Written by Fr. Gary
The above title seems to represent the opinion of at least some parishioners based on the emails they’ve sent or the comments they’ve made. One parishioner wrote that the gathering area “feels less like a house of God… and more like an office of a political campaign”. A caller alleged that the parish was violating IRS regulations by being so politically active and that we were ignoring the principle of separation of Church and state.
There is no doubt that the efforts by pro-life groups, the Catholic Church, and others to urge the passage of the Value Them Both (VTB) Amendment in Kansas has taken on a very visible and, at least to some, unusually prominent tenor. Some have wondered why the parish, in its Mass petitions, bulletin articles and announcements has seemed to pay less attention to all the lives being lost in the war in Ukraine, or by gun violence in our major cities and seems to be exclusively focused on the VTB Amendment. I understand how some might worry that this issue has drawn the Church into politics.
Let me offer some comments that I hope will help put things in perspective. It is certainly true that all life is indeed sacred, and Catholics should not just be concerned with life in the womb. The lives of the elderly, the poor, the sick, the oppressed and even the lives of criminals are to be valued as well.
However, the tragedy of abortion is an extremely grave matter. The Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at the moment of conception. Science affirms that truth. Since 1973 there have been almost 64 million lives lost to abortion in the U.S. alone and over 1.6 billion worldwide since 1980. Those new lives are the most vulnerable and the Church has a duty to speak in their defense.
While wars and violence are always a concern, there is not a whole lot most Kansas Catholics can do to impact the political and real battles going on in Ukraine or other distant places right now. Prayer, relief efforts for war victims and pressure on politicians to advocate for peace is probably the best we can do.
But the VTB Amendment is a very time-critical and historic moment when those who embrace the Church’s teaching on the dignity of life have an opportunity and a duty to act. Without the passage of this amendment, almost any kind of legislative effort to regulate or in any way limit abortion in Kansas will be fruitless, since the Kansas Supreme Court has suddenly found a “right” to abortion in the State Constitution. So, this is not just an ordinary political issue, this is a crucial moment for Kansans who defend life in the womb. The Catholic Church unapologetically defends such life.
It is also true that the Church, as an institution, cannot and should not advocate for a particular political candidate or party, but the Church must advocate for moral issues. Throughout U.S. history, the Church’s teachings never fully align with the positions of any particular political party. Sooner or later, each party will likely take up some position on some topic that is at odds with the truths that the Church professes. Thus, Catholics should vote on the issues, not merely along party lines.
The Church is not in violation of any regulations by urging passages of certain referendums or amendments. IRS regulations permit such activity, and it is essential to religious liberty. The notion of separation of Church and state is not to deny free exercise of religion, including allowing religious beliefs to influence one’s political opinions and votes, but to prevent the state from interfering with the free exercise of religion or establishing a state religion.
I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by some parishioners, after all, politics has become so partisan and political rhetoric so toxic that it seems somehow inappropriate to connect it in any way with our faith. But, as messy as politics sometimes gets, our faith calls us to be responsible citizens. Our faith cannot just be a Sunday morning thing or something we do just in private. Our Catholic faith should influence, inform, and guide every decision we make whether at home, work or in the public square.
While we are called to speak the truth in love and to advocate our positions in the character of Christ, using not the methods of the world, but the methods of the Gospel, we are nonetheless called to speak the truth, even when it’s controversial.
We live in a world that has in many ways embraced the culture of death and as members of Christ’s Church we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Life. It doesn’t always feel good, and it can be messy and we may not always do it exactly right, but we cannot back away. Prayer is the most important thing we must do, but we must also let the truths of our faith be evident in our words and deeds, including our actions as citizens in the public square.