Catholics United, a left-wing advocacy group, has been calling on our bishops and priests to pledge to “keep politics out of our pulpits.” Catholic rectories and chanceries are hardly teeming with advocates of “far-right political causes,” as Catholics United has suggested, but for groups like Catholics United, who desperately want to see President Obama reelected, the public consequences of the Catholic faith are once again proving politically inconvenient.
Every time a priest or bishop condemns the grave and intrinsic evil of abortion—which has claimed almost 5 million innocent lives in this country since Barack Obama took office—Catholics in the pews can’t but be reminded of President Obama’s proud devotion to the abortion license. He campaigns on it. He brags about it. He wants you to vote for him because of it.
Every time a priest or bishop preaches the truth about marriage and the family, Catholics in the pews can’t but be reminded of President Obama’s new-found enthusiasm for gay “marriage” and his party’s promise to foist it on the American people. He’s campaigned on it. He boasts about it. He hopes you’ll vote for him because of it.
Every time a priest or bishop mentions Americans face an unprecedented threat to religious freedom from our own government, Catholics in the pews can’t but recall that, while his opponent has promised to end the government’s attack on our first freedom, President Obama continues to lead the assault. He’s brought in Sandra Fluke to help him campaign on it. He blasts his opponents for opposing him. And he wants you to vote for him because of it.
President Obama has proudly promoted positions and enacted policies that are an affront, not just to Catholic beliefs, but to basic justice and constitutional rights. Given that many of the things the Catholic faith has to say about public life cast the President’s policies in an unfavorable light (to say the least), Catholics United has decided that it’s probably best if Catholic bishops and priests to just keep mum.
Hence Catholics United’s “Pledge to Keep Politics out of Our Pulpits.” The Pledge itself includes a promise to avoid, “Overt partisan activity.” Overt partisan activity includes, “Implicitly or explicitly tying issues to candidates which serves to rank them and/or solicit a vote for or against them.” Moreover, any priest or bishop who even “implicitly” ties issues to a candidate in order to rank them, Catholics United warns, is guilty of jeopardizing the Church’s tax exempt status.
(It was delightfully ironic this past week when an event being promoted by Catholics United was shut down by the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia for violating the diocesan policies regarding political events on Church property.)
Not surprisingly, Catholics United’s pledge drive doesn’t seem to have gone too well. The most notable response came from the Diocese of Orlando, where diocesan officials recommended that pastors ignore the pledge as it was deemed, “An attempt to silence pastors on issues that are of concern to the Church this election season and contrary to the agenda of Catholics United.” Which, of course, is exactly what the Catholics United pledge is.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI observed that faith is always a deeply personal thing. But he also pointed out that, as personal as the Catholic faith is, it is never truly private. Faith always involves a community—the Church, first and foremost. To relegate faith to the private sphere contradicts the very nature of faith. For Catholics, faith always has public consequences.
Hearing the truths of the faith — public consequences and all — preached from the pulpit evidently makes the folks at Catholics United, and others like them, deeply uncomfortable. That’s unsurprising given Catholics United dedication to politicians who champion intrinsic evils as fundamental rights. It would be a shame if, in their rush to blame pastoral partisanship, they were to miss the tell-tale signs of another source of discomfort: a troubled conscience.
Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.