Archbishop Myers on voting, duty and dishonesty

Tom Moran, a veteran New Jersey political columnist, wrote today on what he said is Archbishop John Myers' politicking for the Republican presidential ticket. He opened his column in the Newark Star-Ledger by telling of his upbringing in a Catholic family of nine children and how he, like many other Catholics, drifted away from the church:

So if I am a refugee, I am walking on a road that is crowded with others who feel the same way.Which brings us to my recent conversation with Newark Archbishop John Myers, and his attempt to sway the election to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.He didnt say that, of course. But he wrote a letter last week saying Catholics have a "duty" to cast their vote based on opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

The quote Moran refers to, contained in a pastoral letter on marriage that Myers released, is: "We must exercise our right to vote in defense of marriage and life. This is our duty as citizens and believers." In an editorial, the Star-Ledger said Myers maintains it was a coincidence that the pastoral letter was issued at this point in the election season. The paper disagreed, saying that "to issue a pastoral letter such as this, at this time, is clearly intended to influence the vote of New Jerseys more than 1 million Catholics. It may not be an explicit endorsement of Romney, but Myers meaning cannot be missed."

It's reasonable and necessary for an archbishop to explain the church's position on marriage and the family. In fact, I think church authorities have stumbled on that somewhat. But Archbishop Myers had to know that reporters would zero in on his reference to the "duty" of Catholic voters in a document issued at the height of the presidential race. For my own part, the most eye-catching passage in the pastoral letter states that if Catholics are "unable to assent to or live the Church's teaching in these matters, they must in all honesty and humility refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity; to continue to receive Holy Communion while so dissenting would be objectively dishonest."Especially since we are in the midst of a heated and divisive political campaign, this passage serves as an invitation for Catholics to follow Tom Moran's path out the door. This evidently was not lost on the Episcopal Church's bishop of Newark, who responded in an op-ed article: "My hope and prayer is that we can move beyond arguments about unfounded threats to the flourishing of families and focus our attention on the real threats, such as the rising tide of unemployment and poverty, which has left more than 295,000 children in our state including 42 percent of children in Newark living below the federal poverty level. ... Let us use the reach and blessing of our religious traditions to help all families and children flourish housed, clothed, fed and healthy."

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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