Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Small Note

Courtesy of Catholic World News, I read a story on the USCC's decision that the Catholic Answers voting guide should not be distributed on Church property. Titled "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics," it's a prescription for heartburn among the "peace and justice" types who think fighting abortion has little to do with peace or justice:
On most issues that come before voters or legislators, a Catholic can take one side or the other and not act contrary to his faith. Most matters do not have a ‘Catholic position.'

But some issues are so key, so elemental, that only one position accords with the teaching of the Christian gospel. No one endorsing the wrong side of these subjects can be said to act in accord with the Church's moral norms.

This voter's guide identifies five "non-negotiable" issues and helps you narrow down the list of acceptable candidates, whether they are running for national, state, or local offices.

Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

1. Abortion

The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is "never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.

The child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child's, who should not suffer death for others' sins.

Some things always are wrong, and no one may vote in favor of them, directly or indirectly. Citizens vote in favor of these evils if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them. Thus, Catholics should not vote for anyone who intends to push programs or laws that are intrinsically evil. . . . .

In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more of the five non-negotiables. In such a case you may vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least likely to be able to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for no one.
So much for the "Ono Ekeh Strategy" of eliminating abortions by using tax dollars to pay for them -- so long as tax dollars are also used to pay for Head Start programs (only non-aborted children need apply), extending social-security benefits to lesbian and gay families, and offering incentives for America's gay, lesbian, and "other" families to choose "fuel-efficient vehicles."

The USCC prefers a more, uh, nuanced approach to political stewardship. The Church, say her bishops, is not an "interest group" with some kind of agenda for the world. The Church endorses nothing. She's merely here to ask 'a series' of questions like these:
How will we protect the weakest in our midst—innocent unborn children? How can our nation not turn to violence to solve some of its most difficult problems—abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies; the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability; and war to address international disputes? . . . How will we address the tragic fact that more than 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt, and lack of development around the world?
Think of it like a moral Tinker Toy. You get all these rods and disks and build what you think is the best thing to build right now. You can leave out the "2 million babies a year aborted in America" disk, if you think the "10,950,000 children die every year from lack of foreign aid" disk fits better with the "no death penalty -- ever -- rod." Perhaps above all, no concern may be be thought more important than another -- that would be 'isolating' a particular element of Church doctrine, and Catholics are not to make political commitments to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine, as though they could rest on their anti-abortion laurels when rainforests are being threatened in Uruguay.

The Catholic Answers guide is a call to change the face of the American regime by an unswerving commitment to the dignity of human life. The USCC's guide is a call for business as usual. If you disagree, just ask yourself whether, in an election year where the polling error margins are larger than the difference between the two candidates, thirty million Catholics refusing to vote for pro-death candidates would cause more than a few major-party power brokers to sit back on their haunches and think really hard about what to do in the next cycle. Then ask yourself what, in that same election year, would be the impact of thirty million Catholics voting with the same distribution patterns as any secular voter who may or may not think that national worker-skill standards, DNA-evidence requirements for death-penalty cases, or sending the Vagina Monologues on a tour of Indonesia, is the best way to achieve the common good.

If the Catholic Answers guide were followed, John Kerry and the Democratic Party are toast. And Georgie Bush and his Mensheviks might not fare so well, either; they've been playing footsie with the culture of death for years. Interviewed by Tucker Carlson, Bush ridiculed Karla Faye Tucker's plea for clemency by puckering his lips in a parody of desperation and whispering, "Please don't kill me." That was before Georgie gave a Presidential blessing to embryonic stem-cell research. And now Dick Cheney wants America to reject the hate and bigotry behind Catholic teaching on sex. There's more than one party in America wearing boots fit to stamp on the human face, forever. They've got those boots because everyone's following the game plan outlined by the USCC's "questions" brochure -- we're fighting like wolverines to change everything just a little, and we end up keeping everything just the same.

So the USCC's decision is a sad one. But I've digressed a little bit from the main reason I'm writing about this. I can already hear St. Blog's "damn all lawyers" dynamos spooling up into another eruption of scorn for America's second-oldest profession. That's because the USCC's decided to hide its own censorious decision about the Catholic Answers voting guide behind us harmless pin-striped lawyers:
Interpreting Internal Revenue Service guidelines for non-profit organizations is at the heart of the voter guide question. IRS rules insist that non-profits may not engage in active campaigning for specific candidates or political parties. Though USCCB lawyers declined repeated requests for comment, an online memo makes it clear they believe in a very strict reading of the IRS code. "Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations," a document of the USCCB's Office of the General Counsel, stresses that guides and questionnaires must cover a "wide variety of issues selected solely on the basis of their importance to the electorate as a whole."
With all respect to Catholic World News, the meaning of IRS rules are about the last thing that factors into the USCC's decision.

According to the USCC's response, IRS guidelines require the Church to address "a wide variety of issues," and these in terms of "their importance to the electorate as a whole." In other words, the IRS practically wrote the USCC's guide for the bishops -- the IRS supposedly forbids listing "non-negotiable issues," and won't let anyone discuss voting decisions in terms of fidelity to the Magisterium.

That's nonsense. And even if it weren't, even if the IRS's laid down same the rules for the Church in America that the Reich Concordat laid down on the Church in Nazi Germany, then the USCC ought to retire what must be a kennel of legal Shi-Tzus and bring in some first-amendment pit bulls who'll have every Justice Department lawyer living on vending-machine food and sleeping under their desks for the next ten years. (I suggest putting the St. Thomas More Law Center on retainer as a start in the right direction.)

Henry Ford once remarked that he didn't hire lawyers to tell him what he couldn't do, and I doubt the USCC's paying its legal counsel with free scapulars. The USCC's getting the legal advice it already wants on this issue, nothing more or less than that. So I remind those who might be tempted to to unleash another Corrupt Lawyers Barrage that lawyers are mirrors; it's not just our fault if you don't like what you see.

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