My father-in-law has been asked if he’s conservative — or liberal.
His answer: “I’m Catholic.”
I’d give the same answer.
Catholic teachings are quite definite, so it’s possible to peg them on the American political spectrum — as long as you don’t look at the big picture.
Taking bits and pieces of Catholic beliefs, and the history of Catholics in America, I could claim that the Catholic Church is conservative or liberal. That would be as big a mistake as seeing all conservatives as hate-fueled foes of diversity, or all liberals as irresponsible lunatics.
Sex, Death, and Immigrants
The Church might seem liberal because we’re told that sex is a good thing, social justice is important, and the death penalty should be a last resort. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1928–1942, 2267, 2331–2391)
We’re also told that extra- and non-marital sex is a bad idea, private property is a good idea, and both abortion and euthanasia are wrong. That isn’t far from many conservative viewpoints. (Catechism, 2270–2279, 2348–2356, 2380–2381, 2401–2406)
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I see immigrants as neighbors I haven’t met yet; folks who are doing pretty much the same thing my ancestors did, not long ago. That makes me a Catholic who takes our faith seriously: not a liberal. (Catechism, 2241)
The Catholic view of immigrants isn’t new, which doesn’t make it “conservative:”
“You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
“‘When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.
“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,”
As a Catholic, my knee-jerk reaction is — irrelevant, except maybe to me. Let’s see what the Church says about defending my life, and the lives of others.
That’s because my life is precious, and so is my attacker’s. My intent should be saving my own life, not killing another person: even if that is the unintended effect of my action. (Catechism, 2258, 2263–2269; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, II-II,64,7)
The same principle applies to decisions national leaders face. War kills people and breaks things, so avoiding war is a good idea.
“…As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965))
I could edit Catholic teaching to make my beliefs fit — or shun — pigeonholes like ‘hawk,’ ‘dove,’ ‘bleeding heart liberal’ or ‘heartless conservative.’ But that doesn’t seem prudent.
Fear and Politics
Catholics lived in the thirteen colonies and other parts of today’s United States long before 1776, but we didn’t start arrive in disturbing numbers until the 19th century.
Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and other foreign parts were mostly working-class folks. Not surprisingly, most Catholics voted Democrat: 70% overall, 80% of the Irish Catholics.
That changed, of course. Children or descendants of the immigrants became white-collar workers, developing voting and other habits that were closer to the American norm.1
Blending in with the crowd isn’t necessarily a good thing. I’ve talked about ‘going native’ before. (August 14, 2016)
It’s like Fulton Sheen said:
The “at work” part of my life is over now, so I’ve got more time for family and other activity: like researching and writing these posts.
I enjoy learning and sharing what I find, but that’s not why I keep doing all this.
I’m passing along, in my own way, the best news humanity’s ever had.2
Our Lord said loving my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, is the source for “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 5:43–44, 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 6:31, 10:25–27, 29–37; Catechism, 2196)
It still boils down to love and hope.
I think that makes sense. What you decide is up to you.
1 Catholics living in America, politics and attitude:
- Anti-Catholicism in the United States
- Catholic Church and politics in the United States
- Catholic Church in the United States
- History of immigration to the United States
- History of Roman Catholicism in the United States
- Immigration to the United States
- Anti-Catholicism in the United States
2 Anyone who tries to do good and avoid evil is on the right track. I became a Catholic after learning who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter. (Matthew 16:17–19; Catechism, 551–553, 781–801, 874–896)