A plea to priests: Tone it down on political races

When I was a journalist, I had to keep myself from expressing political opinions on Facebook or elsewhere. This wasn’t easy, of course, but it was necessary: the reputation of my employer could be affected by me expressing my opinion, since I wasn’t in a role where I was allowed to do so.

I’m reminded of that every time I see or hear a priest stepping out of what they know well (that is, Catholic stuff) and wade into discussing political races. Here are a few examples of what I would consider missteps:

  • A Catholic church in Texas reprinted in its bulletin a part of an article that asked Catholics not to vote for Barack Obama, drawing an IRS investigation. (You can argue that an underling threw that in, but the pastor’s responsible for the content of the bulletin and would have cut that if he had an issue with it.)
  • The well-known priest Fr. Z reprinted a portion of an anti-Obama e-book by wellknown conspiracy quack Jerome Corsi. Why? Because it said something that Fr. Z liked, apparently, but why a Catholic priest would want to post something by a guy who claims the president’s birth certificate is fake (wrong) and who wrote a ton of false stuff about John Kerry in the ’04 election, I don’t know.
  • Fr. Peter West,  a vice president of Human Life International, cannot stop himself from posting anti-Democratic stuff (and pro-GOP stuff) to his Facebook page.

Now, these are all examples on the right wing, but they’re the most salient recently, because noted left-winger Fr. Michael Pfleger, normally an exemplar of why priests should be quiet about political races, has been quiet lately and this is a year where the president and the Catholic Church have been, admittedly, at odds over many things, especially the HHS mandate over contraception that still needs to be zapped. And I think it’s totally understandable that priests want to have a say in the political process.

But I implore them to stop before they do it. I’m not concerned, per se, with the IRS angle. I am more concerned with the spiritual angle and with the practical angle.

Catholics are not a homogeneous lot, of course. Many Catholics struggle with or disagree with Church teaching, but they are trying to stay with the Church. It’s better for priests to encourage them, not badger them, about  Not only that, but there are faithful Catholics in both parties. (Yes, even Democrats. Ask friend of the blog Rebecca Hamilton.) The Church is neither Republican or Democrat. When its reps (that’s you, priests) align too closely with one party or another, it gives the idea that the Church backs a party. That’s bad. As Catholics, we’re supposed to welcome everyone, and if a priest clearly associates with one party or another, it’s a way to keep faithful Catholics of the other party feeling unwelcome.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging your flock to be vocal in political issues and voting your faith. In fact, the bishops encourage that. And it’s fine when you explain Catholic teaching and encourage others  to vocally support proposed laws that they believe are in line with Catholic teaching. But when you align with a party or candidate, you run the risk of not being a shepherd for the universal Church. And if you overstep or say something dumb, the effects spill over to harm your brother priests, not just you.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote this a few months ago, and it’s still right:

What are my own politics? It doesn’t matter. As a Catholic priest I stand up first of all for life. I defend human life from womb to tomb. I stand up for love and marriage and children and I defend the family and the home. I insist on a preferential option for the poor. I am against greed and injustice and servitude. I believe the rich have a responsibility to help the poor and that all men and women have a responsibility (due to their own innate dignity) to help themselves and to help one another. I am against killing. I am against war. I am against the rape and pillage of our beautiful natural resources.
This is simply the Catholic faith, and it means that I am disappointed with all the politicians and all their parties.

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