Responses to Some Criticisms of Fr. Meeks’ Sermon
After we posted a link last week to a sermon delivered by Fr. Ed Meeks (“Staring into the Abyss”) where he lays out moral principles for Catholics to observe when voting, we received some comments critical of the sermon and our promotion of it.
Fr. Meeks is not a priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter. Nonetheless, as there are traditional teachings of the Magisterium involved in both his sermon and the criticism of it, we thought it beneficial to briefly offer some thoughts on objections that have been raised.
Separation of Church and State
One comment stated that the sermon was unethical in that it violates the separation of church and state.
Separation of Church and state means that the Constitution of the United States prohibits the federal government from declaring a national religion. However, this does not mean that politics are to be free from the influence of religion; such would be impractical, as everyone is motivated by some religious conviction. (Even an atheist is motivated by the rejection of organized religion, which amounts to a creed of its own, and he would lobby accordingly.) The Declaration of Independence admits of the existence of God, and the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that belong to all persons in virtue of being created by Him. So while we render to Caesar what is his, what Caesar has also belongs to God.
The Catholic Church, as founded by Jesus Christ, has moral authority and rights over her subjects; that is, the baptized, and has the responsibility to form their consciences in accordance with natural law and divine. Such promotes a virtuous citizenry (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2246 ff., on the political community and the Church).
Reciprocally, a Catholic first owes allegiance to the Church, and so must live in a way as to promote the Church’s mission within the country he lives. Therefore, a pastor is fully within his right to instruct the faithful entrusted to his care about the moral principles involved when it comes to voting, to point out the hierarchy of moral issues that must be observed, and where a party or candidate, especially one who claims to be Catholic, fails in these regards. A Catholic who conscientiously observes these when he votes serves then to render to God what is His while he renders to Caesar; these two can never be separated.
Purported Exceptions to the Immorality of Abortion
Another comment tries to admit moral exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother. Even though these are difficult circumstances surrounding a pregnancy, the Magisterium has never permitted for these exceptions, stating unequivocally in the Catechism:
“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” (cf. CCC, 2270 ff.)
Abortion is at all times an intrinsically evil act against the most fundamental moral principle on the sanctity of all human life. No circumstance can change that. The unborn are truly the least amongst us, and to protect their right to life is indeed to love them as ourselves; therefore, candidates or parties that directly promote abortion find themselves in direct opposition to the perennial teaching of the Church.
The Condemnation of Socialism
Still another comment dismisses Fr. Meeks’ criticism of socialism as a mere dog whistle for the political right.
The Catholic Church has always rejected socialism since its emergence on the world stage in the nineteenth century, because it is fundamentally atheistic and rejects the right to private ownership of property. All the Popes from Pius IX to Benedict XVI have condemned it. In his social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1920), Pope Pius XI states:
“If socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the supreme pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (n. 120).
The Catechism states:
“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’” (cf. CCC, 2425, 2401).
On Divisiveness in Moral Teaching
Finally, a fourth comment suggests that the sermon is “divisive.”
While it is true that we all wish to live in relative harmony, we should recall the prophecy of Simeon in regards to our Lord: Behold this Child is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. (Lk. 2:34)
Christ says that He will set nation against nation, father against son, mother against daughter (cf. Lk. 12:53); the eighth Beatitude tells us to expect persecution on His account (Mt. 5:11). Christ indicates that the peace He brings is dependent upon acceptance of the truth about Himself as being true God (Jn. 14:27), that His words and commandments are to everlasting life (Jn. 6:64), and that truth can be difficult (Jn. 6:61).
So as we try to bear patiently with differences of perspective, charity demands that Catholics uphold all Church teachings in witness to Christ, come what may. He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:19). While we love the sinner, we cannot condone the error.
The moral non-negotiables: the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and the liberty of Catholics to practice our religion, are things Catholics cannot disagree on and so may cause strain within a mixed community. A Catholic candidate is not exempt from this, and has an even greater moral obligation to uphold them for the sake of the common good, the integral good of the human person, and the promotion of the Church’s mission for the salvation of souls, all of which are never in opposition.
October 21, 2020