The general election and Archbishop Chaput's views on JFK's speech
As Labor Day falls upon us, the general election campaign season begins and with it the question of faithful citizenship for Catholic voters and politicians. In the background this year are Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s reflections to Houston Baptist University on then candidate John F. Kennedy’s address to the Baptist Ministerial Alliance, where Kennedy asserted his independence from Rome in regard to the affairs of state. This address was reported in the Catholic media in April, when I blogged about it at the time at http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2010/04/archbishop-chaputs-comments-on-jfks.html and on my Examiner blog at http://www.examiner.com/progressive-catholic-perspectives-in-washington-dc/denver-archbishop-chaput-s-comments-on-jfk-s-legacy
Archbishop Chaput saw Kennedy’s speech as a beginning of the decoupling by Catholic politicians of their political duties from their political beliefs. In his mind, Catholic politicians who do not adhere to doctrine are “selling out” for political correctness and power – that they are morally cowardly where matters of faith are concerned. Catholic politicians, from Mario Cuomo to Joseph Biden, claim that because not everyone is Catholic, they cannot impose their moral teachings on the body politic.
In my blog posts, I criticized Catholic politicians for a different type of moral cowardice, not because they are selling out their religious beliefs, but because they are hiding behind pluralism rather than explaining to the hierarchy why the Church’s political position on abortion is untenable as a matter of constitutional law and public policy. Indeed, the pluralism argument would fall apart if every citizen were a professed Catholic, while the constitutional and policy arguments would not.
The Church claims that its doctrines are based entirely on natural law, however determining what is true in natural law is the province of every thinking person – it is not dependent upon the authority of position. In practice, that is not the natural law theory held to by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Rome grants itself a privileged position in natural law reasoning based on the grant of binding and loosening to St. Peter, even though in other places this power was granted to all of the Apostles, if not to the Church as a whole. In this formulation, both Catholic politicians and Catholic voters must adhere strictly to the teachings and interpretations of the Church, even when they are wrong on their face. In other words, the hierarchy still wants us to pray, pay, obey and vote their way – even when their way is bad public policy or based on faulty reasoning or evidence.
Four examples stand out. The first is in the area of homosexuality. A non-privileged theory of natural law would conclude that if a person was born gay or lesbian and that sexuality is a gift from God, that gays and lesbians are both wonderfully made and entitled to unitive sexual expression in a marital relationship. The hierarchy will never accept this unless the faithful demand it of them, which I believe is inevitable and scripturally based.
While a commitment to heterosexual marriage was radical in the early church, because it raised women up to equality with men, the equality of women in marriage is no longer in danger except in the most conservative circles, which brings me to the second example, women priests. Indeed, the current teachings of the Church are ahistorical in this regard, as St. Junia, an Apostle, was also a woman, as was St. Priscilla, the benefactor of the Church of Roman before the arrival of St. Peter (if Peter arrived at all).
The third example is with birth control and stem cell research. While we can’t determine necessary when ensoulment occurs, we can determine when it can’t have occurred – and both traditionally and scientifically that has been before gastrulation – when twinning can take place and when cross species blastocysts can still grow. Indeed, stem cell research itself shows that adult and embryonic stem cells are ontologically equivalent – so no human organisms are harmed when stem cells are harvested before gastrulation or when a blastocyst is prevented from implantation before that point.
A final example is the case in Phoenix when an abortion was authorized by the ethics committee at a Catholic hospital in order to save the life of the mother and the local Bishop declared the administrator, a Sister of the order that owned the hospital, excommunicate for her participation on the committee. Unbiased versions of natural law would recognize that a child who could never be born has no right to life at the expense of his or her mother. The Church view is that it would have been better had both died than the mother, the doctors or the hospital administrator – or the Bishop had he known in advance, consented to killing the child – indeed such consent would have put the soul of those involved in danger, as their conception of God would never allow such disobedience. In other words (as I have said before at http://xianleft.blogspot.com/2010/07/lessons-from-abortion-in-phoenix.html ) this case is as much about the underlying theological beliefs of the bishop and his fellows as his ethics. It is no accident that evangelization is becoming harder, as the conception of God being preached is entirely unlovable rather than Love itself. Until a different conception of God is advanced, the Church is in danger of continued decline.