As we approach our national election and ponder the privilege we have as citizens to vote. It is our responsibility to help shape the direction of the nation that we love and support. I encourage all of you to read the directions given by the USCCB as a voters’ guide (Archdiocesan webpage) to be informed as to the issues that the Catholic Church and its social teachings place before us. I wish to emphasize the following issues and why they are extremely important to me as a Catholic and a patriotic citizen.
The first is Religious Freedom. As a religious leader, I am more and more convinced that a concerted effort is being waged against organized religion. It has been true for the last decade with a push toward “secularism.” Religion, especially the Catholic Church, stands at the forefront in opposition to the social reconstruction that is marketed as a progressive doctrine which deems religion and its teachings as offensive and backward. The Founding Fathers protected the right of religion to be practiced and expressed in the public forum with an exemption from governmental policies that would infringe upon religious exercise. It can be argued that the country was founded on the desire to practice religion free from the intrusion that marked many of the countries that they fled. Today’s government in many ways attempts to marginalize religion and its works, as well as to isolate its influence. It was strange to me that religious leaders for the most part were not invited to the table to discuss and offer advice on the practices that were taking place during the pandemic. It is certainly not true that religion seeks to dictate to the government, but it should be considered an important voice in the discussion. Remember the communist governments needed to suppress religion because inherit in religion is the recognition that there is a higher authority to which we will all be held accountable. For some political leaders, religion is fine if it’s private worship is confined to a church, synagogue or mosque on a Saturday or Sunday for one or possibly two hours. I wonder will homilies be scrutinized for politically correct positions? Will churches be the subject of interference in their social outreach being evaluated by whether they carry the banner of political ideologies? We do have a higher responsibility and that alone makes us better citizens and more responsible human beings.
I am unabashedly Pro Life. The second concern is respect for life from womb to tomb. I am convinced we will not return to a positive attitude in our country until we protect life, especially that of the unborn. The protection of our rights is only as secure as the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable among us and is there little doubt that the most vulnerable is the unborn. The unborn are not recognized as human beings (then really what are they?). They are subjected to a determination of convenience (I made a mistake, changed my mind, or simply do not want the burden of a pregnancy, so another human being will pay for it). I sat in a number of spiritual counseling sessions as expectant mothers lost the child in their womb or had a miscarriage. This was a life. I was ashamed of my fellow human beings who cheered and lit up the Empire State building after passing the most liberal abortion law in the United States, “killing a baby who could survive outside the womb.” This was a denial of mere humanity and a government that was denying the future. We have been denying millions of citizens (they would have become members of the work force, taxpayers, etc.). A focus on the “life issues” will give strength to all other social issues; you cannot be pro social justice principles if you are not first rooted in respect for “Life.” All the social issues can only be addressed if you are alive. These are souls whose fulfillment has been denied.
The third issue is Economy and Schools. Strong families emerge from economic stability. We need a strong economy supported by a growing middle class. Much of the unrest and inequality exist because of the denial of economic opportunities. Every parent should have access to a good education for their children and the state should offer choices for their children. Training programs which educate men and women in the areas of the trades and technology are necessary. I am an education advocate; however, I am also practical. I have met many men and women who have made great contributions to our society and culture, and do not have a college degree. Vocational training attacks the permanent welfare class, which creates a dependency, establishing a type of welfare caste system. The poor have a possibility for social movement through education and economic opportunity. We should support those educational and economic reforms. Until the pandemic, there was support for small businesses, which allowed an entrepreneurial spirit that promoted jobs and reestablished ownership in the economy.
The fourth issue of concern for me is the National Debt. How can one even wrap their minds around $27 trillion in debt? It is real and needs to be addressed. I am sorry if I exhibit my blue-collar background, but you do not spend what you do not have. I realize that there is value to production and earning potentials; however, if there is not enough in the piggy bank or enough hours in a day to work for pay, then you must live within your means. This must be true also for the government. All those promises that were made for the special benefits of the people become valueless if there is no money to fulfill them. I have always found it disingenuous that people flippantly say just kick the can down the road, leaving the problem for future generations. We created it. We own it; not our children.
The fifth issue is Security, both national and domestic. We should address our internal security against the forces of terrorism and the arbitrary violence, which disrupts social harmony, and also the national defense, which protects us from foreign enemies. We are facing a world which not only must be prepared to encounter bullets, but also cyber technology and bio-chemical warfare as well. I was a chaplain in the United States Army Reserves for 23 years and I am proud of the service I offered to my country. I also am proud of the spirit of the men and women who wore the uniform. It may sound strange for an Archbishop to call for a strong military, but the service personnel are committed to the protection of the nation, their families and of the freedoms of United States citizens. Likewise, I am grateful for our first responders: our police, fire and emergency personnel who rush to defend the vulnerable citizen and allow us to sleep soundly every night. We cannot be so naïve and unaware that there are foreign enemies that desire to hurt, and even destroy America and its way of life. Recently, this has been not only foreign but domestic, as well. America cannot afford to abdicate its leadership in the world community. Without a sense of a strong and stable American society, the world is left prey to international dictatorial self-interests.
Many may ask why I did not offer other specific issues, such as racism, immigration, foreign relations, universal health care, etc. Certainly there is no end to social issues; however, all these issues, in order to be properly addressed, must have a foundation of respect for the dignity of life, opportunity to succeed, a strong economy, a sense of security and, of course, an expression of God’s presence in our lives. They systemically affect the nation and its future. Thomas Jefferson stated, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
I am a committed Catholic and will witness to the faith until I die. I love our country and will always be a faithful citizen following the Gospel of Jesus Christ and respecting our Constitution.