I hope a forthcoming issue of Commonweal will forcefully dispel the notion that Catholics are somehow required by moral imperative to vote as a bloc. Despite the U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and, even more forceful, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s concluding note in his 2004 document “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” misinformation from the media and even some church authorities is likely to convince many Catholics—possibly even a majority—that they are required by their faith to cast their votes on the basis of single moral issues. Ratzinger’s statement is crystal clear on the matter: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”
W. D. ILGEN
Chapel Hill, N.C.
ROME HAS SPOKEN
Your editorial “Bishops & the Election” (September 26) was informative and timely. The “moral right” of Catholics to vote for a prochoice candidate has been endorsed by the pope and the American bishops (with several exceptions). Why has this information not been made public by the general press? It would seem to me that this additional, definitive information is required to give full scope to the debate for millions of Catholic voters.
JOSEPH P. CIRAOLO
THE MEANING OF ‘LIFE’
Regarding “Bishops & the Election”: One should ask exactly what the “human life” is that begins at conception. Does that mean a human person with a soul? If so, that’s certainly a matter of faith, and Sen. Joe Biden, whose comments on the issue were assailed by many Catholics, was correct. If not, exactly what definition establishes that this is a person with a right to life? It seems that is a matter of faith as well. Does “human life” mean that there’s a living organism that will over time mature into a human person? That’s closer to a fact. But, given the absoluteness of the Vatican’s position, I can only wonder whether theology is inventing science.
South Orange, N.J.
THE EDITORS REPLY
David Bossman raises an important point, although he pushes it a step too far in characterizing the early embryo as merely a “living organism.” Still, Bossman is right that there is a distinction to be made between saying that “human life” begins at conception and saying that an embryo is a human person. This conundrum was addressed in John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium vitae. On the specific biological and philosophical question of whether a person exists at conception, the encyclical notes that “the magisterium has not expressly committed itself.” The encyclical argues, however, that “what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo.”
Whether that probability is a firm enough basis on which to forge a moral consensus that would extend to the embryo the same legal protections afforded an infant remains the political question.
THANKS & PRAISE
“Bishops & the Election” was beautifully done. Thank God for Commonweal.
New York, N.Y.
Long ago, many of us espoused the view captured in Camus’ remark on the Algerian problem: “I would like to be able to love my country and still love justice.” When I heard Michelle Obama’s remark, “For the first time in my life, I am really proud of my country,” which Melinda Henneberger defended (“Standing Tall,” September 12), it had me thinking that Michelle was a kindred spirit in lamenting our country’s recent sad history. But, alas, when captured on tape she quickly backpedaled, offering a fuzzy and, to me, implausible explanation—yet further evidence that candor is one of the earliest victims of electoral politics.
PAUL F. BRYANT
I enjoyed reading Jack Miles’s article about the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference (“Anglican Disunion,” September 12). I would have liked him to opine, however, on what actually happened there.
I have also been interested to hear what the bishops have to say about their experiences at the Lambeth Conference. Almost to a person, they have been talking about the surprisingly deep encounters they had. Three things have come across clearly: their firm desire to keep the Anglican Communion together; the depth of conversion they felt praying together and listening to each other’s stories; and a building commitment to do mission together before full agreement is reached on the hot-button issues.
Now they will have to work with other U.S. leaders to prepare for next summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church. But I wouldn’t count a covenant out.
The writer is the author of Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity (Rowman & Littlefield).
NO EASY ANSWERS
The August 15 issue reminded me of why I enjoy reading Commonweal. I found John Garvey’s “Reasons for Our Hope” very insightful and appropriate for my personal walk of faith. I also found “Health Care for All,” by Charles R. Morris, to be the best concise summary of our health-care system I have read recently. As a practicing physician, I think his assessment of the complexities of our current system is right on the mark, and his avoidance of single answers or “quick fix” solutions was refreshing. Keep up the good work!
I was dismayed to see the letter in your September 26 issue from Fr. Peter Milward (“The Extreme Middle”), which mischaracterizes what I had said in my earlier letter to Commonweal (“Via Media,” August 15). He states, “Grace Tiffany’s description of the Church of England in Shakespeare’s time as a moderate via media makes no sense,” and goes on to rehearse instances of Elizabethan and Jacobean persecution of Catholics and Puritans. But I never said that the early modern English government, which encompassed the Church, was moderate. That word is Milward’s. Nor were that government’s various religious persecutions—which followed hot on the heels of Queen Mary’s persecutions of Protestant clerics during the mid-sixteenth century—my subject.
What I did say, among other things, was that mainline Protestant English faith articulated a middle ground that retained significant elements of Catholic faith and tradition (a calendar crowded with saints’ days would be one example), and that it was therefore inaccurate to call references to these traditions in Shakespeare’s plays “Catholic” rather than Protestant, and illogical to treat them as evidence that Shakespeare was himself Catholic.
Fr. Milward has published a large body of work proposing that Shakespeare’s plays reveal Roman Catholic sympathies, and feels stung by any suggestion to the contrary. It is his right to believe what he wants, but he is wrong to twist what I wrote.
THE EDITORS REPLY
“Moderate” was actually our word—an attempt to convey Fr. Milward’s point briefly. We apologize for contributing to the confusion.
LIBERTY AND JUSTICE
Daniel Finn (“Libertarian Heresy,” September 26) rightly criticizes Fr. Robert Sirico for his comment that “Jesus never called on public authority to enact welfare programs.” Jesus had no need to do so; Jewish communities already had welfare programs, a system called tzedakah. Jewish law required everyone to contribute to funds for the provision of relief to the poor. This is an ancient Jewish tradition that survives in various forms to this day.
One has to wonder, too, if Fr. Sirico has read the following from Deus caritas est: “It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the state and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods” (26); “the formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the church, but belongs to the world of politics” (29).
Here we have an attitude of willing and heartfelt respect for the law, very different from Sirico’s view that legal obligations are intrusions on our freedom with which we have to comply, unwillingly, out of fear. Sirico’s attitude toward the law is totally un-Catholic and unbiblical. It is based on the libertarian obsession with “negative freedom,” the idea that every individual must be free to act as he chooses under a bare minimum of constraints.
Our current circumstances demonstrate how the principles of deregulation and negative liberty in the economic sphere have been tested to destruction and found wanting. Despite all the pain, that is good news.