It has been the strangest election season any of us can remember. And among the many surprises was the disclosure by WikiLeaks of emails from within a presidential campaign organization that caused great concern among many Catholics for the disparaging language used to describe Catholics.
The disclosure prompted the president of the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, to issue an unprecedented public statement about what he described as an attempt “to interfere in the internal life of the Church for short-term political gain” and to urge “public officials to respect the rights of people to live their faith without interference from the state.”
While the fact that these disclosures came from within a political campaign was troubling, more troubling still was the fact that they were made by Catholics about other Catholics.
The episode points to a serious challenge for Catholics: regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, America will remain a deeply divided country and those divisions are, to a very real extent, reflected within our own Catholic faith community.
The question that we as Catholics should ask ourselves is in what way Catholics in America can in the future be a source of unity and reconciliation, or whether we will be a cause of further division.
The answer to that question will depend largely on what we think it means today to be a Catholic in America. In other words, what is fundamental to our identity as Catholics?
Pope Francis, in his book, On Heaven and Earth, written while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, stated: “There are those that seek to compromise their faith for political alliances or for a worldly spirituality… Henri de Lubac, says that the worst that can happen to those that are anointed and called to service, is that they live with the criteria of the world instead of the criteria that the Lord commands from the tablets of the law and the Gospel.”
While the pope was specifically writing about the clergy, I think what he says applies to all Catholics.
Speaking about this to my brother Knights of Columbus I have said that as an organization dedicated to the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, we must strive to be a source of unity in our church and society and to do this in a way consistent with our commitment to charity, fraternity and patriotism.
Many Americans, and many Catholics among them, are disheartened and frustrated about what has happened during this political season. But this is precisely the time that Catholics need to step up and more fully exercise their responsibilities as citizens for the common good.
It is time for more – not less – Catholic involvement in the life of our nation.
But how, are Catholics to do this? Pope Francis has already suggested the answer: to live more fully by the criteria that the Lord commands rather than by the criteria of the world.
In other words, we need to continue the renewal of our own faith community as Catholics if we hope to influence more effectively our national life as Americans.
I would suggest six areas.
First, continue the renewal of parish life as a true Eucharistic community with a fuller appreciation of how the “the source and summit of the Christian life” is also the source and summit of our unity and charity as Catholics.
Second, the evangelization of Catholic families as a domestic church which, like the universal church, is called to reach out in solidarity to other families, as a source of unity, charity, mercy and reconciliation.
Third, a renewed devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary not only as the perfect model of the Christian life, but also as an unsurpassed model for understanding our responsibilities as citizens for the common good.
Fourth, a deeper understanding of those moral principles and issues that have “absolute value” (as Pope Francis has said the Fifth Commandment does) for us as a faith community, and that are the basis for a more adequate engagement with the social doctrine of our church.
Fifth, a heightened commitment to Catholic education that is not simply abstract, but one that seeks to form the entire person.
Sixth, a greater appreciation of the office of bishop as the source of unity for the local church—a unity that promotes a deeper communion among bishops, priests, religious and laity.
Other considerations could be added to this list. But if we begin thinking in this way, then whoever wins the election, a greater unity among Catholics may provide a roadmap for greater unity for our entire country.
And that would be a “Catholic vote” which would endure far beyond today’s balloting.
Carl Anderson is the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, which is the primary partner of Crux.