Thursday, May 31, 2007

Catholic Politicians

One of the purposes of this blog is to give you some background behind various items of news, particularly in areas where I am knowledgeable, such as religion and spirituality. I will also give you news on those subjects that you might not hear or read in the mainstream media. This is one such posting.

The Roman Catholic Cardinal of Scotland recently indicated that he may recommend that Scottish Roman Catholic politicians whose policies are inconsistent with the Church’s teachings will not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. To my knowledge he hasn’t made that decision, but other Catholics over the years have suggested that pro-abortion and pro-gay rights politicians should not be allowed to receive the sacrament.

This presents an interesting theological discussion about the sacraments and means of grace, but I won’t bore you with it. Instead, I’ll try to explain where this Cardinal and other Catholics are coming from in this regard.

In Europe and the Americas, what religion you affiliate with is a matter of free choice. While there may be social pressures to belong to a particular religion, everybody is free to belong to any religion of their choosing, or no religion. One of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution is the free exercise of religion without governmental interference (more on this in a future posting).

Since choice of religious affiliation is an individual and non-coerced preference, then it follows that anybody who chooses a particular religion agrees with its teachings. For example, the Pope recently visited Brazil, where just about everybody is baptized Catholic. However, quite a few people have left the Catholic Church and converted to various evangelical Protestant denominations. They freely chose to reject Catholicism and embrace a different form of Christianity.

One thing about the Catholic Church is that its teachings and policies are clear – there is little wiggle room and no ambiguity. So if a Catholic politician rejects his or her church’s clear teachings on social issues, then he or she has in essence rejected the church. If he or she has rejected the church, then why should this politician be allowed to receive the church’s sacraments, which are, to some extent, a reaffirmation of one’s loyalty to that church? Politicians, in particular, make laws, so what they do affects everybody. It isn’t just personal belief, as with you and me.

So for these reasons many Catholics believe the Church does have the right to refuse the Eucharist to politicians who defy their church’s teachings. I suspect they believe that if the politician is “voting his conscience” on abortion or gay rights rather than conforming to his church’s unambiguous teachings, then he should join a church which is more consistent with his conscience. Otherwise the practice of his religion is a sham. The Catholic Church in particular is not a “cafeteria religion” where you can pick and choose what you believe. You buy into the whole package.

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