The National Catholic Review
Henry J. Hyde

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued on Jan. 16 a document, dated Nov. 24, 2002, entitled “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” The note addresses some of the most urgent “issues beneath the issues” in American public life today.

Perhaps the most important thing the doctrinal note does is to remind all of us, irrespective of party or political philosophy, that democracy is not a machine that can run by itself. Democracy is not a matter of simply getting the procedure of government—legislative, executive, judicial—right. Democracy is more than a matter of procedures, and democracy requires more of us than procedural imagination and finesse.

Following the lead of Pope John Paul II, the note asks some hard questions about the cultural foundations of democracy. Can democracy survive in a radically skeptical culture in which students in our most prestigious schools are regularly taught that no one can know the truth of anything (including, presumably, the moral superiority of democracy)? Can democracy thrive in a radically relativistic culture in which “tolerance” means ignoring differences rather than engaging differences and thrashing them out? Can democracy “long endure” (as Abraham Lincoln put it at Gettysburg) in a thoroughly utilitarian culture in which human life is considered just another commodity, something to be assessed and valued according to whether it “works” or is “burdensome”? The doctrinal note suggests that democracy is imperiled—that democratic procedures cannot really “promote the general welfare,” as our Constitution puts it—under these cultural conditions. I think Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the congregation, is right. So would the American founders and framers. So would Lincoln. And so would Martin Luther King Jr.

A culture is the product of many ideas. The doctrinal note reminds us that the idea of the human person in a given culture is crucial to that culture’s capacity to sustain democracy. A culture that cherishes human life from conception until natural death is a culture that has recognized the innate dignity and inestimable value of every human life—and that is the kind of culture that can sustain democratic commitments to civility, decency and true tolerance, even as it provides robust legal protection for the inalienable right to life. On the other hand, a culture that devalues lives it finds awkward or distressing, unplanned or unwanted, is a culture that cannot sustain democracy over the long haul.

Why? Because, as the doctrinal note reminds us, that kind of culture is morally incoherent. And a morally incoherent culture is going to do morally reprehensible things—like declare that some human beings are beyond the boundaries of the community of common care and concern, to be disposed of at another’s will. How? Through abortion and euthanasia, in which the strong and fit (and wealthy) “solve” the “problem” posed by the weak and defenseless (and costly) we deem burdensome. That kind of “problem-solving” is just as incompatible with democracy as the institution of slavery was, and for the same reason—a desperately defective idea of the dignity of human life.

I am also grateful that the doctrinal note takes on one of the canards that has confused the debate over the life issues for 30 years—the falsehood that Catholics who work for legal protection for the right to life of the unborn are sectarians who are somehow “imposing their views” on a pluralistic society. As the doctrinal note bluntly states, the Catholic commitment to the right to life is “not a question of ‘confessional values,’” because the moral logic that underwrites the Catholic position is a matter of the “natural moral law”—which is another way of saying that the right-to-life position can be engaged by anyone willing to work their way through a rational moral argument.

And that, parenthetically, is why pro-lifers represent the great civil rights cause of the 21st century. The pro-life movement makes genuinely public arguments, based on publicly accessible moral reasoning, about public goods—the legal protection of indisputably human beings. The pro-life movement argues that everyone who is a member of the political community called the United States of America deserves the equal protection of the laws of the United States of America. And an America that denies that equal protection is not an America being true to itself.

Citing John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life,” 1995), the doctrinal note reminds those of us in national and state legislatures that the legal defense of the inalienable right to life is a “duty” and that lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” laws that compromise the right to life. Put that clear moral teaching into a distinctively American context, and the stakes are abundantly clear. Let me describe them bluntly: Catholic legislators who vote to maintain the current regime of abortion-on-demand in the United States, or who vote to legalize euthanasia, or who vote to authorize medical research on human embryos, are in a position morally identical to that of Catholic legislators who resisted desegregation in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Period. The political shelter of “I am personally opposed, but I cannot impose my views on a pluralistic society” has collapsed of its own moral incoherence—and of its own incompatibility with core American values.

The doctrinal note is also a helpful reminder that the ordained leadership of the church has a different role in the public square than lay Catholics. I welcome the note’s statement that “it is not the church’s task to set forth specific political solutions—and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one—to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person.” The church’s ordained leaders are to teach the principles of Catholic social doctrine. Lay Catholics, especially those who have taken on the responsibility of legislation and executive leadership, are to apply those principles according to their “free and responsible judgment.”

Thus something is awry when the voice of the church is most often identified with specific policies that are matters of contingent judgment (such as questions of welfare reform or foreign policy), and not with the articulation of principles. When the bishops are widely perceived in Washington and in state capitols as yet another religious lobby, rather than as compelling teachers, something is awry. The argument that Catholic principles can be heard only if the bishops “illustrate” the principles through specific policy prescriptions cannot be sustained any longer. Precisely the opposite has happened: the principles have not been clearly heard, and the bishops are often regarded as another political pressure group. That may be to the satisfaction of some. But it is not compatible with the vision of Catholic political participation developed by this note, and by the magisterium of John Paul II.

In this regard, I would also like to say something about the current debate over Iraq. I think it is a sign of civic health that Americans have instinctively reached for just war categories in trying to sort our this grave problem: Is ours a “just cause”? What is the “legitimate authority” that can authorize the use of armed force? Is the use of force a “last resort,” and have other means of resolving this lethal situation been exhausted? Yet, reviewing these just war criteria as they are summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), I note that, just after that summary, the catechism states: “The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” (No. 2309). That means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met. Let us all keep that sentence from the catechism in mind in the weeks and months ahead.

The great divide in American public life today is not so much between left and right or between political parties. It is between those who think of democracy merely as an ensemble of procedures and those who think of democracy as a matter of substance—an ongoing experiment in a people’s capacity to be self-governing. By demonstrating how the substantive understanding of democracy arises, not from sectarian or confessional presuppositions, but from the moral law written on the human heart, the doctrinal note makes a genuine contribution to the reflections of all thoughtful Americans.

For too long in our national history, the question—sometimes cruelly overt, sometimes subtle—was, “Is Catholicism compatible with democracy?” As the doctrinal note makes clear, the real question is, “Can democracy long endure if it ignores the truth about the human person?” That is a publicly accessible truth, and Catholics in America should be grateful and proud that their church proposes that truth, in and out of season, in American public life.

Representative Henry J. Hyde is a Catholic and a Republican. Since 1974 Congressman Hyde has represented the 6th Congressional District of Illinois, which includes much of suburban Chicago. He is currently chairman of the House Interna

Comments

David W. Madsen | 1/31/2007 - 1:17pm
In his recent piece on “Catholics in Political Life” (2/17), Representative Henry Hyde concludes an essay largely dealing with issues of the right to life with some obiter dicta on the national debate over Iraq. Having indicated the “civic health” that comes with such a debate, he then notes that the ultimate arbiters of the just war theory are not clergymen or scholars. In defense of the claim, he cites No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which accords statesmen, “those who have responsibility for the common good,” the right to evaluate the criteria for just war. Let me remind him that in a democracy every citizen is a statesman. The evaluation of just war criteria is therefore the prerogative and duty of everyone—clergy and scholars included.

Edward Sacco | 10/18/2010 - 10:37pm
I AM DISAPPOINTED THAT THIS MAGAZINE GIVES A POLITICIAN, AN ELITE,  THE STAGE TO PREACH HIS POLITICAL OPINION ON WARMAKING...MR. HYDE ALLOWS THAT "STATESMAN"... "HAVE THE FINAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ASSESSING WHETHER THE CRITERIA OF A JUST WAR."  EVERYTHING GOES BACK TO JESUS CHRIST'S TEACHING WHICH CALLS US TO BE A WITNESS OF GOD'S LOVE AND GOSPEL NONVIOLENCE;  NOT TO WAGE WAR WHICH INCLUDES TORTURE AND CIVILIAN DEATHS WHILE GLORIFYING AMERICA'S MILITARY MIGHT.
      HE IS ENCOURAGING LAY PEOPLE TO JUST SHUT UP AND SUPPORT THE SO CALLED STATEMEN WHO GOT US INTO THIS HORRIBLE MESS.
ED SACCO 

David W. Madsen | 2/25/2003 - 7:47pm
In his piece on "Catholics in Political Life," Henry Hyde concludes an essay largely dealing with issues of the right to life with some obiter dicta on the national debate over Iraq. Having indicated the "civic health" that comes with such a debate, he then notes that the ultimate arbiters of the just war theory are not clergymen or scholars. In defense of the claim, he cites article #2309 of the Catechism which accords statesmen, "those who have responsibility for the common good," the right to evaluate the criteria for just war. Let me remind the Honorable Mister Hyde that in a democracy every citizen is a statesman. The evaluation of just war criteria is therefore the prerogative and duty of everyone--clergy and scholars included.

Eugene J. Sullivan | 2/17/2003 - 10:35pm
Henry Hyde’s recent reflections on Catholics in Political Life, though ostensibly an assertion of the duty of Catholic citizens to engage their values in the democratic process, was most interesting as an example of a politician who happens to be a Catholic selectively applying moral/theological concepts for political expediency. Mr. Hyde writes eloquently of the “innate dignity and inestimable value of every human life” in reference to the right to life movement, but fails to address the application of this essential truth in the context of capital punishment. As a Catholic he would have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” state-sponsored taking of life, but as a politician he seems to find it difficult to give this voice. It also seems politically convenient to argue that the Church should refrain from engaging its values on “matters of contingent judgment,” leaving critical issues to be discussed solely in the political atmosphere. All Catholics, lay and ordained, should feel the same duty to comment on the extent to which the domestic and foreign policies of this country resonate with basic Catholic social teaching. Mr. Hyde appears more the politician when he suggests that the Church should refrain from comment on how well the specific policies of our country reflect true caring for the poor and the vulnerable, for the environment, and for the promotion of peace. In this last, Mr. Hyde’s political, rather than religious motives are most transparent. It fails common sense to assert that the opinions of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on the just nature of a preemptive war in Iraq supersede those of the Church, of learned scholars, or even of lay Catholics. Many innocent lives will be lost should the war in Iraq proceed. In keeping with the call to participatory action, the Church, Catholic citizens, and all who cherish peace have a duty to engage their values on this important issue. Mr. Hyde’s convenient reference aside, this is in keeping with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” (#2308)

James Engler | 3/6/2003 - 5:06pm
Rep. Hyde's reflection on "Participation of Catholics in Political Life" contains a curious argument. He says that the use of violence and killing (aka war) can be allowed to assure the national good. The pope and bishops can establish the principle of a required just cause, but it is up to the politicians to determine when the criteria have been met. On the other side he says that the use of violence and killing (aka abortion) can not be allowed to assure an individual good. The pope and bishops can establish the principle of sanctity of life, politicians must support this and the individual does not get to decide what is best.

In fact, both the just war logic and the pro choice logic are based on a common logic: in principle I value the sanctity of life; however, there are times when I must compromise that principle in order to achieve another, greater good. The debate then degenerates into whose good is greater (the baby’s?, the mother’s?, the family’s?; the soldier’s?, the civilian’s?, the nation’s?).

I don’t have the answer. I do know this: 1. Choices in the real world are a balance of principles and the means available to maximize good. 2. The world today does not provide adequate means to handle the consequences of choices based on the absolute sanctity of life. If a nation chooses no war, then how does that nation avoid the evil effects of the real danger from the other nation? If a woman chooses a child beyond her means of support, then how is she to care for that child?

I hope that abortion becomes an irrelevant choice because politicians take seriously the call to care for the poor and defenseless after birth. I hope that war becomes an irrelevant choice because politicians take seriously the call to welcome foreigners and treat all people as neighbors. This is the work I want from Catholics in political life.

James F. Allen, OMI | 2/15/2003 - 9:03am
While I appreciated Representative Henry’s Hyde’s comments on “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” I found his paragraph relating to the debate over war in Iraq in need of further clarification.

After citing Number 2309 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church (about the evaluation of criteria for a just war belonging to “the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”), he goes on to state that “statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have and can be met.”

While that is true, in concrete situations, however, it is also true that “prudential judgments” can be erroneous. “Scientific judgments” can be made upon facts gleaned from careful research and mathematical certainties. But “prudential judgments” are hardly as clear as “two plus two makes four.” They are based on facts, but they are also subject to personal biases, political agendas, and even human recklessness. As a matter of fact, history has shown again and again that the “prudential judgments” of statesmen have often proven to be erroneous, dangerous, and counterproductive.

It is the role of “clergymen and scholars,” as well as of the proverbial “man/woman on the street” to question the “prudential judgment” of their statesmen vis-à-vis criteria, not only of political expediency, but also of morality. That is one of the reasons why, in a democracy, we are able to vote out of office persons whose “prudential judgment” is faulty.

To dispute these “prudential judgments” does not make us unpatriotic nor, as I am sure anti-war protesters will be called, “anti-American.” It is of the essence of patriotism to speak up when one believes one’s leaders are in error in their “prudential judgment.” That is as old as the Boston Tea Party!

Claire Bangasser | 3/3/2003 - 1:43pm
This is a most interesting article, worthy to be discussed in Parish councils and RCIA groups. I was particularly struck by the thought that “through abortion and euthanasia, … the strong and fit (and wealthy) “solve” the “problem” posed by the weak and defenseless (and costly) we deem burdensome.” Were it that abortion was the action of rich men and women. Abortion so often is the last resort of poor, weak and marginalized women, unloved teen-agers.

Abortion is a terrible tragedy always – not only for the unborn – but also for the one driven to that decision. Abortion is the ultimate failure, a reflection of one’s own inadequacy, one’s loneliness, as well as one’s economic and spiritual poverty. No little girl has ever dreamt of having an abortion when she grows up.

I am glad that the author is an elected Catholic official who stands for life. This means that he wants to correct the economic injustice ruling the land by -– creating and giving an adequate social welfare and medical help, particularly to single mothers heads of household; eliminating feminine economic poverty; raising the awareness of those guilty of domestic violence, whether wife-or child-abuse, rape or incest; as well as educating the public to the fact that it takes two to have a child or an abortion – a man and a woman --, like it takes a village to raise a child.

I hope that the Catholic Church will help this elected official by condemning rape, incest, pedophilia, and domestic and economic violence toward women and children, as severely as it condemns abortion, that from the pulpit it will teach male parishioners that they share in the atrocious responsibility that is an abortion. Abortion is but a symptom of the structures of sin – in our society and in our Church.

Until this happens, like Gloria Steinem, I will wonder whether, “were men able to have children, abortion would be a sacrament.” Until then I will remain pro-choice.

Nicholas Bedessem | 2/18/2003 - 10:00am
I was impressed with Mr. Hyde's reflections on respecting life until he branched out into the life- threatening quagmire that Iraq promises to become. To interpret the Catechism's statement, 'The evaluation of these [just war] criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good" as referring only to "statesmen" [read elected officials] is, I believe, a very narrow interpretation. I always thought that all of us had responsibility for the common good. As Mr. Hyde himself states a bit later: democracy is "an ongoing experiment in a people's capacity to be self-governing,"

The Doctrinal note itself says, "The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that "the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in "public life," that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good." Therefore, in exercising this participation, I deny that there is any way this looming pre-emptive strike on Iraq can be deemed a "just war."

Tom Blackburn | 2/16/2003 - 6:00pm
Rep. Henry Hyde writes (“Catholics in Political Life,” 2/17) that the Catechism’s reference to “those who have responsibility for the common good” (No. 2309) in questions of a just war “means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met.” He sees more than is there. In a representative government, all voters have “responsibility for the common good.” The phrase, at least as it applies here, is not exclusive. War isn't up to President Bush and Rep. Hyde alone. Paragraph No. 2309 has to square with No. 2039: “As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions.” No free pass for presidential choice there. Could the morality of war with Iraq be different in France and Germany than it is in the United States and Great Britain? It sounds as if Rep. Hyde is reviving the Peace of Augsburg’s cuius regio ejus et religio for the Bush administration’s National Security Policy.

Don Rampolla | 2/27/2003 - 12:49pm
I have many comments on Mr. Hyde’s presumptions, but I will address only those on the proposed war with Iraq.

What struck me as totally incongruous is his self serving interpretation of part of Article 2309 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The part of the Article quoted reads as follows “The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy (of a war) belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”. Mr. Hyde’s interpretation reads “That means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met. Let us all keep that sentence from the catechism in mind in the weeks and months ahead” I have two objections to Mr. Hyde’s interpretation. First, in the middle of a lengthy disquisition on democracy, Mr. Hyde dismisses everyone except “statesmen” (does this category include himself?) from having a responsibility for the common good. I refuse to be thus summarily dismissed.

Any democracy is based on the principle that there is wisdom in the collective judgment of the people, and in some sense we are all responsible for the “common good”. (Abraham Lincoln’s reference to “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” indicates to me that this was his understanding). Therefore one of my responsibilities is to inform myself on important issues, to make judgments, and to make my views known to our elected officials. The decisions of the President will be based on inputs from many people; my voice is only one of many but it is important that it be heard, (just as in an election my vote is only one of many, but it is important that it be cast). Every ordinary citizen has this responsibility, how much more clergymen and scholars. Further, since election to the office of President or Vice - president, or appointment to the office of Secretary of Defense, does not confer infinite wisdom on any issue, I will never assume that my judgment is wrong just because my elected officials think otherwise. Hitlers aggression, and the role of U.S. leaders in the undeclared Vietnam War are terrible examples of erroneous judgment by people who were supposedly responsible for the common good. However even though I am free to make my own judgment, I am not unconditionally free to disobey legitimate authority, but this is another issue.

My second objection is that Mr. Hyde fails to mention what is left open by the statement in the Catechism. This can be better understood by considering what Aquinas says in the Summa, “In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, ….”. This statement is quite narrow in scope - even if a group of people decide that the cause is just they may not themselves undertake to wage war, only the sovereign (in our case, the President) can make that decision. Neither Aquinas nor the Catechism implies any of the following. That the decision by the sovereign to make war guarantees that the war is just. That there are restrictions on who provides the input for the sovereign’s decision for or against war That the sovereign’s decision forecloses all further discussion.

So despite Mr. Hyde’s wish to dismiss me, I will not suspend my judgment, and I will not be silent. I will continue to speak and work and pray and march for peace, and I will continue to speak out on all of the other issues that I consider to be crucial to the well being of our nation and the world.

Robert Stewart | 2/13/2003 - 6:18pm
The article in America (02/17/2003) by Henry Hyde, the esteemed congressman from Illinois, provides an interpretation of the Church's "just war" teaching as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I find troubling. He notes that statesman have the "responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have and can be met." To support his position he quotes from the same section of Catechism as did George Wiegel, the biographer of John Paul II, to justify pre-emptive war: "The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good" (No.2309).

Congressman Hyde seems to be saying that statesmen, once they have completed their evaluation, know the mind of God in these matters, and once we hear their voice telling us that the criteria have been met for a just war then we can be assured that we have heard the voice of God. Statesmen may get it right some times, but we know they have also got it wrong other times with respect to war. When they ignore the prophetic voices of leaders like John Paul II, I believe they may not arrive at the right answer.

David W. Madsen | 2/25/2003 - 7:47pm
In his piece on "Catholics in Political Life," Henry Hyde concludes an essay largely dealing with issues of the right to life with some obiter dicta on the national debate over Iraq. Having indicated the "civic health" that comes with such a debate, he then notes that the ultimate arbiters of the just war theory are not clergymen or scholars. In defense of the claim, he cites article #2309 of the Catechism which accords statesmen, "those who have responsibility for the common good," the right to evaluate the criteria for just war. Let me remind the Honorable Mister Hyde that in a democracy every citizen is a statesman. The evaluation of just war criteria is therefore the prerogative and duty of everyone--clergy and scholars included.

Eugene J. Sullivan | 2/17/2003 - 10:35pm
Henry Hyde’s recent reflections on Catholics in Political Life, though ostensibly an assertion of the duty of Catholic citizens to engage their values in the democratic process, was most interesting as an example of a politician who happens to be a Catholic selectively applying moral/theological concepts for political expediency. Mr. Hyde writes eloquently of the “innate dignity and inestimable value of every human life” in reference to the right to life movement, but fails to address the application of this essential truth in the context of capital punishment. As a Catholic he would have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” state-sponsored taking of life, but as a politician he seems to find it difficult to give this voice. It also seems politically convenient to argue that the Church should refrain from engaging its values on “matters of contingent judgment,” leaving critical issues to be discussed solely in the political atmosphere. All Catholics, lay and ordained, should feel the same duty to comment on the extent to which the domestic and foreign policies of this country resonate with basic Catholic social teaching. Mr. Hyde appears more the politician when he suggests that the Church should refrain from comment on how well the specific policies of our country reflect true caring for the poor and the vulnerable, for the environment, and for the promotion of peace. In this last, Mr. Hyde’s political, rather than religious motives are most transparent. It fails common sense to assert that the opinions of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on the just nature of a preemptive war in Iraq supersede those of the Church, of learned scholars, or even of lay Catholics. Many innocent lives will be lost should the war in Iraq proceed. In keeping with the call to participatory action, the Church, Catholic citizens, and all who cherish peace have a duty to engage their values on this important issue. Mr. Hyde’s convenient reference aside, this is in keeping with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” (#2308)

James Engler | 3/6/2003 - 5:06pm
Rep. Hyde's reflection on "Participation of Catholics in Political Life" contains a curious argument. He says that the use of violence and killing (aka war) can be allowed to assure the national good. The pope and bishops can establish the principle of a required just cause, but it is up to the politicians to determine when the criteria have been met. On the other side he says that the use of violence and killing (aka abortion) can not be allowed to assure an individual good. The pope and bishops can establish the principle of sanctity of life, politicians must support this and the individual does not get to decide what is best.

In fact, both the just war logic and the pro choice logic are based on a common logic: in principle I value the sanctity of life; however, there are times when I must compromise that principle in order to achieve another, greater good. The debate then degenerates into whose good is greater (the baby’s?, the mother’s?, the family’s?; the soldier’s?, the civilian’s?, the nation’s?).

I don’t have the answer. I do know this: 1. Choices in the real world are a balance of principles and the means available to maximize good. 2. The world today does not provide adequate means to handle the consequences of choices based on the absolute sanctity of life. If a nation chooses no war, then how does that nation avoid the evil effects of the real danger from the other nation? If a woman chooses a child beyond her means of support, then how is she to care for that child?

I hope that abortion becomes an irrelevant choice because politicians take seriously the call to care for the poor and defenseless after birth. I hope that war becomes an irrelevant choice because politicians take seriously the call to welcome foreigners and treat all people as neighbors. This is the work I want from Catholics in political life.

James F. Allen, OMI | 2/15/2003 - 9:03am
While I appreciated Representative Henry’s Hyde’s comments on “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” I found his paragraph relating to the debate over war in Iraq in need of further clarification.

After citing Number 2309 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church (about the evaluation of criteria for a just war belonging to “the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”), he goes on to state that “statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have and can be met.”

While that is true, in concrete situations, however, it is also true that “prudential judgments” can be erroneous. “Scientific judgments” can be made upon facts gleaned from careful research and mathematical certainties. But “prudential judgments” are hardly as clear as “two plus two makes four.” They are based on facts, but they are also subject to personal biases, political agendas, and even human recklessness. As a matter of fact, history has shown again and again that the “prudential judgments” of statesmen have often proven to be erroneous, dangerous, and counterproductive.

It is the role of “clergymen and scholars,” as well as of the proverbial “man/woman on the street” to question the “prudential judgment” of their statesmen vis-à-vis criteria, not only of political expediency, but also of morality. That is one of the reasons why, in a democracy, we are able to vote out of office persons whose “prudential judgment” is faulty.

To dispute these “prudential judgments” does not make us unpatriotic nor, as I am sure anti-war protesters will be called, “anti-American.” It is of the essence of patriotism to speak up when one believes one’s leaders are in error in their “prudential judgment.” That is as old as the Boston Tea Party!

Claire Bangasser | 3/3/2003 - 1:43pm
This is a most interesting article, worthy to be discussed in Parish councils and RCIA groups. I was particularly struck by the thought that “through abortion and euthanasia, … the strong and fit (and wealthy) “solve” the “problem” posed by the weak and defenseless (and costly) we deem burdensome.” Were it that abortion was the action of rich men and women. Abortion so often is the last resort of poor, weak and marginalized women, unloved teen-agers.

Abortion is a terrible tragedy always – not only for the unborn – but also for the one driven to that decision. Abortion is the ultimate failure, a reflection of one’s own inadequacy, one’s loneliness, as well as one’s economic and spiritual poverty. No little girl has ever dreamt of having an abortion when she grows up.

I am glad that the author is an elected Catholic official who stands for life. This means that he wants to correct the economic injustice ruling the land by -– creating and giving an adequate social welfare and medical help, particularly to single mothers heads of household; eliminating feminine economic poverty; raising the awareness of those guilty of domestic violence, whether wife-or child-abuse, rape or incest; as well as educating the public to the fact that it takes two to have a child or an abortion – a man and a woman --, like it takes a village to raise a child.

I hope that the Catholic Church will help this elected official by condemning rape, incest, pedophilia, and domestic and economic violence toward women and children, as severely as it condemns abortion, that from the pulpit it will teach male parishioners that they share in the atrocious responsibility that is an abortion. Abortion is but a symptom of the structures of sin – in our society and in our Church.

Until this happens, like Gloria Steinem, I will wonder whether, “were men able to have children, abortion would be a sacrament.” Until then I will remain pro-choice.

Nicholas Bedessem | 2/18/2003 - 10:00am
I was impressed with Mr. Hyde's reflections on respecting life until he branched out into the life- threatening quagmire that Iraq promises to become. To interpret the Catechism's statement, 'The evaluation of these [just war] criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good" as referring only to "statesmen" [read elected officials] is, I believe, a very narrow interpretation. I always thought that all of us had responsibility for the common good. As Mr. Hyde himself states a bit later: democracy is "an ongoing experiment in a people's capacity to be self-governing,"

The Doctrinal note itself says, "The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that "the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in "public life," that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good." Therefore, in exercising this participation, I deny that there is any way this looming pre-emptive strike on Iraq can be deemed a "just war."

Tom Blackburn | 2/16/2003 - 6:00pm
Rep. Henry Hyde writes (“Catholics in Political Life,” 2/17) that the Catechism’s reference to “those who have responsibility for the common good” (No. 2309) in questions of a just war “means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met.” He sees more than is there. In a representative government, all voters have “responsibility for the common good.” The phrase, at least as it applies here, is not exclusive. War isn't up to President Bush and Rep. Hyde alone. Paragraph No. 2309 has to square with No. 2039: “As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions.” No free pass for presidential choice there. Could the morality of war with Iraq be different in France and Germany than it is in the United States and Great Britain? It sounds as if Rep. Hyde is reviving the Peace of Augsburg’s cuius regio ejus et religio for the Bush administration’s National Security Policy.

Don Rampolla | 2/27/2003 - 12:49pm
I have many comments on Mr. Hyde’s presumptions, but I will address only those on the proposed war with Iraq.

What struck me as totally incongruous is his self serving interpretation of part of Article 2309 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The part of the Article quoted reads as follows “The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy (of a war) belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”. Mr. Hyde’s interpretation reads “That means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met. Let us all keep that sentence from the catechism in mind in the weeks and months ahead” I have two objections to Mr. Hyde’s interpretation. First, in the middle of a lengthy disquisition on democracy, Mr. Hyde dismisses everyone except “statesmen” (does this category include himself?) from having a responsibility for the common good. I refuse to be thus summarily dismissed.

Any democracy is based on the principle that there is wisdom in the collective judgment of the people, and in some sense we are all responsible for the “common good”. (Abraham Lincoln’s reference to “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” indicates to me that this was his understanding). Therefore one of my responsibilities is to inform myself on important issues, to make judgments, and to make my views known to our elected officials. The decisions of the President will be based on inputs from many people; my voice is only one of many but it is important that it be heard, (just as in an election my vote is only one of many, but it is important that it be cast). Every ordinary citizen has this responsibility, how much more clergymen and scholars. Further, since election to the office of President or Vice - president, or appointment to the office of Secretary of Defense, does not confer infinite wisdom on any issue, I will never assume that my judgment is wrong just because my elected officials think otherwise. Hitlers aggression, and the role of U.S. leaders in the undeclared Vietnam War are terrible examples of erroneous judgment by people who were supposedly responsible for the common good. However even though I am free to make my own judgment, I am not unconditionally free to disobey legitimate authority, but this is another issue.

My second objection is that Mr. Hyde fails to mention what is left open by the statement in the Catechism. This can be better understood by considering what Aquinas says in the Summa, “In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, ….”. This statement is quite narrow in scope - even if a group of people decide that the cause is just they may not themselves undertake to wage war, only the sovereign (in our case, the President) can make that decision. Neither Aquinas nor the Catechism implies any of the following. That the decision by the sovereign to make war guarantees that the war is just. That there are restrictions on who provides the input for the sovereign’s decision for or against war That the sovereign’s decision forecloses all further discussion.

So despite Mr. Hyde’s wish to dismiss me, I will not suspend my judgment, and I will not be silent. I will continue to speak and work and pray and march for peace, and I will continue to speak out on all of the other issues that I consider to be crucial to the well being of our nation and the world.

Robert Stewart | 2/13/2003 - 6:18pm
The article in America (02/17/2003) by Henry Hyde, the esteemed congressman from Illinois, provides an interpretation of the Church's "just war" teaching as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I find troubling. He notes that statesman have the "responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have and can be met." To support his position he quotes from the same section of Catechism as did George Wiegel, the biographer of John Paul II, to justify pre-emptive war: "The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good" (No.2309).

Congressman Hyde seems to be saying that statesmen, once they have completed their evaluation, know the mind of God in these matters, and once we hear their voice telling us that the criteria have been met for a just war then we can be assured that we have heard the voice of God. Statesmen may get it right some times, but we know they have also got it wrong other times with respect to war. When they ignore the prophetic voices of leaders like John Paul II, I believe they may not arrive at the right answer.

James H. Duffy | 1/31/2007 - 1:12pm
I am not surprised that Representative Henry Hyde finds it “awry” when American bishops advocate “specific policies that are matters of contingent judgment (such as questions of welfare reform or foreign policy)” (2/17). He argues that the bishops are supposed only to “teach the principles of Catholic social doctrine,” with lay Catholics applying such principles according to their “free and responsible judgment.” The congressman undoubtedly feels the need to denigrate the bishops’ stated positions because his own “free and responsible judgment” is more often than not (except on pro-life issues) totally at odds with their thinking and that of other Catholic action groups. Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, reports, for example, that Representative Hyde did not support its legislative positions one single time in the last session of Congress (see www.networklobby.org); his percentage of support was a flat zero.

And I suspect that if Representative Hyde flipped back a page or two in the issue of America in which his article appeared, to your editorial entitled “Ever-Rising Hunger and Homelessness,” he would have found your positions “awry,” too.

Robert Stewart | 1/31/2007 - 12:25pm
The article by Henry J. Hyde (2/17), the esteemed congressman from Illinois, provides an interpretation of the church’s “just war” teaching as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I find troubling. He notes that statesmen have the “responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have and can be met.” To support his position he quotes from the same section of the catechism as did George Weigel, the biographer of John Paul II, to justify pre-emptive war: “The evaluation of these criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good” (No. 2309).

Congressman Hyde seems to be saying that statesmen, once they have completed their evaluation, know the mind of God in these matters, and once we hear their voice telling us that the criteria have been met for a just war, then we can be assured that we have heard the voice of God. Statesmen may get it right sometimes, but we know they have also gotten it wrong at other times with respect to war. When they ignore the prophetic voices of leaders like Pope John Paul II, I believe they may not arrive at the right answer.

Lucy Fuchs | 1/31/2007 - 12:43pm
It is nice that Henry Hyde quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2/17), but I wish that he would read the rest of the statements about war and not just the one that says that he and others in Washington have the right to evaluate the just conditions. That is too much like, “Just trust us; we know best.”

With all the shenanigans and lies that we are fed by our government and all the underhanded political dealings, we cannot trust our government. We know that we were previously misled in Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf war (the incubator story) and who knows how many more cases? So why should we trust those in office today?

Perhaps in the past, when St. Augustine made up the just war theory, people knew little and blindly followed their leaders, excusing themselves that they were only following orders. Today we know that we cannot always follow our leaders, even Catholic leaders who piously quote the pope when it pleases them and ignore him when it does not, who loudly condemn the killing of the unborn, but support all kinds of other measures that kill the living.

I am not worried that Catholic politicians will impose their religious views on the nation; I only wish they would really support all of the values of our faith.

Nicholas E. Bedessem | 1/31/2007 - 12:42pm
I read with interest and respect Representative Henry J. Hyde’s reflections on The Vatican’s Doctrinal Notes on Some Questions Regarding the Patricipation of Catholics in Political Life (2/17). How difficult it must be to represent some five or six hundred thousand people in this pluralistic society and remain faithful to one’s conscience.

I was impressed with Mr. Hyde’s reflections on respecting life until he branched out into the life-threatening quagmire that Iraq promises to become. To interpret the catechism’s statement “The evaluation of these [just war] criteria for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” as referring only to “statesmen” (read elected officials) is, I believe, a very narrow interpretation. I always thought that all of us had responsibility for the common good. As Mr. Hyde himself states a bit later, democracy is “an ongoing experiment in a people’s capacity to be self-governing.”

The note itself says, “The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that ‘the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in “public life,” that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.”’ Therefore, in exercising this participation, I deny that there is any way this looming pre-emptive strike on Iraq can be deemed a just war.

It is interesting that in the same issue your estimable columnist, John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., took George Weigel to task for using the same paragraph of the catechism in the same vein.

Tom Blackburn | 1/31/2007 - 12:40pm
Representative Henry J. Hyde writes in “Catholics in Political Life” (2/17) that the catechism’s reference to “those who have responsibility for the common good” (No. 2309) in questions of a just war “means statesmen, not clergymen or scholars, have the final responsibility for assessing whether the criteria of a just war have been and can be met.” He sees more than is there.

In a representative government, all voters have “responsibility for the common good.” The phrase, at least as it applies here, is not exclusive. War is not up to President Bush and Representative Hyde alone.

Paragraph No. 2309 has to square with No. 2039: “As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the church and in the authoritative teaching of the magisterium on moral questions.” No free pass for presidential choice there. Could the morality of war with Iraq be different in France and Germany than it is in the United States and Great Britain? It sounds as if Representative Hyde is reviving the Peace of Augsburg’s cuius regio ejus et religio for the Bush administration’s national security policy.

Jim Collins | 1/31/2007 - 12:39pm
The article by Daniel Hartnett, S.J., “Remembering the Poor” (2/3), focused on liberation theology and an interview with Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P. Now I think I understand the church’s mission to the poor. However, the problem with liberation theology, at least as applied 20 and 30 years ago, was that it identified with a radical, left-wing political philosophy. Such a philosophy usually finds expression in some kind of socialism. No economic or political system was as great a failure in the 20th century as socialism. Countries that embraced it then, or do so now, usually cannot even feed their own people.

Thus Representative Henry J. Hyde’s article, “Catholics in Political Life” (2/17), was a welcome contrast. In this country too many church organizations also adopt the political strategies of the left. They are thus cast as partisans in a political debate and often become involved with those who would exploit the poor for their own political power. No one party has a corner on compassion or concern for the poor. They have different ways to accomplish the same goal. Catholics, especially church leaders, would do well to evaluate the solutions of both sides and maintain political neutrality.