Friday, October 29, 2010

40 Days and Catholic voters

Cardinal-designate Burke has some timely comments about Catholics, voting, and abortion:



A few quotes made it into the press:

“You can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what’s called the right to choice of a woman to destroy human life in her womb or the right to a procured abortion,” said Cardinal designate Burke.

“You can never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone.”

According to Archbishop Burke, Catholics have a “very serious moral obligation to vote for those candidates who would uphold the truth of the moral law, which of course also serves the greatest good of everyone in society.”

Something for us Catholics to bear in mind as we head to the polls next week.

23 comments:

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Burke should have been imprisoned for blackmail and high treason the first time he threatened to deny communion to an elected legislator in an effort to coerce her vote.

The situation being what it is, he should be considered to have voluntarily surrendered his American citizenship by transferring his allegiance to a foreign monarchy.

I'll expand on that after I see what kind of hysterical denunciation this simple statement of constitutional principle provokes.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

Burke should have been imprisoned for blackmail and high treason the first time he threatened to deny communion to an elected legislator in an effort to coerce her vote.

The situation being what it is, he should be considered to have voluntarily surrendered his American citizenship by transferring his allegiance to a foreign monarchy.

I'll expand on that after I see what kind of hysterical denunciation this simple statement of constitutional principle provokes.


Hilarious! Henry VIII would have been proud of you - and Burke would have been hung, drawn, and quartered.

There is, I have the duty of telling you, a higher law than the Constitution of the United States - much higher.

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Oh indeed, John Thayer Jensen, and Citizen Burke has every right to follow that higher law... as a personal choice, for himself.

What I found criminal is when he attempted to blackmail a duly elected public official, by threatening excommunication, because she had not exercised the powers of her office, in votes on legislation, to advance the agenda of her church. He used those words, or words very close to them.

If he had kidnapped her daughter, and held the girl at gunpoint, to coerce a vote on legislation, my original choice of words would have been unassailable. Now, are you going to tell me that the legislator's immortal soul is of no significance? Is the soul NOT more important than a mortal life?

A church can excommunicate a member for, e.g., having an abortion, procuring an abortion, performing an abortion, transporting someone to an abortion, or even for advocating that the law should not intervene... as an individual matter. BUT, a church official may not BLACKMAIL an elected representative, to coerce his or her conduct in office. There is a difference. Legislators do not represent their church, or the Catholic residents of their district, they represent the ENTIRE district.

It would be different if there were a Chamber of Churches in the legislature. Then, the Catholic Church could freely recall its own representatives. But we have no such thing.

Now, think back to the rhetoric of the anti-Catholic nativists, the Know-Nothings. They said you cannot trust a Roman Catholic to be a citizen of a democratic republic, because they will vote en bloc as their priest directs, and will take over our nation, subordinating it to the Pope. That's not much different than what many people say about Muslim immigrants now.

History teaches that Roman Catholic immigrants in fact became patriotic American citizens, and our nation was not "taken over" by Catholic immigration, although many strands have been woven into our national culture by those immigrants.

However, Bishop Burke essentially brings to life the fears of the "Know Nothings" that we rightly dismiss as paranoid prejudice. He needs to be called on that.

Henry VIII was an absolute monarch, pandering to his own lusts, not a legislator under a republican form of government. However, I sometimes marvel how God used this venal man to initiate the process that made the world safe for His Word through the spread of the Protestant Reformation. If not for the protection of the British Navy, and British Protestant settlement in the New World, the Protestant faiths might have been limited to a few provinces of northern Germany, and a bit of Scandinavia. Holland might never even have rebelled against Hapsburg tyranny.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

If your understanding of excommunication were correct, it would be imposssible ever to excommunicate anyone without being guilty of blackmail. This is doubly silly, because:

(a) material cooperation in abortion is certainly an excommunicable sin;

(b) advocating the legalisation of abortion is certainly cooperating in the killing of human beings (I realise you don't think this is so, but Archbishop Burke certainly does, and so do I);

(c) excommunication doesn't send you to Hell anyway - cooperation in abortion may.

Calling this blackmail is silly. No American citizen has the right to advocate the legalisation of the killing of innocent persons. The only question - which is the fundamental one - is whether abortion is that. That is why calling this a 'difference of opinion' is not going to work.

This is analogous to - and much more serious than - abolitionist stuff about whether black persons were full persons or not. It's a question of reality, not of law. And black persons under slavery were being deprived of liberty; unborn babies are being deprived of life.

jj

Tony said...

@Siarlys Jenkins

Nobody is forced to be Catholic. If an elected official does not believe what the Church believes with regard to the sanctity of human life, they are welcome to find another faith community to be a part of.

Every group has a right to make their own rules, and hold their members to their precepts.

Tony said...

@Erin

The part you left out is the part where Abp. Burke, said it was ok to vote for an abortion proponent if all candidates were pro-choice and you were doing it to minimize evil.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Tony, you are absolutely correct. On one level, I don't know why people who dispute the fundamental precepts of the Roman Catholic church try to remain within it. If you deny the authority of the Bishop of Rome, then find a church that denies that authority.

On the other hand, I do understand that when someone has been raised in a church, their parents and grandparents were members of the church, they enjoy the fellowship, many of the traditions and teachings, appreciate the rituals, then it can be painful to leave it all behind because of disagreement over SOME points.

Still, as a student of Church Autonomy in Matters of Faith and Doctrine (an important line of judicial reasoning in expounding the First Amendment), I support the right of any church to define for itself who is welcome at communion, or any other church function.

If Bishop Burke had excommunicated any person before they ran for office, and they ran describing themselves as a Catholic, then he has every right to say publicly, "This person is NOT a Catholic, they have been excommunicated." Voters may, or may not, choose to elect the person anyway. The bishop gets one vote on that, only one, and only if he lives in that district.

However, the integrity of any representative government is threatened when any citizen, on any ground, can threaten to blackmail the conduct of an elected official in the conduct of their official duties. No, Bishop Burke may not dictate how anyone votes.

He may preach from the pulpit about it. He may testify before legislative committees. A candidate may certainly run for office, honestly telling voters "If you elect me, my faith instructs me to vote for laws that will punish abortion as first degree murder." Voters may or may not support that. But once elected, based on whatever promises and presentations they made, the bishop may not dictate how they vote on legislation. That is a crime.

Incidentally, I would say the same of any priest who inquired in the confessional booth "And how did you vote last Tuesday my child?" I would advocate prosecution of that priest for felony breach of the secret ballot.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

John Thayer Jensen:

Every American has the legal, constitutionally protected, right to "advocate the legalisation of the killing of innocent persons." We don't have to vote for it, and an innocent person actually targeted for such killing would have constitutional recourse. But any American can "advocate" almost anything. NAMBLA has the right to advocate for repeal of laws against child molestation - but until they convince a majority of their fellow citizens to agree, they go to jail if they lay their hands on a child.

Americans also have the right to dispute your assertion that abortion is the killing of innocent persons, as you have the right to educate the rest of us that it IS the killing of innocent persons.

I once heard a Lutheran minister preach quite passionately on why we will never fight the Thirty Years War again -- and his church is formally still committed to the doctrine that the Church of Rome is the Whore of Babylon, although I had to ask him if it was true, after reading it asserted here, not because he ever announced it.

Bishop Burke epitomizes why, if the Roman church over-reaches its presumption of authority, we have to fight it to protect our constitutional liberties. But I'd rather not. I actually like all of you. I'd hate to see Bishop Burke assemble you in a Catholic Legion, arm you with machine guns, and instruct you to torture heretics. Erin would have a problem with that too, she's part of the Coalition for Clarity.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

Every American has the legal, constitutionally protected, right to "advocate the legalisation of the killing of innocent persons."

Until 1861 (or whenever the Emancipation Proclamation was given), every American had the legal, constitutionally protected right to advocate the enslavement of black persons in certain states. No one was forced to hold slaves. No one needed vote for a person who advocated slavery.

But the law was seriously unjust. Every man had a duty to disobey it, to work against it.

This is silly, really. Archbishop Burke didn't put anyone out of the Church by excommunication. He didn't even personally excommunicate the man. He told him that he had excommunicated himself.

The bishop isn't voting on anything. He is telling the truth. Got help us - the days have come on us when telling the truth has people talking about blackmail and imprisoning people.

No one has a right to be a Catholic. It is a privilege. There are conditions.

Machine guns, torture - sheesh! I think the usually rational Siarlys has caught some sort of bug!

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm taking the bishop at his word John. I'm looking at the logical implications of his statements. Maybe he didn't stop to think. If so, he needs to wake up, smell the coffee, repent his thoughtless arrogance, and make peace with his fellow citizens.

When I vote for someone to serve in the legislature, I vote for what they tell me they will do, not for them to take orders from a bishop about how to vote. Put this another way: IF a Roman Catholic is indeed obligated to obey the bishop in deciding how to vote, then no Roman Catholic is fit to hold public office. Fortunately, real life does not conform to the bishop's medieval fantasy.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in Jan 1863. It was a war measure, and might have been cancelled if the Thirteenth Amendment had not been ratified. The activity of the Underground Railroad was indeed illegal, and some people went to prison for it. Some churches split in two over the issue: northern and southern Baptists, northern and southern Presbyterians... somehow, Catholic slaveowners and Catholic abolitionist managed to stay in the same church... but then, few Catholics were abolitionists.

I've said before that if you can organize an Underground Railroad to steal fetuses out of their mother's womb before the hour of a scheduled abortion, then spirit them north, or south, or somewhere they will be safe, I would at least respect your moral consistency. The obstacles to doing so suggest that analogy has its limits.

Now, if a bishop had ordered a legislator to vote against the Fugitive Slave Law on pain of their immortal soul, I would have had to object to that particular avenue, even while taking on myself the risks of participating in the escape of any enslaved persons who came my way.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

IF a Roman Catholic is indeed obligated to obey the bishop in deciding how to vote, then no Roman Catholic is fit to hold public office.

If a Roman Catholic is indeed obligated to obey God - and if he is a Roman Catholic, he believes that God speaks to him through the voice of his bishop - then a Roman Catholic has a duty to hold public office and to seek to bring the rest of the world into obedience to God.

If the bishop had told him not to vote for proposition X because the bishop believed it would not beneficial to the poor, the bishop would be out of line. That any particular law will or will not help the poor is a prudential matter, not an absolute of the law of God.

If the bishop tells him not to vote for a proposition that will kill the innocent, he must obey - and shouldn't have needed to be told.

As I understand it, anyway, the bishop didn't tell him how to vote. He told him that by voting for the death of the innocent, he had placed himself in a place of God's displeasure and must not present himself for Communion until he had repented.

I bring up slavery as an a fortiori argument. Slavery is not absolutely wrong. It is a deplorable injustice in most cases, and should not be legal. Killing the innocent is absolutely wrong.

By the way, you didn't just object to the excommunication; you advocated imprsonment and trial for high treason - if I am not mistaken, a crime in the United States for which you can be put to death. Well, when you object to something, you really make it clear!

No one ordered anyone how to vote, did they? I think you are reading something into it.

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

John, you are free to vote as you believe God would have you vote, but if you cast your vote with the intention of electing people who will use the office you elect them to, to make the laws of your church enforceable by civil authority ("a Roman Catholic has a duty to hold public office and to seek to bring the rest of the world into obedience to God", you are my enemy. That's how the Thirty Years War began. Fortunately, politics in the U.S., including the participation of U.S. citizens of the Roman Catholic faith, doesn't work like that. If it did, I'd have to kill you.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendments does NOT take a position that all religions are equally true and valid. It does take a position that the government of the United States is incompetent to judge which, if any, religions are true and valid, and that the machinery of government may not be used to make or enforce such a judgement. Bishop Burke is the avowed enemy of that proposition.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

Clear enough. The only remaining question, then, is, on what grounds would you think that anything might be made a crime? Why should murder be a crime - if it should?

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There have been human societies in which homicide was not always a crime - even some where a "fair fight" was not murder, only a cowardly sneak attack.

There are individuals whose religious faith teaches that military service is a violation of God's law. They are called conscientious objectors. Wise governments make some provision for accommodating their spiritual beliefs. Less wise governments punish it.

Murder is a crime, punishable by the laws of the state, because a large enough portion of the civilian population want to be free of murder, fear of murder, risk of murder, that it is both politically expedient and feasible to adopt and enforce such laws. Further, there is no provision in any constitution that "the right of the people to kill each other in fair fights shall not be abridged." Further, any right I have to kill unquestionably infringes your right not to be killed.

No doubt you would assert that murder is, first and foremost, a violation of the laws of God. I agree with you, and I am certain God will judge murder as God sees fit. General awareness of that divine law may well inform the votes and expectations of the individuals who make up the electorate. However, divine law does not translate directly into criminal law.

1) We might misconstrue what exactly divine law is, and how God wishes it to be punished, as the Taliban have done. At least I think so - Mullah Omar is sincerely convinced he is doing exactly what God desires.

2) We might not have a consensus among ourselves as to what God forbids and prescribes -- which is the ultimate obstacle to abortion being a criminal offense. Perhaps 15-30 percent sincerely want general criminal penalties for almost all abortions. That's not enough to sustain effective law enforcement. It's just not.

3) There is no universally recognized authority who speaks directly for God.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

OK, this is getting quite interesting and much clearer.

Summarising from:

There have been human societies in which homicide was not always a crime - even some where a "fair fight" was not murder, only a cowardly sneak attack.

and:

Murder is a crime, punishable by the laws of the state, because a large enough portion of the civilian population want to be free of murder, fear of murder, risk of murder, that it is both politically expedient and feasible to adopt and enforce such laws.

and finally:

2) We might not have a consensus among ourselves as to what God forbids and prescribes -- which is the ultimate obstacle to abortion being a criminal offense. Perhaps 15-30 percent sincerely want general criminal penalties for almost all abortions. That's not enough to sustain effective law enforcement. It's just not.

3) There is no universally recognized authority who speaks directly for God.


that, from your point of view, when it comes to the political enforcement of - well, I hesitate, given your list of things that might or might not be enforced, to call it right and wrong - but anyway, that when it comes to political enforcement of sanctions:

Vox populi, vox Dei

If so, then, of course, you are right, we are - insofar as the political issue goes - enemies.

I would say, of course, that only right and wrong should be sanctioned; that right and wrong have no meaning without reference to God; and that the political process must be one of discerning that Voice. That the job is non-trivial, and unlikely ever to reach even rough perfection, does not excuse us from the effort.

And for some things - such as abortion - the fact that few think it an absolute wrong is surely irrelevant to what a person who is convinced it is wrong must do. Such a person must seek, to whatever extent his powers allow him, to 'impose his view' on others.

The question whether one can get enough people on line is, of course, different. But one must try. And - to refer to the original topic of this thread - a man charged with the pastoral care of another - such as a bishop - has, certainly, the duty to do what he did - and if he ought to be tried for high treason, then I think that means the advocate of such a trial must not think that right and wrong are absolute, but are only matters of political expediency.

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I am definitely NOT of the opinion that "vox populi, vox Dei." I share the view that vox populi is almost NEVER vox Dei, and perhaps cannot be. What I deny is that there is any human authority on earth who IS "vox Dei," whereas you have sincerely come to the conclusion that such an authority has been constituted and annointed by God himself.

I might agree that "vox populi, vox lex" or something of the sort.

On the other hand, one point of constitutional government is to put some matters beyond the jurisdiction even of legislative majorities. It is an act of "We the people" at its most enlightened, to provide that our elected representatives may not touch certain matters, the collective will shall not be enforced, we reserve certain matters to our own individuals wills to sort out in our own individual lives.

Even though we or our descendants may, at certain times, be so foolish as to demand that our elected representatives meddle with forbidden matters, we have taken care to forbid them jurisdiction. (Supermajorities may amend even the Constitution -- e.g., the Thirteenth Amendment. Some amendments even a supermajority may have second thoughts on, e.g. Prohibition).

I have had discussions with pro-life libertarians who ultimately said "Oh, I see your logic as a libertarian on abortion, but some things trump my libertarian principles." Fair enough.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Answering John thoroughly requires more characters than Google will accept:

Do right and wrong have meaning without reference to God? In the absence of God, one certainly has to ask, what makes it right or wrong? I've read over several times the closing chapter of A Canticle for Liebowitz, where the ambulance tech says "The laws of society are what make an act a crime." That premise does not satisfy me.

But then, if God is the source of all human law, suppose an Orthodox Jewish man became President of the United States, or less improbably, five Orthdox Jewish men served at the same time on the United States Supreme Court. Should all Americans be required to observe kosher law? Must we all give up lobster and shrimp?

(I know, Paul released us from the dietary laws -- and in fact, any rabbi could explain that the laws in Deuteronomy NEVER applied to anyone but the Jewish people). Still, there is either no limit to the religious laws that can be legislated with criminal penalties, or there is a limit to what the state can be used to enforce.

Consider the current concerns about sharia...

If what other people think is NO LIMIT to what a person who believes abortion is murder must do, then perhaps you should honestly say, you admire and endorse the actions of Eric Rudolph and Scott Roeder... No? They should not take the law into their own hands? They should accept that "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord"? Perhaps they should also accept that until and unless they can move a physician to repentance, or a pregnant woman to CHOOSE LIFE, they should not expect the coercive powers of The State to do the job for them. Perhaps Bishop Burke should exercise a similar humility.

Citizen Burke has every right to advise that Catholics have a “very serious moral obligation to vote for those candidates who would uphold the truth of the moral law, which of course also serves the greatest good of everyone in society.” Erin did not specifically reference, nor endorse, his past indulgence in outright blackmail and his attempts to give ORDERS to elected officials, which is what I object to.

I think he is wrong to say “You can never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone.” But, he has a right to say that, and any voter who freely CHOOSES to take his advice has the right to do so. How could anyone stop them?

I've always argued that while it is impossible to be Catholic and pro-abortion, it is entirely possible to be Catholic and pro-choice. The latter means, "Father, abortion is indeed a sin, but I don't believe demanding changed in the criminal law is either proper or effective."

It is not when the church demands adherence to its moral precepts that I object, although God knows millions of Catholics use birth control. It is when the church demands that Catholics adhere to the bishops' legislative program that I object, and even more so, when the church seeks to conform to its own teachings the secular law applicable to citizens who are not in the least under its authority.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

But then, if God is the source of all human law, suppose an Orthodox Jewish man became President of the United States, or less improbably, five Orthdox Jewish men served at the same time on the United States Supreme Court. Should all Americans be required to observe kosher law? Must we all give up lobster and shrimp?

Alas - or fortunately - I have run out of steam.

No, of course not, and of course that is not going to happen. Abortion is wrong in a very different sense from the dietary laws.

Excommunicating a Catholic politician is the duty of a bishop and should not put him in danger of prison - but, if it does, well, so much the worse for those who imprison him. St Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. If Bishop Burke is imprisoned for excommunicating - rather, informing - whoever it was, I have long since forgotten - of the fact that he had excommunicated himself - then he must be. But it would be wrong to do.

-40-!!!

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I will refrain from superficially crying "victory" merely because you are exhausted. This kind of debate is not "won" unless hearts and minds are changed. Not surprisingly, neither of ours have been. It would seem easy enough to put the moral law above mere man-made laws. But then, when people of different doctrines, even somewhat different moral laws, try to coexist in a single polity, it becomes very complex. We could agree to all live in distinct states, each with its own Established Faith, with free right of migration if the state one lives in does not suit one's conscience. OR, we can respect that civil law will never be God's law, and that we will each try to observe the moral code we believe applies, while observing civil laws designed merely to allow us to live in peace together. The tension will always be there.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

I suppose I am not so exhausted that I cannot make at least one more attempt to correct what seems to me a persistent confusion on your part:

Moral laws have nothing to do with faith.

Faith is knowledge imparted from revelation from God - knowledge that in the nature of the case we cannot know the truth of except because we believe it comes from God.

Moral laws are accessible to reason, entirely apart from revelation.

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm not sure what the authority is for the definitions you offer.

Reason can certainly examine what is moral, and why. Can reason ever pronounce authoritatively what is morally right? You and I reason, and we come to somewhat different conclusions.

As you put it, a reasoning atheist can be a perfectly moral being. I thought, somewhere back up this thread, that true morality is ordained by God, not subject to the whims of human preference. If so, then morality requires God, whether we have faith in him or not. And why would we listen to God unless we have faith?

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

Can reason ever pronounce authoritatively what is morally right? You and I reason, and we come to somewhat different conclusions.

'Authoritative' and 'correct' are two different concepts. Certainly we can reason correctly about morality, just as we can reason correctly about science. In both cases we may disagree, because one - or both - of us may not be correct.

'Authoritative' means 'having the right to be listened to and obeyed.'

As you put it, a reasoning atheist can be a perfectly moral being. I thought, somewhere back up this thread, that true morality is ordained by God, not subject to the whims of human preference. If so, then morality requires God, whether we have faith in him or not. And why would we listen to God unless we have faith?

Certainly an atheist can be a perfectly moral being - except that reason tells us, amongst other things, that God exists and that He is to be obeyed, so that an atheist cannot be a perfectly moral being as an atheist.

Faith is required to know things that we cannot know by reason. God tells us He is Trinity; this we cannot know by reason. God tells us that we must not kill. This we can know by reason, but, being morally corrupt beings, since the Fall, we try to avoid the knowledge.

Much of what the Bible tells us is natural morality - knowable by reason - and is there only because of the fallen nature of man. Faith is required to know things that we cannot know by reason - such as the divinity of Christ.

John Thayer Jensen said...

PS - the connexion between God and morality is not that we require faith in God to know what is right. It is that if God did not exist, neither reason nor morality would mean anything.