Bishops Eschew Single-Issue Politics

By Chittister, Joan | National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Bishops Eschew Single-Issue Politics


Chittister, Joan, National Catholic Reporter


Headline writers are a special breed of print journalists. Their tasks are to get the reader's attention and interest a person in the material being presented, and to herald the story by emphasizing its central thesis.

The Chicago Tribune ran a large headline across a front-page story recently along with a photo of Catholic bishops in session at their annual national conference that fit the space precisely and was sure to get people's attention. Whether it was fundamentally true to the main point of the story is in question.

The headline read: "Catholic bishops say voters' souls at stake." I watched the people around me frown, then glance past it as they moved on to other stories.

How many readers simply disregarded the announcement of one more story about the electoral concerns of the Catholic church as either unimportant or unacceptable is unclear. What they took with them from the headline is even more in doubt, and problematic.

The fact is that all of them got one more impression from the headline of churches using religion to influence politics by threatening churchgoers with eternal damnation if they don't vote the way the church says they must.

In a country debating the devastating results of global warming, the need for universal medical insurance, the need for a sound and humane immigration policy and the threat of bankruptcy from an increasingly militaristic foreign policy, the headline was indeed a tease. But it was not the story.

The truth is that the bishops in their latest document, "Faithful Citizenship"--the church's attempt to teach the importance of civic participation in the political process--eschewed single-issue politics entirely, stating quite directly that "a candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support."

They completely avoided drawing moral comparisons between political parties and candidates on the basis of isolated topics, the more common character of church intervention in recent elections. Instead, the document sets out to remind people that voting is indeed a moral act but that political morality and social morality are made up of more things than sexual issues, all of them morally important, all of them to be seen in terms of the voter's moral obligation to weigh issues and their effects on society at large. …

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