Archive for Election 2012

A Nobel Peace Prize Won Last Term, A Hope That It Can Be Earned This Term

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This morning I celebrated mass for the religious community in which I live. I am on the schedule as the presider every wednesday, but this particular wednesday brought me back to another early morning liturgy four years ago. While living in Washington, DC, during my Franciscan formation and theology and ministry studies, I happened — by chance — to be assigned to preach at the morning mass the morning after the last election. I remember the headlines of the newspapers, not just in the US, but internationally. Back in 2008 my German was a lot less rusty than it is today and I tried to keep up with at least one paper, in this case, Süddeutsche Zeitung. I recall the big, bold headline that morning after the election: “America — Rises from the Ashes.” The international community celebrated the hope and the promise that came with the election of Barack Obama in the United States. The world was worn and weary after eight years of the Bush administration’s policies, particularly abroad, and billions of the the world’s citizens looked to the US for what was to come.

The fervor and international enthusiasm led to President Obama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. People were shocked, myself included. While I will readily admit that I too was enthusiastic about the possibilities that laid ahead, while realistic about the likely political battles that ensued (I did live in DC after all), I couldn’t believe that such a significant sign of typically lifelong achievement had been awarded so quickly. I was proud of our president, but more heartened by what I took this symbolic move to mean for the rest of the world.

And then reality set in. Two very painful, violent, and — at least in one case, if not in two — frivolous wars carried on. Mechanisms for injustice — Guantanamo Bay, international detention centers, etc. — remained in status quo; environmental concerns were left unaddressed in any significant way; and drone attacks broadened our violent imperialism internationally.

What had been the international signal of hope and peace, epitomized by the Nobel Prize, became something of an embarrassment, something that could not really be explained or justified.

Granted, the stakes were high and the absolute disregard for dialogue, progress, collaboration, and bipartisanship on the part of the Republicans in Congress, symbolized by Mitch McConnell’s now famous declaration that the GOP’s primary goal would be to make sure President Obama wasn’t reelected (its goal was not the American people by his own omission), certainly explains some of the roadblocks to achieving even more than the very important and valuable health-care reform, repealing of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the financial actions that prevented a reliving of the early 1930s. Nevertheless, President Obama and his administration need to take their share of responsibility for inaction, lack of serious engagement domestically and internationally in peacemaking and climate change, and the implementation of more domestic policies that would guarantee the rights of all people.

As a Franciscan friar, I am particularly haunted by the specter of the Nobel. Violence may be our biggest concern right now. Some will cry “abortion, abortion,” but as legal scholars and moral theologians have replied until they are hoarse and frustrated, the President of the United States has almost no ability to directly or, perhaps with a few very removed exceptions such as court appointments, event indirectly affect that law and effect the change for which anti-abortion protestors clamor. What the President does have absolute control over are executive orders that authorize drone attacks over seas, the covert engagement of elite military attacks that proceed with impunity, and other policies that directly affect domestic concerns of justice and civil rights.

At the beginning of this next term, the admitted last political office the President will pursue, I have some recommendations, perhaps more appropriately admonitions, to offer. These have everything to do with the Nobel Prize won in the last term, it is my hope that in the following four years it might be genuinely earned.

  • End the Drone Strikes — This is one of the worst scars that mar the international and moral face of the United States today. The ethical complexity of these attacks goes without enough consideration and we should end this sort of violent imperialism.
  • Seriously Address Climate Change — In the wake of Hurricane (“superstorm”) Sandy, there is no better time than the present to use the position of the President of the United States to take the lead at home and abroad in addressing the way in which our Sister Mother Earth (as St. Francis would say) is being destroyed and, in turn, is becoming increasingly in habitable for humanity and the rest of creation.
  • Move Beyond Tax-Code Solutions — Yes, the wealthy must pay their fair share, which includes changing the policies that allow the sinful loopholes that allow people who make money simply by having a lot of money to pay unjustly low rates. However, there are other ways this country needs to get its act together in terms of establishing a more equitable and egalitarian society. Can we have a new FDR-like movement? Can we shift the “anti-government at all costs” rhetoric so popular today to remember what it means to be part of a society that is not filled with individuals, but celebrates our interdependence?
  • Put the Poor First — This really follows the previous point and is as self-explanatory as possible. When you have to make a decision, don’t be concerned with what the wealthy, the corporations (which are not people, but juridic fictions), the other politicians, and the plutocrats will think or react — look at your office through the lens of the most disenfranchised, poor, and marginalized. Use your power for good and not the evil that comes with supporting those who benefit from the demise of the populous, which, by the way, is how most politicians in recent history act. Be the change that you encouraged us to believe in!
  • Education, Education, Education — By which I do not mean more standardized tests nor hedgehog policies for science and math alone. We need a citizenry that can think and, as an educator and one who moves in such circles, I can assure you that we are not, as a nation, training our young people to think today. We are training them to be mechanical reproducers of a limited pool of information. Education is both an ethical issue and a concern for national security; let’s treat it appropriately!
  • Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Nothing To Lose Now — Take strength in accomplishing and inaugurating what requires courage and conviction. You have four more years to do what you intimated that you could: so do it! Don’t let this term turn into the worthless second term of President Bush or the fiasco of sideshow politics in the second term of President Clinton. You are in a unique place, at a unique time, in a dire circumstance to make things happen — if only through authentic and inspiring encouragement and empowering of the people.

These are simply a few of the many things I would tell President Obama if, in some alternative universe, he would seek out my opinion. I am hopeful still, but then again I am a Christian and, as such, I live in Easter Hope. I believe President Obama was the right person for this office in this election, but only insofar as he is able to use these four years in ways resembling what I name here. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

Photo: Pool

A Prayer for Election Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published this prayer before an election. Today, as we go to the polls to cast our votes for our representatives in public office, may we remain open to the spirit and, as this prayer so pointedly reminds us, remember those whose voices are so infrequently or never heard — that we can look at all human persons as our brothers and sisters, and stand up for their rights and against injustice. May our actions and our lives truly reflect the Reign of God, which, as this prayer also reminds us, is a Kingdom of justice and peace!

Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city and state and country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.

We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Photo: Stock

Voting, ‘Gaudium et Spes’ and the Responsibility of Citizenship

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Here we are with just one day left before the 2012 presidential election. It is important that we all contribute to the life of our society and recall that the responsibility of citizenship requires that all vote tomorrow. In order to prepare ourselves for this civic duty, it seemed a good idea to look briefly at what the Church’s teaching holds concerning voting and government. Because most of us fall under the category of the citizen who will cast a vote for those who serve in elected office, let’s begin with this succinct and clear reminder of our task at hand:

All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good (no. 75).

It can be frustrating to dwell on the imperfections of both sides of the US two-party system, realizing that neither candidate in a given race is perfect and each bears some responsibility — to greater or lesser degrees — for positions that do not align precisely with what Roman Catholics strive to affirm.

Nevertheless, we are called to recall not just our right, but our duty to use our free vote to “further the common good,” which extends beyond our limited partisan priorities and personal financial or social gains. Furthering the common good necessarily takes into consideration those who are discriminated against and marginalized, especially the poor and powerless.

Concerning individual property and its relationship to the common good, the Church teaches:

By its very nature private property has a social quality which is based on the law of the common destination of earthly goods. If this social quality is overlooked, property often becomes an occasion of passionate desires for wealth and serious disturbances, so that a pretext is given to the attackers for calling the right itself into question (no. 71).

There is always a responsibility tied between what we traditionally identify as the realm of private property and that which is necessary to secure the common good, the basic needs and conditions for human flourishing for all people. Nobody has the right to have excessive wealth and property while others face poverty and other threats to life and human dignity.

Concerning the role of the government in facilitating the flourishing of humanity and the promotion of the common good, the Church teaches:

The complex circumstances of our day make it necessary for public authority to intervene more often in social, economic and cultural matters in order to bring about favorable conditions which will give more effective help to citizens and groups in their free pursuit of [humanity’s] total well-being (no. 75).

Furthermore, there is a strong sense of what the Christian’s responsibility entails when it comes to the political life of one’s nation. The Church teaches that there are various public and civic vocations, including the legitimate exercise of public office, but that all members of a socio-economic community like the United States, for example, have a duty and responsibility to participate fully.

In a very succinct paragraph, the Second Vatican Council makes stark these concerns and presents a challenge to political parties (take note, Republicans and Democrats!!) as to what their respective roles are in the function of civil government.

All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good (no. 75).

In what follows in the rest of Gaudium et Spes concerning the urgent needs of our age, the Church affirms the need for international cooperation, the value and need to sustain international communities of governance such as the United Nations, the collective responsibility to avoid war and promote peace, among other important issues.

All of these things should help to inform the consciences of Christians that take up their duty to vote tomorrow. There is no single issue that is the ultimate determiner for a Catholic Christian to judge a candidate, instead there are a panoply of concerns, issues, goals, and responsibilities that must all converge to inform the political action of the citizenry.

There is no higher teaching in the Roman Catholic Church than that which is promulgated by an Ecumenical Council such as Vatican II. Gaudium et Spes, as it concerns politics, government, and voting must be taken with the utmost seriousness and regarded before any claims of individual ecclesiastical authorities. In the end, the most oft-occuring factor in the Church’s teaching on political action is: promotion of the common good.

Photo: Stock

The Catholic Vote: Thirty-Years Later

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Contrary to what is proffered by a certain young man about my age and his colleagues over at a website (unsanctioned by any official Roman Catholic authorizing body) by the same name as this blog post, the Catholic vote is not constituted by a singular issue, nor is there — following my earlier post on this subject (“A Tale of Two Catholicisms: A Response to Molly Worthen“) — a single “Catholic” candidate for political office. The partisan quality of the discussion and debate centering on the moral responsibility, role, and stakes of participating in the representative democracy of the United States has reached an all-new high.

This is where Cathleen Kaveny’s excellent essay, “The Single-Issue Trap: What the Bishops’ Voting Guide Overlooks,” comes in. Focusing her comments on the USCCB’s 2007 and 2011 Catholic voter’s guides (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship) within the context of the USCCB’s previous guide of 1976 (Political Responsibility: Reflections on an Election Year), Kaveny keenly observes the shifts in emphasis, the implicit political manipulation, and the ostensible lacunae of the current document that serves as the only sanctioned text from the US bishops on assisting Catholics in the civil duty to vote.

The first point of contrast between the 1976 and later guides that Kaveny notes is the shift in the optimistic and ecumenical tone of the former document, which called all Christians to “join together in common witness and effective action to bring about Pope John [XXIII’s] vision of a well-ordered society based on truth, justice, charity, and freedom,” toward a more pessimistic and narrow vantage point of late. Kaveny writes:

By 2007 these optimistic assumptions had evaporated. The tone of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is decidedly battle-weary, suggesting a lament for a nation mired in political crisis and trapped in a moral self-contradiction verging on hypocrisy. Whereas in 1976 the bishops addressed the challenge of political engagement, by 2007 the predominant concern is moral skepticism and relativism; the bishops worry more about the human capacity to recognize moral truth than about the motivation to act upon it. Accordingly, their text emphasizes the church’s capacity to teach the moral truth relevant to political society. “What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and about the sacredness of every human life helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason.” As its title indicates, the guide is concerned about faithful citizenship—citizenship exercised in accordance with the truths recognized by the Catholic faith.

In summary of the text (which, if you haven’t read it in full, you really should), Kaveny rightly emphasizes the intention to remain objective on the part of the USCCB vis-á-vis particular political candidates. However, the noticeable shift in what Kaveny describes as “prioritization of the issues” seems to lead some readers to think that theres is always an implicit endorsement of a give candidate. Importantly, the document makes clear that:

“a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism [and, NB, these are only two examples of the many forms of intrinsic evil about which the Church teaches and are contained throughout the document], if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (emphasis added).

Equally important, the bishops write:

“a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (emphasis added).

It is significant that there are very nuanced, if imperfect, presentations of guidance in forming one’s conscience to vote in a morally upstanding way. What often gets distilled as a “black-and-white” dichotomy — Candidate X is “pro-life,” and Candidate Y is “pro-choice,” therefore you “have to vote for Candidate X” — is, in fact, much more nuanced.

These nuances and complexities of the moral guidance of the bishops must be taken into consideration and, as it is clear within the text, the so-called “pro-life” position of a candidate does not exonerate that candidate from due consideration of other positions that person might hold concerning life issues, concerning systemic injustices, and the like. Similarly, there is a clear provision to permit Catholic voters to cast a ballot for someone who might hold a particular position seemingly in favor of an intrinsic evil, provided that (a) the voter is not casting his or her vote precisely in favor of that position and (b) there isn’t another candidate who espouses a position on an intrinsic evil, whether or not it is the same issue (i.e., abortion does not have to be the only “intrinsic evil” at stake).

Kaveny wisely points out that the wording of the USCCB 2007 and 2011 documents, in contradistinction to the 1976 text, can be misleading because of its particular phraseology in terms of ordering and emphasis in making these two points. However, a careful reader notes the twofold imperative (don’t let a claim to be against an intrinsic evil override critical examination of a given candidate’s other morally inadequate positions and that you can vote for a candidate who espouses a position in favor of an intrinsic evil provided that you’re not voting for that candidate in favor of that issue per se and that no other non-intrinsic-evil-espousing-candidate exists).

Another deficiency of the 2007 and 2011 documents, Kaveny writes, is the omission of other possibilities of real consequence in an age of pandering to various constituencies. “The bishops do not even raise, for example, the possibility that a particular candidate (or party) might fabricate a commitment to end abortion for strategic political reasons. Forming Consciences does not caution voters to evaluate the sincerity with which a candidate holds a particular position; rather, it seems simply to assume candidates will enact their platforms if elected to office.”

Kaveny offer four areas of consideration Catholic voters should weigh in making a decision about a candidate:

  1. Competence—does the candidate have the intellectual capacity, the experience, the temperament, and judgment to do the job?
  2. Character—does the candidate have a good set of moral values and the integrity to pursue them in situations of temptation and fear?
  3. Collaboration—can the candidate work well with other people, both political allies and opponents?
  4. Connections—what are the moral and practical ramifications of the candidate’s political and financial connections for the manner in which he or she will carry out the job? Politicians, after all, do not act alone; they operate within networks of political power, including party affiliations, lobbyists, and big corporate and individual donors.

She goes on to make some very important and compelling observations about the act of voting and the role of elected office as such.

The point of electing candidates to an office is to empower and enable them to accomplish a set of tasks in service of the common good. Various qualities go into being an effective political servant…

What are the virtues of a good public servant? Recent Catholic moral theology has witnessed a resurgence of interest in the role of virtue in the moral life; it would make sense to extend the analysis to the virtues necessary for political leadership, particularly in a pluralistic liberal democracy such as our own.

In that context we might ask, Does someone who does not support overturning Roe possess ipso facto a defective moral character that renders him or her unfit for office? In my view, the answer very much depends on the reasons underlying the position. Living in a pluralistic society requires citizens to develop a sense of which views fall within the category of “reasonable, but wrong.” So, for example, the character of a candidate who thinks that unborn life has no value whatsoever at any stage in pregnancy should be evaluated differently from one who thinks that American society is too divided over the issue to make fundamental alterations to U.S. constitutional law.

What is most important, echoing a claim I made two days ago here at, a claim confirmed by Kaveny who is both a professor of ethics and of law (she understands the judicial and political stakes far better than I), is that:

For nearly forty years, abortion has been a constitutionally protected practice, and its legal status is not immediately susceptible to any sort of significant change at the federal level. The difficulty of changing this reality via a constitutional amendment has led large segments of the prolife movement, including the U.S. bishops’ conference, to concentrate on achieving that same goal indirectly, by electing presidents who will over time remake the Supreme Court. It seems to me that the divisions in the country that make the direct strategy practically impossible also tell against the effectiveness of this indirect strategy.

Moreover, the indirect strategy has significant moral problems. Supporting a constitutional amendment directly targeted at undoing Roe conflicts with few, if any, of a voter’s other duties to promote the common good, and merits serious consideration. But the prolife movement’s indirect strategy of making abortion a litmus-test issue for voters, with the expectation that they will elect officials who will somehow overturn Roe, does raise red flags. The duty of a voter is to promote the common good by selecting the best candidate for a political office in light of the range of factors I have outlined. Given that most office-holders have multifaceted responsibilities, voters cannot consider only one issue—even a fundamental issue—in casting their ballots. Presidential elections are no exception.

In theory one can vote for all the self-proclaimed “pro-life” candidates that he or she wishes, for one’s whole life, and the effect could be exactly the same: nothing. A particularly egregious danger when candidates or entire political parties adopt such a “position” precisely to entice a constituency to vote for a candidate (or candidates) without any reasonable expectation that the elected officials that tout such a position can effect any actual change. This is exactly the reason why the US bishops make clear that you cannot overlook the other dimensions of a candidate because of a self-proclaimed status as “pro-life.”

What are we to do, then? What is the role of the voter in an election year such as this? Kaveny’s concluding paragraph summarizes the challenge and goal well:

Voters cannot blind themselves and focus single-mindedly on one issue in the abstract, even if the issue is abortion. They must select among candidates, not among issues—and they are morally required to do so in light of the concrete challenges and possibilities for the common good posed by a specific election at a specific time. This, and not a litmus test of issues, is what forming consciences for faithful citizenship is really all about.

You must select a candidate and not an issue. Human beings, finite and fallible human beings, are seeking to represent a collective citizenry and are not to be treated as metonymic or proxy representatives for “issues.”

Photo: Stock
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