The USCCB’s voter guide, updated in advance of the 2020 election, was an evasive inventory of issues that, by sheer volume, effectively sidelined abortion. The manic jumble gave cover to Catholics who preferred abortion-happy Biden to Donald Trump. My essay “Politics As Spiritual Warfare”, in the November issue of Chronicles, cited a Wisconsin bishop’s slippery advice:
Doublespeak does not edify. Writing a column entitled, “How to vote according to our Catholic faith,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin repeats the USCCB’s position that “abortion surpasses all other moral issues,” though he adds a caveat. Abortion “clearly is not the only issue we face,” Hying writes. Many other issues are significant, including striving “for greater justice in our society and for an end to violence, to racism and racial divisions.” While noting that he personally won’t vote for a candidate who supports the continued legalization of abortion, other Catholics “may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.”
In sum, abortion surpasses all other issues except when our bishops would rather it did not.
Catholics protective of their sophistical shepherds wrote to complain. Chronicles editors asked me to respond to this:
To the Editor,
Maureen Mullarkey misrepresents the comments of the Roman Catholic bishop of Madison, Wisconsin in “Politics as Spiritual Warfare” in the November 2020 number of Chronicles.
Her quotations are totally accurate but they are grossly out of context and do not convey what the bishop actually says in his 23 Sep 20 article in the Madison Catholic Herald. I invite Chronicles readers to visit Madison Catholic Herald to read the bishop’s article and compare it to Mullarkey’s interpretation to see who is actually guilty of doublespeak.
Defaming good men by manipulating facts to support a pre-conceived idea is a tactic leftist writers perfected long ago, so I am grievously disappointed to see a Chronicles writer employ that tactic. In fact, I now doubt the accuracy of everything Mullarkey has to say, as much as I want to agree with her.
I’m also wondering how many other articles in Chronicles play fast and loose with the facts. If basic honesty and a sense of fair play cannot be found in the pages of Chronicles then the soul of the culture is already lost.
South Milwaukee, WI
• • • • •
The March issue of Chronicles prints the aggrieved complaint and my response. Exchanges are often useful. This one provided column space for more detailed discussion of the USCCB voter guide and its moral confusion. Herewith:
Mike McCarrier concedes my quotation from Bishop Hying’s September statement is accurate but denies my description of it as doublespeak. If he better understood the larger context to which he refers, he might agree that Hying’s tutelage was equivocal. The left wing tactic Mr. McCarrier deplores was used by his own bishop.
Bishops are obligated to provide clarity on moral issues. But Hying evaded clarity. Candidate Biden’s ambition to reverse existing limitations on abortion was in full view. Equally visible were his blessings on same-sex marriage and gender theory, including transgender “rights” for minors. Yet Hying was mute on Biden’s broad dismissal of natural law.
After intoning a litany against abortion as “an intrinsic evil,” Hying washed his hands of further pastoral responsibility. He sidled away from unambiguous warning against a de-Christianizing platform contemptuous of Church teaching. He retreated to magisterial cant (“anthropology of the human person”) and piety too gelatinous to support a firm moral commitment:
Jesus Christ is our Savior. His teachings and the moral truth of the Church guide us in all aspects of our lives, including how we vote. The Church cannot and will not endorse a particular candidate or party. . . . No individual or party can ever represent the totality of our values and beliefs.
Hying’s non-partisan hedge chimes with recommended USCCB guidelines. The passage he quoted from the episcopal directive offers go-ahead to Biden voters:
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible . . . .
That dodge is on a drip-line from Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s “consistent ethic of life” coined in 1983. The cardinal insisted that being pro-life is not only about abortion. It includes attention to all factors affecting material well-being: war, poverty, education, health care, and on. Pro-life is a “seamless garment.” Single threads cannot be pulled.
The seamless garment meme lessened abortion’s dominant status among expanding social concerns. It penetrated hierarchical reasoning. It also became a pro-choice maneuver to blur the indecency of abortion with a dusting of legitimacy. (Think reproductive health.)
Revised in 2019, the USCCB voter guide cites Bernadin’s “consistent ethic of life.” Accordingly, it is a 53-page smorgasbord of humanitarian agendas competing with abortion. It is piled with secularist enthusiasms circulating around that darling of Liberation Theology: a “preferential option for the poor.” Here is migration, health care, sustainable agriculture, food security, affordable housing, climate change, renewable energy, workers’ rights, support for United Nations programs, universal access to the Internet, plus “global solidarity.”
Voters should choose candidates who will—somehow—eliminate underdevelopment and global poverty, solve regional conflicts, and “humanize globalism.” Voters must abjure discrimination, consumerism and the death penalty. That matter of killing the unborn eddies around in a stream frothing with ideologized clutter:
86. Care for Creation is a moral issue. Protecting the land, water, and air we share is a religious duty of stewardship and reflects our responsibility to born and unborn children, who are most vulnerable to environmental assault.
. . . We know that a third of all food is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if were stolen from the table of the poor”
Hying’s pre-election communiqué fluttered the seamless garment from which one evil cannot be isolated from the sum of all others. The schmatte makes it impractical to decide where Church truth applies with greatest certainty. Instead, it permits political ideology to bend a makeshift morality to the temper of the day.