The politics of Catholic principle

By Tom Quiner

Paul Ryan is a heartless bastard.

That’s the message you’re hearing from the media, Nuns on the Bus, and a whole bunch of “social justice” Catholics regarding his budget.

The gripe: his budget rolls back some poverty programs to Clinton-era levels.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, WI

The Bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, Robert C. Morlino, responded in a thoughtful letter to members of his diocese to clarify misinformation about Catholic principle. Congressman Ryan worships in the Diocese of Madison. Bishop Morlino makes it clear that the role of bishops and Catholic clergy is to promote Catholic principal:

“It is the role of bishops and priests to teach principles of our faith, such that those who seek elected offices, if they are Catholics, are to form their consciences according to these principles about particular policy issues.”

The Bishop suggests that some issues are more important than others:

“However, the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.”

The issues are so monumental, suggests Bishop Morlino, that there is never, ever, any fudge room:

“Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.”

The president and his party promote abortion. They now promote same-sex marriage. They promote government-coerced secularism in the guise of the HHS Mandate. They are hard at work at transforming our capitalistic economic system into a European-style “social democracy,” the result of which has been the precipitous decline in religious belief in Europe.

Bishop Morlino suggests Catholics shouldn’t vote for politicians who promote intrinsically evil positions:

“A Catholic conscience can never take exception to the prohibition of actions which are intrinsically evil. Nor may a conscience well-formed by reason or the Catholic faith ever choose to vote for someone who clearly, consistently, persistently promotes that which is intrinsically evil.”

Barack Obama and his party are promoting policies that are intrinsically evil according to Catholic principle. The counter-argument is that the “heartless” Ryan budget justifies a vote for the Party of Unfettered Human Abortion.

Bishop Morlino suggests otherwise:

“However, a conscience well-formed according to reason or the Catholic faith, must also make choices where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor is probably the finest current example of this, though another would be how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from the ravages of unemployment. In matters such as these, where intrinsic evil is not involved, the rational principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play.”

The principle of subsidiarity, interestingly, is an idea Republicans embrace. The bishop, who is not making any sort of partisan statement in  his remarks on this page, explains what subsidiarity means:

“The principle of solidarity, simply stated, means that every human being on the face of the earth is my brother and my sister, my “neighbor” in the biblical sense. At the same time, the time-tested best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity. That means the problem at hand should be addressed at the lowest level possible — that is, the level closest to the people in need. That again, is simply the law of human reason.”

From a political standpoint, Democrats prefer big-government solutions at the Federal level. Republicans don’t. But here’s the point: honorable Catholics can disagree on what is the best way to address poverty concerns as suggested by the bishop:

“As one looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.”

So, who should be formulating the political strategies to craft policy that honors Catholic principle? Catholic laity, not the clergy, according to Bishop Morlino:

“Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles — that is, “lay mission” for Catholics.”

The essence of Catholicism involves the application of Catholic principle in the public square. That’s why Obama’s HHS Mandate is so odious to the faithful. It prevents us from living out deeply-rooted principle in our daily lives.

So is Paul Ryan truly the bastard being portrayed by social justice Catholics? Not according to Congressman Ryan’s own bishop who should know:

“Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)”

Can the same be said about VP Joe Biden, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Senator Tom Harkin or so many other Catholics in the Democratic Party? Sadly, no. Rather, they vigorously oppose Church principle in the public square.

Bishop Morlino encourages the faithful to rally around timeless Catholic principle this election cycle:

“Above all, let us beg the Lord that divisions in our electorate will not be deepened so as to have a negative impact on pre-existing divisions within the Church during this electoral season. Let there be the peace and reconciliation that flow from charity on the part of all. Thank you for reading this. God Bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!”

Amen. Thanks for clarifying the debate, Bishop Morlino.


  1. onetenthblog on August 17, 2012 at 7:52 am

    I think the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate is quite exciting. Paul Ryan captured the GOP.

    Rob Portman would have been a more predictable pick i.m.o (an able foreign policy/ Asia hand, former trade rep– someone who could in fact offer a sharper alternative to the White House’s Asia-Pac trade agenda– less polarizing perhaps) but Mr Ryan who is a well-known Tea Party darling could well galvanize the base; something that Mr Romney needs now, and few people within the conservative party could accomplish. In short, he’s a lightning rod, as much as Barack Obama was in ’08.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Christians serving in politics, ditto politicians serving the public while remaining devoted to their faiths. I think much can be accomplished when more folks in America ditch the narrative that the country can’t lead the world as a Christian community.

    “Barack Obama and his party are promoting policies that are intrinsically evil according to Catholic principle.”

    I’m not too sure about the evil part, but one thing that I should point out, that President Mr Obama enthusiastically advanced the Millennium Challenge Corporation aid program (a program championed by his conservative predecessor).

    I think it’s a cause worth promoting, and the President carrying on with this important legacy of Mr Bush is doing the world a great service. MCC is the way forward when it comes to aid to developing countries, ensuring greater transparency and corruption less culture in combating poverty abroad.

    Please read my take on Mr Ryan’s selection

    Thanks for the post and grats with your blog!

  2. rcaamo on August 17, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I had read the bishop’s fine teaching on the distinctions of issues yesterday and was more than pleased by what he said and for having stood up to say it. Each individual is personally responsible for his/her own vote and for considering the principles to make it informed and free. I hope we get a lot more of this kind of leadership from our bishops in the coming months. There are two worlds out there. One is based on power, money, fame and pleasure. The other is based on faith, hope and charity. Our vote reflects our choice.