Church Vs. Politics

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A major donor to the Colorado Springs Diocese is threatening to withhold his contributions. That’s in the wake of the bishop’s controversial call to ban communion for Catholics, if they vote for certain political candidates. In fact, Parker lawyer and businessman Ric Kethcart likens Bishop Michael Sheridan's stance to McCarthyism.

Last week Bishop Sheridan asked Catholics who vote for candidates backing abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research, or euthanasia to recant and confess before they receive communion. But Kethcart says mixing politics and the church is more disturbing than the clergy abuse scandal.

He says the bishop, in his opinion, has chosen to lay down his staff and replace it with a bludgeon. "To basically put sanctions on people who exercise their right to vote is, I feel, a step too far," he says.

That's Kethcart’s basic argument. He had pledged $100,000 to help build a new church in Highlands Ranch, which is part of the Colorado Springs Diocese. But now that Bishop Michael Sheridan has said Catholics should not support candidates who are in favor of abortion, euthanasia or same-sex marriage, he is threatening to pull his donation. "Unless his position has changed, I can't in good conscience---my family can’t in good conscience---contribute to support this attitude that creates guilt in its parishioners because they make political choices," he says. “Those who oppose have a tendency to try and bark louder than the rest.”

Peter Howard is Bishop Sheridan's spokesman. He says the Diocese will not allow money to dictate the policies of the church. "If people want to withdraw their money, they are free to do that. It’s their money, but the church will go on. God will always provide, so we're not concerned."

But Kethcart believes others will join him in voting with their wallets. "I've gotten a tremendous number of emails and calls," he says. In the end, he hopes he can convince Bishop Sheridan to take a more moderate view. "I am hopeful that this dialogue will result in maybe a reassessment or a restatement of positions that have become increasingly harsh," he says.

Kethcart says even if he can't resolve his dispute with the Diocese, he will still give the money to charity.

Here is the complete text of Kethcart's letter to Bishop Sheridan:


Dear Bishop Sheridan:

I have been an active member of the Diocese of Colorado Springs virtually since its inception. I have participated in many efforts within the Diocese to create new communities in the Northern Region and have sought to help both the Diocese and its Northern parishes to create “community” to spread Christ’s word and love. Your recent pastoral letter on the exercise of your parishioners’ right to vote is, frankly, more of a threat to this Diocese, and its Catholics, than any of the recent Church scandals we have all had to suffer through. In this pastoral letter, you have chosen to lay down your staff and replace it with a bludgeon. I cannot help but be reminded of such things as the McCarthy Era in the 50s, the Inquisition and the much checkered history of Christ’s Church regularly forgetting that the free will of its members cannot be pummeled into “correct thought”, but rather that the choices of its members must be freely made as an act of love, not fear.

Your position is full of misunderstanding of the complexities of choice and the obligations of political leadership. Your challenge to our Church and its most loyal members will simply alienate the most caring and loving people who make up the majority of Christ’s Church in our Diocese. Instead of being a bold leadership position, it is divisive, callus and cold hearted dictum. Catholic men and women who choose to dedicate themselves to others by running for office, thereby assuming the responsibility of representing the interests of their constituents, cannot be placed in the position of being “un-Catholic” by doing precisely what they are elected to do ... represent the views and desires of all their constituents. Their representation does not mean they necessarily believe a certain course of action is a “good”, they only are affirming that moral choices must be made based upon the free will of those who must act. Our job as Christ’s Church is to give these dedicated people support and counsel so that they understand many perspectives in order that they make the best possible decisions for all their constituents. Legislating morality never works, for it just creates an illegal industry that exploits those who may have a different perspective and viewpoint than those who propose, and then cram down, “moral legislation”.

Regardless of your postulation, abortion, stem cell experimentation, euthanasia and gay marriages are NOT a litmus test of proper choices of representatives; they are, at best, specific and narrow aspects of a rich spectrum of how these representatives choose to address the very real, complex moral issues they must deal with daily. I need to make some specific, critical points:

 One of the basic fallacies of your position is that if you elect officials who “think right” by taking “Right Positions” that they will actually vote “right”. In fact, there is no accountability to assure they will even vote a particular way once they are in office. Virtually all legislation deals with a multiplicity of issues. It could well be that a particularly complex piece of legislation, which has truly compelling aspects which demand its passage, may take an incorrect position on one of your “Right Positions”. Under such circumstance, any elected official will inevitably vote against this particular “Right Position” for the overriding good of those he/she represents by passing the desirable legislative act.

 Another fallacy of your position is that those “espousing” the “Right Positions” actually believe these positions, and will stake their political future on always supporting your narrow agenda.
o You may not accept this, but a number of people are currently “anti-abortion” publicly, to secure voting blocks, and not because they have a firm, committed belief in this issue.
o The same can be said for the narrow group who wish to ban “gay marriages”. They are simply using homosexual prejudices of certain voters to fan this prejudice and to get their votes. This “anti-gay” movement is being steered towards a constitutional amendment for a very obvious reason; such an action will virtually kill any viable need to address the realities of actually voting on such an issue in the near future, thereby allowing these politicians to “trash” those who are the focus of this prejudice, without having to actually so vote.
All you have to do is live in Washington DC, and interact with professional politicians as I have, to truly understand the pragmatic reality within which these people must survive.

 It is very possible that any elected representative may never deal with any issue addressing and/or incorporating one of those “Right Positions” during their term, but they will deal with life changing issues that have nothing to do with these limited issues virtually daily. Using your test, you have just elected an individual for specific reasons and then they simply never deal with the “Right Positions”.

 How can any ethnical person choose a candidate simply because they have “Right Positions”, when all of their other positions could be “wrong”? I can list a number of infamous persons who would be correct on “Right Positions”, but have been abominations in public office. You only need to think of the junior senator from Wisconsin in the 1950s to see that; Joe McCarthy would have been completely aligned with the “Right Positions”.

 You have indicated that if neither candidate has “Right Positions”, a Colorado Springs Catholic must “write in” another candidate. In our representative democracy, the dominant vote getter takes all. “Writing in” a name that has no realistic hope of being elected simply supports the incumbent or the favored candidate (who may be the same). Such an action is actually a vote FOR what may a totally unacceptable candidate as surely as any other action. The proper action is to vote for the candidate which more closely represents an individual’s total perspective. While in graduate school, I participated in studying a University of Michigan report on the presidential election of 1968. Many of us who had supported Robert F. Kennedy could not support Hubert Humphrey and chose not to vote. As a result, Richard Nixon was elected. In effect, I elected Richard Nixon. I will never NOT vote again, and I will never throw my vote away as you counsel.

 Your simplistic perspective on the four “Right Positions” does not support Christ’s Church’s view of love, compassion and community. The fact that there can be meaningful, differing opinions on moral issues is abhorrent to doctrinarians, but, since all of these are moral issues, which involve judgments and choices, it means that differing opinions exist. These very complex ideas and challenges do not have clear answers, regardless of narrow minded perspectives.
o Abortion. Of course, Christ’s Church and all of its members want to save every life, and every day, we should reach out and try and create an environment to allow the birth of all conceived children. Our Church tries very hard to offer a support system to allow this natural unfolding of conception, but we cannot touch and assist all who must deal with this very complex issue. Our obligation is to help, not condemn. Would Christ do anything else?

 Pro Choice is not Pro Abortion. The equating of these concepts is incredibly naive and insultful. If you create an environment in which every person addressing this issue has a choice and is given a chance to act freely, many will make a choice for life; some will not. That is the choice that is made about sin each day ... it’s that free will aspect of humans which we must respect. If one chooses “wrong” and “sins”, we must create the opportunity for repentance and redemption, not castigate the “sinners” and push them from the Body of Christ.

 Outlawing abortion will kill more than unborn babies. Since the relaxation of laws due to Roe v. Wade, at least those women who choose abortion have proper medical care and a support system to try and recover from this trauma. Would you really return our society to illegal abortions and the very real health threats for the women involved? I have heard the argument that we have made abortions too easy. Have we really? Or is it that with no illegal shroud we are realizing the scope of this very shocking circumstance through stark, public data?

 To suggest the right of the unborn to life is absolute without also taking an absolute position on the death penalty and fighting in a war, by saying “... there are differing thoughts on the war and the death penalty ...” is simply choosing which killing is an absolute and which one can be “danced around”. If you are going to have moral absolutes ... well, they must be absolutes! Is killing an innocent fetus any more “heinous” than injecting lethal drugs into a possibly repentant murderer... or even someone who is not truly guilty? Or any more heinous than shooting a wide-eyed “combatant” who is holding a gun pointed at you in the streets of Baghdad simply because you are not sure if he will pull the trigger or throw down the weapon? All of these tragic circumstances are rife with very complex moral issues that defy generalizations. I hate the results of them all, but I am not ready to condemn anyone for considering all of the possible facets that impact such choices.
o Gay Marriages. Frankly, this is the biggest non-issue in recent history. The sanctity of marriage, as we traditionalists know it, is not in the least threatened by choices that some individuals may make which are simply choices I might not make. I don’t drink, but I certainly would not condemn others for choosing to drink. In case it is not obvious, those choosing such a lifestyle most likely would neither choose a more traditional relationship, nor would they be happy if forced by convention to take such action. If such a choice would make those lacking happiness in their world more happy, and perhaps more Christian towards others, how could this “joining” be wrong for all those around these two people? If any person chooses such a course of action, this does not mean they are any less entitled to our love and welcoming into our community. We are all sinners, and if such act is a sin, is it any worse than my own? Is it worse than those traditional couples who are divorced and remarried outside the Church? Am I to judge that, or are you to judge that? Why are we so concerned about judging, when Christ said to love one another? Shouldn’t we put down our stones and embrace those who “sin” or otherwise choose differently than I?
o Stem Cell Research. To object to using stem cells for research is like stating doctors who harvest organs to save lives from a recently murdered person are guilty of the murder. If the tissue is going to be available, or otherwise discarded, there is no reason not to harvest their value for medical research. If you have ever had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or Diabetes, like I have, you would not be so quick to judge such beneficial work. If properly done with reasonable controls, this effort will save lives and more importantly avoid terrible and decaying diseases which take horrific tolls not only on the suffering individuals but their families.
o Euthanasia. What precisely qualifies as Euthanasia? Certainly killing healthy people due to ethnic cleansing, more correctly known as genocide, is clearly immoral, illegal and abhorrent. However, I am certain this is not what is at issue.

 Is assisted suicide what is meant here? If that is the focus, would this not also qualify for the same type of reasonable disagreements which affect the issue of abortion? Is not the Church better off to provide proper counseling and help than to condemn those who may have what they believe is a moral right to choose this course and give them an opportunity to share in Christ’s love? How can the Church demand absolutes when a loved one is suffering excruciating pain endlessly, simply because they can be kept alive? If someone, or some person’s family, thoughtfully makes such a terrible choice, how can I be so arrogant so as to condemn them?

 Is it Euthanasia to
 Choose to not authorize elective surgery on someone dying of a disease, so that their death may occur sooner? I and my family have had to make such a choice; or to
 Choose to not authorize nourishment to someone so ill that to choose otherwise would prolong an illness which has no possibility of survival? Again, my wife, Cindi, has had to make this horrible decision in support of her Dad with regard to her Mom; or to
 Disconnect life support if someone is brain dead? I did that for my Dad when only his pacemaker was keeping his body functioning; this “choice” allowed him to donate his liver to another critically ill woman 2,000 miles away. Where do such choices stop being an act of love and become sin? I will never accept that each of these decisions were not ones that Jesus would make.

Perhaps the most unacceptable attribute of your position is the fact it is a direct slap to my Irish Catholic, Democratic roots. The Catholic Church in this country survived and flourished, due, in large part, to the devotion and commitment of us Irish Catholics who were predominantly Democrats. Your position, and to a lesser extent, the position of Archbishop Chaput, is clearly anti-Democratic and has the result of endorsing candidates who in many instances do not care one wit about the inherent dignity of each and every person in this world; they have simply taken a position to get votes. I would never suggest that only Democrats feel true compassion for all humans and all Americans. It is just that basic human dignity has been a core philosophy of this party and its leaders, especially over the last 70 years. Specifically, this positioning insults a wonderful Catholic, Ken Salazar. One may disagree with his political stands on certain key economic or international issues, but to seek to isolate and castigate him for his belief that every American should be free to make his/her own choices is a blatant misuse of your canonical authority, especially given his real devotion to our faith. There are many other highly dedicated Democrats and Republicans who will be inappropriately washed by these gross and inaccurate generalizations, so Ken Salazar shall not be alone.

Unquestionably, you have been deluged with a number of comments on your public position and the use of your pulpit and office to raise your opinions to a “Catholic Church statement of position”. We must remember that Christ’s Church is a Church of its people, and that its leaders are temporary servants, who are to foment Christian love, and to guide in moral ways, using powers of persuasion and Christ’s word, not sacramental extortion.

Please, recant your ill-informed position! Emphasize that the Church’s teachings are that all men and women are loved by God and that Christ’s Church will offer its perspective and views on all issues as it sees fit, as it offers a reasoned interpretation of Christ’s teachings. Do not judge others for their willingness to refrain from imposing their personal moral and religious viewpoints on others or for their “failure” to condemn others who think differently. Support those who accept all humans as dignified members of God’s family, whether they may choose to “sin” or to choose the way some would think as “the right way”. Please do not let our Church leadership become modern day Pharisees, who feel only their way is the “right” way; unquestionably they, too had “Right Positions” 2000 years ago, just as you now espoused.

If such action is not taken, I and my family have some difficult choices to make. I have willingly and eagerly supported our Church and our Diocese for many decades. However, I cannot support such narrow mindedness and such misplaced and uninformed zealotry. While I know that no position of the Diocese and its Shepherd should, or will, be made as a result of money, I will have no choice but to revoke my $100,000 pledge to St. Mark’s capital campaign and further economic support for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. I have no doubt that many others will act similarly; my views are not solitary or particularly unique. Frankly, if I must “move back” into the Archdiocese of Denver (even the Archbishop of Denver has not chosen to hold its members’ sacramental right hostage as you have), I will do so with extraordinary sadness, for my “Church” is the families of St. Mark, of Pax Christi, of Ave Maria and of St. Francis; the edifices we have built are only manifestations of the love of these communities for each other, their God and those who will follow them.

The choice is now with you, as caretaker for our particular section of the Body of Christ.

Respectfully submitted,
Ric Kethcart
Francis F. Kethcart