Looking Ahead to the New ‘Faithful Citizenship’
This coming November the Catholic bishops will approve a new version of their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document.
The 36-page statement on political responsibility was hotly debated at the bishops’ meeting in 2007, though only four bishops voted against it. At the time, Archbishop Raymond Burke made an impassioned plea for his fellow bishops to reconsider problematic sections of “Faithful Citizenship” to no avail. Now, it is known that Cardinal Raymond Burke’s concerns were well founded. During the election, various sentences of the bishops’ statement were cherry-picked, stripped of context, and employed to convince Catholic voters it was justifiable to vote for pro-abortion candidates.
The bishops evidently did not anticipate how such a lengthy document would be manipulated and abused.
“Faithful Citizenship” was used by groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, as well as Obama supporters like Professors Doug Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, in their outreach to Catholic voters.
After the 2008 election, Archbishop Charles Chaput said in an interview “a new approach to conscience formation” was needed, adding, “‘Faithful Citizenship’ didn’t and doesn’t work because it’s been applied by different people in very different ways.”
Thus, when both Senator Biden and Speaker Pelosi used appearances on “Meet the Press” to misrepresent Church teaching on abortion, dozens of individual bishops went on the record with their own statements. That they could not unite behind “Faithful Citizenship” was a telling indictment of its inadequacies.
A week prior to the 2008 election I asked aloud if “‘Faithful Citizenship’ Will Win the Catholic Vote for Obama?” The New York Times was reporting Obama — with his extreme pro-abortion position and support for gay marriage — 22 points ahead among Catholic voters.
“Faithful Citizenship,” I argued, had “provided Obama’s Catholic supporters the escape clauses needed to convince Catholics they could vote for a pro-abortion candidate in ‘good conscience.’”
The two major loopholes in the document can be found in sections 34-35. First, it states that Catholics are allowed to vote for a supporter of abortion rights so long as 1) they do not intend to support that position (#34) or 2) there are offsetting “morally grave reasons” (#35).
The two major loopholes in the bishops’ document must be corrected in the next version of “Faithful Citizenship.”
A number of bishops have pointed out the problems with the document; Bishop Robert Vasa (Baker, OR), Bishop Kevin Vann (Ft, Worth, TX), and Bishop Kevin Farrell (Dallas, TX) among them. The pastoral letter issued by Bishops Vann and Farrell pinpointed the way “Faithful Citizenship” could be twisted into a proportionalist argument for supporting abortion. They reiterated Church teaching that there are no “‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.”
Obama’s Catholic surrogates ignored bishops like Vasa, Farrell, and Vann. How “Faithful Citizenship” was abused during the 2008 campaign is illustrated by this quote from the Web site of “Roman Catholics for Obama”:
“We hope you’ll spend time reviewing all of the material housed or linked from here. But if you read just two documents, please make them the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship — which explains why “[t]here may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other grave reasons” — and Barack Obama’s Blueprint for Change, which outlines all of Senator Obama’s positions and is, we think, reflective of why he is the candidate whose views are most compatible with the Catholic outlook [emphasis added].”
This message was not confined to the Internet – it echoed through the nation’s parishes when “Faithful Citizenship” discussions were held and led by Obama sympathizers: Catholic voters can ignore Obama’s pro-abortion record because of mitigating factors.
USCCB staff were aware that “Faithful Citizenship” could be read this way. At a conference at Creighton University in June 2008, John Carr, executive director of social development and world peace for the USCCB, “stressed that the bishops’ document does not shut the door on any candidate, not even one who supports abortion rights.”
“[Carr] pointed to a caveat in the document: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” [emphasis added].
Why would the bishops approve language like this? Were they unaware of how it would be twisted and spun during the campaign? Surely some of them realized the document was so abstract it was an open invitation to the supporters of pro-abortion politicians to invoke Catholic social teaching.
When the bishops meet in November 2011, they must republish “Faithful Citizenship” and eliminate its present ambiguities. Otherwise the abuse will continue. If not, they risk more situations like that of then, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, who was forced to say, “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate