Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over the past two weeks, we have watched our two major political parties hold their conventions. These conventions are tightly-scripted political theater. Both candidates and parties operate in the same way, trying to create an image and a narrative that appeals to the greater number of voters to identify their personal good with the candidate.
It is inevitable in an era of media saturation that politics should be conducted in so superficial a manner. But we Catholics, because of our deep-seated beliefs in justice and political involvement, should expect and demand more from our politics. Most especially, we should strive to hold all of our politicians, and our votes, to two related standards – truth and the common good.
Without truth, there is no freedom. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
Spiritually, without the truths of our faith, there can be no freedom from sin and therefore no salvation. Similarly, without full and open truth about the real consequences for real people of policies and political decisions, there is no political freedom.
Absent a shared commitment to truth, we are beholden to the powers that be – to vested interests, to factions or tribes, to party ideologies and lies, or to bad policy and its failure to serve people’s real needs. And we are unable to hold powerful people accountable for crimes and unable to defend ourselves and our communities from violence.
As Catholics, we must be willing to do some extra political homework. We cannot simply accept what we see or read in various media as true. We have to dig in multiple sources, and use our well-formed conscience and judgment, in order to sift real truth from partial, misleading truth, from outright lie. I encourage you to frequently consult the Iowa Catholic Conference website at iowacatholicconference.org.
The standard of the “common good” is even more challenging. The common good is not my personal good projected onto everyone. Nor is it a compromise among competing private goods.
Rather, as we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people… to reach their fulfillment…” (CCC #1906).
While there is no “one size fits all” prescription for the common good of all human societies, always and everywhere, there are, nevertheless, certain bedrock principles which always apply. The catechism lists several, including respect for the dignity of the human person, such that “public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person” (CCC #1907); social well-being and development, such that people are able to access in legitimate ways the necessities of life and happiness (CCC #1908); and peace, including both security of persons and possessions, and justice and the rule of law (CCC #1909).
In addition, the common good invokes the wisdom of the Ten Commandments; for example, it requires freedom from state coercion in all religious matters, consistent with the First Commandment; and likewise “justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men’s labor” (CCC #2401), consistent with the Seventh Commandment against theft.
Of all the many, actual or proposed violations of the common good prevalent in our politics today, the most egregious and damaging is abortion. Abortion violates every single one of these foundations of the common good.
Many popes and bishops have stated this, and Pope Francis repeated it again this year in his exhortation, The Joy of Love: “Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being” (Amoris Laetitia #83).
There is no vision of the common good or of truth that includes abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, and it harms mothers, families and all of society. Every attempted defense or justification of abortion is a lie. There is nothing “good” about it, in any sense. It is not an evil that can be tolerated for a time, for the sake of other greater goods, like we tolerate someone cheating on their taxes or our dysfunctional immigration laws. Abortion is a “horrendous contradiction” of the common good. No politician or party platform can truthfully claim to support, at the same time, both abortion and the common good, no matter how successful their political theater.
As Catholic voters, we need to make sure that we identify first and foremost with truth and the common good, and not with parties or ideologies. We may be members of various political parties, but we must be Catholic first, and bring our Catholic vision of truth and goodness into politics, consistently and loudly.
Please pray, therefore, urgently pray, throughout the coming election season, for our country and our leaders. May God grant that everyone come to understand the evil of abortion, and lift its scourge from among us. May God also grant that we share more deeply a commitment to the good of all, consistent with His holy will. Please pray for me, just as I also pray for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City