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My Take: Catholic bishops' election behavior threatens their authority
The American bishops staged a rigorous campaign against the White House's new contraception mandate.
November 8th, 2012
10:18 AM ET

My Take: Catholic bishops' election behavior threatens their authority

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Mitt Romney • Politics

soundoff (1,317 Responses)
  1. Jack spitz

    Jesus was an old pedophile!

    November 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  2. MagicPanties

    Tax the churches !!!!

    November 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Hypatia

    Eliminate all non- profit status for all religions.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  4. SoSad

    To Reality, although I am a believer, God the Creator gave you free will. I agree that alot of the BS written by other to emblish the faith and to hold sway over the masses. I do believe along Buddist lines, that the Kingdom of God is within you and not on the mount! Your free will, allows you to say whatever is in your heart Brother or Sister.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      @SoSad

      It is not possible that God gave us free will.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      You religious people are a pathetic lot; too stupid to depend on your own ability to think and have to have some old fool tell you what to do! F%%k religion!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  5. scott

    It's been downhill ever since that earth's flat thing. Some people never learn.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      Religious fools still think the earth is flat; they are taken in by a scam because religious people are too stupid to think for themselves; need a myth to sustain their poor pea brains.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  6. Tim

    I say this as a Christian myself: I'm all for these bishops injecting themselves into politics.... IF they let their churches be taxed. Otherwise, keep out of it.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      So, they should just sit back and accept whatever the federal government forces them to do?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • fsjunkie

      Organized religion is a form of population control. It will never be taxed. The church leaders in question are opportunistic...almost bordering on politicians. The sheep need to recognize this and all will be in the necessary perspective.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Beth

      Jeff from Columbus, do you even hear yourself?

      The Catholics are fine with forcing us to do what they want, by eliminating a person's right to choose. But you think its not ok for the govt. to "force" us to have the right choose for ourselves?!? The govt isn't forcing you to have an abortion, and they aren't even forcing religious organizations to cover the service.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      Catholics are too stupid to think for themselves; need a senile old fool to tell them what to do! Ta the bastar%%!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      @Beth: The Catholic Church itself can't change Roe v. Wade. Only the federal government can force this change.

      Does the Catholic Church want Roe v. Wade overturned? Yes. But, it has no power to do so.

      However, the federal government DOES have the power to remove freedoms and is doing so with the HHS mandate.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  7. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    He who is not without sin be the first to cast judgement. These Catholic Bishops aren't without sin because they are made of flesh justs like everyone, that's why they pray often and there is no big or little sin, sin is sin.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      LOL so to you, murder is equal to stealing a candy bar?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      Catholics do not have a weak mind; they do not have a mind at all. That is the reason they need an 85 year old senile German telling them what to do; Catholics were supporters of Hitler and reactionaries all over the world. Catholic church needs t be taxed into oblivion and stop the nonsense of stupid old white men wearing dresses speaking about anything important; if the old pedophiles want to say anything, confine it to the rotting churches that are disappearing at a fast rate, but not nearly fast enough!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  8. Alex

    Hope their influence will soon be the thing from the past. Religion stinks.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      Great sentiment; do everything you can to help them disappear; they are an abomination to thinking people everywhere!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  9. SilverHair

    The pulpit has no room for political bullying. When that happens all are losers.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • tc

      Political Bullying or duty to faith? Always room for critical thinking. What do you fear?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • gee

      tc

      Not fear but repulsion of your kind who expect some one to blindly believe a preacher.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @tc

      When your faith promotes the control of even those who are not part of your faith, there is no protection there. I don't give two shits what the church wants to tell it's guillible sheep, but when they try to impose that through public businesses that also get government funding, they don't have a leg to stand on. They don't want to play by the rules, go back to the fucking most corrupt blemish on the earth. The Vatican

      November 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • tc

      hawaiiguest

      who wants to impose on who of public busineess????? Remember who started the debate on contraception

      GEE
      Do not fear/or be repulsed. I ask nothing of you.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @tc

      The most stark example would be the contraception thing. The RCC is so self righteous it feels it is exempt from federal non-discrimination laws when it comes to operating a non-profit business like a hospital. When a religious organization feels it can dictate what its employees believe when they also receive government funds, they're just plain wrong. Or how about the anti-gay, andti-abortion laws. How about when religious nuts in Nebraska wanted to make a law that said anyone could kill abortion doctors (in effect) as justifiable homicide.
      There are so many examples of attempted religious lawmaking that claiming you don't see it means you're either blind, lying, or being willfully ignorant.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • tc

      Hawaiiguest
      Typical Stir it up... Religion defends... Then stomp on it saying religion is imposing. Good will always win out. Do not fear!

      November 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @tc

      Thank you for leaving no doubt that addressing points is the furthest thing from your mind.

      November 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  10. freqflyr

    The only church that democrates support today is the church of 'me' ideology. There was nothing in Obama's promises that the catholic church could back. But that's ok, right? It's all about me, what I want, my body and my pursuit of happiness.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      No its about what is good for ALL people. Not just the religious

      November 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Damocles

      Is Democrates related to Socrates?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      What's good for ALL people except the ones who are killed by their mothers before any inconvenience sets in.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "What's good for ALL people except the ones who are killed by their mothers before any inconvenience sets in."

      A Fetus is not a person.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • carole parker

      I find it interesting that the vatican governed by all males supposadly celibate men who are always in the news as phpedophiles should have any say in any moral or ethical behaviors concerning woman Raised a catholic no longer a cult member.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Beth

      "There was nothing in Obama's promises that the catholic church could back."

      How about caring for the poor, the sick and the old? Yea, Jesus would never advocate that stuff....

      You religious right really need to read the New Testament occassionally, you might earn some respect that way.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  11. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Hey Bishops

    Nancy Pelosi:
    "Get over your conscience."

    You have one year.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      She has an East Coast twin now ....Elizabeth Warren

      November 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  12. WachetAuf

    The "Christian" churches do not follow Jesus' central message of tolerance. They see themselves under threat. Tolerance threatens extinction of the herd. Darwin, survival at any cost, is their true message.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • freqflyr

      If Jesus taught tolerance, then why did he make nearly everyone angry?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • freqflyr

      If Jesus taught tolerance, why was the Sermon on the Mount so long? Couldn't he just have said 'go ye therefore, smoke weed, and mind your own business,'

      November 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • David

      Jesus was anything BUT tolerant. Remember this from Luke Chapter 12 "I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 'Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on, a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three, father opposed to son, son to father, mother to daughter, daughter to mother, mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law to mother-in-law."

      What Christ spoke of happens today. I applaud the bishops for taking a stand. I stand with them

      November 8, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  13. Thomas R Morgan

    Too bad that the American Bishops, led by Mr. Dolan, by meddeling where they don't belong, have further damaged their credibility and authority and brought shamefull division into the American Church.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  14. SoSad

    TO ALL & God's Oldest Dreamer – Right On, God loves everyone and will forgive those Bishops even though they are narrow minded. Remember his words "the kingdom of the Lord is within YOU"

    November 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • nonconformist

      The kingdom of the Lord doesn't exist. It's an empty fantasy.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  15. tc

    MR. Miller Bishop's Duty is to teach Faith. Faith must then be praticed from followers. What is the fear?

    November 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  16. God's Oldest Dreamer

    John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world"

    The More Ma sons were half right and the Cathlickers are half wrong. It is true that Christ said the above quote. It is a falseness that way out there in 'outerspace' is a godly planet and I base this upon Luke 17:21 "The kingdom of God is inside you." The Cathlicker klans have no righteous values and are seeded with contemptuous inaccuracies for their own sakedness. Christiandom being gerded is yet somber and incomplete in their messages. Timeliness berates and bereaves in many ways the people of this world. Therefore, walk placidly amid the noise and waste ever being mindful of the peace one finds in finding peace there about.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  17. Stephen

    I agree with much of the sentiment in this piece. Having any religious establishment insist that all followers of the faith are going against their faith because of a single political stance by a single platform is completely partisan. There are any number of moral issues on both sides for people of any or no faith to reflect on, and attempting to impose the Catholic church's will on its followers as to who they should vote for in order to be good Catholics because of a single issue is disingenuous. The Church's real position is that the areas where Obama/Biden's stances differ from Catholic doctrine (to which he doesn't subscribe, btw) are more important to the Church than the areas where Romney/Ryan's stances differed, so the result was stressing one set of disagreements while ignoring the others. That hardly seems like a moral guidebook the religious establishment should choose. If they really think the plight of the millions of needy is less important than gay marriage, contraception, or even abortion, they need to get back in touch with Jesus's teachings. Jesus never said anything about abortion or contraception, but he certainly did about the poor, the sick, the starving.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      The issue is very simple. The federal government issued a mandate forcing the Catholic Church to pay for birth control and abortion inducing drugs. Both of which are against the Catholic faith.

      The Federal government forced a religion to either violate its faith or violate the law.

      If someone is ok with this, then don't complain when the federal government compromises YOUR freedom. Because the mandate has been established.

      Its Obama's way. Obey him without protests.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Really ? The church was forced to pay for contraception with its own funds ? I think not.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • jim

      I agree. Beyond that, it has been proven that access to contraception degreases the demand for abortion. So what do the bishops want? More abortions? And what about the poor and needy – the 47% that Romney dismissed as parasites? Where was their outrage at that? The old white men in robes need to be good shepherds, not get involved in politics. Jesus loved everyone – they have vowed to follow his example, so they should do that.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      The Catholic Church, like any employer, pays for health insurance. This mandate now says birth control and abortion inducing drugs be offered through all health insurance plans.

      Which means that, yes, the Catholic Church is paying for birth control and abortion inducing drugs.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Jeff from Columbus,

      Freedoms are sanctioning perplexities where upon the people do sit around the tables of indifferent allegories toward plat-itudes of the purely mundane audacities.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • John the Guy

      Is not the issue that the exemtion for religious employers was not broad enough to suit what the bishop's demand?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  18. Jeff from Columbus

    Oh, come on. The federal government forces the Catholic Church to pay for services that violates its religious beliefs and its the Catholic Church who is wrong because they dared to protest this action?

    So much for freedom in this country. Obey Obama or else, I guess.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • chill

      Nobody suggested that the church couldn't object to the policy if they believe it is wrong. That is different however from supporting one candidate over the other and ignoring doctrinal issues with the opponent. That is the point being made. If the Catholic Church wants to run businesses like universities and hospitals as opposed to churches; and they want to employ non-Catholics in those businesses, then they shouldn't be exempt. If they are preaching effectively, then no one would use the services anyway, right? It's especially whacky that they want t reduce and elimiante abortion and then fight the contraception that would help achieve that goal.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Jack spitz

      You
      clowns need to have a 85 year old tell you what to do because all of you are too stupid to think for yourselves. The dirty catholic church need to be taxed out of existence!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • HBTO

      The "Church" does not have to pay for anyone's health care. It is Church affiliated private enterprises such as hospitals and schools which are being asked to follow the law and provide options for their employees. Since they eagerly accept public money – the least they can do is follow the law. The alternative is for the "Church" to stick to being a Church and leave education and health care to the secular world.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • ANTON333

      Once the Catholic church became a business and or hired people of other faiths. The rule was made to protect that persons rights. If all of the so called catholics did not want this birth control then they would offer it in the insurance plan and nobody would use it correct! That would make it a waste of time arguing over right! The problem is catholic schools and catholic run hospitals hire none catholics. Those people have a right to birth control, our priest tells the ladys in the church after they have had their children and no longer want more it is ok to take birth control.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  19. Apple Bush

    I think it is just adorable the way some people actually had their hopes up that Romney would win lol. Now those people should be counting their blessings that they were wrong.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Scott

      He only lost by 2%. It would have been nice to see what he could have done to help the country. Now we will never know. Now we will see what the last four years taught Pre Obama and if he can do something more/different than the last four.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  20. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    The Topic headline:

    "My Take: Catholic bishops' election behavior threatens their authority."

    My Take: Catholic bishops' promulgation of a severely flawed religion both historically and theologically completely vitiates their authority.

    To wit:

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    November 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Reality,

      People will always be that, people. Their 'natures' are based on inclement structural conditionings within societal barricades of moral relevancies.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      good grief some people love to hear themselves talk!

      November 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Reality

      Only for those who are reading challenged:

      SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:

      THERE WERE NEVER ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS AND THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY.

      SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:

      THERE NEVER WERE AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR LIKE 9/11.

      SAVING 15.5 MILLION ORTHODOX FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:

      ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

      Added details upon request.

      November 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.