Or, in the minds of some, can a Catholic in good conscience belong to THAT political party?
Even the USCCB has found itself in a quandary allowing for Catholics to vote for Democrats, considering the party’s support for abortion. For some, it is a matter of conscience never to vote for a party other than the one they firmly support.
My question is different. Can a Catholic belong to any political party to the extent that they accept party line as their own and open their minds only to media sources supportive of that party?
I am in good company here.
George Washington, in his Farewell Address, cautions the young nation in the following words:
One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
Washington brings out here several points that must sound very contemporary to us. “One of the expedients of party…is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.” Does your podcast host, your TV show host, ever misrepresent the other side, leaders not of your party? No, maybe you don’t see that as happening in your media, but maybe you do see it on the other side.
Misrepresenting facts about people or events is dishonest. It is a lie. Yes, as Washington worries, such political party struggles will break down the unity that is our strength; but truth is essential for that unity to endure. We cannot be people of the lie and survive.
Washington was not a stranger to division. The country had come together as one from a conglomeration of 13 colonies, from a populace not entirely sold on independence from Britain. There were already competing interests between South and North, and a looming pull towards the West away from the settled Atlantic seabord. He had given a good portion of his life’s energy to creating a Constitution that would enable all of these diverse people to be a single nation, endowed by its Creator with certain inalienable rights. One nation under God.
This would be a nation unlike the majority of others, all ruled by kings. We would be ruled by representatives of the people, who would resolve our differences and create our laws in civility and decorum.
To any who look to our founding fathers for light, please study Washington’s words. Is our present situation what he was calling us to? He calls us to put aside our particular differences and come together as a nation. Is that what we see happening?
Now, that was George Washington.
It is not the Church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person. It is, however, the Church’s right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law. If Christians must "recognize the legitimacy of differing points of view about the organization of worldly affairs", they are also called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism. Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.
Here is the challenge to us as Catholics: We are expected to make responsible decisions regarding our temporal situation, eg. The national debt, the funding of the war in Ukraine, most effective management of firearms, a policy towards a national stance in the face of a pandemic. There will be different solutions to these issues, and we are expected to make responsible decisions regarding them, to the best of our ability. No one solution is mandated by our faith.(If you think there may, indeed, be a mandate, look at the position of the Magisterium for clarification.)
But “it is our right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law.” Abortion comes to mind here, as do the Death Penalty and Euthanasia. Also, perhaps, just war concerns. One could also cite the popes of the present and previous centuries in support of the just demands of workers, the safety of immigrants, the welfare of the poor. Not only our papal magisterium, but even the prophets of sacred Scripture call us to these things.
This is not to argue the extent to which each Catholic is called to support the matters impacted by teachings of faith. It is to point out, in case this isn’t clear, that neither of the major parties in the United States fully complies with the ethical demands of reason and the natural law.
Cardinal Ratzinger again:
On the level of concrete political action, there can generally be a plurality of political parties in which Catholics may exercise – especially through legislative assemblies – their right and duty to contribute to the public life of their country. This arises because of the contingent nature of certain choices regarding the ordering of society, the variety of strategies available for accomplishing or guaranteeing the same fundamental value, the possibility of different interpretations of the basic principles of political theory, and the technical complexity of many political problems. It should not be confused, however, with an ambiguous pluralism in the choice of moral principles or essential values. The legitimate plurality of temporal options is at the origin of the commitment of Catholics to politics and relates directly to Christian moral and social teaching. It is in the light of this teaching that lay Catholics must assess their participation in political life so as to be sure that it is marked by a coherent responsibility for temporal reality.
What the future Pope Benedict is telling us is, parties are acceptable, since there are often more than one way of addressing temporal issues. If anything, our faith would encourage us to recognize that there can be more than one course of action, and to refrain from demonizing those who disagree. .
Party cannot, however, for a Christian, justify moral pluralism. Clearly, we cannot accept abortion, nor can we ignore the call to economic justice.
Cardinal Ratzinger goes on:
The Church recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent. The democratic structures on which the modern state is based would be quite fragile were its foundation not the centrality of the human person. It is respect for the person that makes democratic participation possible. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the protection of «the rights of the person is, indeed, a necessary condition for citizens, individually and collectively, to play an active part in public life and administration».
This is not only respect for the physical life of an embryo, a prisoner, a sick person,; but for that person in their entirety—for their concerns and welfare, their rights and responsibilities.
The human person and the common good: these are two principles that appear repeatedly in papal and curial documents. These are principles for sorting out the way we can respond to the questions of our time.
Is either party up to the job? My friend who heads up our local chapter of Democrats for Life says he cannot vote for either of the two front-running candidates. There may, indeed, be no candidate who dares to be openly pro-life and expect to be elected. That’s not their fault; it’s that of the electorate. That’s us.
Democrats for Life stand up among Democrats, taking a moral stand against party line, against all the pressure from other progressives in the party. Because, we are progressives or we would not be Democrats; but we call this party to be mindful of the sanctity of the human person, which it recognizes in its policies toward workers and immigrants, but less in the area of human life.
Correspondingly, there is a contingent of Republicans who are willing to depart from the will of the party base to stand for principle and truth.
DINOs and RINOs? Or people of moral gumption? Willing to look beyond the siren call of the majority.
And how, you might ask, do we find that elusive quality of truth in all of this? Well, by not reading and listing to the media organs of your party. Let go of Fox News and The Epoch Times, as well as MSNBC, CNN, and NPR for a time. I’m not saying you have to give up your favorite news, but try some other options. Read some papal documents. Tune in to some Centrist podcasts that call both sides to responsibility. When you do listen to your own side, listen critically. News media are not divine oracles, but fallible human voices.
I like the New York Times in that they offer well-spoken, intelligent writers from a conservative standpoint alongside the more liberal writers. I want to ask you as a reader/listener: does your information source encourage your dissent as a listener? Do they admit mistakes? Do they make an attempt to present the other side—ever? You are simply not going to get the whole picture from one side, and you may well get a very distorted view by sticking with one source.
Clearly, Pope Benedict would endorse Catholics’ participation in political parties, but he also cautions us. We have a responsibility to examine what our party teaches in the light of faith. This is not “faith” as in "how I construe my faith to allow me to go along with this or that leader’s claims". This is faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the papal encyclicals, in the Gospels and in the Hebrew prophets: by the recognized Magisterium of the Church. We are also responsible to view the issues of today’s politics in the light of reason and the natural law. This kind of boils down to common sense, and that’s available to all of us, if we will use it.
If we were like Italy or France with an array of political parties representing every shade of political positioning, we could confidently join a party as a solid member. In the United States, where we have for all practical purposes a two party system, we can’t join a party and know we are thereby satisfying the demands of faith and reason.
No matter which party you belong to, you have to buck the system. You can’t just cave in to the base, even if they have the guns. You have to brace yourself and dare to stand up to the truth. Better to do so in your own party, because they are the ones who need to see the witness of one who will not compromise in the area of basic morality. Pressure your party on points where they depart from ethics and truth. Be the person who can witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is neither Republican nor Democrat, but wants to bring his word to both sides, in their own particular manner of understanding and implementing it.