Sunday, May 24, 2009

Are you that liar?

What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

So ends Hopkins’ poem “The Candle Indoors.” It has me thinking what it is that makes a man like Douglas W. Kmiec write such drivel as that which appears in his book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barak Obama. In my previous post I listed some of the problems that exist in Kmiec’s arguments, not the least of which was the claim that the Republican Faith Partisans (insert ominous organ music here) aim to throw teenagers, priests, cabbage-patch dolls, and M. Night Shyamalan (what was “The Happening”…seriously?) into jail. This is why the RFP’s want to overturn Roe: to throw people in JAIL! (thunder claps echo and rattle over a desolate, dark plane)

In chapter two of the book, Kmiec continues with his word games and twisting, only at one point he actually comes very close to out and out lying. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kmiec wants to make the argument that it is at least silly if not bordering on heresy for the RFP’s (shriek!) to suggest that the Church would ever tell someone how to vote. He writes on page 39, “The American Bishops properly remind us that the Church corporate never tells parishioners for whom to vote by name. Nor do they proclaim that one issue overrides all others in the proper discernment of the Catholic voter.” Hmmmm, “never”? “rightly”?

So let’s get this straight, Kmiec would say that if the bishops were to find themselves in a country where a single population was being rounded up for mass murder – this is just a hypothetical mind you – where this population was forced to wear a patch or something…umm…let’s just say…umm…a yellow star, and if there were two major candidates one of whom advocated for, wanted to increase funding to, and pledged to continue the process of deportation and the other one didn’t…well Kmiec says that the bishops would be right in refusing to condemn voting for this pro-deport-Jews-so-as-to-kill-them candidate. He says they would never proclaim that the issue of mass deportation of an entire ethnic population for the purpose of extinction outweighs… wait…“overrides all others in the proper discernment of the Catholic voter.” They just don’t do this.

To this, my question runs this way: If the bishops would rightly never proclaim that the issue of organized, government-sanctioned and funded mass murder overrides all others, then what in blazes are the bishops good for? What ought to bishops say in such a case? But I am getting far afield.

Professor Kmiec then invites us to read a 2006 statement by the Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops of which Cardinal George is the president. Kmiec quotes it on page 39 and following:
Thus as Catholic citizens, we inform and form our consciences as citizens in accordance with the principles of Catholic social teaching. The first and most essential principle of our social teaching is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death. Respect for human dignity is the basis for the fundamental right to life. This is a non-negotiable principle that is supported by our beliefs but is logically independent of our faith. Many non-Catholics think a society dedicated to the common good should protect its weakest members. Other principles include the call to community and participation, the centrality of the family, the dignity of work and rights of workers, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity,and the commitment to stewardship of the environment.

Catholics should always vote for that person most committed to being a public servant dedicated to the common good. This being said, it should be noted that any candidate who supports a public policy where part of humanity (such as the pre-born, the elderly, the handicapped, or the sick) is excluded from the protection of law and treated as if they were non-persons is gravely deficient in his or her view of the requirements of a just society.

To this Kmiec then provides a gymnastical reimagining of the words of the Illinois Bishops and Cardinal George. He writes, “Fourth, it defines as a ‘suspect’ or ‘deficient’ candidates who disrespect life by excluding the most vulnerable from society, which might well mean the destruction of the unborn, but equally tragically, the marginalization of the poor, the handicapped, or the elderly.”

Why “equally tragically?” Is there a legal ruling on the books that makes it a Constitutional right to make people poor, a word that does not appear in the bishop’s text by the by? Or is this talk about the “protection of the law” meant to refer to those who are liable to being legally murdered in this country, i.e. the pre-born through abortion, the very old and demented, or the very ill through euthanasia? What is Kmiec getting at anyway?

Well the fog starts to clear in the next paragraph or two when Kmiec addresses what is generally considered to be a devastating argument against pro-choice adults. He quotes Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. On page 41 we read Fr. Pavone’s argument as it is presented by Kmiec, “Suppose a candidate came forward and said, ‘I support terrorism.’ Would you say, ‘I disagree with you on terrorism, but what’s your health care plan?’ Of course not. Similarly, those who would permit the destruction of innocent life by abortion disqualify themselves from consideration.” In answer to this Kmiec brandishes this piercingly ridiculous commentary:
“With respect, Father Pavone’s statement, while memorable for its clever wit is also regrettable for its oversimplification of Catholic belief and its sweeping moral condemnation of the beliefs of other religions.”
Huh? How exactly did Fr. Pavone insult other religions by pointing out the Catholic position? Kmiec enlightens us,
In a free society made up of different religious beliefs, including religiousbeliefs that differ substantially on when life begins, it should not be easy to deny someone permission to believe differently than ourselves. More on this point of religious freedom in Part Two, but even accepting the Catholic view to be exclusionary of all others, Father Pavone’s summary of what counts as Catholicism is obviously far less full and comprehensive than that of Francis Cardinal George. The Bishops in their collective and separate statements have
sought to counter the misguidance that voting in a given way can be assessed as sin. For example, in “Voting for the Common Good,” the idea that one voter can judge whether another’s vote is a sin is rejected, “Any attempt to scare others into voting for or against a candidate violates Catholic teaching on conscience,prudence, and human freedom,” it says.
Wow…where to begin. All of a sudden the standard for assessing Fr. Pavone’s argument is not to actually address the point, the conclusion of the argument. Rather, it is dismissed as all too witty and downright offensive to non-Catholics. It is ecumenically obtuse because Fr. Pavone presumes to enforce the Catholic viewpoint on when life begins on the rest of society. Hmmm. What if Fr. Pavone had said, “The first and most essential principle of Catholic social teaching is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death”? Isn’t this statement the principle upon which Fr. Pavones is arguing? Fact is, Professor, the Illinois bishops argue for the imposition of this “first and most essential principle” about when life begins. Somehow they are nuanced but Fr. Pavone is a kook? This is a double standard, if ever there was one.

And anyway, how is that Fr. Pavone is denying “someone permission to believe differently than ourselves”? I’m quite sure that Professor Kmiec would have studied this little factoid in law school, perhaps he might have even taught it, but the truth is that everyone is free to believe whatever they want. It is when their beliefs result in the dismembering of their neighbor that folks like Fr. Pavone and I get antsy. But anyway, the good Professor will explain this later in the section on religious freedom. You’ll just love it. Until then, we must mire through this quicksand of inanity, for it only gets worse.

Kmiec wrote that many bishops in their “collective and separate statements” have condemned the notion that a vote can be determined to be sinful. In the very next sentence he then writes, “FOR EXAMPLE, in ‘Voting for the Common Good’ etc.”

Now follow this closely. “Voting for the Common Good” is an example of what? Answer: of a “collective or separate” statement by the bishops, presumably. That is the obvious implication here as the words “for example” follow the claim about the bishops’ statements.

The problem is that “Voting for the Common Good” is not even remotely a statement by the bishops or of even one bishop or a bishop’s aid or a bishop’s conference committee. It wasn’t looked over by the bishops, or given an imprimatur, or a nihil obstat, or a “looks good to me.” It carries not the slightest whiff of approval from any one or all the bishops. “Voting for the Common Good” is a document put out by various Democratic PAC organizations in the efforts to undermine the influence of the pro-life movement on the Catholic electorate which has voted Republican more than it has voted Democratic in the past several elections.

The endnote which Kmiec has in the text directs one to the following: 16. Catholics in Alliance, Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics, available at

Who is Catholics in Alliance? Their full name is Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They were founded in 2005 by various Democratic individuals some of whom had worked for the Clinton administration. The list of their Board of Trustees is also available online, and it can be plainly seen by the list of names that they are not a bi-partisan alliance.

But all of this is not the point. Kmiec lies to us when he says that the “Voting for the Common Good” is an example of a statement of the bishops. It is no such thing. Indeed, what is so shame-making about this little slip of Kmiec’s is the fact that the Voting for the Common Good document is called Platform for the Common Good. In its tightly packed eight pages it does not once, not once call for the end of legalized abortion. It does not even mention embryonic stem cell research or euthanasia or the sanctity of marriage. None of these things are part of this “Voting for the Common Good” because all of these things are issues which divide the Platform of the Democratic Party from the teachings of the Catholic Church.

To my mind, Kmiec ought to answer for what is nothing other than a lie…and he should apologize to Fr. Pavone…and he should probably stop using the term RFPs. Otherwise he could turn into that liar, who, cast by conscience out, loses the grace of God and becomes like salt that has lost its taste. I know I have a bad taste in my mouth from reading this stuff.

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