Deacon Walter C. Ayres
Deacon Walter C. Ayres

Last month, I wrote on my blog about the second anniversary of President Trump’s Executive Order to build a wall along our southern border. At the time, I noted that many religious leaders opposed the construction of a border wall then, and they continue to do so today. 

One of my Facebook friends responded by writing, “Thank you for presenting us with the several opinions that conform with the DNC platform.” (DNC is the Democratic National Committee.) 

That was an interesting reply, especially in light of the fact that someone else had written a Facebook post criticizing Governor Cuomo for signing the Reproductive Health Act, expanding abortion services in New York. That prompted one of her followers to write something along the lines of, “I hope you enjoy being in bed with the GOP.” 

So there we were, two Catholic writers, each presenting the teachings of our Church, and one of us is accused of favoring the Democrats while the other is charged with representing the Republicans. 

Had both of our respondents called the Church political, they would have been correct. However, being political and being partisan are two different things.

As the American Bishops noted in the most recent rendition of the statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party. Our cause is the defense of human life and dignity and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.”

There is no denying that some individual Catholics, and even some clergy, have strayed from that directive. That is disappointing, but it does not change the Church’s position on partisanship. 

The tendency to find partisanship in political statements with which one disagrees is not limited to Catholics. I find it in many faith traditions. The advantage of such a tactic is that it frees a person from having to deal with the teachings of their own faith. 

If people can dismiss a religious position as partisan, they do not have to examine the teachings of their faith; they do not have to question their beliefs. They can still be true believers even if their leaders have “failed” them. 

How much easier it is to criticize the politics of church leadership than to examine one’s adherence to the theology of the faith.     
I am reminded of a cartoon I saw in The New Yorker many years ago. It shows a judge leaning over the bench, waving his finger disapprovingly at a lawyer and saying, “I may not know the law, but I know what I like.” 

So it seems to be with many people and their religious beliefs. They may not know what their church teaches, but they know what they believe. And if that differs from the teachings of their faith? Well, they all seem to agree on one thing: they are not the ones who are in error. 
Deacon Walter Ayres is director of Catholic Charities Commission on Peace and Justice.