Monday, January 08, 2007

In January's Catholic Chronicle - "Vote Your Values" Revisited

The Catholic Chronicle is the official newspaper of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio. Two months ago, The Chronicle ran on its front page - just days before the November general election - a piece titled "Vote Your Values", which read in part:
Vote your values

Six local Catholic organizations sponsored a presentation and panel discussion moderated by Richard Gaillardetz at Gesu Church Oct. 18 on “Voting Our Catholic Values.”

Dr. Gaillardetz is in his sixth year as the Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at The University of Toledo and a member of Corpus Christi University Parish. In a separate interview, the professor discussed some ways that Catholic voters can apply Catholic social teaching at the polls this election.

Overlooked issues

The “Religious Right” tends to focus on a narrow spectrum of issues regarding family and sexuality, says Dr. Gaillardetz.

Though these issues are very important to Catholics, he says our social obligations extend also “to more fundamental and comprehensive commitments about the dignity of the human person.

“Issues of sexuality and family are concerned with the dignity of the human person,” acknowledges Dr. Gaillardetz. “But to just focus on family and sexuality is to miss absolutely crucial convictions that Catholics have about the alleviation of poverty, the importance of basic human needs being met, the fundamental right of participation in political processes.”

Dr. Gaillardetz says Catholics do not have the luxury of separating religious issues from political and economic issues.

“Our obligations as Christians are comprehensive,” says Dr. Gaillardetz. “They’re not focused on one aspect of life. They’re focused on a whole transformed understanding of our world and how we interact with one another … as a Christian, our fundamental Christian values are all wrapped up in political and economic issues.”
You can read what I blogged in response to the Chronicle piece here.

Within hours of its publication, the front-page article disappeared from the Chronicle's web page. It must have caused quite a stir, especially with its coming out the weekend before the elections. Readers of this blog may remember that I drafted a letter to the editor, which I blogged about here.

My letter did not appear in the December edition of the Chronicle, but there was a letter from Fr. Adam Hertzfeld, which did appear. Here is a sample from that letter:
Regarding "Vote your values: The world is full of hierarchy. For example, moral values are hierarchically more important than artistic ones. When the two are in conflict, the lesser value bows down and gives way to the higher value. A film might be artistically good, but if it is morally offensive, then I am obliged not to watch it.

Even within moral values there's a hierarchy of importance. It's more important that a child eats than she reads. When promoting moral values we sometimes encounter apparent conflicts between them. In such cases the lesser value bows down and gives way to the higher one.

Having stated that principle, it becomes clear the "Religious Right" is correct in "focusing on the narrow spectrum of issues regarding family and sexuality" insofar as this means focusing first and foremost on the fundamental right to life of the unborn child. It is from this fundamental right that all other rights flow... I am deeply concerned that any Catholic would consider poverty and participation in the political process an issue more important than the right to life...
Then, this month, 4 letters critical of "Vote Your Values", including an edited-down version of my own, appeared in the Catholic Chronicle. Here is a sampling:
From Fr. Tad Oxley:
There is certainly an urgent need for Catholics to be concerned about the social issues addressed at the forum "Voting Our Catholic Values"... It would be a grave injustice to appeal to these select social issues, which are part of our Gospel call, while at the same time labeling social issues that have been identified as a priority by our Catholic Bishops (Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, October 2003), as being issues of the "Religious Right". We must be careful to avoid the temptation to indulge in specious claims that obfuscate the truth. Faithful Citizenship, while being mindful of the full range of social issues, speaks with clear language in section seven, entitled, "Moral Priorities for Public Life." The first subtitles within this section begin with "Protecting Human Life" and "Protecting Family Life." The first issues addressed under these subtitles are the gravity of abortion and euthanasia, and the necessity of protecting the sanctity of marriage, respectively. The Church has clearly defined the primacy of these issues. We must honestly, and humbly, accept this before we are able to truly advance the culture of life.

From a parishioner of St. Michael Parish in Findlay, OH:
... Why would I want to vote for someone who doesn't respect the lives of the smallest and most innocent? If the candidate doesn't have the basic respect for life, how can I trust him to make morally sound decisions in other areas?

From a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Toledo, OH:
The headline article in the November issue reports on another attempt, just days before an election, for the liberal faction within the Church to mislead voters...

And, finally, from a parishioner of St. Mary Parish in Norwalk, OH (that would be me):
Regarding “Vote Your Values” (Chronicle, Nov. 3) Professor Richard Gaillardetz was quoted as asserting the so-called Religious Right “tends to focus on a narrow spectrum of issues regarding family and sexuality.” Leaving aside the caricature of politically conservative Christians as caring only about abortion, homosexuality, and having little concern for the poor and politically marginalized, I’m addressing what he calls the “narrow spectrum of issues regarding family and sexuality.”

Contrary to what Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good believe, there is a hierarchy of issues for Catholics to consider when voting — not all matters of import to the church are of equal weight. On March 30, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

• Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

• Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family — as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage — and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union ...;

• The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.”

The church is especially concerned with (and deems non-negotiable) the so-called “narrow spectrum of issues regarding family and sexuality.”
To date, there have been no letters in support of the positions taken by Professor Gaillardetz in the "Vote Your Values" story. But something tells me we haven't heard the last of this.



At 1/08/2007 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I think the over 350 Toledo area Catholics who attended the talk of Professor Gaillardetz is response enough. It is too bad that people have to critcize anybody who speaks on other issues besides the one and only issue that wingnuts are concerned with. Of course abortion is wrong. But what I don't see on this blog or from the wingnut world is a any viable solution to the problem, such as HR 60067, Reducing the Need for Abortion and supporting parents act which was recently introduced in Congress. What other than the failed 30 years of rhetoric do the wingnuts have to offer?

At 1/08/2007 11:40 AM, Blogger PB said...

Anonymous? Did you completely miss the point?

It is really rather simple, some values are more important and some are less important. Imagine paying your mortgage late because the cable bill is due? Doesn't that just sound absurd, of course you would agree that the mortgage is a more important bill.

On average 20,000 abortions are preformed in the United States a month! If you looked at the total deaths from capital punishment, the war on terror (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), euthanasia, violent crime and even deaths related to poor living conditions such as starvation or lack of medical care. One year’s worth of deaths from those means would not even come close to the number of deaths from one month of abortions!!! It isn’t even comparing apples to oranges and ignoring it’s moral worth is like ignoring that mortgage payment because the cable bill took priority.

At 1/08/2007 11:43 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

"... wingnuts ..."

I see you're taking to heart all of what Professor Gaillardetz had to say:

Along with fulfilling their obligations in the voting booth, Dr. Gaillardetz suggests that Catholics, as religiously committed citizens, have the opportunity to model a different kind of converstion in the public square.

Catholics can resist the temptation to engage in the "politics of demonization" - which Dr. Gaillardetz defines as deliberately caricaturing the view of one's opponents and attributing to them the worst of intention.

Catholics can instead demonstrate a "charitable dialogue befitting followers of Jesus" by recognizing the complexity of issues and genuinely listening to the concerns of an opponent, and not only articulating one's own views.

"If we Catholics could model that kind of discourse, that might be our greatest contribution to the electoral process," says Dr. Gaillardetz.

~ Catholic Chronicle, "Vote Your Values", November 3, 2006

Of course, that doesn't stop Professor Gaillardetz from caricaturing those who see the right to life and the sanctity of the family as issue of primary importance as "narrowly focused" members of the "Religious Right" who don't care about the poor and politically marginalized.

So, I suppose you can be excused for following Professor Gaillardetz's example rather than his words of admonition.

At 1/08/2007 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously, the dignity of the human person is directly affected by issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research. However, what is so wrong about recognizing that issues like minimum wage, healthcare, and the promotion of peace also directly impact the dignity and respect of all people?

It is important for Catholics to remember that the dignity of human life extends to ALL people – the unborn, children, women, workers, the elderly, etc. Most of the issues that our elected officials address do not directly impact abortion laws or gay marriage – instead they have to do with issues such as those named above that strive to give dignity to those living in poverty or under some other oppression. The threat of abortion is oppressive to the unborn, but without legislative measures that address the root causes of abortion (poverty and inadequate health care), they are not effective.

Local, state, and national governments have a great ability to pass constructive legislation to improve the quality of life for those who face difficulties that impede their right to dignity and respect. These are the people we vote for during elections – shouldn’t we support those candidates who show a commitment and concern for issues that effectively promote the dignity of the human person?

At 1/08/2007 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, Anonymous seems to have missed the point. No one said that there aren't other important issues. But the defense of innocent life has to be paramount. No one has said, at least no Catholic on the "religious right" has said that we have to ignore the poor, or social justice, or peace, or anything else. The only place I've heard any of that is from the good doctor and his self-appointed majority of 350, in a city of 300,000.

At 1/08/2007 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do tire of the extreme amount of abortions that wingnuts say occur each month. Not to lessen their lives, but the stats are far from these inflated numbers. How would anybody know? The Bush administration hides the numbers on abortions by restricting what the CDC can report. But we do know that 30,000 children who are just as innocent die every single day in this world from preventalbe poverty and war.

At 1/08/2007 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes Jay - FYI "Wingnuts" is a commong phrase in the blog world now that refers to right wingers who only support an extreme neo conservative agenda and only see the world through the lens of a handful of issues. More often than not these wingnuts have always had a safety net to catch them and often have little or no idea what it is like to struggle.

At 1/08/2007 4:59 PM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

So, in the context of this discussion and this blog post, who exactly are these "wingnuts" to whom you refer?

Does that term also apply to Catholic bloggers (and Catholics in general) who, as Jeffrey Smith has pointed out, do in fact care deeply about the concerns of the poor, marginalized, and politically dispossessed, but who happen to believe - as does the Church - that a paramount value must be placed on issues like abortion, euthanasia, ECSR, and the protection of the "natural structure of the family"?

I suppose it's just easier to lump all those with whom one disagrees into a category that caricatures and marginalizes them. But, again, I thought Professor Gaillardetz professes to be against such rhetorical devices that only serve to further the "politics of demonization".

At 1/08/2007 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous and Prof. Gaillardetz in that yes, there is a hierarchy of moral issues, but all other social issues should not be ignored completely. Many Catholics do not think past issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem-cell research and they are wrong for doing so. We need an integral approach to social justice, not just one that picks the issues of most importance. Social justice and morality issues can be undertaken in parallel, yet many treat them as separate.

An example of this I have found in Catholics’ position on illegal immigration. I find it quite alarming that many Catholics that demand protection of the unborn fail to recognize the humanity behind illegal immigration. They constantly ask how illegal immigrants deserve anything if they have already broken the law. Well, let’s look at this issue as we see abortion from a legal standpoint. As of right now, abortion is legal, does that mean that the law is just? No. Migrant families are broken and children are separated from their parents, just because they wanted to meet the basic needs of their families. Hence, they are fulfilling their basic inalienable human rights, but current immigration laws separate these families. The question is: are the current laws just? Of course they are not. Yet, many Catholics don’t see past abortion even though the issue of immigration is also an issue that affects families and human dignity. This is the concern that I understand stems from Prof. Gaillardetz’ statement and I don’t have any problem with it.

I think that there is an inconsistent ethic of life among Catholics that needs to be reformed.

At 1/08/2007 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are you Jay and what are you credentials to argue with the Professor. Are you a theologion?

At 1/08/2007 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is sad to see a Priest like Fr. Tad Oxley totally dismiss the things that he surely sees happening in his parish - no health care, job loss and increases in the poverty rate. These are life issues and lead directly and contribute to the abortion rate. You can not support families with out the supports in place needed to do so. Not everybody has the safety net that most neo con wingnuts have..

"I think that there is an inconsistent ethic of life among Catholics that needs to be reformed."

Thank God for Katerina Marie and other young Catholics like her!

JPII spoke of this consistant ethic often - yet the wingnuts refuse to listen.

At 1/08/2007 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does that term also apply to Catholic bloggers (and Catholics in general) who, as Jeffrey Smith has pointed out, do in fact care deeply about the concerns of the poor, marginalized, and politically dispossessed, but who happen to believe - as does the Church - that a paramount value must be placed on issues like abortion, euthanasia, ECSR, and the protection of the "natural structure of the family"?

No it only applies to the neo con wingnuts who have supported a deadly man like GWB to advance their agenda on a couple issues, getting nothing in return and at the same time saying nothing while GWB has created a culture of death in the world.

At 1/08/2007 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curious - it just occured to me that the picture on this blogs banner is from the "Reformation" post Martin Luther - interesting.

At 1/08/2007 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great. It's "Moonbats 'R' Us" day at Pro Ecclesia. What? Did Jay get linked to by Kos or something?

Wake me up when the Che Guevara t-shirt brigade get back into their Volvos and drive home.

At 1/08/2007 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with your comments on an integral approach. I also agree with Jay's analysis in his letter to the Catholic Chronicle. There is, indeed, a hierarchy of moral issues. I wish and pray that we didn't have to separate abortion from care for the migrant, or euthanasia from care for the poor, but that is our political reality. The party-lines typically separate many of these issues, which makes it imperative that we carefully consider which moral options form absolutes for the Catholic conscience and vote accordingly. I readily admit that I am disheartened by voting for pro-life, pro-liberal economy politicians, knowing that the economic injustices thus created play a role in forming conditions of poverty where women will commonly have recourse to abortion, yet I can not and will not allow my economic theory and speculations to trump my convictions about the unborn and elderly. I am not yet prepared to follow Dorothy Day and give up on the entire American political situation altogether.

This, I suppose, is the game of politics. It tortures the conscience of Catholics.

At 1/08/2007 8:00 PM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

"Who are you Jay and what are you credentials to argue with the Professor. Are you a theologion?"

I'm a Catholic, I'm fairly well-educated, and I can read the Catechism and other Church documents as well as can Prof. Gaillardetz.

Besides, I wasn't aware that the words and opinions of Prof. Gaillardetz had magisterial authority.

At 1/08/2007 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Furthermore, Catholic values are not conservative nor liberal, neither they belong in the right or the left. Catholic values are simply: true. Therefore, when a Catholic is to form his/her conscience about voting, first he/she needes to study who is the candidate that upholds those principles, before asking whether they are Republican or Democrats. The latter becomes secondary as neither party upholds fully Catholic truth, as we all know.

We know that Democrats are very questionable in Catholic principles, but at the same time, Republicans are as well and both parties should be judged by Catholics with equal weight. I don't see as strong criticism of GW given that he supported the Plan B prescription for minors compared to Nancy Pelosi. One can argue that Pelosi's faults are worse and more frequent, but that is when Catholic conscience should prevail and understand that one is either pro-life or not. Middle grounds don't have any room in Christian truth.

At 1/09/2007 2:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see as strong criticism of GW given that he supported the Plan B prescription for minors compared to Nancy Pelosi. One can argue that Pelosi's faults are worse and more frequent, but that is when Catholic conscience should prevail and understand that one is either pro-life or not. Middle grounds don't have any room in Christian truth.

That's a great way to aid and abet pro-abortion candidates in that it makes the 95% (or even 99.9%) pro-life candidate exactly the same as the 0% pro-life candidate: "not [pro-life]". Incidentally, if one used that absolute test, ALL politicians fall into that category since NONE will (at least openly) support making the Pill illegal. The DNC, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL would be most pleased with such thinking.

At 1/09/2007 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the Morning After Pill, there was a lot of criticism and feelings of shock and betrayal around St. Blogs when the decision came down. It was much more than was reasonable IMO given the utter pervasiveness of the Pill in our society (which is the same moral issue). Bush would really have to be the dictator his most virulent detractors say he is to hold the line against abortifacient contraceptives—or he would have to have used extremely cunning political deception to make people think the Pill and Plan B are morally different, or to have lied outright about the reason for rejecting Plan B.

If we really* are going to require that our politicians become Don Quixotes who tilt at windmills and seek to die romantically in unwinnable battles, our only option is to vote third party. Real politicians are not martyrs and their least favorite historical event is the Alamo.

*As opposed to using this sort of standard to sweep the abortion issue under the rug and free ourselves to vote for Nancy Pelosi and her ilk.

At 1/26/2007 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, sir, for your post on the "Vote your Values" issue. I only have one correction to your quotation from my letter. You accidentally placed a "not" in the wrong spot, which changes the meaning of my words. The line (found in the first paragraph you quoted) should read, "one is obliged NOT to watch it" as opposed to "one is not obliged to watch it."

We must continue to raise our voices on the issue of voting. Those who would make all issues equal clearly have cloaked their real motives. It seems clear to me that such people believe that abortion is an acceptable fact of life, a necessary part of the so-called "liberation of women"--either that, or they are morally blind to the great value of human life. We cannot assume that such blindness has come about in an inculpable way. Therefore, our prayers for those who would deny the right to life its proper place in the heirarchy of values must be all the more fervent, and our actions as well.

--Fr. Adam Hertzfeld

At 1/26/2007 7:30 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

Thank you, Fr. Hertzfeld, for your letter to the Chronicle and for your comments here.

I apologize for transposing the words of your letter, and have now corrected the text to accurately reflect what your wrote.

Thanks again.

At 9/30/2009 7:35 AM, Blogger Aunt Patti said...

It has been a while since I visited your forum, and things appear somewhat different now, so pardon me if I am posting a question in the wrong place. I would very much appreciate a comment from you regarding the Catholic perspective of Ayn Rand, her "Objectivism", and "Atlas Shrugged". I am afraid I knew little of her earlier in my life, but have recently been reading references made to her regarding our current US economic woes and the possible problems that lie ahead for us as a nation. I get mixed signals when I read her philosophy. Your thoughts? Thank you.


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