Archbishop Chaput is such a wonderful
speaker and First Things posts
his January 11, 2008, presentation in New Orleans, Catholic
Identity in the American Public Arena. I was going
to post snippets from it, but it is all too good to choose from.
1. George Orwell said that one of the
biggest dangers for modern democratic life is dishonest political
language. Dishonest language leads to dishonest politicswhich then
leads to bad public policy and bad law. So we need to speak and act in
a spirit of truth.
With the presidential election upon us
this year this point is quite appropriate. “Dishonest
language leads to dishonest politics” is exactly right. So
often language is used to obfuscate
instead of to communicate. Whether it is “choice”,
“therapeutic cloning”, “death with dignity”, etc; words are used to
direct us from the reality of what they are talking about.
2. Catholic is a word that has real
meaning. We dont control or invent that meaning as individuals. We
inherit it from the gospel and the experience of the Church over the
centuries. We can choose to be something else, but if we choose to call
ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe
and how we act. We cant truthfully claim to be Catholic and then act
as though were not.
3. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship
with the Church and with Jesus Christ thats similar to being a spouse.
If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence
in his love and fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with
God. If we say were Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the
Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise
were just fooling ourselves, because God certainly wont be fooled.
4. The Church is not a political
organism. She has no interest in partisanship because getting power or
running governments is not what shes about, and the more closely she
identifies herself with any single party, the fewer people she can
5. Scripture and Catholic teaching, however, do have public
consequences because they guide us in how we should act in relation to
one another. Loving God requires that we also love the people He
created, which means we need to treat them with justice, charity, and
mercy. Being a Catholic involves solidarity with other people. The
Catholic faith has implications for social justiceand that means it
also has cultural, economic and political implications. The Catholic
faith is never primarily about politics; but Catholic social action,
including political action, is a natural byproduct of the Churchs
moral message. We cant call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand
by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or unborn
children get killed. The Catholic faith is always personal but never
private. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public
decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.
This is the same point that Pope Benedict
makes in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
6. Each of us needs to follow our own
conscience. But conscience doesnt emerge from a vacuum. Its not a
matter or personal opinion or preference. If our conscience has the
habit of telling us what we want to hear on difficult issues, then its
probably badly formed. A healthy conscience is the voice of Gods truth
in our hearts, and it should usually make us uncomfortable, because
none of us is yet a saint. The way we get a healthy conscience is by
submitting it and shaping it to Gods will; and the way we find Gods
will is by conforming our lives to the counsel and guidance of the
Church that Jesus left us. If we find ourselves disagreeing as
Catholics with the teaching of the Church on a serious matter, its
probably not the Church thats wrong. The problem is much more likely
Preaching on what conscience actually is
is so important considering how “following your conscience” has become
synonymous with license.
7. But how do we make good political
choices when so many different issues are so important and complex? The
first principle of Christian social thought is: Dont deliberately kill
the innocent, and dont collude in allowing somebody else to do it. The
right to life is the foundation of every other human right. The reason
the abortion issue is so foundational is not because Catholics love
little babiesalthough we certainly dobut because revoking the
personhood of unborn children makes every other definition of
personhood and human rights politically contingent.
8. So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice
candidate? The answer is: I cant, and I wont. But I do know some
serious Catholicspeople whom I admirewho may. I think their reasoning
is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion
issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They dont
keep quiet about it; they dont give up; they keep lobbying their party
and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and
protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if
they vote for them despitenot because oftheir pro-choice views. And
they also need a proportionate reason to justify it.
9. What is a proportionate reason when it comes to abortion? Its the kind of reason we will
be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when
we meet them in the next lifewhich we certainly will. If
were confident that these victims will accept our motives, then we can
10. The heart of truly faithful citizenship is this: Were better
citizens when were more faithful Catholics. The more authentically
Catholic we are in our lives, choices, actions and convictions, the
more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our
His reference to proportionate reason he
has used before, but it is still the purest definition there is.