Thanks Michael for your post, though I am compelled to respond and disagree with much of what you and others have written. I do believe that the questions you raise are highly relevant to the conversation occurring within the Church today about the proper role of the laity in public life, and especially American politics. I should also note for those that don’t know, Michael has been, and continues to be, a guest blogger on CatholicVote.org and we continue to welcome his contributions (and disagreements) on our site should he choose to cross post there.
CatholicVote.org was founded specifically to champion the cause of faithful citizenship from a distinctly lay perspective. As such, we seek to serve the Church by assisting the laity with material, catechetical resources, news and commentary, and tools for evangelization (videos, ads, etc) that incorporate an authentic Catholic worldview as applied to our civic life, in pursuit of the common good. To be sure, the issues that involve intrinsic evils, or questions that involve the “non-negotiable” issues are always treated as foundational, and not open to compromise or debate for Catholics. Our programming has almost exclusively been focused on the life issue, for example.
However, it should come as no surprise that Catholic voters are confronted with a host of public policy questions where an authentic Catholic approach to a particular public policy solution is not as easily discernible. Your beef seems to focus on our use of prudence in reading Church teaching, particularly on the issue of subsidiarity, in evaluating and scoring candidates for public office. This is precisely the debate we hoped to spawn, namely, one that involves questions of prudence in the application of this foundational principle of Catholic social teaching to the questions of economic justice, taxes, immigration, health care, and other issues where Catholics in good conscience are permitted to disagree. To your credit, you acknowledge that our scoring analysis makes clear that we make no claim that Church teaching binds Catholics to vote and follow particular policy approaches on these prudential matters. That does not mean, however, that the principles and guidance of the Church should be ignored, or as some here suggest, be kept out of the public square by Catholic groups in the context of specific candidates seeking elected office.
This is precisely where we hope to provide the laity some needed counterweight to the default socialist oriented, government-first, policy prejudices often assumed to be the more authentically “Catholic” position on many issues. We openly acknowledge our reading of Catholic social doctrine to incorporate the principle of subsidiarity in the development of policy prescriptions that seek to bring about the conditions most conducive to the common good. This reading of Church teaching, not altogether novel incidentally, leads us to advocate in many instances a more limited role for the federal government in the governance and control of policies that impact our economy, health care and so forth.
I think it is perfectly defensible to suggest that the Church, particularly since Vatican II, and more recently the public statements from the Holy Father, urge the laity to assume a more active role in this area. Quite frankly, I continue to be disappointed in the reluctance on the part of highly competent Catholics (including many of your readers) to engage these questions head on. This is precisely the function of the laity, whom in many cases possess a level of competence or expertise in various areas (economic policy or health care delivery for example) that may exceed even that of our priests or bishops or, most certainly, the staff of the USCCB. This is in no way intended to slight our bishops, whom we serve and obey without qualification on questions of faith and morals. But it does seem to me of utmost importance that the laity assert their role, apply their insights and expertise in light of the guidance provided by the Church, and most importantly, not be afraid to say that their judgments are informed by Catholic social doctrine and tradtion. Catholic voters in return can more responsibly rely on lay groups such as mine as a place to help formulate and articulate political positions that are shaped and guided by the insights of the Church.
Whether Sharon Angle for example should be supported by Catholics is a highly relevant question, which we unabashedly try to answer. There are some Catholics who may disagree with our judgment, but I find it odd, if not irresponsible, to suggest that Catholic laity (or groups using the word Catholic in their name) should shun such judgments.
Finally, I think it important to propose that Catholics begin to work to overcome the “single-issue voter” critique, as if the Catholics who follow the Church’s teaching on the life issue have nothing further to contribute to the our national political conversation. We have much we can offer, and indeed must learn to articulate the ways in which the life issue is indeed foundational, by and through, our articulation of a Catholic approach to other issues. Socialist Catholic organizations have understood this for years, and have harmed the Church because, unlike you and me, they don’t truly take seriously the non-negotiable issues to begin with.
I have written far to much for a comment box, and I could go on much further, but perhaps I should stop now and allow the discussion to continue. Your post, and the comments by your readers are indeed helpful and thought provoking. Like most here, I hope this conversation, and any success we achieve, contributes in some small way, to the New Evangelization, of which we are all a part. Any grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, or lapses in logic can be blamed on my lack of sleep from Monday night, having attended that glorious upset of the Packers at Soldier Field. Go Bears.
But wait, a few final remarks –
– our questionnaire that must be completed prior to any endorsement is the most extensive questionnaire that I know of. It is not multiple choice, and requires candidates to submit lengthy answers, including an explicit question asking about their opposition to torture;
– those that read into the placement of issues on our website as indicative of the priority we place on these issues are simply looking to cause trouble; if the work we have done, and the commentary provided by Thomas and others on our site has not made plain that we believe the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty to be foundational, then they I can’t help them.
– Finally, the endorsements on our site do not constitute a comprehensive list of all candidates worthy of an endorsement or Catholic attention; because this is our first public foray with our PAC, we have chosen to keep our “slate” to a limited number of candidates who qualify for our endorsement, and whose races we believe to be significant
Well, there you have it. The head of CatholicVote is a Bears fan, and as I have earlier stated, Bears fans are not Catholics, thus explaining why CV is so misguided 😉
In seriousness, let me respond. Mr. Burch in much of the post is arguing that he is realizing a role of the laity proscribed by the Church. I am not arguing that the laity ought not address things like the economy. Indeed, the Catholic is not a single issue voter. However, the laity must address those things in a particularly Catholic way-this includes using principles of Catholic social teaching and following the guidance of the bishops. What is problematic is for a lay group to then take a particular application and brand it as the Catholic application-which is precisely what CV has done. Even if CV has a proper application (which as MJ points out in the comments for the post, is highly disputable), it is taking on authority CV does not have. CV is not merely carrying out the role of the laity by encouraging debate; CV is also ending the debate, producing a conclusion, and marketing the conclusion as the Catholic conclusion. Even with the disclaimer CV provides, it’s still making endorsements as “CatholicVote.” The confusion by Catholics and non-Catholics alike is perfectly understandable. This is not appropriate, and even the bishops (who have a far greater claim to such authority than Mr. Burch) studiously avoided this approach in the 2008 cycle by seeking only to preach the principles to be applied to the issues and voting process rather than advocating particular approaches.
I think part of the problem too is our interpretation of an endorsement. Endorsements to me are not merely “Candidate x is better than Candidate y, therefore vote for them.” In the last campaign, I argued that McCain made a better vote than Obama, but I refused to endorse him. To endorse is to get enthusiatically behind a candidate-to argue that candidate x fully or almost fully represents one views. To me, almost no candidate in the political arena today can meet that test for the views of an orthodox Catholic, much less the views of the Church herself.
So what Catholic lay groups should do is promote these areas, invite the laity to address them not only with moral principles but the other areas of expertise (such as economics) they possess-but, they should avoid coming to conclusions on matters of prudence as a group. This is a lesson conservative Catholics seemed understand when a whole host of Catholic groups were used against the bishops in the healthcare debate regarding the abortion language. They exercised prudence after all in deciding whether to vote for the bill; if we condemn them for seizing authority from the bishops so too must we condemn groups trying to seize the authority to make prudential judgments in other matters.
At this point, I need to respond to a comment Mr. Burch made:
Quite frankly, I continue to be disappointed in the reluctance on the part of highly competent Catholics (including many of your readers) to engage these questions head on
The idea that TAC and its readers are avoiding this issues while CV is bravely taking them on is “quite frankly” laughable. I will put TAC’s readers and contributors against any Catholic group blog for their willingness to discuss and debate a wide range of issues, including economics. I believe the combination of depth and breadth of the issues we discuss is among the best in the blogosphere. I’m not quite why Mr. Burch thinks TAC is performing poorly in this, but I challenge him to show that CV or anyone else is doing better.
Mr. Burch also accused me of “looking for trouble” by arguing that the position of the issues on the issue pages suggests misplaced priorities. Ok, Mr. Burch. Is the order random? Why is taxes placed in the headlines and abortion near the bottom? Someone made the decision to place it as it is and that person had a reason. What is the reasoning?
Finally, I want address the specifics of CV’s endorsements, particularly why CV would promote Angle over say Rep. Cao. Mr. Burch argues two different arguments in two different places-arguments that when put together, seem to contradict each other.
our questionnaire that must be completed prior to any endorsement is the most extensive questionnaire that I know of. It is not multiple choice, and requires candidates to submit lengthy answers, including an explicit question asking about their opposition to torture;
Finally, the endorsements on our site do not constitute a comprehensive list of all candidates worthy of an endorsement or Catholic attention; because this is our first public foray with our PAC, we have chosen to keep our “slate” to a limited number of candidates who qualify for our endorsement, and whose races we believe to be significant
First he argues (and Joshua Mercer & Thomas Peters both argued this in the combox and on twitter) that Cao & others didn’t get an endorsement b/c he didn’t return the questionnaire; then they argue that they wanted to keep it to a limited slate in important races.
Well, which is it? Did you decide based on who returned the questionnaire or what races were important? Maybe both? And how did you decide which races are important? If one looks at the NYT’s 538 blog to see the different races CV is involved in, it is far from clear how they chose important races. Obviously, Angle’s race against Reid is important in both closeness and national prominence. However, the Democrat CV endorses has a 100% chance to win. The breakdown for the other candidates is as follows:
Schilling -57% chance will lose. Fortenberry-100% win. Fimian 80% lose Mulvaney 58% win. Duffy 79% chance win. Guinta 58% win. Benishek 91% win.
There’s no consistent pattern there. They’ve picked one clear loser (Fimian), one in trouble (schilling, angle), a few close favorites (Mulvaney, Guinta), and a few clear favorites (Fortenbery, Benishek, Duffy, and Lipinski the Democrat). In comparison, Cao is given a 68% chance of losing, which is better than Fimian’s.
So what is an important race? Only CV knows. Perhaps it is important in getting good Catholic candidates to Congress based on the questionnaire. However, that is not on the website. How many people returned the questionnaire? And what did they answer? Mr Burch brags of this awesome, long comprehensive questionnaire, but it’s not online. Why not? Scan it in, and let’s have some information on what these politicians think about issues particularly important to Catholics. I would rather read the questionnaire of Ms. Angle regarding her thoughts on immigration & torture than hear Mr. Burch describe her as “courageous” for saying the blandest pro-life statement imaginable.
Instead what we have is a group endorsing in the name of the Church based on what it thinks are important races based on principles and answers it does not disclose. Such an endorsement is not particularly valuable for a layman trying to discern candidates worthy for donations, votes, etc. nor is valuable for purposes of discussion, as the approach CV took cannot be criticized. To be open to critique means to be open about the factors one used in your process.
The laity must get involved in all issues in order to best represent the wealth of Church teaching. However, doing so requires humility and requires a resistance to being co-opted by the various partisan factions. This is a very difficult task, a task that many Catholics (including myself) have difficulty with when entering the political realm for the first time. Let’s hope that CV with all of its resources eventually learns how bring the lay voice into the political realm through other means than the endorsements it currently employs.