The Politician and Faith
Prof. Michael Hull, New York
October 29, 2004
The application of Christian morality in public service is no different from the application of Christian morality in private life. There is no disparity between a Catholic’s moral obligations when he is in public service and when he is not. Unfortunately, a persistent and pervasive error — often disseminated by misinformed or mistaken Catholics and others, and not infrequently encapsulated in vacuous phraseology such as "personally opposed but politically for" — insists that one can publicly support and propagate evil while claiming to remain privately against such evil. Today many politicians, who claim to be good Catholics, actively back policies that are contrary to the natural moral law and teaching of the Church, for example, the murder of unborn children in abortion and infanticide ("partial-birth" abortion). Can a Catholic politician who advocates and promotes an intrinsic moral evil licitly receive Holy Communion? The answer is, of course, "no".
Why? Because Catholics are obliged to promote the common good. Currently, the best articulation of Catholic teaching on this point is proffered by the Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke (Archbishop of St. Louis) in his October 1, 2004 pastoral letter "On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good". Archbishop Burke notes that Catholics must vote in such wise as to eventually achieve the "total conformity of the civil law with the moral law," to fulfill their responsibility to the common good as best they can. That obligation is not mitigated but intensified when a Catholic holds public office. It is sadly the case that some Catholic politicians believe they can uphold an unjust law, for example, the Roe v. Wade (1973) "right to choose," and at the same time remain good Catholics and receive Holy Communion.
During a conference at the National Press Club (Washington, DC; September 16, 2004) entitled "Public Witness/Public Scandal: Faith, Politics, and Life Issues in the Catholic Church," sponsored by the Ave Maria School of Law (Ann Arbor, Michigan), the Reverend John J. Coughlin, OFM, a professor of law at Notre Dame University, articulated clearly and cogently the Code of Canon Law in regard to the illicit reception of Holy Communion by a pro-abortion Catholic, who is not to be admitted to Holy Communion because he continues to "persist in manifest grave sin" (canon 915).
At the same conference, Dr. Robert P. George, a professor of law at Princeton University, explained the inanity of those who claim that the Church does not have the right — never mind the duty, in season and out of season — to bar those who "persist in manifest grave sin" from Holy Communion. In the United States of America, where the issue is especially salient during this presidential election year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops discussed it at their June 2004 meeting in Denver (Colorado). The USCCB stated clearly that "decisions [about the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life] rest with the individual [diocesan] bishop."
Fortunately, some diocesan bishops have been courageous in publicly forbidding pro-abortion Catholic politicians from approaching the altar rail. Their courageousness not only highlights the folly of "personally opposed but politically for" but also strengthens the body of believers. We, like St. Paul, need to remind ourselves that "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" with which we are to guard the truth that has been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 1:7, 14).