Sed Contra: Making Our Own Decisions

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2003

Just over a month ago, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger issued a remarkable statement on Catholics and politics. Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life clarified once again the problems of duplicity that emanate from a U.S. Congress where almost half of all Catholic senators and representatives are pro-abortion. Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement, personally approved by Pope John Paul II, was predictably treated with disdain by a media long accustomed to applauding pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Democratic presidential hopeful, and “Catholic,” Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) went to the trouble of saying he would ignore the Vatican.

There was, however, another aspect to the document that passed by without comment and is very germane to the situation in Iraq. Since President George W. Bush announced his intention to invade Iraq if Saddam Hussein didn’t keep his decade-old UN promise to disarm, there has been a veritable avalanche of criticism from bishops in the United States, around the world, and in the Vatican. With the exception of the Holy Father himself, the criticism has been pointed and specific. An Iraq war, we’re told, would not meet the criteria of a just war according to Catholic social teaching. The pope confined himself to general statements on the obligation of avoiding war, turning to it only as a last resort, and avoiding short- or long-term harm to noncombatants. But other notable bishops, archbishops, and cardinals have spoken in such a way that Catholics would be led to believe that they must agree with them or be considered disobedient.

A case in point is the steady stream of emails I receive asking me when I’m going to defend the Holy Father’s “position” on Iraq the way I’m defending his position on abortion. The two positions are equivalent only if the question is about the application of the principle, not the contingent or prudential conclusions that may follow. The difference between a conclusion drawn from the principles of just-war theory and the sanctity of life is simple: Some wars are just, whereas no innocent life should be killed. Cardinal Ratzinger’s doctrinal note makes this distinction clear: The “Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions.”

I’m afraid that the level of official comment has done precisely what Cardinal Ratzinger said should not be done: Church leaders are using their political power and media access on a contingent question. This leads Catholics to the conclusion that they don’t need to consider this issue individually, that they must simply adopt the conclusions of certain U.S. bishops or Vatican officials.

The Vatican officials making these comments might claim that they were not meant as expressions of policy. But bishops with titles like “prefect” and “secretary of state” really don’t have private personas that allow the Catholics reading their remarks in the press to know they’re speaking without official authority. Not all bishops agree: What about the U.S. bishops who voted against the bishops’ conference resolution condemning the proposed war against Iraq?

One of the most serious consequences of official criticism is the undermining of our elected leadership. The Catechism of Catholic Church, in the section on just war, says very clearly that “the evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy [of war] belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good.”

Trusting political leadership in a time of war is decisive; most of us have lived through a period in America’s history when the moral authority of the presidency was lost. Those demons need not be loosed once again. It’s the prudential judgment of our president and his advisers (whose job it is to fight terrorism) that war, in this case, is just. And there are those of us—myself included—who believe the president is right in seeing the Iraqi threat as “lasting, grave, and certain.” As we have already seen in the case of Afghanistan, this administration can wage war in a manner that protects civilians. Certainly, the prospect of an Iraq after an invasion could be no worse than what we see there now: a secular dictator with Stalinesque aspirations in a nuclear age.

I hope our leadership will continue to guide our thinking according to the principles of Catholic social teaching but allow us to support our president if that’s the decision we make.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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