I was raised in an Episcopalian household while my next-door neighbors raised their kids as Catholics, so I had an opportunity to see the similarities and differences. And the two religions are not all that different. Still, I find that I am deeply uncomfortable about things like this:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to members of Congress, urging them not to cut federal funding on safety-net programs, including investments in health care, Pell Grants, affordable housing, and food stamps. While Republican lawmakers take the Bishops’ thoughts on contraception very seriously, GOP officials are expected to ignore the Bishops’ appeals in this area.
I don’t like it when religious leaders take political positions and lobby Congress. They are, in effect, speaking for their flock. They are almost trying to coerce their flock as much as they are trying to influence Congress. It’s much too authoritarian for me. In this case, I agree with their political position, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.
I find it difficult to create any set of standards for when it is appropriate or inappropriate for religious leaders to speak up about political matters, but it seem like arguing about line-items in the budget is far too mundane.
I also think it’s unhealthy for church leaders to take political positions that are not supported by the vast majority of their parishioners. It undermines the moral authority of the Church, for example, to oppose birth control when most Catholics use it. Some might argue that they demonstrate their moral authority by sticking with an unpopular position, but it trains Catholics to take their moral teachings less seriously. There’s even a term for it: Cafeteria Catholics. You take only what you want and leave the rest untouched. When you’re trading in redemption and salvation, this seems like an unwise attitude to cultivate.
Maybe issues of war and peace rise to the level where a transnational Church should have an institutional political opinion, but on most things it seems like a bad idea to me. I find it offensive. It offends me. And I think if I were a Catholic it would offend me a great deal more, because I would constantly have the feeling that the Church did not approve of many of my political beliefs, and that would make me very uncomfortable.
I’m interested to know how practicing Catholics (and others) feel about these issues.