Clear Thinking on Politics & Morality

By: Paul Murano – February 2013

On the Paying Attention radio show with Tom Duggan last week (of which I am co-host), we welcomed a certain former Mayor of Methuen as a guest to reminiscence about a local personality who had recently passed away. He was said to be a man of character, loyal to his family, his party and his country.

The show went smoothly but one comment from our guest struck me as a claim that needed clarification. It was one of those popular half-truths that without context can be very misleading. In the midst of praising his late friend of many virtues our guest added that the deceased, who was a registered Democrat, was a ‘full’ Catholic because he not only was socially conservative on life and marriage issues but also cared very much for the poor and the downtrodden. It was an indirect claim that the Democratic Party is the party of Catholic values.

The Democratic Party along with the culture has shifted dramatically since the New Deal. The Roosevelt Democrat of yesteryear, like their deceased friend, was socially conservative and fiscally liberal; just the opposite of today’s trend of being more fiscally conservative and socially liberal. And yet, inexplicitly, many senior Democrats today still exhibit loyalty to a party they have little in common with.

The mayor’s comment seemed pretty innocuous on the surface, for Catholic moral teaching does in fact recognize our obligation to the poor and the needy as well as to the preborn and natural marriage. Both sets of concerns, which happen to fall into the political categories of liberal and conservative respectively, are at the heart of Catholic moral teaching, which protects the dignity of the human person and the common good. However, when bringing moral issues into the political arena three points must be examined:

1) The role of government. 2) Whether Catholics can support an intrinsic evil; and 3) The urgency of the injustice. Not all moral issues are equal and not all require governmental involvement. Let’s unpack each of these three points:

1. Every law has a moral dimension to it (the prohibition of murder, rape, stealing, slander, speeding, etc.) yet not all immoral acts should be proscribed by civil law. If something is a serious violation of justice, and it cannot be properly contained by appealing to more intimate authorities (the family, church, community, etc.) then it becomes proper for government to respond. This principle of subsidiarity is often violated, however, when governments unjustly usurp the authority that is proper to smaller segments of society. Although a social safety net is in order, it can be successfully argued those charities and social programs flourish more when government has limited or no involvement.

2. There are certain acts that by virtue of their object can never be justified, condoned or supported regardless of circumstance. Doing so, even with a vote, would mean cooperation with evil and would incur the guilt of sin. Issues like war, capital punishment and poverty are not acts that are intrinsically evil; there are rare circumstances that could possibly justify them. However, prenatal homicide (abortion), homosexual relations, euthanasia and other acts that directly attack the innocent or the family are evils that can never be supported under any circumstance by a Catholic or anyone of good will. In the case of an election when all major candidates support these evils to different degrees, it is just to vote for the one that does so the least. Other than in Massachusetts this voting dilemma is rare to find.

3. How urgent is government enforcement in order to stave off injustice? Does human dignity and the common good demand immediate intervention? When the innocent are threatened they must be protected, whether they be born or preborn; and when the foundation of society, the family, is directly attacked by things such as no-fault divorce and ‘same-sex marriage’, justice demands its protection. This is not just a matter of morality, but of justice.

The fact that half the nation’s consciences are severely malformed due to the ubiquitous influence of false post-modern philosophy is no excuse for the Catholic, who along with all people of good will have an obligation before God and their fellow man to contribute to the objective good despite how unpopular it may be.

 Are all moral issues of equal value, urgency, and deserving of governmental involvement? Absolutely not. The preservation of life and family against the onslaught of the contemporary world have primacy of place, and political liberals should stop pretending they don’t.