Will “Faithful Citizenship” Win the Catholic Vote For Obama?

Deal W. Hudson
October 28, 2008

If Obama wins on November 4 with the help of Catholic voters, the biggest factor in his favor will be the bishops’ own document and Web site, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

I never thought it likely that Catholic voters could be persuaded to support a candidate with both the most extreme record on abortion and who favors gay marriage. Yet, barring a miracle, that paradox is only a week away: The New York Times is reporting Obama 22 points ahead among Catholic voters.

As I have watched the campaign unfold, especially Obama’s outreach to Catholic voters, the USCCB document has played a decisive role. “Faithful Citizenship” provided Obama’s Catholic supporters the escape clauses needed to convince Catholics they could vote for a pro-abortion candidate in “good conscience.”

There are two major loopholes in the document. First, it states that Catholics are allowed to vote for a supporter of abortion rights so long as 1) they do not intend to support that position (34) or 2) there are offsetting “morally grave reasons” (35).

Many bishops have spoken out forcefully that the document is being abused. Bishop Robert Vasa, for example, points out that voting for a pro-abortion candidate is never justified when the opponent is pro-life. Similarly, Bishops Kevin Vann and Kevin Farrell insist there are no “‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.”

Obama’s Catholic surrogates made little note of the corrections. The cat, as they say, was out of the bag when the bishops approved “Faithful Citizenship” at their meeting in November 2007.

The presentation of “Faithful Citizenship” on the Web site of “Roman Catholics for Obama” is typical:

We hope you’ll spend time reviewing all of the material housed or linked from here. But if you read just two documents, please make them the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – which explains why “[t]here may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other grave reasons” – and Barack Obama’s Blueprint for Change, which outlines all of Senator Obama’s positions and is, we think, reflective of why he is the candidate whose views are most compatible with the Catholic outlook [emphasis added].

Visit any of the pro-Obama Catholic Web sites and you will find this message taken from “Faithful Citizenship”: Catholic voters can ignore Obama’s pro-abortion record because of mitigating factors.

At least some staff at the USCCB were aware that this was the import of “Faithful Citizenship.” At a conference at Creighton University in June, John Carr, executive director of social development and world peace for the USCCB, “stressed that the bishops’ document does not shut the door on any candidate, not even one who supports abortion rights.”

By June 2008, of course, Obama and McCain were the nominees.

What sentence did Carr then quote from “Faithful Citizenship” to back up his statement?

[Carr] pointed to a caveat in the document: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” [emphasis added].

When the bishops approved this document, did they realize how it could be used politically in upcoming elections? Further, when they approved the language quoted above – “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” – why didn’t they provide more specific guidelines? The document is so abstract that it invites just the kind of abuse it is receiving at the hands of the Obama campaign.

Is this election one of the “times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons? Many bishops have said “no,” but “Faithful Citizenship” has been being taught throughout the nation’s dioceses and parishes for many months. Stories abound of parish seminars where the pro-life concern was dismissed as “single-issue” or “divisive” and “partisan.” It got so bad in the Diocese of Scranton that Bishop Joseph Martino crashed a panel discussion in a local parish and announced, “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”

The abuse will not end with the election, regardless of the outcome. The Catholic News Service reports that “group discussions, adult education programs, diocesan conferences, DVD presentations and Sunday Mass homilies” will not stop on November 4th.

If this is true, then the bishops need to take another look at “Faithful Citizenship” at next month’s meeting. The mere fact that so many bishops have felt the need to correct misinterpretations is proof enough that it needs an overhaul.

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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