What’s a Catholic Voter to Do Part Three

A couple of people posted on my last entry that the reaction to what I had written showed the power of my words.  It was nice to think of it that way.  But the fact that the reaction was the exact OPPOSITE of what I was looking for when I wrote the original column doesn’t make me feel powerful–it makes me feel impotent against the rising tide of politically-inspired ill will–even hatred–among Christians with opposing political views.  Here’s the last installment of my story.

As if having the hierarchy oh-so-gently suggesting that I what I had written was not authentically Catholic was not enough, soon the newspaper was inundated with letters to the editor, some of which did not just attack my arguments, but went after me personally.  I was obviously just a liberal looking for any excuse to vote for John Kerry, said one.  (Come on–was anyone THAT enthusiastic about voting for John Kerry?)  The truth is that I have AGONIZED during every election season from 2000 on over what vote to cast.  That fellow Catholics would presume to judge me in print–essentially proving my original point, although that was cold comfort–was painful.  If my files weren’t ashes now I would share more of the comments with you.

By the time the letters appeared in the paper, I was on bedrest awaiting the imminent arrival of Baby #5.  I couldn’t leave my bed to vote in the election–how hysterical is that?  As one of the few–but much appreciated–supporters wrote in, how many of my detractors were pro-life enough to have given birth to five children?

Yes, there were supporters.  That was perhaps the one positive result of the experience at the time–I heard from (not often in writing though!) several people who I never would have guessed felt the same way I did–people who thanked me for speaking out and encouraged me in my belief that I hadn’t done anything wrong–people who admitted they were afraid to let the rest of the Catholic community know how they felt for fear of judgment.  Some of them literally WHISPERED their thanks in my ear!

THAT’s what I was writing about.  THAT is what I wanted to speak out against, what I naively thought my words might change.

credit: http://www.religionlink.com/tip_060717.php

What’s a Catholic Voter to Do Part Two

This is Part 2 of a story which begins here.  It chronicles the unforeseen results of my having had the temerity to publish a column on voting in the local Catholic press just before the 2004 elections.

I felt good about what I had written.   I thought I had expressed myself well.  I sat back and naively expected peace and goodwill to ensue.

That isn’t what happened.

I was working in my kitchen one morning when the phone rang.  This was way before iPhones so the identity of the caller came as a complete shock.  It was the Chancellor of my Diocese calling to tell me that the Bishop!! wanted me to know that he could not support everything I had written.

I am not going to try to recount that whole conversation.  It was eight long years ago after all.  But some parts I remember quite clearly.  As I stood in my pantry staring at the shelves, the Chancellor told me that Pope John Paul’s condemnation of the Iraq war was merely his “prudential judgment.”  He said that the Pope had not declared it an infallible, ex cathedra teaching.   I think he might have been a bit surprised that I was able to fire back the names of the TWO (yes, only two) such pronouncements on which all theologians agree.

U.S. President George W. Bush greets Pope John Paul II during their meeting at the Vatican June 4, 2004. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2004/20040606/wd1.jpg

What I remember very clearly is the impression I was left with–that I had just been ARGUED with by a Church official about whether there might be a “Catholic” way to vote in the coming election.  And I remember wondering, if it all comes down to prudential judgment, shouldn’t I, as a Catholic, give more weight to the judgment of the Holy Father than to that of any elected secular official?

Before it got better, it got a lot worse.  Shortly thereafter I got another call.  This time it was the Bishop himself on the other end of the line!  I got the sense that he knew the first call hadn’t gone well and that he felt bad about it.  His call had more of a pastoral tone. I  honestly cannot remember WHAT he said, but I could tell he wanted me to feel better about the whole thing.  I recall that he stated that he would be publishing something himself later to clarify the issues involved.

In those days my husband was an active Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and I saw the Bishop frequently at KOC events.  He had always been friendly and kind and complimentary about my column in the past.  So I felt bad.  Very bad.
See, I consider myself to be orthodox, more so than most people I know.  I take the teachings of the Church very seriously.  I am not a “cafeteria Catholic.”  And before I wrote that column I made sure to read the relevant parts of the Catechism and the Gospel of Life and the document the Bishops put out every election year.  I had my husband read it over too.  I wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure that it reflected Church teaching.

To have someone in the hierarchy suggest differently was DEEPLY painful. (I am sorry for all the capital letters.  It’s how I am feeling as I write this.)  It’s still painful.  I don’t feel completely comfortable publishing this, and probably would not if either of the people involved were still in the Diocese of Knoxville.

Was I wrong?  And if I was wrong, was I going to have to believe that the Church could back certain voting choices?  If so, would I have to follow those directions to remain a faithful Catholic?  Or was I going to have to become a dissenter in order to follow my own conscience?

I didn’t like any of those options.  I was in spiritual agony.  I was also about eight months pregnant.  Not a good combination.

I went back and reread what I had written.  I read the documents again.  I still couldn’t find anything wrong with what I had said.  Nor could other people I trusted.  Could this mean that it was the “prudential judgments” of the Bishop and the Chancellor that were  in error?  That was a scary thought.

In the end, though, that’s what I’ve come to believe.  I stand today by what I wrote eight years ago.

But there’s more to the story.  Stay tuned.