Monday, August 11, 2008

What's the matter with Kansas Bishops?

KC Star columnist Mike Hendricks has an interesting post on Prime Buzz today. He expresses a view about the Catholic Church held by many non-Catholics and not a few Catholics as well.

The subject is a 2006 statement by the Catholic bishops of Kansas on a Catholic’s obligation to vote and to vote with an informed conscience.

The first misunderstanding is Hendricks’ headline, “Kansas bishops say a vote for pro-choice Dems is a vote for ‘evil’”. The implication of the headline and the post is that Catholic bishops are contriving reasons for Catholics to vote Republican (or at least against Democrats). The bishops are rather warning against voting for candidates who support abortion on demand and other intrinsic evils. They have not said anything about candidates of particular political parties. Hendricks has imposed “Dems” into their argument, but the bishops’ warning applies equally to Republican candidates.

There are plenty of Republican candidates who support intrinsically evil acts, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York Governor George Pataki, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There are many more. If the list of Democrats is even longer, that is a problem with the vetting process of the Democratic Party, not a prejudice inherent in the bishops’ teaching.

Truth be told, it is a personally distasteful duty for most bishops and priests to speak out on a Catholic’s duty regarding voting and intrinsically evil acts, precisely because most of them are by culture, rearing and continuing disposition, Democrats. A cursory look at any state bishops’ conference’s priorities shows that they support Democratic sponsored bills by a very wide margin over Republican bills and oppose Republican bills much more than Democratic. Where I come from (San Francisco) and in many big cities, the priesthood is equal to being Irish which is equal to being congenitally Democrat. And yet these men speak out for life and other non-negotiable moral positions even when they are regrettably at odds with their natural party preference.

Hendricks’ second problem is to belittle the Kansas bishops for distinguishing between “intrinsically evil” acts and acts which may or may not be evil depending upon circumstances. This he regards as “hair splitting”.

I submit that Hendricks likely believes in the same sort of “hair splitting.” His disagreement is one of political implications and not against the virtue of good moral reasoning.

Murder, I’m sure Hendricks, the Kansas Bishops and you and I agree is always wrong. That is the definition of an “intrinsically evil” act – one that doesn’t depend on circumstances or our intentions.

Shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre may or may not be evil. It is not always wrong to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. If you shout “fire” in a theatre because there is a fire, it is licit (although a calmer evacuation plan may be more desirable). If you shout “fire” in order to cause panic, then your act is evil. The evil in shouting “fire” depends on circumstance and prudential judgment therefore and not on the intrinsic evil of shouting fire.

If Hendricks and others decide that they disagree with the bishops as to what is and is not an “intrinsically evil act,” they ought to say so, rather than demeaning the perfectly sensible distinction between acts that are always wrong and those that depend on circumstances.