Clergy In Politics

FrMichael brought up the notion that it is bad for a bishop to forbid priests and seminarians a public voice in protest. Presumably it is good for their involvement in the secular sphere, persuading, lobbying, or even being confrontative. St John Paul II dissented from that view. In a widely quoted bit, he suggested clergy are not political or social leaders.

Much was made of left-leaning clergy in public office in the 70’s and into the 80’s. I wasn’t very aware of it as I lived through those years. I did recall a priest, Robert Drinan, served in Congress. But he complied with the pope’s insistence not to serve in the US government, and withdrew from his congressional campaign.

I would largely agree with this. Public office is something for lay people. Only by way of an extreme exception could I imagine a priest serving in a way best reserved for a lay person.

Protesting at abortion clinics, military bases, G8 gatherings, Occupy, and other such efforts isn’t exactly the same as serving in public office. But it’s not too different either. In some of those settings, clergy are viewed by participants as leaders.

I’m sure Fr Frank Pavone would object, but my pastoral sense is that he and other clergy are better placed as pastors, and prepared to receive people who find their involvement on one or another side of the abortion issue to be morally problematic. A person who is protesting is in less of a position to offer counsel. And it’s not that a priest needs to be explicitly neutral on a political issue with moral consequences. I see it as the nature of the role and ministry in the Church.

The Father of Luke 15 waited at home. He was prepared to receive either of his sons. For someone who has returned home, or who hasn’t left farther than the front porch, the priest is called as a minister of accompaniment.

Protesters feel confident and supported, if not emboldened, by the presence and support of their bishops and priests. But the various issues of the day, from Occupy and the Tea Party to clinic protests are not primarily about the comfort level of those involved. And like it or not, clergy are pastors of people on both sides of the abortion issue. Their duty to reconcile offenders rather overrides any personal sense of involvement in protesting against those same offenders. Even if the likelihood of such an encounter is small, it must be something for which a minister is prepared.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Ministry, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Clergy In Politics

  1. FrMichael says:

    “Protesting at abortion clinics, military bases, G8 gatherings, Occupy, and other such efforts isn’t exactly the same as serving in public office. But it’s not too different either.”

    What? Protesting is a form of exercising freedom of speech inherent to all human beings. What does that have to do with serving in public office?

    “But the various issues of the day, from Occupy and the Tea Party to clinic protests are not primarily about the comfort level of those involved.” False equivalency. The pro-life question has stood preeminent for decades, it is not an “issue of the day” but one, if not, the leading social question the Church has encountered in recent times. St. John Paul even wrote an encyclical on the subject, the Gospel of Life.

    If the clergy in Spokane was unique among all the American Catholic clergy in neglecting their pastoral duties because they were manning picket lines outside of Planned Parenthood day and night, then Cupich had a reason to issue a ban. Count me unconvinced that was the case.

    • Todd says:

      It’s not a matter of neglect, but of prudence. Protesting and serving in public office are but two ways lay people express themselves in the world. Priests have duties and responsibilities different and distinct from lay people. They serve the pro-life and other political movements in ways appropriate to their state of life and their ministry. I’m unconvinced clergy *need* to protest to be fully *human beings.*

  2. Chris Sullivan says:

    I think it is good for clergy to join protests for social justice. Jesus did.

    God bless

  3. Karl says:

    Fr Drinan’s successor in Congress was…Barney Frank.

  4. FrMichael says:

    As an aside, is “Karl” Liam?

    While I’m in agreement that most priests should not spend an inordinate amount of time advocating for specific issues and that public advocacy is primarily a mission for the laity, a blanket ban seems way overboard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s