to differentiate those two concepts?
Support by opposing? Weird.
I an a totally disgusted Catholic from Peoria parish who opted to skip mass rather than sit and listen to a politically partisan letter. Something is just not right when a bunch of pedophiles and sickos who ought to stay out of politics try and lecture us on morality. He has gone too far and I have lost all respect for Bishop Jenky. He and his diocese are not getting another red cent from me.
You were looking for any reason
I couldn't agree more. Here on the west coast, than cardinal Roger Mahoney went out of his way to protect Pedophile priests. Our District Attorney was so afraid of losing an election that he would not charge Mahoney with being an accessory to these crimes, but Mahoney deserves to be in jail. The Church should clean its own house first, and stay out of US politics.
Catholic bishops are more afraid of appearing on the editorial page of The New York Times than of forcefully defending the unborn from the pulpit. It is amazing that Catholic priests are martryed in China, Central and South America when they speak out for freedom and against government tyranny, but American bishops and priests have no stomach for forceful discourse let alone any passion to defend the helpless. They are luke-warm and remember the Scripture passage about luke-warm peolple? I do.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria should be defrocked!
What are they wearing frocks for anyway?
Doesn't the Catholic Church in America risk its 501c3 tax exemption status by publicly expressing a voting recommendation. Check the IRS code!!!
Not anymore. The IRS has decided to not enforce the law because the evangelicals have openly defied the law and preach politics whenever they choose. Funny how no one challenges them but only the Catholic Church.
Catholicvote.org even put Romney Ryan's names on one of its videos! And as far as Ryan wanting to replace Medicare with vouchers that could be used for private insurance, persons with preexisting conditions are not covered by private insurance companies, and what adult does not have a preexisting condition?
The Bishop's behavior has resulted in my wife and I leaving the Catholic Church (after 51 years) as well as two other couples that we know. According to Gallup polls, the MAJORITY of Catholics voted for Obama....again. And 99% of Catholics use birth control anyway despite the Church's pre-historic stance on the issue. Also Bishops are not accountable for their misbehavior as Bishop Finn remains the head of the Kansas City Archdiocese after being convicted of failing to report child abuse. I could go on and on......good riddance to the Catholic Church.
Same here Mike, I am a cradle Catholic and 51 years old and this has done it for me, I am leaving the Catholic Church
It doesn't help one's credibility to throw out impossible numbers. There isn't 99% of ANY population that uses birth control. And how much can one possibly be annoyed by this sort of issue in church when there are so many other things to talk about? Their role as a church is to preach the goal: which should be to self-controlled enough not to need birth control. Or abortion. Or whatever the indulgence is.
Child-molesting priests (and in the present day not reporting them) are another matter. Am curious how fast one expects the wheels of Vatican justice to turn, though. They have a procedure just like our court system does.
JF Canton.....I expect the Bishop to resign on his own accord and not wait to be told to do so. Child abuse is a crisis in the Catholic Church. As for birth control at 99% well okay I'll give you 90%. There's an obvious reason you see all of the families in Mass with 2 or 3 or 4 children in the past 25 years and not 8 or 10 or 12 anymore.
There have always been quite a few families with more reasonable numbers of kids. I agree that there are fewer than used to be.
I also agree that many/most people are using (or more accurately in terms of the studies, have used at any time): the Guttmacher study that is usually cited found that 89% had used some form of contraception, including ~10% that used NPF/rhythm/withdrawal. Partly that is because birth control has been pushed on the current generation of adults.
@JFCanton – Longitudinal studies done by the Guttmacher Instîtute show that over the course of their lives 98% of Catholics use or have used contraception.
Life-long Catholic whose youngest was just confirmed in April – we are leaving the Catholic Church. For us it started with the Fortnight For Freedom, was hammered when I got an email from a Deacon that spoke of Obama in vile terms (from the Jesuit Retreat House where he is staff), and was finalized when I read what our Bishop (Green Bay) wrote two weeks ago about the 'intrinsic evils' of the way I was voting – including that my 'soul was in jeopardy.'
We are gone. Done. Outta there.
I love how abortion/contraception is the only thing a Catholic voter should consider, just like Jews should only be interested in Israel. Because they are so narrow focused, so should the rest of the populace be. Seriously, who only considers just one part of a much larger picture. There are trees in that forest.
jimbo, it is not the only thing a Catholic should consider but it is more important than you realize because the right to life is philosophically tied to all other rights. If you do not have the right to life, what rights do you have?
It is agood thing that people like you are a minority in the Catholic Church. Most Catholics voted for Obama...hard pill for the Catholic Church to swallow
Bill, the catholic church also teaches that the death penalty is wrong. The republican party supports the death penalty, and supports it's INCREASED use. How can any Catholic vote for any republican candidate?
The Catholic church also teaches that the use of birth control is wrong. Yet validated studies show that 98% of all Catholics use or have used contraception in their lives. Why has the church not excommunicated these people?
Remove the Church's tax exempt status. Now.
You're not much of a realist. As violations of tax exemption requirements go, the CC's political activity is a popup to shallow center. It is a huge organization that has so much authentic charitable work that even this year it's probably an order of magnitude away from the limits.
Remove the Church's exemption from tax status now. Hear hear, truly said. Contact your Congresisonal Representatives and whitehouse.gov and demand that tax-exempt status be removed from all Churches, and they be classified as political organizations, because that is what they are.
For those who like to consider real-world facts: that class of exempt organization is permitted to spend 5% of funds on political advocacy (issues, not candidates). Probably a hard rule to break if you are smart enough to keep the party and candidate names out of it.
@JFCanton, that the kind of behavior Jesus decried. Church followers who follow the "letter of the law" but not the meaning of it. Yes, the Church can have the political influence it is not supposed to have, like Billy Graham did with his pro-Romney ads using religious funds but without actually naming Romney. That's the kind of hypocrasy that "by their actions, you will know them".
There are so many churches ahead of the CC in line for this that it's really not worth speculating...
The spirit is fulfilled pretty well and several times over by the hospitals, social services, etc. The advocacy is a tiny price to pay for society getting all that stuff. Besides, if *anyone* is going to be tax exempt, there has to be a margin for people expressing their own opinions, whether it's in the context of their religion or their pet cause.
You have to get out more, Miller. Maybe you should attend Mass sometime? Did not hear a peep from our pastor. Nor did family in other states. If Catholics were actually partisan, the Democratic Party wold not spit in their eye with impunity. If Catholics actually voted their faith, President Obama would have lost in a landslide. Stop the spin because you can stop lying now that the election is over.
Hello, white evangicals voted 80% for Romney, and you deranged anti-social psychoaths still lost. because God is protecting his children from the anti-Christ Catholic Church. The Catholics should stick to what they do best – helping Nazi's escape war crime trials, molesting boys, and denying the Holocaust. And keep away from my children's textbooks, too – if you want to teach your lies to your children in your church, do so, but don't try to get at my children through school textbooks, you church followers are mentally deranged.
Given the ample evidence here, I propose that any multiple use of the word "deranged" be assumed to imply derangement of the speaker.
Actually, you make Miller's point very well. He was speaking of the Bishops and the fact that they are out of touch and out of line with the laity. They risk losing authority if they keep making pronouncements that everyone feels they must ignore to stay true to their own consciences. They already lost the contraception battle decades ago, adding more will further erode their authority.
@JFCanton, you are good at taunting, but you have no substance. Also, you decried "multiple use of the word deranged", but you used it twice in your sentence. Also, there is no one "speaking", so any speaker you are hearing is in your head, which makes you obviously deranged. There, you see how my writing involves the use of predicate logic, it works on many levels, it has irony. You could learn a thing or two from me. It's not about insulting the other guy, it's about laying out a position and demonstrating it.
I'm interested to hear your reasons for saying that if Catholics voted their faith the President would have lost in a landslide.
It seems to me that the opposite is true. The teaching of the Bible is pretty simple – Love God and Love your neighbor. The republican parties teaching seems to be Love yourself, and Love your bank account to the exclusion of anything else.
A broad generalization was made for which there is no evidence. I therefore thought it reasonable to make a broad generalization for which we did have at least a bit of evidence.
The percentage of any subset of Catholics (priests, laity, etc) who have ever defended child molesters, or hidden war criminals, or denied the Holocaust, or did anything else particularly odious, is probably about 1% to be generous. How do you think that compares to the general population? It's pretty easy to find 2 lowlifes in any 100 randomly selected people.
I'm really not sure where the textbooks idea comes from... I think you have that mixed up with some classical evangelical behavior.
When I clicked this I thought it was going to be about black pastors telling their people to vote for Obama and then driving them to the polls. I guess other denominations can't even put up signs though.
I agree totally...Mr. Miller is showing his bias...all the Bishop did was to stand up for the rights of those who have no one to speak on their behalf...an idea that sounds very, should we say 'democratic'.
spin spin spin - why do you need someone to speak on your behalf? Who is speaking on *my* behalf then? No, you're spinning the reality which is that Pastors are trying to pirate our Democracy, trying to use the power of their religion to shape the outcome of our free election process. Everyone has one vote, they can communicate directly with their leaders, they don't need a biased Preacher to "speak on their behalf". I am so glad I escaped the Church, what a cult, it is sooo subtle. That doesn't make me an Atheist, I believe in Jesus, but I realize the Church is a political machine, it has nothing to do with jesus. The Church is evil. You followers will be crying "Lord, Lord" and he will say "Get away from me, Satan, I do not know you.". There is nothing more hypocritical then a Christian Church goer. Sorry to say. Wake up people, escape your cult, our future generations depend on it, don't doom them to repeat The Dark Ages as the Church undermines Science, Medicine and Education.
How true! The Catholic bishops were speaking to the Obama WH war on Catholics. Also the intrinsic evil of murder of the innocents. They did not support specific candidates, just pointed out that voting for one who supports abortion makes one culpable and guilty of grave sin.
The Illuminati is to Democrats as the Catholic Church is to Republicans...and we dems are free thinkers that won't be fooled!!!
You mean the Catholic Church is a myth spread by paranoid conspiracy nuts?
It shows one thing: single-issue voting is an ignorant way to vote. Catholic leaders were pounding the anti-abortion platform that the Church-any church worth it's salt-should have. But they did so at the expense of all other issues. Most people do not vote on one issue, but instead they look at all sides of a candidate. Many Catholics understand that just being against abortion does not make the whole case. Many know that the GOP's "you're on your own" mantra after that child is born, is also against Catholic teaching, and that weighs into the equation for many voters.
The best thing the Church can do is STAY OUT of secular politics. It's not their place. It's hurting hte Church's image more than it is helping it.
A scattering is upon us in these trying days and Age. Leave your wantings behind and never take wind of one's longings for the weightiness of one's longings will smite even the most influential. Carry away nothing and leave. Head to the places inside one's being and do not keep ajar your door for many will want to enter in and should not. Your loving this Life is for the world to have and you should not heed the rumors from others as to just what is truly right. It is therefore best for mankind to simmer in their juvenile pottages never rationalizingly 'assaying' one's diffuse detriments, the very smallest of life's grains. As smitten breeds, our splendors reveal one's characters to be traitorous to one's analogous fold. Where then does Life end and living begin?
What I spiritually believe in is that the Families of God including God Himself lives upon the very first created Cosmos which is the inner Cosmos. Our being but upon this celestial cosmos is due our being cast out of the Inner Cosmos for many reasons. Some were cast out of this Inner Cosmos for faultering and some for continuing to do the Lord's Will here upon this celestial realm of gigantic life forms whereupon their insides are living many families of God's members. We live upon this realm doing what we want while many of us unify ourselves in the communal. My way is not your way and yet when we cross paths we receive each other and walk on.Therefore, walk placidly amid the noise and waste ever being mindful of the peace one finds in finding peace there about.
Can it be said and also inferred that all of Life here upon these celestial shorelines of life-forms resonate from a single celled life-form all the ways to massive cellularized life formations? Is it 'not' written within the Gospels that mankind is but buildings that are husbanded by the Godly? Do we not labour together with God in our tasks? Who among us can deny our psychically souled Being as being un/just and un/righteous God-Heads?
Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materialized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to ever re-enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are inside or within our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly! Too little are our intellectual abaters
John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world"
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
I agree with you 100%. I believe that certain people made more of the issue of contraception that most, which seemed to get the most attention. It is my belief that the church should spend more time discussing the Love of God than the rule of law. I think that the Church would be better served if they stop dedicating so much to trying to reverse Roe v. Wade and more time encouraging the children of God to care for one another. The end result I think would be better.
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.