I’m Catholic, and I vote. But I don’t get my sample ballot from the Vatican.
I also listen to the moral teachings of Jesus in the gospels. I meditate on the Bible. I read the news. I study history. I talk with other Catholics and with non-Catholics. I reflect on my experience in life.
For instance, the Catholic Church is officially against gay marriage. I don’t agree.
I have friends who are gay couples. They are married whether they have a piece of paper or not. They are in love for the long haul. Some raise children, and, as parents, they are as proud, doting, frazzled and affectionate as my wife Cathy and I have been with our two kids.
I do not understand the opposition to the idea of two men loving each other, or two women loving each other. To my mind, any increase in love in the world is a good thing.
Catholic gay marriage
At some future date, the Catholic Church may come around to embrace gay marriage.Sound far-fetched? The fact is that, over the millennia, official church teaching has evolved. For instance, in the 1860s, Pope Pius IX wrote an encyclical Quanta Cura condemning democracy and freedom of conscience.
Less than 30 years later, however, Pope Leo XIII issued his own encyclical Rerum Novarum which asserted that government should be for the common good — should promote social justice and protect the rights and dignity of all people.
In addition, he promulgated what came to be called the preferential option for the poor, writing, “The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.”Social justice
This social justice doctrine has echoed down the last 120 years of Catholic — and American — history.
It prompted, for example, the work of Dorothy Day who started the Catholic Worker movement, edited the Catholic Worker newspaper, ran a house of hospitality in the New York slums and went to jail in protests on behalf of the poor and against war.
It fueled the demonstrations of American Catholics, such as Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan, against the Vietnam War and the Iraq Wars, against nuclear weapons, against inhumane deportations of undocumented immigrants and in favor of human rights.There’s this image, especially among non-Catholics, that the Pope pushes a button and all Catholics march in lockstep. Yet, as much as church authorities may thunder on one issue or another, church members have always had to determine how to live — and how to vote — based on their own consciences.
For instance, everyone knows that the church hierarchy is adamantly against birth control. Back in 1969, Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae, an encyclical which condemned artificial contraception.
Only four years later, however, the National Survey of Family Growth found that more than half of married Catholic women in the U.S. — 58 percent — were using one or more of the forms of birth control rejected by the Pope. (The survey didn’t interview single women.)
More recently, a 2011 study determined that 87 percent of American Catholic women, regardless of marital status, employed contraceptive methods condemned by the Vatican. In fact, the findings for Catholics were nearly identical to those for all American women.
Did they make this decision in wanton disregard to their conscience? Or thoughtfully, even prayerfully? I think, the latter.
The reality is that, as much as the prelates would like to define it so, Catholicism isn’t monolithic.
Some members of the church are anti-abortion activists. Others are lay missionaries. Some work with the poor in the U.S. Some devote themselves to keeping Catholic schools vibrant and inclusive.
So, yeah, I’m Catholic, and I vote. But don’t pigeon-hole me.
When I go into the voting booth, I’m going to take with me all that I have learned from life.
That includes what my church has taught — not only its official leaders but, even more, the everyday Catholics I live and work with. And non-Catholics, too.
Patrick T. Reardon