U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have -- or not have -- in government policymaking?
It is horrifying to see the Catholic Church attempting to influence the outcome of legislation being formulated in Democratic government. Not because it violates the separation of Church and State, but because it reduces the church to a special interest group. The Catholic Church represents hope to its members, faith in the goodness and rightness of God's creation and the power to bring about that Kingdom through action. Lobbyists obviate the representative structure of our Democratic system to privilege a special interest for which the voters could not get sufficiently excited to vote. The Church says, "You can, indeed you must be proactive in making the change you seek to see in the world." The Lobbyists tell us, "Elect whoever you want, we can change their minds once they get here." By lobbying congress on behalf of their concerns, U.S. Catholic Bishops have said, "pay no attention to the actions of Catholic voters, we are the voice of the Church." They have demonstrated a lack of faith in the Democratic system, in the transformative power of faith, and in their congregations.
The Church has the power to work the system for change, it always has had, and on a scale that any lobbyist would kill for. Where a lobbyist can influence one legislator on one vote on one issue, the Church empowers its masses to make Christian choices with every step they take, every dime they spend and with every vote they cast on every issue and in every election.Where the Church is able to effect a groundswell of public action that transforms the face of politics and policy to reflect the constituents' beliefs...that is both a Christian and a Democratic dream. And a lobbyist's nightmare.
Catholic voters, in theory, know what to do. They know where the Church stands on issues of abortion and end-of-life counseling. In theory they have heard the Church's position from the lips of their Priests, they see evidence of it in their scripture, and they cleave to it as the foundation for their decision making. In theory they have voted into office representatives who will speak for them in this as well as all other issues. But even if they don't, in theory it won't matter because the template that guides these Catholics will keep them from needing abortion services and have a position on end-of-life care.
But the fact that there are Catholic Bishops lobbying the Congress over this bill tells us that theory is not proving out in practice. Possibly, Catholic voters didn't get out in big enough numbers to elect representatives who will reflect their beliefs. Possibly they didn't vote for people who reflect their beliefs. Possibly they aren't involved enough in church to know what position to vote for in the first place. In any case, the Catholic church has failed in its calling: its has not brought the faithful into the fold, it has not motivated them to live and vote to bring about the Kingdom, and it has not created in them a moral code that makes the health care reform debate irrelevant to them. That is the problem. The solution is not to by-pass the people. The solution is not to impose the moral code from the top down. Jesus did not throw in with Rome in order to change the ills of the society he preached to.
Where Jesus saw corruption, he preached righteousness. Where he saw iniquity, he preached justice. But he had faith in the Gospel and int he power of his flock to effect the change not by obviating the law but by fulfilling it. Therefore, I say to the well meaning but errant Bishops on Capital Hill: go back to your churches, back to your Scripture and back to your congregations because they are the Church. "Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit." (John 10:1)