Elections: Church can - and should - be involved
Last week I received a letter from a reader who described herself as a "concerned Catholic." She believes the Catholic Church "seems intent upon entering the political arena
and it does not belong there."
She does not like the fact that the Catholic Church "chooses to speak on certain issues only prior to an election" and is "choosing to ignore our constitution which requires that there be a separation between church and state."
She also laments the fact that the church is "taking a more conservative stance in recent years." She says that there are two sides to many issues and Catholics should hear both of them.
I decided to respond to this letter publicly, because there may be other Catholics who agree with the letter writer. It's obvious that we need to clarify the role of the Catholic Church and its members in electoral politics. I hardly know where to begin!
Right and duty. First of all, the Catholic Church has a right and a duty to be involved in the public policy arena. It's interesting that many people today criticize the Catholic Church for condoning slavery and racism in our country or failing to stop Adoph Hitler prior to World War II.
Whether these charges are true or not, I think most people would agree that the church should express outrage against any governmental policy that is immoral. The church had an obligation to speak out in the past, and it has an obligation to speak out now against the evils of our time.
Guidelines clarify involvement. The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) has issued guidelines since 1983 to encourage Catholics to become involved in election campaigns and to discuss public policy issues.
The WCC guidelines clarify what activities and efforts are appropriate for church officials and agencies during a political campaign. They say, "The Church has both a duty and a right to call attention to the moral and religious dimensions of public issues." In specific terms, this means that the church can:
Educate Catholics and others regarding teachings of the church and responsibilities of members.
Analyze issues for moral and social dimensions.
Measure policies against Gospel values.
Participate with other citizens in the debate over public policies.
Speak out with courage, skill, and concern on issues involving human rights, social justice, and the life of the Church in society.
The guidelines warn that persons acting in an official church capacity should not be involved in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing political candidates or parties or actively engaging in political campaigns. (Catholic newspapers, however, can cover political campaigns and accept political advertising.)
Church speaks all the time. The letter writer says the church only speaks on issues prior to an election. Not true! The church continually speaks on a wide variety of issues. Check Web sites of the WCC (www.wisconsincatholic.org) or the Catholic Herald (www.madisoncatholicherald.org) to see what has been covered in the past four years, including war, poverty, abortion, stem-cell research, death penalty, and other moral issues with political ramifications.
Separation of church and state. Calling for the separation of church and state is another warped view of church involvement in the political arena. Our constitution stipulates freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Our forefathers and
foremothers believed in "one nation under God" and often emphasized the importance of their faith in this democratic nation. It is strong religious faith which helps keep our country on the right track.
Two sides? Do we have to give two sides on every issue? No, I don't think we do. The secular media will certainly give us plenty of information on the other side of many issues! What we need is good, solid information about what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues and how it impacts public policies and candidates' stances.
The church can - and should - be involved in the electoral process. In the next two months, the Catholic Herald will be publishing the WCC's Faithful Citizenship series, along with articles about important moral issues involved in the elections. We encourage Catholics to study the issues and bring a faith perspective to their voting decisions in November.
Mary C. Uhler
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Church shouldn't be intimidated
To the editor:
According to Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, some secular organizations and some politicians are attempting to intimidate Catholic bishops and Catholic priests who are speaking and writing for pro-life issues. These organizations and politicians are threatening the bishops and priests with the loss of tax exemption.
The Internal Revenue Service has made it very clear that churches can lose their tax exempt status if they campaign for candidates by name or conduct campaign fund raisers. Likewise, churches cannot distribute campaign material on church property specifically listing candidates by name.
Churches can speak and write about pro-life issues without penalties. And churches may and should advise members to study on their own the platforms and policies of candidates and may advise the laity to vote for candidates who are pro-life without specifying the names of candidates.
For following these procedures churches will not suffer penalties according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Charles Sippel, Waterloo
Cathedral belongs downtown
To the editor:
I don't know why you would want to put the cathedral any place but where it is. I know when I was in Madison and worked on the capitol square, a lot of times if I had time at my lunch hour, I would walk over there. Whoever I ate with would go with me, Catholic or not.
I'm sure a lot of people would go into the cathedral just to pray in their own way. They all felt just plain peace in there. I'm sure a lot of people miss going in there even if it is only a few minutes, as St. Patrick and Holy Redeemer weren't very close to the square.
Virginia Dalles, Mineral Point