Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Have Had It With "Catholics United"

Somehow, I've found myself on the email list of a group calling itself "Catholics United". It's a progressive 527 which is attempting to make the case for Barack Obama and against John McCain by using "common good" language out of Catholic Social Teaching.

They are running their own TV ad titled Actions Speak Louder Than Words, in which they remonstrate with Senator McCain, "You voted against one of the largest support programs for pregnant women. You voted against health care for our children. And you voted for a war that has killed thousands of Americans. Senator McCain, when will you start defending all human life, without exception?"

Now they have sent me an email entitled "Knights of Columbus Distracts Catholics from the Real Issues of this Election" in which they denounce the K of C for publishing (and paying to place in a number of newspapers) an open letter to vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden. The Open Letter from the Knights of Columbus to Senator Biden can be found here, and I strongly encourage you to read it. It is a thorough and thoughtful letter.

Catholics United executive director Chris Korzen is quoted as saying:
The Knights of Columbus' ad campaign is yet another unfortunate distraction from the serious and urgent issues Americans are facing in this campaign: lack of health care, a crumbling economy, a war that has gone on far too long, and solutions to the tragedy of abortion that offer results instead of rhetoric. By choosing to focus on Senator Biden's own unhelpful comments instead of offering a comprehensive vision of what it means to be pro-life, the Knights are doing a major disservice to the unborn, indeed to all Americans.
Let me reply, both as a fellow Catholic and as a Knight, to Chris Korzen and to James Salt, the "organizing director" who is the signatory to all the emails that go out from Catholics United:

Your attitude towards the open letter from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson is not only disappointing, it is deplorable. You and your organization should be ashamed of yourselves and of your politicization of Catholic teaching in order to support the most pro-abortion candidate ever to seek of the office of President of the United States.

Further, your attempts to attack McCain and uphold Obama on "pro-life" grounds are misguided to the point of being morally disgusting.

This is not because I think that every good Catholic must support McCain because of the abortion issue. Far from it. I know orthodox Catholics and other people who are genuinely pro-life who believe that a progressive approach to economics and social services (or a change in foreign policy) are so desperately needed in this country that they consider them more than proportionate reasons to support Senator Obama for president. I respect such people's position, though I by no means agree with it.

However, in your ad you elide some important moral and political distinctions. A desire to help the poor, expectant mothers and those in need of medical treatment is not the exclusive domain of social progressives. Nor are the particular pieces of legislation which you fault McCain for opposing necessitated by Catholic Social Teaching or a pro-life commitment. Catholics who hold conservative and progressive economic views are united in their desire to help those in need, but we disagree on the best way to do so. Principled conservatives do not believe that continuously expanding social welfare programs at the federal level is the best way to alleviate suffering in our communities. And a great many of us provide significant donations to crisis pregnancy centers and other charities designed to achieve these very goals via private means in our communities. (In stark contrast, it might be noted, to Senator Biden's virtually complete absence of charitable giving. And Obama's similar tendencies.)

So while being pro-life in a comprehensive sense most certainly requires "caring for people outside the womb as well as inside" (as the phrase goes) it does not necessarily require that one share the progressive politics of Messrs. Korzen and Salt.

Moreover, it is doubly hypocritical for you to first attack Republicans for not agreeing with your opinions as to what specific policies are actually most conducive to the common good, and then denounce the Knights for asserting basic Catholic teaching about the morality of abortion. The truth can never be a distraction from the "real issues".

I assume that you are in earnest in your belief that progressive policies are most conducive to the Common Good. If you called yourselves "Progressives United" that would be all well and good. But to call yourselves "Catholics United" and then denounce those who put forth basic Catholic teachings, while acting as if your personal policy preferences have the stamp of doctrinal necessity is the height of dishonesty.


Foxfier said...

Y'know... when I was in the Navy, I gave more every year through the CFC than Biden gave in total, except for his one high year....

If you put my now-husband (infant baptisim but not raised in the Church) we gave *more* than the Bidens.

This, on (at the high point) an E-5 salary.

I really don't get these folks....

Julie D. said...

Amen, Darwin! I thought I was the only one who was sick and tired of those emails ... I should have known better.

Jeff Miller said...

For Biden paying higher taxes is "Patriotic", but giving in charity is something to be done very little of.

Catholics United is such a joke and their calling themselves non-partisan is as laughable as it gets.

When Biden was picked they applauded the fact that he believes life begins at conception without noting his mostly pro-abortion record.

Earlier I had asked them if they had permission from Archbishop Wuerl to use the word Catholic in their title as required by Canon Law. They never got back to me on that.

They really should be Called Catholics United to Provide Cover for Pro-abortion Politicians.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Darwin.

I do feel compelled to differ with you on one point, though - I don't think that voting for Obama out of a sense of need for progressive social reform is at all a legitimate reason for an orthodox Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion politician.

As I understand Church social teaching, the Federal government would be an inappropriate instrument for looking after the socially disadvantaged in our society. In fact, the belief that it is somehow is a very large contributing factor, I believe, to why we are in the social situation we are in. It is the responsibility of individuals to behave charitably to their fellow men; if governmental assistance is required then local and state levels ought to be involved well before the Feds to anything. The only thing that I can think of off the top of my head that ought to be done at the national level is the cessation of the wealth-redistribution schemes that tax money from the population only to have it repackaged and sent to the states as aid. The very expectation of this sort of governmental help has, I believe, abrogated charity to an unacceptably large extent.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Worthy Brother Darwin, you are right on target as usual.

Anyone who says that abortion is not a serious issue in this election cannot honestly call himself a faithful Catholic.

Kyle Cupp said...

By choosing to focus on Senator Biden's own unhelpful comments instead of offering a comprehensive vision of what it means to be pro-life, the Knights are doing a major disservice to the unborn, indeed to all Americans.

I'm all for hospitality, but I have to say, this statement is beyond stupid. So the Carl A. Anderson writes an open letter to Senator Biden and everything the Knights have ever done in the service of life vanishes from the view of Catholics United? Talk about willful blindness.

CMinor said...

Well done.

If they're going to annoy you with emails, you should continue to use them as material. Pay them back in aggravation, as it were.

Anonymous said...

I note that the Catholics United blog does not have a comments section. I assume their worried about negative feedback from all those Catholics out there, especially in small towns, who are "bitterly clinging to their religion".

Anonymous said...

Garbage like this is why I'm just about through with the Church. Abortion and gay marriage are paramount. We'll just tip-toe around social and economic justice (terms I learned in a Jesuit college from a priest-professor). Democratic Politician A., we'll deny communion to him b/c of abortion but Republican Pol B., who consistently votes against programs for the poor, supports the School of the Americas, and voted for Iraq (which John Paul II opposed, right?), that guy's just great. He can have 2 wafers even. How far can that doublethink go?

Foxfier said...

Last time I checked....Jesus didn't say "Render unto Cesar that which shall be given to those of lower socio-economic levels."

Anonymous said...

I wanted a thoughtful answer and I got a bad bumper sticker. My point is, why do I hear "Orthodox Catholics" saying one must follow Church teachings or one isn't really Catholic only on abortion (and maybe gay marriage)? Doesn't the Church also teach opposition to, for example, the death penalty and Iraq? Is abortion the only thing that really matters and everything else is 'negotiable'? Okay, maybe abortion is the number one issue but why do I rarely hear, "I'm voting for Republican Politician X b/c he's anti-abortion but I don't like his views on (the death penalty, Iraq, social and economic justice, fill in the blank)." These are issues I was initially made aware of by Jesuits at a Jesuit University, so don't call it unCatholic. Darwin is a little more thoughtful on this issue than most Orthodoxes I hear and that is why I asked on this forum.

Foxfier said...

Well, the death penalty, Iraq and welfare aren't binding moral teachings of the church.

"Don't kill babies" is a binding moral teaching.

Darwin said...


There is a certain "praising with faint damns" aspect to compliments that boil down to, "You're not as crazy as all your friends" -- but then, that is basically why I'm here, I guess. So here it goes...

First off, let me say that no one, liberal or conservative, should be giving the impression that abortion and gay marriage are "paramount". The paramount element of Catholicism is the belief that Christ as God made man, that He lived among us and suffered and died for our sins, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven to return to the Father. Paramount also is the belief that Christ instituted for our benefit the sacraments, foremost among them the Eucharist, in which many of us participated, however unworthily, today. In the mass, Christ becomes really and truly present to us, and we receive him as members of the body of Christ.

This is one of the reasons why issues relating to communion are taken so seriously. This is not just a "wafer" that people are given for good behavior. ("Here, you've been a good boy, have two!" "No wafer for you, though, you've a bad one!") The Eucharist not only represents but _is_ the body and blood of Christ, and so we do well (all of us, not just politicians) to take very seriously the question of whether we are worthy to approach the Eucharistic table.

Now, why the differentiation between issues like abortion and issues like the death penalty, Iraq war, and poverty programs?

The Church teaches that we should respect life from the moment of conception -- and that abortion is thus the taking of an innocent human life. Thus, openly supporting the legalization of abortion as a "right" means, in Catholic terms, holding that one has a "right" to take innocent life. That's pretty bad stuff, and there's really no way that one can justify holding that position if one is a serious Catholic. Either one doesn't believe that life should be respected from conception, or one holds that the destruction of innocent life should be legal -- either is a problem when it comes to being "in union" with the Church and not in a state of grave sin -- both of which are required for receiving the Eucharist. (This applies in entirely personal sins as well. I once refrained from the Eucharist because I'd got drunk a few nights before and had not yet had the chance to go to confession.)

How is the Iraq War or capital punishment different?

The Church does not not teach that either one of these is objectively evil. The Church has a teaching on what the prerequisites of a "just war" are -- and says that it is a very grave sin to begin a war for purposes that do not meet these conditions. Many people, including our current and previous pope do not believe that the US war in Iraq met those criteria. Their judgments should be taken very seriously -- and I do, though I hesitantly disagree with them in this case. But the question of whether the Iraq war meets these just war criteria is not itself a matter of Church teaching -- the just war criteria are. And so a disagreement as to whether the Iraq War was just is not a doctrinal disagreement in the same way that a disagreement over abortion is.

Similarly, with capital punishment, the Church teaches that the death penalty _is_ a just punishment for grave crimes, though it should be used only when other means of protecting society are not available. John Paul II believed it is seldom or never the case in a modern country that other means of protecting society are not available, and that capital punishment is thus never necessary. Again, his judgement on this should be taken very seriously, but the teaching in question is that capital punishment _is_ just for certain crimes -- not that it never is.

Finally, we should touch on you point about programs to alleviate poverty. It seems to me that if there was universal agreement that a certain action would be the best thing for the poor and if a particular politician said, "I agree that this is the best thing for the poor, but I refuse to do what is best for them. Screw the poor, they can suffer." We'd be looking at a case of very serious sin. However, that is not what we are looking at, so far as I can tell, in most political disputes in our country. Progressives and Conservatives have very different ideas of what is best for the poor and what is best for society. I myself believe very much in helping the poor, and devote significant money out of my personal income each year to trying to do just that at a very local level. However, I tend to think that many of the massive government programs which it is claimed will help the poor will in the fact be destructive for society, and harm the very people they were meant to help. And so I oppose them.

So again, I don't think that a politician voting against certain forms of "social welfare" programs, because he believed those programs would be harmful to the very people they were meant to help, would in any way constitute denying Church teaching or being in a state of grave sin.

I hope that helps at least explain where we "Orthodoxes" are coming from.

Anonymous said...

Darwin, you were parsing your words very closely there. Something along the lines of--An unjust war is a grave sin and our last two Popes said this was an unjust war BUT somehow supporting the war is okay? I can't recall the criteria for a just war off the top of my head but I remember seeing them in 2003 and thinking Iraq was nowhere near it. And the Death Penalty is only acceptable in certain cases that can never exist in the United States, right? So, the death penalty is a grave sin where there are no alternatives to protect society and this would never occur in the United States BUT this is somehow okay? Please point out where where my thought train derailed.

Foxfier said...

Darwin was parsing his words carefully because the issues are delicate. There are shades of meaning.

Killing a baby is bad.
Saving a life is good.
The shade of trouble comes with a tubal pregnancy-- where it is morally acceptable to cut the section of the tube where the kid is growing, even though it will kill the kid, because if it is not done the child and mother are both dead.
Acceptable, but nobody is calling it a GOOD thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you 100% on the abortion thing. But my point to all this posting is that it seems a large percentage of the Church seems to care only about abortion and the rest of its teachings are tip-toed past and maybe given lip service to. I haven't read anything yet that has dissuaded me of that.

Darwin said...


Well, I tried to lay out why it is that the issues of capital punishment and the Iraq War are not nearly as black-and-white as that of abortion.

I myself have a somewhat conflicted position on capital punishment: I'm not sure that I agree with John Paul II that it is seldom or never required to protect the common good in a modern society. (I seem to recall reading that we have more murders committed by people with previous homicide convictions each year than we have executions -- which would seem to suggest that we're not currently doing a good job of protecting society even with the death penalty.) However, it seems to me that we currently administer the death penalty so badly (taking 20+ years to finish appeals, etc.) that it it worse that useless, so I have no problem with banning it.

On the other hand, the Democrats have virtually abandoned that issue anyway -- see Obama coming out against the decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana.

If you want a more detailed discussion of what the Church actually says in detail on capital punishment and just war, I'd suggest the 5th Commandment section of the Catechism:

Capital punishment is dealt with near the very beginning of the section I linked to, and just war theory about half way down.

In the end, however, I don't see how one can help reacting with must more revulsion towards a party which advocates that mothers kill their children, than one that advocates executing a couple dozen murderers every year. Call me old fashioned, but there it is.