09 November 2008

12 Reasons Why Faithful Citizenship Failed to Persuade

Why did the USCCB document, Faithful Citizenship, fail so miserably in persuading Catholics to vote pro-life this last election?

There are several reasons:

1). The document, like most committee monsters, is unwieldly; it is over-written, too highly nuanced to be effective. The first mention of abortion and euthanasia doesn't occur until paragraph 22 on page 8.

2). The document is loaded with technical theological terminology, e.g. "formal cooperation with evil."

3). The document provides far too many loopholes that could have been effectively closed with ordinary language, an example of an irrelevant loophole for this election: "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons. . ."(n.35). There was a candidate in this last election who promised to expand abortion rights and another who promised not to. There were no "other morally grave reasons" for voting for the pro-abortion candidate.

4). Pro-abortion clergy and lay catechists took advantage of the above and strongly hinted or outright taught that is morally acceptable to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in this last election in the absence of proportinate good reasons to do so.

5). Despite the best efforts of some bishops to teach clearly that there is no proportionate good reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in this last election, pro-abortion clergy and lay catechists seized on the loophole, urging Catholics not to be "one issue voters."

6). Like most Americans, most Catholics are ethical utilitarians at heart; meaning, that they weighed the evil of abortion equally with all the other Church's social justice issues. The document's teaching on this point is lost in the linguistic muddle. By placing other social wrongs along side abortion, the document undercuts it own teaching against the error of "moral equivalence." Does holding racist opinions equal the moral evil of the murder of 48 million children?

7). The document does not adequately teach that without the right to life no other right makes much sense. Aborted babies don't need universal health-care, fair wages, or a clean environment.

8). The bishops tolerated clerical dissent from the document in their dioceses, giving Catholics in the pew the idea that there is division in the upper ranks.

9). There is division in the upper ranks regarding the Church's teaching on voting and the right to life.

10). Generally speaking, documents from the USCCB are presented as official teaching at the diocesan level, implying that if an individual bishop disagrees with the document, Catholics in his diocese are free to ignore his teaching in favor of the USCCB. This is not the case. USCCB documents only have the magisterial weight that individual bishops give them.

11). Though well-intentioned, alternative voting guides from pro-life groups gave Catholics the impression that "right-wing Catholics" were disagreeing with the USCCB. This set up a situation where less faithful intrepretations of the document were posed as authentic by contrast.

12). The document certainly teaches the truth of the faith on life issues; however, it failed to persuade most voting Catholics to vote pro-life because it is too long, too nuanced, too technical, full of loopholes, and easily manipulated by selective quoting, and because of all of these, prone to misinterpretation by pro-abortion ideologues among the clergy and laity.

Solution: let Archbishop Chaput write the voting guide for 2012.

[UPDATE: I've been asked to comment on the recent USCCB decision to remove discussion of abortion politics from the agenda of the bishops' meeting in Washington. I do not think that this is a move by the bishops to avoid the issue. Clearly, a vast majority of our bishops see abortion politics as an area where Catholics have a great deal to contribute. No doubt the discussion will occur in their closed meetings. With the bright lights of the Obama PR machine (i.e., "the media") shining in their eyes, the bishops want to get a few things straightened out before making any public statements. Even the most timid objections to the strong statements put out by some bishops will be used as a reason for dissent by the leftie media and her allies in the Church.]


  1. Anonymous5:51 AM

    Can we just make him Primate of the US?

  2. I would do it this afternoon if I could...

  3. All excellent reasons Fr. Philip.

    I think one of the greatest mistakes was failing to respond to the charge that we were "single issue voters." As I wrote on my blog, and everywhere else I could leave a comment, I tried to show that there were several positions of Obamas, and the Democrats, that are opposed to Catholic social teaching. Instead too many Catholics always attempted to prove how the Pro-Obama/pro-life Catholics were wrong vis a vis abortion rather than arguing against the other moral issues where he was wrong. Clearly persons like Doug Kmiec were way off on their defense of Obama as being pro-life. Rarely have I heard such convoluted logic but after all he is a lawyer. (No offense to the many good lawyers out there.) But instead of challenging Kmiec on the the other social justice issues they continually tried to prove where he was wrong on his trying to defend Obama's abortion position. So the arguments went round and round with no conclusion. Not once did someone point out that part of Obamas plan to reduce the incidence of abortion is massive funding of birth control. I would like to know how he would have squared that with his Catholic faith. But it was also my experience that many who defended Obama were also dissenters from many other Church issues and simply used the "other social issues" as cover.

    I never once heard anyone mention that the Catholic Bishops supported John McCain's immigration policy until the other day.

  4. One of the saddest things about this election is that those "Catholics" who voted for Obama because of some social justice policies assumed that such would work. In many cases they don't!

    One example (among many) came up during a workshop I attended yesterday. There is a couple in the Washington DC area that has dedicated their lives to care for children with severe disabilities. They can't care for them after they turn 21 or add more children to their care because government regulations make it impossible. Also, as they have gotten older they have been unable to find someone to take over their awesome work for the same reason: unberable regulations. Another parishioner at my parish, who has a disabled son, was telling me this morning that the counselor at the center where he lives (my friend is too old to care for him) can't spend time with his son because she spends most of her time doing regulatory paperwork.

    A second example came from a friend who was living in Europe and was told when she got pregnant that she had to undergo an amnio at the 20th week and that if any problems were discovered she would HAVE to abort the baby. The only way out of the abortion would be to appear in front of a judge and pledge out of the country's health care system (which is the only care available!).

    And this is what we traded the lives of the unborn for!!!

  5. Re: Solution - would also suggest having KC's Bishop Finn assist Archbishop Chaput in writing the 2012 voting guide ...

  6. The number one reason is that the average Catholic simply does not read USCCB documents in the first place. Ever seen one at the front table of a parish?

    Those of us who do read the documents pretty much already knows what the Church teaches. Or there are the ones that read them for loopholes to use to teach misinformation to others.

    Though I agree with all the points you made.

  7. "USCCB documents only have the magisterial weight that individual bishops give them."

    Or really the only magisterial weight is when they agree with the magisterium. The biggest weakness of bishop's conferences is that ecclesiastically they are a convenient fiction since it always comes down to the fact that it is the local ordinary who is the official teacher for his diocese.

  8. Anonymous4:34 PM

    Yes, Letting ArchBishop Chaput write it would help but it would never pass committee....never!
    It is infuriating to listen to them when they are gathered for the conference...especially when they go to vote.

    We are from MS too.

  9. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Maybe no one will agree with me. However, I think the Republicans have lost the use of LANGUAGE.

    Bush has been bungling it for two terms and McCain would excoriate Obama for "his soaring rhetoric." Well, guess what? I think it worked.

    New speech writers all around for the GOP. And pronto. Seriously.

    Put forth the arguments you want but have them arranged in a manner that moves people. Like it or not, it's an emotional decision for most people and eloquence helps.

    And we've had none on our team.



  10. Absolutely agree. Have Abp Chaput write the whole thing... or simply have everyone read his (fantastic) book, Render Unto Caesar.

    #7 hits the nail on the head.

    Make sure the five moral non-negotiables are mentioned clearly and by name, and very strongly indicate that "non-negotiable" means, um, well, "non-negotiable."

    I still can't believe the abortion issue was struck from the agenda for the upcoming USCCB conference. Geez.

  11. Very well said, I've set a link to your site at my blog, this is so good, I hope others will read!

  12. Opey, where'bouts in MS?

    (We are morally obligated, of course, to do the formalities of the Great Southern Tradition to see if we are related...)

  13. Peter, I agree completely regarding Bush and McCain...my experience as an English teacher for 22 yrs and a preacher for 8 tells me that how an argument is presented is essential to it persuasive power. My problem with Obama's rhetoric (I use this word as it is meant to be used not as a cuss word) is that he actually doesn't say much of anything. He paints with broad strokes, huge emotional appeal, but damned near no substance to sink our teeth into.

  14. well I'm with anonymous/Peter, we DO need new writers all around, including within the Catholic church.

    And also with #7

    If you want general folks to understand things you must put them clearly, succintly, and not use big words (like succintly). There's a reason newspapers are written at (last I heard) a 6th grade reading level.

    Any major input the Catholic church wants to get across to American Catholics needs to also be simple enough a 6th grade reader can understand it. This could be two-fold beneficial....for we need to raise the next generation right too!

    after all, as a 6th grader I read every pamphlet in the pew...........during the sermon *blush*

  15. Anonymous6:56 AM

    We are in Central MS, you know, the Capital area?!
    I doubt very seriously that we are related.

  16. Anonymous12:49 PM

    I think it's okay, even desirable, to use moderately "big" words. If you speak to people as if they're intelligent, it makes them feel good about themselves. I am NOT suggesting losing them in arcane jargon.

    Father, with all due respect : ): I think both sides lacked substance. Perhaps, OUR lack was more severe than that of the Dems. I thought the "low blows" did no help and, in fact, proved harmful. And, McCain appeared "slow" and a figure of a "past era" compared to Obama.

    I'm not happy about it. Politics is part advertising and we failed miserably. Palin, included. Remember her remark, when in a rural town, "Finally I'm with REAL Americans."?

    How ridiculous. Most Americans aren't rural, white or homogenous. Hello!

    Coffee is needed at the GOP headquarters all around. They need to move on new information, new demographics and new language that persuades and motivates.


  17. Peter, both sides did lack substance but in the same proportion. Since this post on Faithful Citizenship and the failure of the document to persuade Catholics to vote pro-life, I will limit my comments accordingly.

    McCain did not promise to make lifting all legal barriers to abortion his number one priority. Obama did.

    McCain did not promise to appoint pro-abortion judges. Obama did.

    McCain did not promise to revoke rules against using our tax money to pay for abortions in developing nations. Obama did.

    McCain was a weak candidate. Obama had better handlers and shiner props. But there's nothing new about him. He's an old school liberal Chicago-machine Democrat.

    "Change!" To what?
    "Yes We Can" Do what?

    Pay for the abortions of poor women in foreign countries? That's his FIRST priority?

    Fr. Philip, OP