The National Catholic Reporter this issue has an interview with Hans Kung. Father Kung is a Swiss Catholic priest and theologian as well as prolific writer. He has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side for some time over his writings about theology and the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. He teaches at a Swiss University as an emeritus professor. His priestly faculties have not been revoked in spite of his outspoken views critical of Vatican positions. One of his objections is the absolutism of the Vatican. He says:

"The main problem is how we can change our absolutist leadership in a peaceful way. We cannot use the methods of the French Revolution."

While he applauds Benedict’s position on the sexual abuse problem he feels he should go further. "I ask for a mea culpa from the pope himself. He should not, for example, ask the Irish bishops to carry all the blame when he himself as Joseph Ratzinger at the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, enjoined secrecy" about the matter from the Vatican.

My favorite comments dealt with Pope John 23rd who launched the Second Vatican Council. Kung says that at an audience in the Greek College in Rome Pope John said: "I am only infallible if I speak infallible, but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible."

Another theologin in the news was Charles Curran. Fr. Curran was a tenured professor at Catholic University of America when in 1967 he was removed for his published views that the Catholic church’s  position about artificial birth control was not theologicaly valid. Following a five day faculty strike he was reinstated. The next year he joined a group of six hundred theologians who published their criticism of the Bishops pope’s publication prohibiting the use of artificial birth control. He continued to write and speak out about moral issues. In 1986 he Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that even though he had tenure he could not teach theology. The person who made the decision was Josef Ratzinger, now pope, who headed that congregation. Curran objected that Catholics and Catholic theologins may dissent from the pope’s teachings on issues that nature, but to no avail. In October of this year, Curran gave a talk at Southern Methodist University which has caused another stir. His focus was the American bishop’s position that abortion should take precedence over every other issue when American Catholics vote for political candidates. He said:

"In my judgment, the U.S. Bishops claim too great a certitude for their position on abortion law and failure to recognize that their own position logically entails prudential judgment so that they cannot logically distinguish it from most of the other issues such as the death penalty, health care, nuclear deterrence, housing."

He pointed out that in the 1976 election the bishops insisted they weren’t telling Catholics how to vote but should examine the candidates on a whole range of issues including abortion. Now, however, the present document begins with abortion and the bishops clearly state abortion is the primary issue for evaluating political candidates. He argues that the church’s teachings on murder, torture and adultery are more morally certain then that with abortion as murder. He further argues that merely because something is intrinsically evil doesn’t mean there should be law. For example, he pointed out, Catholic teaching is that adultery is intrinsically evil, but no Catholic bishop has campaigned for anti adultery laws.

In light of the political activity of the American bishops in support of George Bush in two campaigns and their attacks on pro life candidates, there was a call to take away church tax exempt status and apply IRS section 501(c)(3) prohibiting tax free organizations participating in political campaign activity. As a result, the bishops were careful to take an official position they were not telling Catholics how to vote, but providing "moral guidance" instead. However, the moral guidance was:

"a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil."

Some bishops feel pro choice Catholic candidates should be denied communion or even excommunicated from the Church. This is the situation Curran was talking about.

My observation is that the U.S. bishops position is totally un-American. Our Constitution ensures that government will establish no religion and from that provision, that all citizens have freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. This is in direct conflict with countries where religious groups want no separation between religion and government – for example Islam is not just the religion, it is the law and the government and in some European countries people are taxed to support the Catholic church.

Lets apply common sense and take an example of how wrong the bishops are. In South Carolina this year Democratic candidate Alvin Greene surprised the establishment by winning the primary for U.S. Senate. He was an unemployed military veteran with no political experience, no known qualifications for office and who ran no campaign, refused interviews and sought no contributions while living with his elderly father in a tiny house. In fact, he was indicted for a felony involving pornography. I think everyone agreed he was totally unqualified for the U.S. Senate and, in fact, lost by a wide margin.

His opponent was the Republican incumbent Jim DeMint who is one the most conservative members of the Senate. He supports school prayer, he opposes abortion and is generally a moral conservative. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Greene held DeMint’s view of being anti abortion and other conservative moral views. On the other hand, let’s assume DeMint was pro choice.

Do you realize that the U.S. Bishops would tell South Carolina Catholic voters they could not vote for DeMint without committing a grave sin? Instead, if you follow the bishops teaching Catholics would have to vote for Greene. According to the bishops abortion trumps all other considerations of a candidate for Catholics. That’s why we see so many bumper stickers on cars in the parking lot at Mass on Sunday during election time which read: "you can’t be a Catholic and vote pro choice." Catholics are convinced of that idea as wrong as it is.

What’s the obvious goal, then of the Catholic leadership in the U.S.? Well, the only conclusion is that they want all of the House and Senate to be Catholics. If not Catholics, then people who agree with their moral teachings. Forget the fact America is made up of people of all kinds of ideas, religions and non religious ideas. They want a government run by people who accept their moral teachings and abortion trumps all other considerations according to them. Is that an American idea? Does that sound like what our constitution provides? Do we really want religious leaders to be able to dictate election outcomes in America?

One other thing, here we have religious leaders who are claiming their tax exempt status by promising to engage in no political activity and then use subterfuge to make the message clear to Catholics: "If you vote for a pro choice political candidate, you have committed a grave sin equivalent to cooperating in murder." I say that if you want to play the game, you need to accept the consequences. Engage in politics and suffer the loss of tax exemption. I’d strictly enforce the law and take away their tax exemption.

My views may not make me popular at church next Sunday, but that wouldn't be something new either.


  1. Paul, Thank you for putting the common sense test to this postion by the Church. I have cast many a vote based soley on the premise the our Counrty was founded out of the need for Seperation of Church and State. There are very few absolutes in this world but combining relligion and politics is absolutly a very dangerous mix. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions on sensitive subjects such as this. I guess on persons common sense is anothers conviction. God Bless America for our freedom to express ourselves.

    Hope to see you over the Holidays,


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