Nicholas P. CAFARDI, ed.
Voting and Holiness: Catholic Perspectives on Political Participation.
New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press 2012. Pp. 265. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4767-0.
Ann S.F. SWANER, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161
This very interesting, engaging, and helpful book addresses the question of what the Catholic tradition teaches about Catholic participation in political life as voters or officeholders. Some of the provocative questions asked and answered are: “Is the Concept of Intrinsic Evil Helpful to the Catholic Voter?” and “Can You Sin When You Vote?” and “How Would Jesus Vote?” The authors of the fifteen essays include moral and systematic theologians, lawyers and canon lawyers, a writer and communications director, a sociologist, and a political philosopher. They write from diverse vantage points and focus on different issues but all are trying to conscientiously apply the principles of Catholic social teaching to the current American political situation. In the process they demonstrate how to apply those principles to any moral issue.
Some of the principles and concepts that are clearly defined, explained, and applied throughout the essays include:
* the common good as the goal of all politics and the common good agenda;
* conscience, the relation of conscience to truth, conscience and citizenship, conscience formation, the role of religion in conscience formation, and the priority of conscience;
* prudence and the distinction between matters of moral principle and matters of moral application;
* the concept of “intrinsic evil” and its limited value in moral decision-making given that intrinsic evil does not necessarily mean “grave” evil;
* the problem of cooperation with evil, the distinction between illicit formal cooperation and licit material cooperation, and the application of this distinction to voting and to legislating;
* global justice and the preferential option for the poor;
* the search for common ground; the consistent ethic of life; subsidiarity; natural law; original sin; Catholicity; levels of definitiveness in church teaching;
* the four sources of moral theology: revelation, tradition, social sciences, and experiential wisdom.
There is much astute analysis and critique of the current state of our divisive politics and culture wars and the role of the bishops in them. William V. D’Antonio provides a fascinating historical account of the participation of the bishops in American presidential politics from Jimmy Carter’s campaign to Barack Obama’s. Bryan Massingale takes one tactic employed by some bishops – comparing the fight against slavery and the fight against abortion – and demonstrates why it is historically, morally, and politically inadequate. Stephen Schneck uses Archbishop Chaput’s criticism of President Kennedy’s Houston speech on the relationship of his Catholicism to his presidency as a starting point for an illuminating discussion of the disagreements about the relationship of church and state since the revolutionary era and the ups and downs of religious participation throughout American history. He describes four competing positions at the time of the founders: American millennialism, civil religionism, religious separationism, and secular deism; the real debate was between civil religionism and religious separationism while millennialism and secular deism were minority arguments. But today he says the outliers seem to be moving nearer to the center of the debate. Anthony Pogorelc describes the collaborative, consultative process that the bishops used to write the economic pastoral in the 1980’s and suggests that this might provide a better model for the bishops than the confrontational methods they have been using of late. Terrence Tilley’s essay also argues that an approach favoring engagement and communication would serve the bishops better than confrontation and partisanship.
Each chapter has notes and one, Gerard Magill’s, includes a bibliography and list of relevant Church documents. At the end of each chapter are eight to twelve questions; these are not simply review/summary questions but are substantive, provocative reflection/discussion questions.
All the essays are clearly and carefully written. The book would be useful as a course text. Although it is focused on politics I think it could be a used for a general introduction to Catholic social teaching or Christian ethics. It draws on the breadth and depth of the resources of Catholic social teaching and illustrates how to apply them in a particular arena; students could then try to apply them in another area, say bioethics or sexual ethics. The book, or chapters from it, would also be very helpful for campus or parish discussion groups in the upcoming election season. It would be helpful and accessible for anyone who wants to understand better the principles of Catholic social teaching and their recent applications in American politics. It offers resources for moving beyond the current polarization. It would be great if the bishops read it and discussed it at their next meeting.
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