Our guest blogger is Jack Jenkins, a Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.
In the lead-up to tonight’s Vice-Presidential debate, the conservative Family Research Council’s political arm, FRC Action, has released a “2012 Catholic Vice Presidential Voter Guide” that brazenly — and unfairly — compares how Vice-Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan fare on “Catholic issues.”
In an attempt to influence the so-called “Catholic Vote,” the guide tries to place Biden and Ryan — both of whom are Catholic — on opposite sides of the theological fence by comparing their support for public policies that are labeled as either “Intrinsic Evils” for Catholics or ones that require “Prudential Judgement.” According to the guide, policies that qualify as “Intrinsic Evils” include same-sex marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, and military torture, whereas policies that require “Prudential Judgement” (i.e., issues about which Catholics might disagree) include giving to charity, the death penalty, Child Tax Credits, and immigration issues. Unsurprisingly, the guide makes the case for Paul Ryan as the more “Catholic” Vice Presidential candidate.
Setting aside the fact that Paul Ryan has already been in trouble with the Catholic hierarchy this year — or that he has long sung the praises of Ayn Rand, an author whose books have been decried by scores of Catholic scholars and theologians as incompatible with Catholic social teaching — the guide is misleading for Catholics on multiple levels. For example, while FRC Action claims in a supporting letter that their categories of “Intrinsic Evil” and “Prudential Judgement” are based on far-reaching Catholic Church teaching, the authors only cite two documents — a pamphlet on “Faithful Citizenship” produced annually by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and a joint letter issued by two Kansas Bishops in 2008 — as the primary source for their definitions. Despite being issued by Catholic officials, these documents are known to be especially controversial within Catholic circles, with several scholars and theologians frequently calling the poorly-defined categories into question.
And given the Catholic Church’s longstanding commitment to providing for the poor, the guide is shockingly silent about one issue in particular: Economic policy. What’s more, while the aforementioned USCCB “Faithful Citizenship” document does refer to abortion and same-sex marriage as “intrinsic evils,” it also paints a far more complex image of the Catholic faith and urges congregants to advocate for several issues that have a lot more in common with the Obama-Biden administration than a Romney-Ryan agenda:
“The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors—basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work—is universally binding on our consciences and may be faithful citizenship … Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.”
The FRC seems to have missed this, but American Catholic leaders haven’t. Catholic bishops and nuns, for instance, continue to decry cuts to assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps that Ryan wrote into the proposed House GOP budget earlier this year. In addition, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made it clear in a blog post last month that caring for the poor is not only a primary concern for Catholics, it’s also necessary for the faithful to urge their government to play a large role when it comes to providing for “the least of these.”
And American Catholics voters get it, too. Polls conducted amongst likely Catholic voters — including one released today — repeatedly show that Catholics place jobs, public education, and health care at the top of their issue agenda, and actually give a low priority to abortion and gay marriage. In fact, most Catholics, like Joe Biden, support same-sex marriage.
Groups like FRC Action might want to influence the voting habits of Catholics through one-sided, uncomplicated, and hyper-politicized theology, but American Catholics watching tonight’s debate will likely be guided by something else: their faith.