Monday, May 30, 2016

How Hard Did You Look?

One common complaint about the teaching authority of the Church today is that she does not teach clearly. This complaint pops up a lot when a person railing against a Church teaching or press conference by the Pope gets refuted. In other words, the person assumes that any misunderstanding about Church teaching must be the fault of the Church. Translated: “I don’t make mistakes. So if I misinterpreted it, someone else must be to blame!"

But when I witness people who blame the Church for their misunderstanding, the question that pops into my mind is How hard did you look for the true interpretation? Now the ability to interpret Church teaching may vary from person to person. Each of us have different levels of education and training after all. Some may be able to research for themselves. Others may not even know where to begin and need help from a reliable source to understand. But how many are even looking?

The fact that people automatically assume that the Pope and bishops in communion with him are seeking to change Church teaching shows that not only are they not looking for truth misrepresented in news reports, they do not even know the foundations the Catholic theology needed to properly assess what the Church teaches—both now and in the past. Since we believe that the Church can only bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18) because Our Lord gave the Apostles and their successors that authority, and that Our Lord equated rejecting the authority of the Church with rejecting Him (Luke 10:16), it follows that when the magisterium intends to teach—even if the teaching is not ex cathedra—we must give our assent to that teaching[†]. Since it is absurd to think God would expect us to obey error and deny truth, it logically follows that Our Lord protects His Church from teaching error in matters that would force us to sin against God if we obeyed.

So, when we read a report that the Church is reversing a long held teaching to allow what she formerly condemned as sinful, Catholics searching for the truth should know this claim is untrue. From this, we can search out what the Pope, bishop or synod said and in what context. The belief that Pope Francis intends to change Church teaching on moral obligation shows both an ignorance about what Pope Francis says and what his predecessors said. 

For example, many take offense at Pope Francis condemning evils in Capitalism and call him a Marxist. But if we look at what Popes said about moral obligation in social justice, we see that from Pope Leo XIII to the present have consistently opposed the same economic injustice Pope Francis opposes. To call him a Marxist means calling his predecessors the same thing.

What we have is the same situation Socrates spoke about. People often do not know the truth, and they do not know they are ignorant about the truth. Instead, they think their assumptions and preferences are truth, and attack whatever challenges those assumptions and preferences as error. So long as they do not constantly investigate whether their assumptions are true, they will never escape error.

When we are ignorant about something and we could have learned the truth if we bothered to look, we have vincible ignorance—that is to say, ignorance we can avoid and are responsible for if we do wrong through our ignorance. If we rely on the secular news and decide that the Church is in error while we are not, then we reach our interpretations through vincible ignorance and the error is our fault.

Yes, some people say “Pope Francis should have expressed himself more clearly” to excuse themselves. But people have misinterpreted Church teaching throughout history. How many anti-Catholics still believe we “worship” statues? How many of them think we believe in “works-based” salvation where we have to earn it? We do not believe these things but you will always find someone taking the Bible or a Church document out of context to justify a false accusation.

The fact is, the Church cannot express herself in such a way where nobody can misinterpret or misrepresent what she said. We use words in different contexts than Church documents intends and then assume the Church uses the word in the same context we do. That’s our fault. We rely on what others claim the Church said and don’t consider whether their claims are in context or even factually correct. 

I’d like to end this article with two truths that always helped me when people try to attack my faith in the Church:

  1. Just because we don’t know the answer to a problem does not mean the Church has no answer
  2. When we’re tempted to think the Church is teaching error, we must investigate whether we have misunderstood
If we remember these things, we are less likely to fall into error when the Church says something we find confusing.

___________________________

[†] Pope John XXII (commonly cited as proof that “heretic Popes”can exist) offered a personal opinion on a topic not yet defined at the time and never intended to teach it as Church belief. Yes, we’ve had bad popes, but that badness was moral, not doctrinal.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Catholics and Political Debate

Introduction

The probable candidates for the 2016 presidential elections are dismal enough that many Catholics are deeply divided over what choice best fits the Church teaching on voting. Some are certain that Donald Trump is the only reasonable choice. Others are certain they must oppose him. I’m not going to rehash those arguments here. (See my January 18 article on what we have to consider with each choice). Nor am I going to give support to one side or the other in these arguments.

But I do think some proponents of each group are using bad arguments—usually in good faith—that show a misunderstanding of the Catholic obligation. I’d like to examine these arguments in the hope of exposing what we should be looking for in the search for the best course of action in a series of bad choices. Please keep in mind that this article is not about debunking one side of the debate. Rather it is about things I think get overlooked as Catholics grow more intense about the election.

The Importance of Respecting a Properly Formed Conscience

First, we must remember the primary role of conscience in a situation where there is more than one licit response to a bad situation. To put it into a syllogism:

  • We cannot do evil so good may come of it
  • Violating our properly formed conscience is doing evil
  • Therefore we cannot violate our properly formed conscience so good may come of it

From this, we can see that any debate between Catholics on how to vote must be aware of the conscience of the person one tries to persuade. If the person has misunderstood the teaching of the Church and has a conscience not properly formed, we can enlighten him on that error. But we cannot bully or accuse the other of being a bad Catholic simply because his conscience does not let him make the same decision you do. So, arguments made in this debate must recognize and respect conscience.

Defending Life is Key

Properly formed is a key term. We need to keep in mind is that the Church affirms that the right to life is the primary right, and we cannot sacrifice this to advance other topics. We can only justify a vote for an openly pro-abortion candidate if there is a more serious danger present. We can’t tally up a number of lesser points and say that the total outweighs abortion. We also can’t say that an openly pro-abortion candidate is “more pro-life” because of stands on other concerns (as some Catholics claimed in 2008). St. John Paul II made that clear:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we can’t use arguments sacrificing the fight against abortion. That means conservatives hoping for a better candidate in 2020 and liberals thinking other social justice concerns outweigh abortion are both arguing wrongly. That doesn’t mean other issues are unimportant. We must challenge the candidates to address these other problems. But we cannot sacrifice the opposition to abortion in doing so.

As a first step: since the dispute is over the sincerity of one candidate’s claimed conversion on abortion, I believe we need to investigate here. But that means being open to evidence, even if it means we have to reevaluate what we hold. We need to seek and shape our opinions on what is true and apply Christian moral teaching to that truth. That’s simply part of living the Christian life.

Confusing Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils with Choosing to do Evil

This one is popular on Social Media. While phrased in varying ways, it goes like this: I’m not going to choose the lesser of two evils because it’s still choosing evil. That claim shows ignorance about what the lesser of two evils means and some go so far as accusing a person, who says they’re voting for the lesser evil, of violating Church teaching. That has to stop.

Catholic teaching recognizes choosing the lesser evil as discerning which choice will cause less harm when there are no good choices and one of those choices will happen even if one does not choose. At the same time, the Church forbids us from choosing an evil act even if it means less personal harm. That’s why we have to choose martyrdom over apostasy done in order to save our life. But at the same time, we’re not obliged to actively seek martyrdom. If evil will come regardless, we can strive to lessen the impact. St. John Paul II made this clear:

[73] In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

 

 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

This is an example of seeking to limit evil when we cannot stop it outright. Many people view the 2016 election as another case of limiting evil when we cannot stop it. So long as the person has properly formed their conscience by the teaching of the Catholic Church and has not chosen to do something they believe to be evil, we cannot condemn them for ‘choosing evil.'

Personal Interpretation is not the same as Truth

I think the problem in these cases involves people confusing their personal interpretations about events with the facts of these events. Facts tell us happened. Interpretation tells us the meaning of these facts. But if we make a mistake in interpreting facts, we can reach false conclusions—even in good faith. To avoid this, we must constantly examine what we assume to see if it is true and compatible with our Catholic faith. If it turns out to be false, we must abandon it. Christianity neither condones useful lies nor vincible ignorance.

In this election many assume they have reached the only valid choice and, if they find another person who reaches a different decision, they assume either blindness to reality or bad will. But sometimes two Catholics can obey the Church and yet find two different ways on how to best apply that teaching. 

Conclusion: Charity in Debate

When these two Catholics meet, they can have strong feelings that their own view is the best way to do things. That  is not wrong behavior, so long as they are open to constantly seeking whether their political views are compatible with Church teaching. They can debate which of their views better fits Church teaching, but that debate must be charitable. Assuming that the other must be wrong in this case because he disagrees—especially if that assumption involves accusations of being a bad Catholic—is acting without charity.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seriously, People? Reflections on Playing the Hypocrite

So, the other day, Fr. Rosica spoke about Catholic presence on the internet and how sometimes they turn “the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!” He’s mostly speaking of conservative Catholic bloggers as well as those who target his group, Salt + Light, so some might be cynical about the objectivity of the article. I’m not here to quibble about the group or its alleged political leanings. What I am here to write about is the rather bizarre sight of seeing on Facebook some Catholics share that post with approval and the next day turn around and savage people they dislike.

Seriously, people?

Now of course Catholics have to stand up for what is right, and sometimes this means taking a stand. We can't be silent and allow evil to triumph. But, we also have an obligation to practice charity towards our neighbor in doing so and we have an obligation to remove the beam from our eye before removing the splinter from our neighbor’s (see Matthew 7:3-5). In other words, if we support something when we apply it to our neighbors, but are blind to how it applies to ourselves, we’re hypocrites—and people will see our hypocrisy. The thing is, when they see our hypocrisy in living the Christian life, they won’t listen to what we say about the importance of them living the Christian life. If we don’t practice it, why should they?

That doesn’t mean false charges of hypocrisy like those people who cite Matthew 7:1 and claim we’re judging them by saying “X is wrong.” I mean real charges of hypocrisy like accusing someone of savaging the Pope and responding by savaging that person. If savaging is wrong for the modernist or the radical traditionalist, it’s wrong for us to savage them, even if we must rebuke them.

For example, we might take pride in never being disrespectful to a bishop. That is good. But do we show contempt for a politician or a fellow blogger instead? That is not good. We can oppose Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump when they do wrong. But if we openly treat them as enemies to vanquish, and not as fellow sinners to love, why should non-Christians believe us when we say we don’t hate people who have same sex attraction or have an abortion? How we treat the people we oppose will make a more immediate impact than the eloquent arguments we make defending the faith. Remember the words of St. John: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God.” (1 John 4:20)

It’s hard. While I won’t dredge them up for this article (they involve real people who might not appreciate having their names or situations splattered across the internet), I have behaved in a way where my behavior in dealing with people I morally opposed had a greater impact than the words I wrote. I still take part in Facebook mocking of people who do things I find morally wrong and the defensiveness they probably feel alienates them from changing. We might win the battle of words but we don’t win the soul of the one we talk with.

Unfortunately, some people hear this and think it is a call to “sugarcoat” the truth so we don’t offend people. That’s not the case at all. Sometimes people will get offended regardless of what we say or do (see John 15:18-25). We can’t help that. But we can help it they’re offended by our unjust way of speaking. So let’s not think our presentation is a part of the Christian teaching. Yes, we do have to say “X is wrong.” Yes, we do need to stress the importance of avoiding X to save our soul. No, we can't say “You’re an evil bastard who deserves to go to hell because you do X."

I think this is especially important when people hate us and curse us for speaking the truth. Jesus said we had to bless those who curse us, not respond in kind. The modern social media has a bad tendency to turn vile. We’re called bigots and homophobes and transphobes (last week, I didn’t even know that one was a word—and suspect it wasn't) because we refuse to abandon our beliefs that some actions are morally wrong. But if they are going to accuse us of these things, then let us be innocent of the charges. And if we’re going to speak against the gross disrespect of the Pope by a blogger, let us not treat said blogger with gross disrespect in our response.

It may not change what they think of us. But at least we’ll then be innocent of the accusation of hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:19-20).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trapping Oneself by Clinging to False Ideas

But on the day before I was to be shipped home my favorite nun, Sister Patrice, pulled a chair up to my bed. 

“Andy, I have a story to tell you. Do you know how natives catch monkeys out in the forest?”

My face lit up at the thought of a monkey story.

“No. Tell me.”

“Well, you see, the natives know that a monkey will never let go of something he wants even if it means losing his freedom. So here’s what they do. They take a coconut and make a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey’s paw to slip through. Then they drop a pebble into the hole and wait in the bushes with a net. “Sooner or later a curious old fellow will come along. He’ll pick up that coconut shell and rattle it. He’ll peer inside. And then at last he’ll slip his paw into the hole and feel around until he gets hold of that pebble. But when he tries to bring it out, he finds that he cannot get the paw through the hole without letting go. And, Andy, that monkey will never let go of what he thinks is a prize. It’s the easiest thing in the world to catch a fellow who acts like that.”

Sister Patrice got up and put the chair back by the table. She paused for a moment and looked me straight in the eye.

“Are you holding on to something, Andrew? Something that’s keeping you from your freedom?”

And then she was gone.

Andrew, Brother; John Sherrill; Elizabeth Sherrill (2001-10-01). God's Smuggler (pp. 34-35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

A common trend lately, whether in debates on politics or moral concerns, are people who are so convinced they are right, that questioning their premises is “proof" of either bad will, by supporting what they define as the opposite position, or ignorance on a subject because you’re “too deluded” to see the truth. The only way to disprove these charges of your being a foe is accepting what they claim as true. They won’t accept the concept that they’re in the wrong.

This seems to be the case with the reaction to Pope Francis. Certain people believe he intends to overturn Church teaching in favor of a more liberal-friendly version. Some of them want it. Others dread it. Either way, they cling to this belief that they’ll find vindication for rejecting authority, refusing to consider the possibility they had it wrong all along. If it happened once or twice, we could understand this kind of mistake. But when it happens every time, and every time it turns out the Pope has no intention of changing Church teaching, then we know the problem is not with the Pope. 

Rather than accept that fact, they make all sorts of other explanations justifying their misinterpretations. Defenders of the Pope “explain away” his words. The Pope “speaks unclearly.” “Ambiguous documents” mean people will be able to do what they want. These arguments all depend on them proving their clung-to belief is true, but instead, they insist we just accept their claim as proven. They might even go so far as demanding to be disproven and, after refusing to consider your challenges, claim that nobody could refute them.

But, they’re not the last man standing. They simply refused to show up for the bout.

Another example is slander/libel against Christians for rejecting the ideology of gender and sexuality sweeping America today. People cling to the belief that opposition to morally bad actions is a hatred of people who do those actions. It doesn’t matter how reasoned the argument. They simply will not hear any refutation to the “moral opposition = bigotry” claim. The only way to avoid the charge of bigotry is to agree with them. But they will not prove the allegation that they have to prove—that moral opposition is bigotry.

In both the case of the charges against Pope Francis and the accusation that our opposition to arbitrarily changing morality is bigotry are a case of clinging to a belief that they can’t let go without admitting they were wrong. So they offer elaborate arguments why they’re in the right and their opponents must be malicious or deluded. Then, refusing to consider whether they might be wrong, they construct elaborate views of things that ignore inconvenient facts and treat those who disagree as enemies. In refusing to let go of this idea, they’re trapped into holding increasingly obvious falsehoods that prevents them from finding the truth.

I believe that the common denominator between my examples and other examples in the world is this: The false idea we cling to is “I cannot be wrong!” Until we realize we can err about something, we trap ourselves like the monkey in the story and will wind up captured by error. It’s only when each individual asks the question “Am I wrong?” that we can begin determining the truth and follow it.

In saying this, I say each of us must start by looking at ourselves. Not at others holding beliefs we dislike. If we skip that first step, if we assume we can’t be wrong, then we cling to the pebble like the monkey until we cannot escape. Perhaps we should start by looking at that area where we think “everybody else is an idiot!” Are we factually wrong about the issue? Are we wrong about the mindset of the people we think are idiots? Are we wrong about what they really think?

If we find we are wrong in one of those areas, then we need to let go of the error and seek the truth.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Socrates, Pope Francis, and Politicians

“I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” (Apologia 21d)

 

 Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

So, today we saw another misrepresentation of Pope Francis. He spoke about investigating the role of the ancient position of deaconesses and clarifying what role they might play in the Church today. This suddenly became “Pope to investigate ordaining female deacons.” This resulted in both the radical traditionalist looking for “proof” that the Pope is a heretic, and the misguided Catholic who thinks the Church can ordain women jumping to the inaccurate opinion that the Pope justified their views. Once again we had people commit eisegesis, letting their preconceptions interfere with an accurate understanding. Debunking this was pretty easy compared to other incidents.

But after finishing this debunking, I had a thought. We’re quick in investigating false claims when it challenges what we find important. But we seem willing to take the same sources at their word if it supports our friend or harms our foe. This is more noticeable in an election year. We want our candidate to get elected and whatever harms the opponents of the candidate is good enough. So we end up sharing links which achieve this on social media without considering their accuracy.

The problem is, as Christians, we’re not supposed to do this. We’re supposed to speak the truth and live it. This obligation holds firm regardless of whether we talk about the Pope or about controversial politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Paul Ryan (to pick out four controversial names this election cycle from the headlines). We have to avoid rash judgment and calumny in what we say or what we repost. The Catechism tells us:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594–595.

Before a person makes a negative interpretation about the character of someone, he has the obligation to discover (to the best of their ability) whether the charge is true or whether it comes from a partisan interpretation of the facts. If it is the latter, we need to ask ourselves if this interpretation is the only one possible or if there are other justified interpretations that do not prove the moral badness of the target. In other words, we need to make sure we are not playing the hypocrite. If we object to people misrepresenting or defaming what we hold important, we must not do the same thing when it comes to people we dislike.

For that matter, if someone we like actually does wrong, we can’t pretend that it doesn’t matter and kick it under the rug either. So, for example, if we denounce corruption in one candidate, we cannot be silent if a candidate we like is also corrupt.

Discerning the right thing to do can be a fine line to walk. But it is about not letting our prejudices lead us to act unjustly through action or omission. If someone does wrong, we can’t condone it. But we do have to make sure it is wrongdoing and not disagreement over the best way to do things or a misunderstanding over what happened. 

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m the wise Socrates from the quote in the beginning of this article and everyone else is the person who thinks he knows and does not. I had to catch myself in the act of doing this before realizing I was playing a double standard. I noticed that I just took the word of the mainstream media when it came to public figures I disliked and investigated it when it involved people I approved of. But when I looked more closely at what the articles alleged, I saw other reasonable interpretations than moral badness. Because of this, I had to ask myself, “What sort of witness am I leaving to support my promotion of Catholic moral teaching."

I didn’t like the answer I gave myself.

Since, as Christians, we’re called to be the light of the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13-16), we have to consider what sort of beacon we give to the world compared to the beacon we’re supposed to give. That means we have to do what is right, speaking the truth, even when we think the person involved seems entirely wrong.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Catholic America: Civil War

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes.  (Ps 50:20–21).

My policy on this blog and the attached Facebook page is I won’t write articles promoting my personal political preferences. I have this policy because I don’t want people to think I am portraying my personal preferences as official Church Teaching. Sure, maybe I’ll get careless and someone will deduce my political positions from the evidence I let slip by. But the point is, I believe that a blog aimed at promoting the Catholic perspective should not pervert that perspective with personal political preferences.  Other Catholics who blog may have a different focus, and will advocate their political positions. That’s their call, and I won’t say they do wrong, so long as they make clear that these are opinions, not Church teaching.

But there is a civil war going on between two factions of Catholics I find on the internet. One favors voting for Donald Trump as the least evil choice for 2016. The other believes one can only justify a third party vote. (See HERE for my pre-primary evaluation of the pitfalls of major party vs. third party). Both groups agree that the Democrats running for office openly embrace intrinsic evil and they cannot support such a candidate. But where they disagree is over whether Trump is equally as bad.

These two groups are battling on Facebook, forums and blogs, accusing each other of bad will, even to the point of denying the other is “really” Catholic. That is harmful and usurps the teaching authority of the Church. I say harmful because both groups are seeking the best way to be Catholic. I say “usurps” because such people make a declaration which the Church has not made. The end result is turning Catholics against each other when they should instead be uncovering the truths we must consider to make a good Catholic decision. When you see one faction accusing pro-life organizations “selling their souls to Trump” on one hand and another faction accuse people who can’t support Trump in good conscience as “really being pro-Hillary,” you know Catholic factions have replaced being "co-workers in the truth” (3 John 1:8) with savaging each other.  

I believe before these factions continue to bash each other, we should consider something Archbishop Chaput wrote in 2008 when Catholics were making their decisions on that election:

Finally, here’s the third question. What if Catholics face an election where both major candidates are “pro-choice”? What should they do then? Here’s the answer: They should remember that the “perfect” can easily become the enemy of the “good.”

The fact that no ideal or even normally acceptable candidate exists in an election does not absolve us from taking part in it. As Catholic citizens, we need to work for the greatest good. The purpose of cultivating a life of prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a love for the church is to grow as a Christian disciple— to become the kind of Catholic adult who can properly exercise conscience and good sense in exactly such circumstances. There isn’t one “right” answer here. Committed Catholics can make very different but equally valid choices: to vote for the major candidate who most closely fits the moral ideal, to vote for an acceptable third-party candidate who is unlikely to win, or to not vote at all. All of these choices can be legitimate. This is a matter for personal decision, not church policy.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 230-231). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Between now and November, Catholics will be trying to decide what is the best choice they can make. In doing so, we need to remember that the Church clearly teaches that we cannot sacrifice a graver issue for a lesser one. As St. John Paul II wrote:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

If two Catholics with this proper understanding of Catholic teaching, in good faith discern two different decisions on the best way to apply Catholic teaching on voting, one cannot say the other is doing evil in such a case. Each Catholic might be sincere in thinking their way is the best way, but there is a point where we have no perfect choice and we have to make a decision which is one of several possible in being faithful to Church teaching. When that happens, we have no right to question the other’s fidelity.

Let us keep this in mind for the coming months that our actions and our reasoning may be just and charitable, avoiding treating each others as heretics over political opinions.