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Catholicism and Politics
This past Monday at the J.F. Kennedy School of Government, two of America's most visible and knowledgeable Catholic leaders, Fr. Brain Hehir and the Hon. Ray Flynn engaged in a discussion with Catholic students and faculty about key issues and challenges facing society and the Church today. The event was hosted by the Harvard Catholic Students Association.
The organization's president, Kaitlin E. Burek, opened by stating how timely and important this discussion was because the tension between religion and politics is such a pertinent challenge today. She indicated the students wanted to hear from nationally respected Catholics like Fr. Hehir and Ray Flynn who not only have dealt with this tension, but have made a success story out of it.
Flynn, president of Your Catholic Voice, is the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and mayor of Boston and Rev. J. Brian Hehir is the former head of Harvard Divinity School and president of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Fr. Hehir talked mostly about the Catholic Church's just war theory and discussed in which cases military force is justified.
Much of the focus of the discussion was on the role of Catholics in the political process. Many students expressed a great deal of interest through their questions about U.S. Sen. John Kerry's public positions on important moral issues contrary to Catholic teaching.
What do you think about this? Bishops have been meeting in the Vatican and here at home to struggle with this problem and are soon expected to announce their decision. Now might be a good time to share your opinions with them. (http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/country/dus.html)
Here is a summary of Ambassador Flynn's remarks to the Catholic students.
Young Catholics are not only the future of the Church but will be the moral and political back bone of our society. They are answering Pope John II's call for faithful citizenship by getting involved in the civic life of their community. Church leaders should not only encourage but actively support these dedicated and loyal Catholics who want to make a positive contribution to our church and nation. They are responding to the Pope's message that "man can not be separated from God, nor politics from morality."
I am often asked, "Ambassador Flynn, you have been a successful elected official in Boston for many years and you have also been actively involved in U.S Presidential elections, should Catholics vote Republican or Democrat? What should Catholic political ideology be?"
Our Catholic faith does not easily fit either the "left" or "right", and nor does it fit into the platforms of either party. Our values are often not ‘politically correct.' As lay Catholics our responsibility is to evaluate all the candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and whether they advance the common good.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process."
Directly stated, neither political party nor Catholic leaders on the left or right speak for the vast majority of Catholics. The messages from Catholic social teachings are clear, but we have too many wrong message carriers today. Conservative Republicans no more speak for faithful Catholics any more than liberal Democrats do.
Going into the U.S. Presidential election, the political pundits will tell us that the question should be, "Are you better off than four years ago?" Wrong question. It should be, how can we pursue, greater peace and justice? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we – all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable – be better off in the years ahead.? Our faith tells us that there must be a seat at the table for everyone. Are we determined to combat discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, disabling condition or age?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its recent document, "Faithful Citizenship, a Catholic Call to Political Responsibility", thoroughly lays out a clear agenda for Catholics to follow in this election year. As Catholics, who we vote for and our policy choices are all matters of conscience, but as Catholic citizens and residents of the United States, we have the duty to participate now and in future debates and choices over the values and visions that will guide our nation.
The dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States. Faithful citizenship calls us to seek "a place at the table" of life for all God's children in the elections of 2004 and beyond. This is what our Catholic Church teaches and these positions are not based on polls, focus groups or what is politically correct. It comes from the Good News of God and the teachings are not subject to political manipulation.
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