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CHESTNUT HILL — Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., spoke of the need for Catholics to be unified when it comes to political and social matters at Boston College March 3. His lecture, entitled “The Call to Serve in a Divided Society,” was the inaugural address of the Canisius Lecture series, sponsored by the Jesuit Institute.
“It is evident that we are living in a divided society today,” said Cardinal McCarrick. “This is not just true for America, but globally as well … They exist not only between great societal forces, but within them as well — rich and poor, developed and under-developed, liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and secular.”
Many of the divisions in society draw from the area of politics, with liberals and conservatives moving even further from each other in terms of ideology. In November 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued “A Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life,” which stated that “A well formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”
Cardinal McCarrick stated that the nomination of Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic, as the Democrat candidate for president brought the issues raised in the document to the forefront of the American bishops’ minds.
“As American bishops faced the cloudy political situation of the beginning of the new millennium in our country, many of us began to see the hardening of positions and the lack of bridges crossing from one side to the other in conversation, in dialogue and even more deeply in trust and friendship,” said Cardinal McCarrick.
“The division which has arisen strikes at the heart of Catholic thought because it strikes at the question of life itself,” he continued. “Before the Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court of the United States 32 years ago, disputes were based more on policy than on principle, but now questions about life itself have very properly become fundamental. Sadly, however, they have very often increased the decibel level of our conversations.”
Catholics believe in the sacredness of human life, he said, and during the past election year Catholics were faced with the challenge of advancing the protection of the sanctity of life and persuading others to do the same.
Cardinal McCarrick was asked to chair the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians which would explore the issue.
The question of whether Catholic politicians who support abortion should be allowed to receive Communion crept into the discussion, which Cardinal McCarrick said, shifted the focus of the task force.
“The denial of Holy Communion became the focal point of the discussion, not the defense of human life and the dignity of the human person,” he said.
This issue, he said, brought the work of the task force into the limelight and created a division between those who believed that denying Communion was improper and those who believed that not to deny the Eucharist to these politicians was “less than Catholic.”
“Neither of these positions is true or acceptable,” Cardinal McCarrick stated. “The bishops in their statement made it clear that you could not be accused of being less than Catholic if you did not deny Communion, nor should you be accused of being lacking of pastoral judgment if you did.”
The bishops decided to leave the decision of whether to deny the Eucharist to politicians out of step with the teachings of the Church to the bishops of individual dioceses.
Last June, the bishops also produced the document “Faithful Citizenship,” to help Catholics make informed political decisions. Cardinal McCarrick explained that it is not enough for a Catholic to be pro-life and solely support pro-life causes, Catholics must further the protection of all life — the elderly, the poor, the sick.
In the future, the task force will consider how best to implement the guideline that the Catholic community and Catholic institutions not honor individuals who are in “public disagreement” with the teachings of the Church, he said.
The cardinal said he was encouraged by the results of the presidential election because they showed that many people want the government to support moral issues.
“Maybe we are entering a new stage when people who believe in those fundamental principles on which our society was based will learn how to articulate them better and to insist that those in public office do the same,” he said. “What we need to pray and work for is not a change in words, but in policies that bring support to human life and to the dignity of the human person.”
“Where do we go from here?” the cardinal asked rhetorically. “The road is a road of dialogue. It is a road that will have to walked, not alone, but with our Catholic men and women in public life, trying to help them understand the gravity of certain actions which some have taken and the possibility of walking along a different road,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “Before we allow anything to divide our Church, let us learn a lesson from the constant practices of the Holy Father. No one teaches more clearly than he, but no one is more open to dialogue or more above partisan politics.”
The Church is called to be political, but not partisan, he continued. “Our cause is the protection of the weak and the vulnerable and the defense of human life and dignity, not a particular party or candidate,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “The Church is called to be principled but not ideological. We cannot compromise our basic values or teaching, but we should be open to different ways to advance them.”