Every week, it seems we Catholics are asked for our positions of the social crisis of the day. For a religion that is so often ridiculed or ignored by the media, they sure do ask often for our opinions!
It fascinates me that our brothers and sisters in different faiths are rarely asked how they feel as a religion about the issues of the day. No, the Catholics are the standard. I choose that word intentionally.
We know that Catholics disagree with each other – just attend any Conference meeting! We also know that some Catholics are at odds with the Church on various issues including life, immigration and borders, climate, and others. We overlook sometimes that our faith is somewhat unique in that it has actual positions, derived over years – sometimes hundreds and even thousands – and that these positions are written down for everyone to see. When a Pope even suggests a departure through imprecise words from these positions, it makes worldwide news.
When some disagree strongly, they may face a crisis of conscience leading even to a departure from the Catholic faith, although many would tell you that they disagree only with the Church and not with the faith. They still believe in Christ and how He died for our sins. They just disagree with the “politics” of the Church. Which is also interesting in that using political yardstick measures, the Church is liberal in some regards and conservative in others. This is not inconsistency; in fact, the Church is remarkably consistent. Maintaining clear and consistent values can lead the Church to the right for some individual issues and to the left for others.
As a Vincentian and as a Catholic, you may be asked for your opinion of the Society’s position on the topic of the day. The Rule provides us with guiding elements to help us. The first is in Part III, Statute 29 on our Relationship with Civil Society. The Society does not identify with any political party, we are nonviolent, we bring Christian values to political matters, and those holding political offices are asked not to hold any “mission of representation” within the Society while in office. That alone covers a lot of ground these days!
The second relevant element is in the Rule, Part I, 5.3, in which the Society recognizes the right and duty of the diocesan bishop to confirm that the Society acts in accordance with Catholic faith and morals. In other words, while we are officially autonomous of the Church (see I.5.2), we maintain a close relationship with the church hierarchy and its values. Many of the political battles and policy decisions we face come down to moral decisions, don’t they?
The third relevant element is not in the Rule but in the Manual of the National Council of the United States, in Section 2.1: Speaking for the Society. It’s one simple sentence: “Only the National President may ‘speak for the Society’ on national issues. For local issues, this is delegated to the Council President.”
It is tempting, when asked for your opinion, to give it! As Americans, we enjoy freedom of speech. This freedom, however, does not extend to us speaking on behalf of most organizations to which we belong, including the Society. It can be challenging to hold one’s tongue when the issue is important and we have such brilliant commentary, but please do resist when asked about “your take” on any Society position.
Allow me to offer two alternatives. When asked for my opinion “as a Catholic” I can often respond by directing the inquirer to the local bishop or to the USCCB. When asked by media for my view as a Vincentian, I let them know that even as the national CEO I don’t speak for the Society, but often I will add a question of my own. “What are the consequences of this issue, intentional and perhaps unintentional, for the poor? Please consider them in forming your story.”
Catholics, through the formal Church and its many informed and cause-related organizations, have a voice, even if this voice is sometimes ridiculed or ignored. The poor, however, often have no voice at all. It seems that every social issue affects them more than everyone else, and usually negatively. As Vincentians we can work to free their own voice, or if not possible, work to speak on their behalf.
As noted above, the Catholic viewpoint is often used as a standard. Let our Vincentian actions speak as standards of love and care for our neighbors, humility, and everyday work to make our world a better place for all. Our own lives are testament to our Catholic faith and values. By our lives we can be the standard for Good.
Yours in Christ,