The Archbishop and the Politicians

CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

December 5, 2003


Dear Friend,

I have a challenge for you -- see if you can tell me what all these 
quotes have in common:

*  "I'm spiritual. I'm religious. I'm a strong Christian and I'm a 
Catholic but I go to Presbyterian Church. Occasionally I go to the 
Catholic church too. I take communion. I haven't transferred my 
membership or anything. My wife and I consider ourselves -- she 
considers herself a Catholic."  --Gen. Wesley Clark, in an interview 
with Beliefnet  

*  "Under the Constitution, the public has a right to know that, in 
the end, the votes I cast are driven by my own independent judgment 
and conscience, not by a set of marching orders given by any church 
hierarchy, prelate, or associated lobby group."  --U.S. Rep. David 
Obey (D-Wis.)

*  "Certainly, the bishop has every right to express his own views 
to an elected official. But to invoke the moral authority of the 
church in a threatening way to a legislator seems to cross over a 
line that has been very carefully drawn and is very well-respected in 
this country."  --William Bablitch, former Wisconsin Supreme Court 

*  "I represent more than just Catholics. I've sworn to uphold the 
Constitution. ...It's not for people to decide whether I'm a bad 
Catholic because I'm going about my job in a consistent way; that's 
for God to decide."  --Wisconsin State Rep. Pedro Colon 

*  "I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote 
according to the dictates of the church instead of the wishes of 
their constituents because that is not consistent with our Democratic 
ideals. ...When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the 
Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of 
all faiths in my district."  -- Wisconsin State Sen. Julie Lassa 
(D-Stevens Point)

Sadly, but not surprisingly, these are all quotes from current 
legislators and leading politicians demonstrating their idea of what 
it means to be a faithful Catholic in the political arena. For them, 
it's easy -- you really don't have to do much of anything.

Gen. Clark, still hot in pursuit of the Democratic nomination for 
President, finally clarifies his real religious convictions -- 
namely, he doesn't seem to have any. I said in an e-letter about two 
months ago that his campaign told us he was a Catholic who later 
converted to the Presbyterian faith. At least that would have been 
respectable -- if you have theological differences with a particular 
religion, it only makes sense to belong to the one you truly believe 
to be right. 

Unfortunately, Clark doesn't see anything wrong with calling himself 
one thing and doing another. And that goes for the others listed, as 
well. None of them realize what should be perfectly obvious: There's 
a world of difference between calling yourself a Catholic and 
actually living that faith in your public life.

Take the other politicians on the list. These comments were all in 
response to a letter sent to three Wisconsin State politicians from 
their then-bishop, Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse. Burke pointed out 
to these individuals that their political actions were directly in 
conflict with the faith they professed -- a troubling disconnect that 
could be dangerous for their spiritual well-being.

"As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation 
to fulfill the duties of your office with regard not only to the laws 
of the state, but also with regard to the moral law," Burke wrote. In 
a later interview, he explained that if these politicians persisted 
in their anti-Catholic legislation, "I would simply have to ask them 
not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they 
would not be Catholics in good standing."

Here I have to take my hat off to Bishop Burke -- or I should say, 
Archbishop Burke. He was recently appointed to the archdiocese of St. 
Louis, something which I'm sure is great news for Catholics there. 
Burke is joining the ranks of other brave bishops, like Bishop 
Weigand in California and Bishop Carlson in South Dakota, who aren't 
afraid to stand up for the faith and confront the politicians in 
their dioceses about their anti-life lawmaking.

Bishop Burke sent private letters to these politicians, urging them 
to reconsider their positions, and included a copy of "Living the 
Gospel of Life," inviting them to read it and schedule an appointment 
with him to discuss it. It wasn't a grab for attention or a political 
move on Burke's part -- he was simply doing his pastoral duty by 
looking out for the spiritual well-being of his flock.

And those are the "marching orders" the lawmakers are bristling at. 
Their responses to the bishop's letter sound like those of every 
other dissenting Catholic politician that has gone before them. Yet 
they're completely missing the point.

For one, appeals to the Constitution and "separation of church and 
state" are ridiculous. These politicians have it exactly backwards -- 
they believe the first amendment means that religion can have no role 
in public life, when any high-school civics student could tell you it 
means that government can have no role in restricting religious 

Of course, here's where the politicians cry, but what about our 
non-Catholic constituents? Surely we can't impose "Catholic morality" 
on them. Again, this is missing the point -- right-to-life issues 
aren't strictly Catholic. They are held by Protestants, Jews, 
Muslims, atheists... people of all religious backgrounds. That's 
because this isn't an issue of religion but of human dignity and can 
be embraced by anyone, regardless of their beliefs. 

Bishop Burke isn't demanding that the seven Sacraments be legally 
recognized; he's asking that lawmakers not act contrary to their 
Faith. There's a world of difference between the two.

Look, the bottom line is this. If you can't win an election by being 
faithful to the beliefs you profess by calling yourself Catholic, you 
can't simply abandon those beliefs to win. And if you do, you 
certainly can't blame your constituents for your actions. If you're 
willing to sacrifice your beliefs to be elected, then it's pointless 
to pretend you value those beliefs at all. Your priorities lie 

My apologies if I ended the week on a down note, but I thought that 
needed to be said. The positive side is that one of our shepherds is 
standing up against these people. Our sincerest congratulations go to 
soon-to-be Archbishop Burke for his fine example of spiritual 

I hope you have a restful weekend,



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