Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Catholic Church and Political Endorsements: "No' says Miami's Archbishop Favalora

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With a GOP-leaning lobby aiming to lead a pre-election charge on the nation's pulpits in defiance of the rules on tax-exemptions for churches (i.e. no endorsements), Archbishop John Favalora of Miami fired back as follows late last week:
My dear friends,

A group called the Alliance Defense Fund is urging pastors across the country to join their Pulpit Freedom Initiative by preaching a sermon “that addresses the candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture.”

The group’s goal is to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s restriction on tax-exempt organizations “by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the scriptural truth.”

Needless to say, none of our Catholic churches or priests will be participating in this initiative. For one thing, we can do a lot for our communities with the money we save by being tax-exempt. That is why we accept that status and agree to abide by IRS rules that ban religious organizations from becoming involved in partisan politics.

For another, “scriptural truth” is not that easy to attain. Which is more “true” in terms of scripture: The Old Testament passage that says “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” or Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek”?

The problem is that people often quote selectively from Scripture in order to back their own opinions. The other problem is that rarely, if ever, does an individual candidate or political party embody the gamut of “scriptural truth.”

The Catholic Church values Scripture, but we also value 2,000 years of oral and written tradition handed down from the apostles and their disciples, and another 2,000 years of ongoing theological reflection by some of the greatest thinkers and saints.

When we teach on a particular moral issue, we rely on the whole of that tradition rather than on any individual’s opinion or interpretation of Scripture.

That is not to say that we are not involved in politics. Catholics do not give up their right to vote or take political sides when they are baptized.

But the role of the church is not to be like the “party boss” who goes around telling people how to vote. Our responsibility is to remind people to vote wisely; to reveal to them the wisdom of Scripture, the wisdom of the church’s moral tradition, so that they can base their votes on solid moral ground.

Too often, people vote based on their feelings, or on the partial sound-bites of candidates pushing a particular point of view. More often than not, decisions based on feelings or partial information turn out to be wrong.

That is why it is especially important for voters to study all sides of an issue — or candidate — and examine that information in light of their own beliefs and values.

When church leaders speak on issues such as immigration, poverty, health care, abortion, war or embryonic stem cell research, we are not telling people how to vote. We are reminding them of the moral teachings that should inform their lives, and as a result, their votes.

We will not speak on behalf of individual candidates or parties. But we will speak in support of legislation that we consider to be morally sound and beneficial to the whole community — regardless of which party or candidate proposes it — and we will speak against legislation that we consider harmful to individuals and society as a whole.

In the coming weeks, you will be hearing from the bishops of Florida regarding important issues that we believe will impact the future well-being of all the people in our state.

That is our duty as teachers and successors of the apostles.

Your duty as Catholics is to listen to those teachings before making rational, informed, conscientious decisions regarding whom or what to vote for.


+ John C. Favalora,
Archbishop of Miami
Rocco from Whispers
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