Yesterday offered a rather large, eclectic spate of Church news, from the senselessly violent to the encouraging, with a little of the bizarre in between. Let’s take a short break from election updates to highlight those.
• The top Jesuit priest in Russia, Fr. Otto Messmer, was found brutally murdered in his Moscow flat earlier this week, along with his brother priest Fr. Victor Betancourt of Ecuador. As of yesterday afternoon, there was still no word as to the cause of the attack or identity of the perpetrator.
• And in another sad story of violence against Catholics, an Indian priest died of a brain injury more than two months after being beaten by a Hindu extremist mob. Fr. Bernard Digal was beaten with crowbars and axes when the mob set fire to the church he was sleeping in – he had already been fleeing the violence from village to village. Fr. Digal was hospitalized for his injuries and released, but further tests right before he died revealed he had a blood clot in his brain.
• For Headline Bistro’s Canadian readers: in receiving the new Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the country of its Catholic heritage, saying that the Church’s institutions and “the culture that it promotes represents the cornerstone of the building of Canadian society.” That said, the pope encouraged Canadians to uphold the culture of life and to exercise “true freedom” – a liberty based on God and obedient to the natural moral law. Pope Benedict also affirmed the Canadian bishops’ initiatives “in favor of family life and thus the dignity of the human being.”
• Finally, here’s a good story that’s just too weird to pass up: a German archbishop named – get this – Reinhard Marx just released his own book on economic social justice. It’s entitled … you guessed it … Das Kapital: a Plea for Man, and it takes as its premise an argument against the excesses of capitalism. Archbishop Marx (who has no familial relation to the actual socialist, Karl) makes clear that his book takes issue with actual Marxism economics, writing in the foreword to his namesake that the consequences of “your thinking were disastrous.” Archbishop Marx’s book highlights the dangers of unrestrained capitalism, which, he says, “without humanity, solidarity and justice has no morals and no future.” Overall, he advocates a world market economy that is in keeping with the Catholic Church’s social teaching and in particular cares for the poor.
Meanwhile, Christianity Today has an interesting interview up about evangelicals’ role in the “new” Republican Party. Particularly if McCain loses, The Atlantic editor Ross Douthat said, Republicans will be forced to “rebrand” – a process that might or might not alienate evangelicals, who have consistently made up a solid voting bloc for the GOP.
Douthat’s interview is enlightening, as the issues he highlights in terms of evangelicals’ voting trends seem to parallel the debates we’ve seen in Catholic circles this election season, too. For example – do we stick to the party with the hardest stance against abortion or “broaden the tent” of issues that affect our vote, such as poverty, the environment and AIDS? (Such a dichotomy seems reflective of the “Young Moderates” piece on Politico earlier this week, and Douthat makes a good case that that dichotomy may not be entirely accurate, after all.)
His description of the “uneasy marriage” between evangelicalism and “American-style conservatism” is also thought-provoking – evangelicals have an innate desire for social justice, Douthat said, which at times can seem at odds with “some of the more straightforward, pro-free market, pro-business aspects of the contemporary Republican Party.” Catholics who have been pondering the relationship of the Church’s social teaching to recent events on Wall Street and Capitol Hill can probably relate; any partisan ties take second place to an honest consideration of which policies better uphold human dignity, even in the marketplace.
Douthat said rising Republican leaders will need to clarify what it is to be truly “pro-family.” On the other side of the party wall, this election season has seen Democrats running under a pro-life banner. Are these examples reflective of even the slightest movement in American politics toward a better understanding of what it really means to govern justly? We can only wait and see what will happen on Tuesday, and in the months and years to come after this election.
As for the scenario of Christians choosing between a vote against abortion and a “broader” look at other issues, we know that “Faithful Citizenship” acknowledges the existence of those issues besides abortion. The bishops stress, however, the priority of defending life and mention certain distortions of the Church’s teaching on this matter – namely, “a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity.”
“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” the document clearly states. “It must always be opposed” (28).
For many Catholics, this election season has been clear: they will use their vote to defend life, particularly that of the unborn, and a key way they will make this fight is by seeking to overturn pro-abortion laws like Roe v. Wade.
Others seem to view the election through the lenses of “moral equivalence,” as the bishops said, weighing promises to reduce the number of abortions through programs for unwed mothers and the like, as well as other, worthy social justice issues like poverty and war. (The U.S. bishops crafted their own answer to the dilemma by saying Catholics must work to defeat abortion and promote programs that benefit struggling mothers and their babies).
Life comes first – and the Church cannot be more clear that the right to life, the defense of life, does not fall as “one issue among many” on the ballot.
Pope John Paul II understood the desire to bring social justice to the nation and the world, whether it be through combating poverty or ending unjust wars.
However, he underlined what must come first:
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici, 38)