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Church, Politics and Democracy
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: Why shouldn’t the IRS withdraw the Catholic Church’s exemption from taxation? The U.S. Catholic bishops are acting like a political party, which is illegal for religious organizations that are exempt from taxes.

A: In fact, the U.S. bishops have not endorsed political candidates for city, state or national elections this year. They have consistently instructed their clergy not to use their pulpits for doing so.

Bishops have, however, addressed and will continue to address major moral issues that are also politically volatile (abortion, legalizing of same-sex marriages, etc.).

The term politics comes from the Greek word polis (city). Issues that affect the life of a city, state or country—the common good—are political issues; they deserve to be cross-examined thoroughly and debated vigorously.

Many political choices clearly have moral implications. Should religious leaders pretend that all political choices are morally neutral? No. Should voters automatically vote for candidates or issues that some religious leader favors? No.

Catholic Church leaders have a contribution to make within the demo-cratic process. Individual citizens should assess the pros and cons of various candidates or political options, and should then vote for the ones that they think will promote society’s common good.

Starting in 1976, every four years the U.S. Catholic bishops have issued a message to U.S. Catholics regarding issue-related political choices that the entire country faces. They have always done this well before the major political parties have drafted their platforms or chosen their candidates.

In September 2003, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.

In its Introduction, this document asserts: “The most important challenges we face are not simply political, economic or technological, but ethical, moral and spiritual. We face fundamental questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left behind.”

Later the bishops write: “Politics cannot be merely about ideological conflict, the search for partisan advantage or political contributions. It should be about fundamental moral choices. How do we protect human life and dignity? How do we fairly share the blessings and burdens of the challenges we face? What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to shape?”

Under the heading “Tasks and Questions for Believers,” the bishops acknowledge: “At this time, some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity. However, this is not a time for retreat or discouragement. We need more, not less engagement in political life.”

The full text can be ordered from the bishops’ conference (1-800-235-8722) or read at Our April 2004 Catholic Update condensed this document.

In the “Ask the Wise Man” column in our October 1998 issue, Father Norman Perry, O.F.M., answered someone asking about the interaction of moral values, political choices and voting. His response concluded: “What is the voter to do when a candidate is right on some issues and wrong on others? What is the voter to do when both or all candidates are right or wrong in the voter’s judgment on different issues? I suggest the voter has to decide what are the most fundamental issues, learn where the candidate stands on the greater number of those issues and then vote accordingly.”

I wholeheartedly endorse that advice.


Q: My wife of almost 60 years died several months ago. I am grieving and looking forward to joining her in heaven whenever the dear Lord is ready for me.

I think that taking my own life is wrong and I could be denied everlasting life if I do. If I stop taking my prescribed medication, however, that could speed up the reunion with my wife. Is it a serious sin to skip my daily medicines?

A: I consulted a moral theologian who responded: “To stop taking medications with the intent of shortening one’s life is morally wrong. The moral quality of any act depends on three things: 1) what is done, 2) why it is done, and 3) who does it. All three have to be morally unobjectionable for an act to be virtuous. The second criterion comes into play in this case. The motivation, the ‘why’ in this case, would be morally objectionable because the decision not to take one’s medication would be to shorten one’s life.

“While the pain of grieving is understandable, there may be better ways to address it. I strongly suggest a support group for those who have lost a spouse through death (not a group for those separated through divorce, etc.). Many dioceses and cities offer such groups. Catholic Charities may be a local resource.”

I know that some funeral homes have grief counseling groups. If the one that handled your wife’s funeral does not have such a group, please contact your local parish.

Living well until God calls you home naturally is one way of honoring your deceased wife.


Q: I was recently reading about St. Mary Ann of Jesus of Parades and noted that she was a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. Do you have any Canadian contacts for them?

A: You can contact the SFO’s Canadian national fraternity at English speakers can get in touch with and French speakers can contact dupre_gaby@hotmail. com.

The Web site listed above has postal addresses for both people.


Q: This morning I was told that those who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation no longer take a saint’s name. Is that so? My grandson was confirmed last year and he chose a saint’s name.

A: I consulted a liturgy professor who gave this response: “The Rite of Confirmation says, ‘The one who presents the candidate places his right hand on the latter’s shoulder and gives the candidate’s name to the bishop; or the candidate may give his own name’ (#26).

“In the past this has been used as an occasion to choose an additional patron, though the present Rite says nothing about this custom. However, with Vatican II’s understanding of Confirmation as the completion of Baptism, it might be preferable to give the baptismal name to the bishop at Confirmation to show the fundamental importance of Baptism and the relation of these two sacraments. If the person did not receive a saint’s name at Baptism, this could be a time to choose one as a patron.”


Q: I notice that Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston is a Capuchin. How do Capuchin Franciscans differ from Friars Minor? What about the other groups of Franciscan men? Which group publishes St. Anthony Messenger?

A: When St. Francis of Assisi died in 1226, there was a single group of Franciscan friars. In his Rule of 1223, Francis called this group Friars Minor. In time that group became two: the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.) and the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (O.F.M.Conv.). Pope Leo X permanently separated them in 1517, giving each group its own general minister, general chapter, provinces and individual houses.

What began as a reform movement within the Order of Friars Minor became, in 1528, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, an independent religious community of priests and brothers (O.F.M.Cap.).

The Third Order Regular Franciscans (T.O.R.), who began in the 1400s, trace themselves to the penitential movement in Francis’ day. The T.O.R.s follow a different Rule from the other three groups, which observe the Rule of 1223—but as separate groups.

Sound confusing? All four groups get along very well, especially in the United States. St. Anthony Messenger is published by the Province of St. John the Baptist, a group within the Order of Friars Minor.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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