Bishops Behaving Badly: Catholic Prelates Preach Partisan Politics

Vote the wrong way, go to hell, says Illinois bishop.

Let’s say someone told you that voting for a certain candidate would be an “evil” act and that by casting your ballot for this candidate, you would in fact be furthering the cause of evil.

You would probably get the impression that the person who made these remarks was telling you not to vote for that candidate, right?

Meet Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. He doesn’t think you should vote for President Barack Obama. He keeps saying it’s not his job to tell you how to vote -- but he’s quick to add that a vote for Obama (and indeed any Democrat) furthers “intrinsic evils.”

Paprocki discourses on this issue at length in the diocesan newspaper Catholic Times. He notes that the Democrats support many “evils” – mainly legal abortion and same-sex marriage. He points out that there are some positive items in the Democratic platform but quickly adds that other planks “explicitly endorse intrinsic evils.”

What about the Republicans? Good news! Paprocki has examined their platform, and concludes, “[T]here is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin.”

Wait a minute. The GOP supports the death penalty, which the church has historically opposed. Isn’t that a problem? Nope, says Paprocki. It turns out the church doesn’t really oppose it in all cases.

But what about the Republicans’ stand on aid to the poor and those in need?  You might recall that some nuns chartered a bus and took it across the county to highlight Catholic teaching in this area.

Well, those nuns are all wet, according to Paprocki. The GOP just has “different methods” for assisting those in need. There’s nothing evil about those methods, so it’s no biggie.

In case anyone fails to get the message, Paprocki concludes by pointing out that if you vote for candidates who promote evil, there’s a good chance you’ll go straight to hell.

“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,” Paprocki writes.

Of course Paprocki’s not telling you who to vote for! He’s just helpfully pointing out that if you vote for Democrats, you are furthering the cause of evil and ensuring that you’ll spend eternity being tormented in hell. How could anyone perceive that as political intervention?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) produces a guide to political activity. It takes a pretty hard line and notes that the Internal Revenue Service prohibits “a range of activities, generally including: statements, in any medium, of support or opposition for any candidate, political party or political action committee….”

Perhaps the USCCB should send someone out to Springfield to read the document to Paprocki.

That person might then want to move on to New Jersey, where Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has also gone around the bend. Myers has issued a statement on same-sex marriage and abortion that goes so far as to instruct Catholics who disagree with church teachings on marriage to refrain from receiving communion.

Myers denied that the statement has anything to do with the election and tried to argue, with a straight face, that he released it now – a little more than a month before the election – just because, well, he felt like it. (Just for the record: Four states will vote on marriage equality this November. New Jersey isn’t one of them.)

If the Internal Revenue Service and the USCCB won’t crack on these politically partisan preachers, that leaves only one avenue: members of the church will have to speak up and make it clear that they don’t necessarily need, want or appreciate the hierarchy’s commands about how to behave in the voting booth.

Congregants appear to be doing so. A poll issued yesterday by the Pew Forum showed Obama’s support among Catholics soaring. Among church members, he now leads Mitt Romney by 15 points.

P.S. Just a reminder: You can stand up for separation of church and state this weekend at a Voices United concert. Check out the line-up here.