Can you imagine if a General Authority said this:

ARCHBISHOP BURKE: If a Catholic knowingly and deliberately votes for a person who is in favor of the most grievous violations of the natural moral law, then he has formally cooperated in a grave evil and must confess his serious sin. Since President Obama clearly announced, during the election campaign, his anti-life and anti-family agenda, a Catholic who knew his agenda regarding, for example, procured abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage, could not have voted for him with a clear conscience.

That quotation was taken from this interview here.

As a non-Catholic, I have a few questions.

1)Does this kind of political commentary by archbishops make Catholics feel uncomfortable?  Even though I agree with the archbishop’s take on these issues, frankly I would feel uncomfortable if LDS Church leaders  were making statements like this.

2)Why do Catholic church leaders emphasize abortion, SSM and embryonic stem cell research and not, for example, support for the death penalty and support for the Iraq war, both of which the Catholic church opposes?  I am sure there’s a good reason for this, it’s just an honest question to which I don’t know the answer.

3)Will the Catholic church begin excommunicating pro-abortion politicians?

It is worth pointing out that during the 1930s President Grant openly encouraged Latter-day Saints to vote against Franklin Roosevelt, the kind of statement prophets and apostles have not seen fit to make lately.  (Consider, for example, how moderate and nonpolitical former Birch Society member Ezra Taft Benson turned after becoming Prophet).  It’s been a very interesting change.

(To answer at least one of my own questions, I would like to point out that I lived in Latin American for many years and knew hundreds of Catholics.   The general feeling they had was that they ignored political advice from their church leaders.  This is something we did also during the 1930s, consistently voting for FDR despite Pres. Grant’s admonitions).

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Can you imagine if a General Authority said this:

  1. Geoff, perhaps you could pick a topic that is a bit more controversial and a little less tame and dare I say…safe? 😉

    I will have to get my father-in-law’s opinion on this. This would have made for a good topic of discussion on Sunday. We discussed the priest in Sand Diego (I think it was there, or some other California city) where a popular priest has been discovered to have carried on a relationship with a woman for two years despite vows of celibacy.

    Anyhow, as to your third question, I doubt the Catholic church would start excommunicating politicians who support abortion. Some bishops have denied communion, but I doubt that the Vatican would allow bishops to excommunicate a politician for this. Just my $0.02.

  2. Geoff,
    I once heard Governor Cuomo speak and, in the question period, somebody asked him (in a relatively aggressive manner) how he could be Catholic and have been a pro-choice politician. He responded graciously, and referenced some remarks
    he’d given at Notre Dame addressing the compatibility of religious belief and political views.

    Whether or not one agrees with Gov. Cuomo’s political philosophy (and I have to confess that, having been a child in Southern California for the bulk of the time he was in elective office, I didn’t pay any attention to what his views would have been), I think the speech has a lot that we, as members, should think through. Whether or not we come to the same conclusions, it demonstrates to me a man who took both his faith and his civic duties seriously, and worked hard to be good in both. At the very least, he personally worked through these issues.

    Tangentially, the impression I get (from his speech and other quarters) is that the Archbishop is way outside the mainstream in Catholicism. Not for his views on abortion, but for his assertion that pro-life politicians, and the Catholics who vote for them, should be somehow punished (whether it be denied communion or excommunicated).

    As an aside, the impression

  3. Sorry, apparently it was too long. The end should have read:

    As an aside, the impression I have is that, in advocating the discipline of Catholics to vote against pro-life candidtates (or at least their duty to do so), the Archibishop falls outside of the mainstream of Catholic thought. But I am also not Catholic, so I don’t know for certain.

  4. Sam B, it may interest you to know that Mario Cuomo was the commencement speaker at Stanford in 1985, when I graduated. He spent a lot of time addressing the issue of how being a religious Catholic was compatible with expanding welfare benefits to the poor, so clearly religious issues are important to him. I found him a very inspiring speaker and enjoyed his speech (of course, I was a typical college liberal back in those days).

    But thanks for linking this talk, which I think it extremely relevant to this discussion.

  5. “Why do Catholic church leaders emphasize abortion, SSM and embryonic stem cell research and not, for example, support for the death penalty and support for the Iraq war, both of which the Catholic church opposes?”

    This objection is raised from time to time and my understanding of the Catholic response is that abortion always results in the loss of innocent life. The death penalty and war can at times be justified within their theology but abortion never can.

    So always wrong is worse than usually wrong.

    (But you should probably ask a Catholic instead of a Catholic-friendly Mormon).

  6. I understand Roman Catholic bishops have a lot of discretion in their jurisdictions, and do not need to agree with each other (and in fact they do not agree with each other). In such a case, it is difficult to know what the “official” church position is on a matter. Maybe that is why it is easier for a Catholic to ignore such statements of bishops than it is for a Latter-day Saint to ignore the correlated statements of general authorities.

  7. Church leaders can’t cross the line of advocating that members vote for or against certain candidates, as that would jeopardize the church’s non-profit status.

    Also note that Burke was speaking the past tense. Such remarks prior to the election would likely have been in violation of FEC or IRS rules about 501-c3’s campaigning for/against _candidates_.

    I don’t think Ezra Taft Benson changed his views when he became prophet, but he well understood the legal ramifications of his utterances while prophet.

  8. Geoff, that is interesting.

    Bookslinger, Church leaders most certainly can advocate for or against a candidate, just like the Archbishop did, without jeopardizing the Church’s tax-exempt status. The prophet could run the campaign for any candidate (and, in fact, could be the candidate). In, that is, his capacity as a citizen of the United States. He could not, in his capacity as Prophet and as an official voice of the Church, tell us who to vote for without risking the tax-exempt status of the Church. It’s a tricky line, and one that is often in dispute, but General Authorities’ (and Catholic leaders’) ability to participate in the democratic system isn’t limited by the tax code. (Understandably, though, given the absolute veneration that some people hold for or against their every word, there appears to be an interal policy discouraging them in general from publicly participating in the electoral system.)

  9. None of the Catholics I know have any idea the Archbishop said this, and probably won’t ever know. Maybe my friends aren’t a good representation of Catholics in the U.S., but they usually don’t have a clue what the higher authority in the church is talking about unless it’s the Pope. They aren’t going through every remark with a fine comb like we do with a press release or Conference talk.

    And none of them seem to have a hard stance on any of the political issues like abortion or gay marriage.

  10. Sam, you’re right, they are entitled to personal opinions and actions. But it would be very difficult, or impossible for them to express those opinions in any church-related context, or in any context when speaking to the media, without crossing that line and appearing that they are speaking in their church capacity. No matter what disclaimers he added in, I can’t see Pres Monson expressing personal political opinions, other than what are already identified as church/gospel values, to members of the media, or through any official church channels.

    On the other hand, in the past, Ezra Taft Benson’s outspoken remarks on communism probably helped in him getting the cabinet position under Eisenhower. But back then, anti-communism was politically-correct.

  11. Geoff,

    Most Catholics (if I remember correctly) lean Democratic, and therefore most Catholic politicians also lean Democratic. I’ve never heard of a single pro-choice politician who has actually been excommunicated from the Catholic Church over his political position. It’s all fluff and bluff.

  12. I can’t see a current GA saying it, but I wouldn’t be shocked if something similar came out of the mouth of some of our earlier GA’s – quite a few of them, actually.

  13. I attended a Jesuit University* where I learned that priests, archbishops, and popes are not theologians. There is a long history of statements from all these officials that do not reflect Church position — even if they claim that they do. Often, they do not understand their own position in the Church from a theological perspective.

    So this isn’t much different than some random LDS bishop making some statement to a local paper and insisting that it reflects Church position. Sadly, most Catholics are poorly educated – theologically speaking. Like many Mormons, they mistake the repetition of simple lessons for real understanding.

    * Jesuits are an order within the Catholic Church. They emphasize service — with education being an important aspect of service.

  14. On a side note Geoff, some fact checking is in order here. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe ETB was ever a Birch Society member, certainly involved and sympathetic, but not a member. I believe you’re confusing ETB with his Bircher son?

    I’ll add ETB’s difficult transition from politics back to the traditional duties of an LDS apostle were after 8 years of public service in the Eisenhower administration, and is very understandable in that context. IMHO, that transition was complete long before he became church Pres.

    That said, ETB, intentionally or not, was a subtle radical as church Pres. By encouraging serious BofM studies, he caused a strong and steady ebb away from the anti-grace emphasis that dominated the LDS from BY until a generation ago, a trend that continues to this very day.

  15. Steve EM, you’re probably right — ETB may not have been a member but did endorse the JB Society and certainly shared many of its views. People who would like to judge the former apostle need to remember that times were different than and fear of Communism was a much bigger issue then than it is now.

  16. I don’t think it is fair to say that LDS were ever “anti-grace”. We were (and are) “anti-saved-by-grace-alone”, and because of that the term was avoided for a while, which was unfortunate.

  17. Here is one of my favorite ETB quotations, btw:

    “The price of peace is righteousness. Men and nations may loudly proclaim, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there shall be no peace until individuals nurture in their souls those principles of personal purity, integrity, and character which foster the development of peace. Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way.”

    –Ezra Taft Benson ,Quoted By Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Peace”, Ensign, March 2004

  18. In the Catholic Church, there are certain things which can be disputed and certain things that cannot be disputed.

    Same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and the abortion of pregnancies are three such issues that the Magisterium has decided on authoritatively and decisively. Many traditional and conservative Catholics will go so far as to use these issues as a litmus test of a person’s Catholicity and would hold that Catholics who disagree with the Magisterium’s promulgations on these issues are not proper Catholics (and may even be in sin).

    On the other hand, while the Vatican (note terminology) has opined on war, the death penalty, and other such issues, Catholics are free to agree or disagree.

    Traditional and conservative Catholics believe one may not refute the Magisterium, they can agree or disagree with the Vatican.

    I used to listen to a Catholic radio station, and this issue would be asked every now and then: “Why do you focus so much on abortion but not the War in Iraq or the death penalty?” The above is how they explained it.

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