Colleen Carroll Campbell, on National Review Online, looks at this electoral campaign season and the efforts to mobilize religious voters, specially Catholics, on both side of the partisan divide. On the Right, she places Catholic Answers and Priests for Life, who take the orthodox stance and separate prudential issues from those that are non-negotiable, and on the Left is the panoply of liberal groups whose main focus is on the Iraq War, but also the death penalty, increased government funding for welfare programs, the environment, and so on.
But, Campbell asks, what does Pope Benedict think about faith-based political activism? She notes that while Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul before him, has criticized the decision to go to war in Iraq, he doesn’t place it on the same plane as the non-negotiable moral issues.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. …While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
Campbell isn’t arguing that Pope Benedict is a right-wing political conservative, at least how Americans usually define such things—far from it in fact—but she is saying that he seems to be more in agreement with the approach of groups like Catholic Answers who don’t make demands of Catholics on purely prudential matters—we can make up our own minds on that—but who emphasize places we’re not allowed to go.
The activism trap