Who’s your Pope?

Tracy: “So what’s your religion, Liz Lemon?”
Liz: “I pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me.” –_30 Rock_

“His heart was moved to pity for them, for they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” –Mt 9:36

The Catholic Church is often attacked over the concept of Papal infallibility, yet one of the ironies is that people long for “infallibility.” There is a reason the Bible is constantly comparing people to sheep: sheep are, as a priest once pointed out in a homily I heard, stupid. This is a controversial point, I know, but most people really are stupid. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”: our great excuse at personal and final judgement day will be, as the Catholic Church teaches, stupidity (Catechism 1793).

So we seek out people to guide us, like Israel begging Samuel for a king (1 Sam 8). Yet, just as when Samuel warned Israel that a King would become a tyrant (and all the kings of Israel fulfilled that warning, so too do the little kings we create for ourselves inevitably fail, because all are human.

In a previous post, I explained the limits and extents of Papal infallibility. Infallibility is, in one sense, a very limited concept, though it includes a general sense of obedience to the Pope. A traditional notion of anti-Catholicism holds that the Pope somehow micromanages the Church. The “Kennedy Doctrine” is heretical because, as Vatican II documents, Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all teach, the State *must* listen to the Church. However, in one sense, Kennedy was right in trying to dispel a common notion that Catholics all get secret personal marching orders from the Pope.

Papal infallibility only plays a big part in my life because religion plays a big part in my life. As I noted in the earlier post linked above, a Pope’s personal opinions are just that: opinions, and even his prudential judgements about matters of great import, and whether the Church’s teachings are properly being applied, are just that, prudential judgements. A Catholic owes a certain deference to the Holy Father, but Catholics are free to make up our minds on such matters, provided that we give them due study.

The principle of subsidiarity that the Church teaches in politics and economics applies in the Church as well. The Pope oversees 2 billion Catholics and does quite a lot but relatively little. A few thousand people work at the Vatican to oversee those 2 billion Catholics, and the proportion of Vatican employees to worldwide Catholics is far less a percentage than the staffs of most secular corporate or government headquarters.

Then there’s the local bishop, who oversees hundreds or thousands or even millions of parishioners. Again, the bishop’s authority is relatively minimal and mostly managerial. Most practicing Catholics only see their bishops on rare occasions, such as Confirmation or Ordination masses, or special events. I was a parishioner in my diocese’s cathedral as a kid, and I remember even *there* that the bishop making an appearance was a special event.

Then comes the local pastor, who *ought* to be involved intimately in each of his parishioners’ lives, but in practice this rarely happens. So the Church in general, in terms of Her human agents, doesn’t play that big a role in the average person’s life. I care about my pastor’s views on theology, morals, liturgy, church discipline and even politics. I don’t care about my pastor’s views on music (except liturgy or moral issues), sports, movies (except moral issues), etc.

The Pope doesn’t tell me what to watch on TV, though he may give advice on what to consider from a moral aspect when choosing a TV show.

However, people in general look for “infallible authorities” to give them simple answers. They balk at the notion of an established and official hierarchy, but they create one for themselves by seeking out little gurus, the way the fictional Liz Lemon “worships” Oprah.

Look at the way certain Protestant televangelists rake in the dough and the adulation, and people hang on their every word. Look at the range of issues where people would seek advice from James Dobson. Look at the followers of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Martha Stewart, the modern-day Sophists.

then add to that the polarization of society, and people’s basic need to separate everything in to “good” versus “evil.” So once a particular “guru” has been established as a “good guy,” then everything that person says *must* be good, and if anyone criticizes that person, watch out.

So the followers of Fr. Corapi, myself still one of them when his troubles started, reacted in his defense when he announced that he’d been suspended. Anyone who raised a sign of caution that there might be validity to the allegations–especially since he based his entire ministry on his allegedly sordid past–were attacked as agents of Satan.

Look at what happened when some people raised questions about the ethicality of Lila Rose’s “undercover” operations at Planned Parenthood.

Even questioning one aspect of a “good guy’s” behavior is offensive to the “follower” because the “good guy” is bestowed a kind of personal infallibility that goes far beyond the scope of the infallibility of the Pope–and often the person doesn’t have any real claim to such authority.

I raise this issue because, back in 2004, Catholic Answers, which is a wonderful apologetics organization, issued a “Catholic Voter Guide” was basically geared towards saying it’s wrong to vote for the Democrats. Interestingly, the content of the Guide itself favors voting for a third party candidate, but it has been manipulated to support the Republicans.

This “Voter Guide” was issued right around the same time as the leak of the “private letter” that then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger sent to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, clarifying the prioritization of “life issues” in voting, and in various reports, the content of the Catholic Answers “Voter Guide” got conflated with the Ratzinger letter.

The Catholic Answers Voter Guide introduces a concept of “Five Non-Negotiables”: abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning and gay “marriage.”

Now, it’s true that these are “non-negotiable” in Catholic teaching. This refers to the fact that the economic documents always emphasize the freedom of Catholics to determine how to apply them, and it refers to how in matters such as war and the death penalty, the Church discourages them and gives strict guidelines for their application but still gives the State the right to use them when necessary.

The whole point of the Catholic Answers Voter Guide is this:

Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

Do not reward with your vote candidates who are right on lesser issues but who are wrong on key moral issues. One candidate may have a record of voting exactly as you wish, aside from voting also in favor of, say, euthanasia. Such a candidate should not get your vote. Candidates need to learn that being wrong on even one of the non-negotiable issues is enough to exclude them from consideration.

Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.

These posts would seem to advocate voting for a third party candidate because the voter is encouraged to eliminate anyone wrong on one of these “five non-negotiables”. This is affirmed by the teaching of John Paul II, who said it was more important to vote for the candidate that’s morally correct than to worry about who would win. See “John Paul II on Incrementalism”.

The Voters Guide, on its own merits, is a helpful document. However, there are several problems that have arisen from it because of tribalism and party politics:

1) Because Catholic Answers has a reputation for “orthodoxy,” they are “good guys” in the above calculation, so they are, according to the reasoning, beyond reproach, and on the other hand, anything Catholic Answers issues gets elevated to Magisterial teaching. So even though this is a voter guide issued by a lay apologetics group, many Catholics speak of the “Five Non-Negotiables” as if the concept was an ex cathedra papal statement.
2) There are more than five non-negotiables in Catholic teaching, and the Catholic Answers staff were misrepresenting papal teaching to suit their own accomodation to American politics. This is my big beef with the document. The Voter’s Guide is used to argue why ESCR, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and cloning are always evil, but the Church also says many other things are always evil: contraception, in vitro fertilization, etc.
3) it has become confused and conflated in the public mind, which isn’t the fault of Catholic Answers. A woman once insisted to me that there are only “five intrinsic evils,” and she listed CA’s “five non-negotiables.” I quoted the passage in the Catechism (2297) which defines intrinsic evil, itself quoting Vatican II:

“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”

Now, the lady in question told me that I wasn’t a Catholic for thinking that the Catechism, _Veritatis Splendor_ and _Gaudium et Spes_ superseded Catholic Answers and “defriended” me on Facebook. Surprisingly, she didn’t block me, and we run into each other periodically on other groups and pages.

But her confusion and tribalism represents a typical problem. In 2008, things were complicated by the war and ESCR. The “Catholic Left” argued that torture should be a “non-negotiable” since the above passage lists it as equally evil to abortion. That would be fine if Bush had been running for re-election, but the fact was that most of the Republicans running in 2008, and the third party right wing candidates, all opposed waterboarding: IIIR, only Giuliani (who’s also pro-abortion) and Thompson specifically supported it: Dr. Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr (pro-abortion) and especially John McCain all opposed “enhanced interrogation” for one reason or another, and so torture should have been a non-issue. Ironically, all the Catholics who voted for Obama because of “enhanced interrogation,” illegal detainment and other intrinsic evils of the Bush Administration, along with the questionable justification of the war in Iraq, elected a president who has been far worse for these evils and who has gotten us into several very clearly unjust military actions, such as Libya.

Meanwhile, Catholic conservatives continue to blindly vote Republican the way Catholic liberals have blindly voted Democrat. Even though the CA Voter Guide itself encourages voting third party if possible, Catholics have used the CA Voter guide to justify milquetoast Republicans over Democrats because “abortion is a non-negotiable!”

Well, the problem is that John McCain supported ESCR, and suddenly ESCR became a “negotiable” — NRLC even dropped it as a priority issue (and let’s not forget that Bush authorized it so long as the babies were already dead). Now, we have Mitt Romney, who passively legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, passed a healthcare mandate law in Massachusetts (and convinced Obama to go with a mandate over total socialization), ignored a Catholic protest in MA to his own contraception mandate, gave money to Planned Parenthood, made money off two abortion-related companies (one that produced abortion pills and another that handled “disposal” of aborted fetuses), and was outspokenly pro-abortion and for changing the GOP platform.

We are supposed to believe that social liberal Mitt Romney has undergone a total change in his views since being governor of Massachusetts. We’re supposed to believe he’s pro-life, even though he’s skipped every pro-life event this year, including events that all his opponents in the primary attended. We’re expected to believe he’s opposed to a health care law he helped write.

We’re supposed to believe that he’s pro-life and pro-family because of his stay-at-home wife (in whose name the Planned Parenthood donations were made) and his 5 kids–one of whom is having his own children through “surrogate motherhood”–even though the Romneys had their kids in the 1970s, and their kids were grown before their father did his worst anti-life and anti-family actions. The fact that the Romneys were already Mormons with a big family when they supported PP and contraception mandates, etc., before they opposed them, they makes them far worse.

And for some reason people are buying this garbage and getting mad at those of us who don’t. They insist Romney’s going to be better than Obama and change things, but he’s not. He’s going to say “Ha, Ha!”

I remember the arguments of Catholics–from died in the wool liberals to people like Doug Kmiec–who argued that if Obama knew a lot of pro-lifers voted for him, maybe he’d change his mind. Yeah, right. How did that work out for *them*?

Now we have Catholics arguing on the Right that if they vote for Romney, and he knows they voted for him because he claims to be pro-life and claims to be pro-marriage,

I argue with the “Catholic Left,” and they say that abortion is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering it as an issue.

Then I argue with Catholic conservatives about issues like contraception, and they say that contraception is a settled issue, and it’s futile to keep fighting it, and it’s never going to be illegal, so it isn’t worth considering.

The odds are I’m going to be dead before the election. My concern is primarily with peoples’ individual souls–including the candidates’–and not with what actually happens in the election. It’s better to vote third party, and know that you vote for someone who represents your conscience, than to vote for a major candidate by compromising your beliefs. It’s fine to vote for a “lesser of two evils” if you really think that’s necessary, but don’t try justifying the evil.

C. S. Lewis warned about “Christianity AND”. The Vatican censured the Action Francaise because its leaders referred to the Church as a tool to achieving the monarchist cause, rather than the opposite.

Shape your politics to your religion, not your religion to your politics.

More importantly, remember that human beings are flawed. The fact that you happen to like a lot of the things a particular writer or organization puts out doesn’t make that writer or organization infallible. You don’t have to 100% agree with someone. Decisions like whom to vote for are incredibly complicated, and any attempt to simplify the decision is going to be problematic.

And stop assigning absolute infallibility to people just because you generally agree with them. Let God be God.

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5 responses to “Who’s your Pope?

  1. Thank you for promoting third-party voting. I have lately been persuaded to vote third-party because of my Catholic faith, and it’s discouraging to see so many of my fellow Christians and Catholics angry over that decision. “You have to vote for Romney,” they say, “because otherwise Obama will get re-elected.” I feel like electing Romney IS re-electing Obama. When I talk to people about what Romney has done and voted for, they either don’t believe it, or they say he’s changed, or they say he can be counted on to support conservatism because otherwise he won’t get re-elected himself. Sorry, but he has a record of turning on those who voted him into power, and of using every compromise he can to turn his former opponents into new supporters. His economic positions aren’t conservative, and his moral positions aren’t Christian. He shouldn’t get the Christian vote.

  2. Very good, agree totally.

    I was wondering at title if you were referring to trilemma/quadrilemma:
    Benedict XVI / Michael I / Gregorio XVIII / next non-heretic bishop.

    But your point as such is good.

  3. While often agreeing with Maurras/Action Française, I quite agree the man who was no Catholic had his blind spots. Good show for an agnostic, but not good enough to replace papacy or episcopacy!

  4. Can you recommend a third party candidate who is in line with Catholic social teaching?

    • Zeb, sorry it’s taken me a couple days to reply. Well, at this point, I don’t think there’s going to be a third party candidate who even has the muster. I generally support the notion of third parties, but I think that somebody needs at least some kind of name recognition to have a reasonable chance: Alan Keyes, Pat Buchanan, someone like that. But I don’t know of anyone who’s even on the ballot in most states. Plus, I think Paul Ryan seems pretty solid. I may not 100% agree on his application, but I do believe he’s trying to apply Catholic teaching in his politics.

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