No sample ballot from the Vatican

I’m Catholic, and I vote. But I don’t get my sample ballot from the Vatican.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to what official church leaders have to say about the issues — about war and peace, about abortion and gay rights, about immigration and the treatment of the poor.

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.

Pope Pius IX condemned democracy.

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.”

Pope Leo XIII and the preferential option for the poor

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.

Philip and Daniel Berrigan

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.

Birth control

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.

Not monolithic

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.

There are Catholics who pray the Rosary and Catholics who seek God in charismatic liturgies. The Latin Mass is a mainstay for some church members. For others, it’s a faith-sharing group’

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


  • Preston Hensley Posted January 28, 2015 11:47 pm

    Dear Patrick,
    I’m writing a short piece on what it was like to be a grad student in the late sixties. I was at Cornell and Dan Berrigan was a great influence. I wanted to include the photo you have here, but need permission.
    The Piece is for ASBMB today, which is our society journal.

    • Patrick T. Reardon Posted January 29, 2015 7:41 am

      Preston —

      Alas, I do not have the right to give permission to use this photo. It appears to have been a news photo. It shows up frequently on the internet but I haven’t found any attribution for it. I have several biographies of Berrigan, and one of those might have it and show a credit. Unfortunately, all are in boxes for the moment because of some remodeling here.

      For what it’s worth, I interviewed Dan Berrigan by phone for a couple minutes when I was doing a story about poet Haki Madubuti for the Chicago Tribune. The subject was their time together at Cornerl:

      Here’s an except:

      In 1969, Madhubuti, then known as Don L. Lee, was riding high and seemed on the verge of rising even higher.

      Though only 26, he was the first black poet-in-residence at Cornell University. Ebony, the mass-market magazine of black America, had profiled him that spring in an eight-page spread and described him as “a lion of a poet who . . . is always reflecting a revolutionary black consciousness.” And, a few months later, his third book of poems, “Don’t Cry, Scream,” was published, with more than half a million copies now in print.

      Random House came calling, as did other well-established publishing houses. But Madhubuti wasn’t interested.

      “We were actually against becoming part of the mainstream,” he says. “I was in the midst of a re-definition. We were the ones who stopped using `Negro.'”

      Of course, more than simply a word was at issue. It was a way of thinking. Instead of pleading to become part of white society, young blacks like Madhubuti, many of them followers of Malcolm X, were looking at the strength they had within themselves.

      That spring, Donda West, now the chair of the English department at Chicago State, was a freshman at Virginia Union University, a small, historically black Baptist school in Richmond, when Madhubuti came to speak.

      “He read his poetry and answered questions,” she says, “and it was so powerful and made such an impact that, the next day, we took over the administration building.”

      At issue were some 32 grievances, including unrest over the lack of black history and literature courses, and rejection of outdated school rules, such as one requiring female students to wear white gloves on Sundays. The students told Madhubuti about their grievances, but he didn’t tell them to take over any buildings. All he had said, West recalls, was: “If we didn’t take a stand, we wouldn’t see change.”

      Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit poet-activist and one of the leaders of the antiwar movement in the Vietnam era, was at Cornell the same year as Madhubuti. “The religious community there, we ran a coffeehouse in the basement of our building, and he read there,” recalls Berrigan. “It was very beautiful, very powerful stuff. I remember great gentleness and forthrightness. He was steadfast and constant, a quiet presence.”

      When Berrigan was convicted with his brother Philip and others of burning draft records in Catonsville, Md., he says, “I came home after we were released on appeal — I still remember — and [Madhubuti] had come to my apartment and left me a poem. It was such a courtesy. I never forgot it.”

      Madhubuti’s one-year appointment at Cornell was a feather in his cap. But, in many ways, it was beside the point. He had been living on Chicago’s South Side since 1963, when he finished a two-year, 10-month stint in the Army. And he was putting down roots that he had no plans to pull up

      The full story begins here:


Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *