The Christian Review 2016

Voting Our Values: How to Vote Catholic

Deal W. Hudson
June 25, 2016

How to Vote Catholic

Voting Our Values

Catholics make up about 30 percent of voters in national elections. Depending on voter turnout, these 36 to 39 million Catholics have the power to make our country a better nation that is more welcoming to life, more supportive of families, and more effective in its programs to help the poor and marginalized.
In recent years, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and the U.S. bishops have called upon Catholics to renew their participation in American political life. That participation means, above all, to take the moral principles of the Catholic Faith into the voting booth.

As Benedict XVI put it May 2010, our political action should be undertaken “in a manner coherent with the teaching of the Church.” As Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote,

“A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals” (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 4).

The three foundational principles of Catholic social teaching as applied to politics, and to our voting, are the common good (CCC 1905-1912), human dignity (CCC 1700), and human rights (CCC 1930).  Catholics need to be aware of what these concepts actually mean in order to avoid being misled by those who tie those principles to actions contrary to Church teaching.

The Common Good

Catholic voters elect legislators whose job it is to make laws and policies that serve the common good. Thus, we expect our legislators to protect our basic human rights as stated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights don’t mean just anything; they are grounded in an authentic understanding of human life.

Once the right to liberty became an excuse to deny the right to life for the most innocent and vulnerable in society, politics lost its grounding in the truth about human existence. Catholics must use their political participation to reconnect politics with the Church’s teaching on the basic truth about the meaning of human life.

Human Dignity

For example, when the Church uses the phrase “human dignity,” she is always referring to the relationship that human beings have with God due to their being created in His likeness (Gen 1:26). To say that we possess an inherent dignity is a reminder that the human person is from God and destined after this earthly life to live with Him in eternity. That’s why an innocent life cannot be taken to make another life more comfortable or less complicated.

Human Rights

The notion of human rights follows from human dignity: Natural rights—the rights that precede any government or society—are the privileges or powers that we have the duty to respect so that all persons can seek genuine happiness in this world and the next. Politicians differ on whether these rights require the government to fulfill them or merely protect the rights of individuals and groups to access them. Please read closely this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

These [human] rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, the authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.”

These words could serve as a guide to Catholics in their political participation and their voting.

Catholic Voters

Hardly a day goes by when something silly is published in the media about the “Catholic vote.” There is no Catholic vote in the sense of a bloc of voters that reliably supports a specific set of policies. But there are a substantial of Catholic voters in many states who have historically demonstrated they will respond positively to a socially conservative candidate, regardless of their party identification.

Our electoral history since the 1950s shows that Catholics who attend Mass regularly vote more often and express heightened concern for issues at the core of Catholic social teaching. The more politicians begin to notice that there are millions of religiously active Catholics who vote their values, the more Catholics will have an opportunity to influence their leaders.

The true political meaning of the “Catholic vote” refers to those “swing” Catholic voters who can elect a president by their impact on key states such as Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Mexico. Therefore, I am not talking about a Catholic voting “block,” but about the 1%-5% Catholic voters in various states who can win its electoral votes for a pro-life presidential candidate.

In my years of working with Catholic voters, I am constantly confronted with some basic confusions among Catholic about the political participation.  These confusions, as I call them, both diminishes their political participation and misleads them.

Five Confusions

1. Catholics who vote should not worry about the charge of “imposing” their values on others. Catholics do not seek laws requiring citizens to attend church or observe Lenten fasts. On the contrary, Catholics seek the protection of basic human rights through legislation and policy, such as the right to life and the right to educational freedom. Laws and policies embody the values we—as a nation—agree to live by.

2. Pro-life Catholics are often criticized by Catholics as being “single-issue” voters. This is far from true. These Catholics know that the protection of the unborn is the dominant issue among all political issues. The principle underlying the rejection of abortion extends to other issues, such as bioethics, population control, euthanasia, and defense. The mandate to protect life in politics is unconditional and should be forefront in the minds of Catholics as they cast their votes. To care about life is to care about everything.

3. Catholics often fail to recognize that not all moral issues are of equal importance. As dominant-issue voters, Catholics should learn to give “life” issues their proper priority, thus preserving the hierarchy of values at the core of Church teaching—and the founding of America itself. Life issues are not prudential, they are settled in the Church teaching, meaning there is only one way to vote regarding them.

4. Catholics are often confused by Church teaching on prudential matters. The US Bishops often release opinions on prudential issues such as immigration, health care (excluding the life issues), and poverty. Catholics are obliged to affirm the general principles informing the bishop’s prudential judgment, but not the specific application of those principles to a concrete situation. How general principles are implemented in a specific policy or piece of legislation is a matter of prudential judgment. It’s crucial for Catholic voters to understand the principles so they may best consider the judgments put forward by politicians, Church officials, and other leaders.

As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, then president of the USCCB, wrote to President George W. Bush about the Iraq War, “People of good will may apply ethical principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their assessment of the facts at hand and other issues” (“Letter to President Bush on Iraq,” September 13, 2002).

5. Finally, Catholics should know there is no need to leave any part of the Faith outside of the voting booth. The much-discussed dichotomy between that part of the Catholic faith that is “personal” and that which is “public” is a fiction, a convenient cover for Catholic politicians who want to support abortion and same-sex marriage without appearing to ignore Church teaching. When Governor Mario Cuomo spoke at Notre Dame (1984) — “Religious Belief and Public Morality — in defense of this dichotomy he was effectively giving a green light to Catholic politicians to embrace abortion-on-demand.

The Scandal

As a result, there are far more pro-abortion Catholics in the United States Congress than pro-life, far more. This scandal remains to be addressed by our bishops in any direct manner. However, it is Catholic voters, not the clergy, who can remove this scandal from our nation.

This is Part 1 of an ongoing series in How To Vote Catholic.

An Hour with Dana Gioia and His Poetry — A Radio Interview

Deal W. Hudson
June 25, 2016

Here is my one-hour interview with poet, critic, essayist, Dana Gioia on “Church and Culture” on the Ave Maria Radio Network.  “Church and Culture” were heard on Saturday 2 pm to 4 pm EST from and Sunday 7.30-9.30 pm EST. Dana Gioia reads and discusses his newest book, 99 Poems: New and Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016).

Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet. Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia is a native Californian of Italian and Mexican descent.

He received a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Gioia currently serves as the Poet Laureate of California. (Gioia is pronounced JOY-uh.)

Gioia has published five full-length collections of poetry, as well as eight chapbooks. His poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. An influential critic as well, Gioia’s 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter?, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture. In 2014 he won the Aiken-Taylor Award for lifetime achievement in American poetry.

As Chairman of the NEA, Gioia succeeded in garnering enthusiastic bi-partisan support in the United States Congress for the mission of the Arts Endowment, as well as in strengthening the national consensus in favor of public funding for the arts and arts education. (Business Week Magazine referred to him as “The Man Who Saved the NEA.“)

Gioia’s creation of a series of NEA National Initiatives combined with a wider distribution of direct grants to reach previously underserved communities making the agency truly national in scope. Through programs such as Shakespeare in American Communities, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, NEA Jazz Masters, American Masterpieces, and Poetry Out Loud, the Arts Endowment has successfully reached millions of Americans in all corners

Operation Homecoming brought distinguished American authors to conduct workshops among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as their spouses) to write about their wartime experiences. The resulting anthology was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the top ten non-fiction books of 2006, and the documentary film, Operation Homecoming, became a finalist for the 2007 Academy Awards.

The NEA’s two critical studies: Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence brought enormous public attention to the importance of reading and arts participation. In addition, the NEA assumed a major role in shaping the national discussion on issues of arts and arts education.

The Big Read became the largest literary program in the history of the federal government. By the end of 2008, 400 communities had held month-long celebrations of great literature. Because of these successes as well as the continued artistic excellence of the NEA’s core grant programs, the Arts Endowment, under Chairman Gioia, reestablished itself as a preeminent federal agency and a leader in the arts and arts education.

Renominated in November 2006 for a second term and once again unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Dana Gioia is the ninth Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gioia left his position as Chairman on January 22, 2009.

2011 Gioia became the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California where he teaches each fall semester. In 2015 Gioia was appointed the State Poet Laureate of California by Governor Jerry Brown.

Gioia has been the recipient of ten honorary degrees. He has won numerous awards, including the 2010 Laetare Medal from Notre Dame. He and his wife, Mary, have two sons. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California.

A Speech on Pro-Life Politics – A Layman’s Point of View

Deal W. Hudson
June 26, 2016

On June 24, 2016, I gave this speech on Faithful Citizenship at the Ruah Woods Conference Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I followed Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life.  I shared my experiences in the Catholic outreach efforts of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, as well as subsequent efforts on behalf of pro-life politicians.  In the second half of the speech, I listed ten obstacles that the Church often places in the way of laypersons who want to participate in politics on behalf of defending life.

Archbishop Wenski Corrects a Fellow Bishop

Deal W. Hudson
June 26, 2016

From Catholic Culture: Cardinal Thomas Wenski did what bishops rarely do, very rarely.  He responded critically to the comments of Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg who said of the Orlando shootings:

Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”

Earlier, also writing at Catholic Culture, Rev. Mark Pilon, argued that Bishop Lynch should resign. But as Phil Lawler writes, “Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami was gentler in his criticism. Rather than scolding Bishop Lynch by name, he spoke of ‘a bishop who should know better.’ But the importance of the rebuke is greater– not least because Archbishop Wenski is metropolitan of the region in which the St. Petersburg diocese (which Bishop Lynch heads) is located. When one bishop makes an outrageous public statement, his brother bishops have a duty to correct the record, to avert confusion among the faithful. Unfortunately, such public corrections are rare. All the more reason to thank Archbishop Wenski in this case.”

For full coverage of Bishop Wenski’s remarks click here.

Why I Cringe When Pope Francis Gets On An Airplane

Deal W. Hudson
June 27, 2016

Is it the altitude? Is it free cocktails? Is it the urging of a captive media hungry for headlines? Is it a loquacious and friendly Pope who likes to freewheel and think aloud? I just don’t know. But now we are told that Christians “have to apologize for so many things, not just for this (treatment of gay people), but we must ask for forgiveness. Not just apologize – forgiveness.”

I have no trouble apologizing for my misdeeds, even if they are corporate in nature, meaning if they are directed towards a group of some kind.  As a young man, I had to come to terms, and repent of, the racism I was raised with. I’m very grateful to the University of Texas student who taught me that lesson early in my freshman year.  After the initial hurt feelings, my reaction was, “Well, of course, he’s right!”

Towards gays and lesbians, I’ve never felt any prejudice.  Many of my close friends know this, and there’s no need to say any more than that.  So I am assuming that Pope Francis must not be talking about the prejudice of that kind, say, parallel to racism, because to say that all Christians need to apologize for casts a much wider net.

My interpretation of the Pope’s remarks is this: Pope Francis thinks that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, it’s “intrinsically disordered,” and homosexual activity, they’re always “sinful,” has created in the minds and hearts of Christians a prejudicial disdain toward homosexuals, lesbians, etc. In other words, Christians have not been able to love them authentically because Church teaching, as well as much non-Catholic, has labeled them and their sexuality as unnatural and morally wrong.

I simply don’t agree, and, thankfully, I don’t have to in order to be a faithful Catholic.  Why? Because I don’t buy the argument that anyone who believes another person, or group, to be sinful or fundamentally disordered, is unable to love them, care for them, befriend them, feel compassionate towards them.  That’s refuted by experience and example over and over.

I think immediately of how Cardinal John O’Connor emptied bedpans in New York City’s AIDS clinics. The creation of the Terrance Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center on Fifth Avenue that was founded as a health care center for AIDS patients. A book could be written, probably in multiple volumes, on other examples of caring for those with whom we have such disagreements about lifestyle and sexual orientation.

Pope Francis did go on to spread the net even further,

“I think that the Church not only should apologize… to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been forced to work.”

Why not apologize for all the evil in the world or all the evil that has ever been perpetrated by anybody, anywhere? Doesn’t that make apologies meaningless, and the request for forgiveness as well?  I know only one person who took on the “sins of the world,” only one man who was capable of doing anything substantial about those sins, namely, offering a way of redemption to every fallen, sinful human being.

There are reasonable ways to talk about our responsibility towards the needs of others, even around the world.  Reasonable within a Christian framework, I mean. But to begin by taking responsibility for people you’ve never met, or for feelings you’ve never had, is to affirm that our sins are the products of social structures, rather than personal choices and actions.

If I must apologize to homosexuals, lesbians, the poor, exploited women and children, then that can only be because I belong to a society whose inherent class divisions necessarily do harm to certain classes of people, and create those classes at the same time.  This is a Marxist point of view, I am sure the reader recognizes it, but it’s a viewpoint now adopted by “social justice” Catholics.

Pope Francis appears to be saying that we sin necessarily due to the place we find ourselves in a layered society, compounded by the teaching of the Church towards gays and lesbians.  Thus we must apologize en masse. This is why I cringe whenever Pope Francis gets on an airplane.

Bill Donohue Exposes Jesus Hoax of Harvard Professor

Deal W. Hudson.
June 27, 2016

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has just slapped down some theological and archeological silliness of a Harvard professor about there being a “wife” of Jesus: Read what he has to say below.

In 2012, Harvard professor Karen L. King told the world that we need to rethink Jesus’ alleged celibacy. In all likelihood, she concluded, Jesus had a wife.

Her evidence? She was in possession of a fragment of papyrus that was inscribed with the words, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife … .’” In 2014, her article on this subject, “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” was published in the esteemed Harvard Theological Review. Now she reluctantly concedes that her finding is likely a forgery.

She really didn’t have much choice. The July/August edition of the Atlantic magazine offers an investigative account on the owner of the papyrus, Walter Fritz: The man is a fraud, and so is his “evidence.”

Right from the get-go, there were several notable observers who smelled a rat. Among those not fooled was the Vatican. Right after King floated her story about Jesus’ wife, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, labeled her tiny swath of papyrus an “inept forgery.” The newspaper’s editor, Gian Maria Vian, dismissed it as “a fake.”

When King went public in 2012 about her finding, she was cock-sure that she was right. Jesus’ reference to “My wife,” she said, was so clear that those words “can mean nothing else.” She also boasted that “this is the first unequivocal statement we have that claims Jesus had a wife.” When asked if ink tests may yet prove her papyrus scrap a fraud, she replied that more likely the tests “will be the cherry on the cake.”

As it turns out, there is no cake, never mind a cherry. What we have is a mess—one that she created. King showed her arrogance again when she asserted that her little fragment rose to the level of an “unequivocal statement.” If it were “unequivocal,” she wouldn’t be walking back her remarkable claims.

Moreover, her conclusion that the words “My wife” are not open to interpretation is rather curious coming from an academic: higher education these days denies the existence of truth, subjecting the plain words of a text to constant deconstruction. So why, all of a sudden, should her account be considered definitive?

King is not the only one to eat crow about her Jesus’ wife story. Roger Bagnall teaches at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. In 2012, after looking at the images of the papyrus with his colleagues, he said, “we were unanimous in believing, yes, this was OK.” He was confident it was not a forgery. “You’d have to be really kind of perversely skilled to produce something like this as a fake.”

Bagnall was duped. So was Princeton’s AnneMarie Luijendijk, a professor of religion (King served on her doctoral dissertation committee). She dug herself in deep when she exclaimed, “It would be impossible to forge.” Does she now believe in miracles?

Gnostic gospel scholar Elaine Pagels, who had previously collaborated with King on a book, told Ariel Sabar, the author of the Atlantic article, that “she had little doubt about the authenticity of the papyrus King had studied.” But how would she know? This is the same Princeton professor of religion who does not believe in the Virgin Mary, the Resurrection, and other central tenets of Christianity, but expects us to put our faith in her opinion.

When King’s “ground-breaking” story surfaced, I was more than skeptical—I was cynical. Admittedly, my New York University doctorate in sociology yields no expertise in this area. But there were sufficient grounds, right from the start, to be dismissive.

Here is what I wrote on September 19, 2012, the day the story broke in the New York Times: “We know nothing about when the scrap [of papyrus] was discovered. We know nothing about where it was discovered. We know nothing about how it was discovered. We know nothing about the context in which the words were written. And we know nothing about the owner.”

These were not the only reasons I had to be suspicious. On the same day, after doing some quick research on King, I wrote the following: “King is known for her fertile imagination. For example, she previously claimed that Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles. Even better, in the book in which she made this extraordinary claim, she ‘rejects his [Jesus’] suffering and death as the path to eternal life.’ Not much after that.”

I concluded, “So after first inventing an apostle for Jesus—who the divinity professor says is not the Savior—King has invented a wife for him. Her generosity, if not her scholarship, is beyond dispute.”

One does not have to hold a Ph.D. in any discipline to wonder why the media, and some academics, were popping the champagne. It is not hard to figure out why: they were ideologically predisposed to (a) believing King’s account and (b) rejecting the biblical one. This is not a matter of conjecture.

As soon as King’s fable was announced, she exposed her agenda. Her work, she said, casts doubt “on the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’ celibacy. They always say, ‘This is the tradition, this is the tradition.’ Now we see that this alternative tradition has been silenced.”

This is nonsense. No one was silenced, and she knows it. Why didn’t she name names? Who was silenced? Who did the silencing? Where is the evidence?

To read the remainder go here.

Originally published at

The Major Confusion of Catholic Voters – When a Catholic Can Differ With the Bishops

Deal W. Hudson
July 5, 2016

Catholic voters remain deeply confused about when they are morally obligated to vote as their Bishop or Pope teaches, and when they don’t. The reason is simple: Catholic voters are unaware of the distinction between the handful of issues that are “settled” or “non-negotiable,” and those that are not, meaning “prudential judgments.”

Most political issues are prudential, meaning the individual person applies a general principle to a specific situation. Issues of immigration, war, taxation, climate change, minimum wage, education, foreign policy, and internet policy are all prudential. Whereas, the settled matters, meaning settled in Church teaching, are five in number: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and marriage because they are intrinsic evils that can never be voted for or supported in any way by Catholics.

Unlike the defense of unborn life, prudential judgments are rarely black and white. Most political judgments, like the act of voting itself, require prudence, the rational application of the principle to practice. People of good will can come to different conclusions based on the same principle.

An example would be the principle taught by the Catechism of the Catholic Church about health: “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (CCC 2288). One person might argue that this principle is best met by single payer, universal coverage, while another could argue the health care system operates best when it is subject to market demand and, thus, competition for services. Catholics are obliged to think from this principle to a conclusion. But the amount of information and expertise required to properly apply this principle is staggering, which is why we must depend on guidance from the Bishops and other informed sources.

Arguments can be made, in fact, that’s what politics is, to the superiority of one conclusion over another. But no single prudential judgment is morally binding on Catholic, even if it is made by a bishop, the bishops, or the Holy Father himself. The prudential judgment made by Bishops collectively, or any single Bishop, are neither settled or non-negotiable — all Catholics bear the responsibility of making prudential judgments for themselves.  The judgments made by our bishops and the Holy Father, especially his encyclicals, offer information and guidance, rather than directives.

The Bishops’ Conference

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops represents a merging in 2001 of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), which were created in 1966. Since then, the bishops have released more than 100 pastoral letters and statements that take positions on dozens of public policy matters ranging from handguns, racial prejudice, climate change, healthcare, immigration, U.S. relations with Panama, treatment of the aging, farm laborers, and war in the Middle East.

These statements are intended to educate Catholics on pressing issues of law and policy. For many Catholics confusion has been created by this official commentary of the Bishops on such a wide range of issues: Few Catholics make the distinction between binding statements of principle and the non-binding prudential judgments by the USCCB on policy issues and its support of specific pieces of legislation before Congress.

The bishops themselves recognize the potential for confusion and have addressed it directly, for example, in their pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All”:  “We do not claim to make these prudential judgments with the same kind of authority that marks our declarations of principle” (xii). Instead, the letters are attempts to apply Catholic principles to concrete situations. But the authority of bishops, as they make clear, in matters of faith and morals does not extend to their prudential judgments in other matters.”

An eloquent example of the Bishops on the settled issue of abortion is the 1998 “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,” published two years after President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban passed the Congress in spite of resistance from Catholic Democrats.

Prudential Judgment

Sound prudential judgment is a habit of mind that reasonably applies general principles to specific historical situations. “The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue, we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid” (CCC 1806).
Catholic’s profit from the education in social teaching offered by the bishops and the Holy Father through their various documents, including pastoral letters and papal encyclicals. We can learn from the bishops’ and popes’ examples of how to think prudentially and how to gather the expertise and data necessary to put principle into practice.

But the habit of prudence belongs to each individual and not to a groupPrudence is not prudence when it is handed down like a rule to be followed. Individual prudential judgment follows from principles and cannot be commanded or dictated by the Church.

The U.S. bishops have clearly stated, “Decisions about candidates and choices about public policies require a clear commitment to moral principles, careful discernment and prudential judgments based on the values of our faith” (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility”).

As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, a former president of the USCCB, wrote about the Iraq War, “People of good will may apply ethical principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their assessment of the facts at hand and other issues” (“Letter to President Bush on Iraq,” September 13, 2002).

For those Catholics who may cringe at the idea of disagreeing with a Bishop, here they are telling you, “It’s OK, you must think and decide for yourselves on these matters.”

What’s important to recognize, first of all, is the commitment to the principle at the core of policy recommendation. What must be considered is how effective a policy will be in implementing the principle that underlies it. Catholic principles apply to all political issues but, in many cases, do not lead prudentially to only one acceptable or “official” Catholic position. However, abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage are matters of principle that do not admit prudential judgments, and therefore can never be supported. While the bishops’ teachings on faith and morals are binding, their prudential judgments on policy and legislation guide us but do not bind us.