Beginning in 1979 and continuing at least into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a “movement,” or “step,” back—in the sense of turning back from the shifts made possible by the Second Vatican Council. Aspects of the reactionary agenda include a greater distance between the clergy and the laity (as eventuated in less emphasis on lay ministries, ironically as the proportion of priests decreases) and more emphasis on two particular political issues: abortion and stem-cells. In other words, the clergy in the movement tend to hold themselves in a more elitist position vis a vis the laity while feeling more confident in asserting their particular partisan position. One such priest at a parish, and indeed diocese, “gone reactionary” is reported to have added a prayer in the petitions at Mass as the campaigns for the Republican primaries were revving up in 2011, “We pray for the election of a pro-life president.” As Barak Obama is pro-choice and most of the Republican candidates are pro-life in terms of being anti-abortion, the prayer was in fact for a Republican to win the White House. There are a number of problems with this sort of petition—none of which evidently had swayed the overconfident “high” priest
First, the partisan nature of the petition could be expected to turn off any independents and Democrats in the congregation. In fact, they could have felt alienated—some strident Obama supporters may perhaps have even skipped taking Communion. In attending the Mass, the members of that parish had agreed to take part in Roman Catholic religion; they had not agreed to attend a Republican or even a politically partisan club. Indeed, you can bet that priest would have quickly dismissed any members identifying themselves as intending to vote for Barak Obama. The priestly arrogance falls particularly flat when politics, wherein each person has one vote, is the priest’s chosen field of endeavor. Lest he object that religion is everywhere and thus preemptive in other domains, one might wonder whether he has any self-control or restraint, not to mention humility—particularly as it is his favored ideological stance that reigns supreme and trumps all others.
Second, the petition itself may be self-defeatist. According to the New York Times, “attacks on the E.P.A., climate change science and environmental regulation more broadly” are red meat to many if not most Republican voters. Some
of the Republican candidates would do away with the E.P.A. outright. Michele Bachmann, for instance, said, “I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off.” Now, if we let corporations and drivers send our climate to a new equilibrium that is incompatible with the human species, then any pro-life political agenda would be thwarted, at least with respect to human life. The partisan priest could take solace, however, in that there would not be any abortions.
In fact, not only is the petition narrow-minded and self-defeating, it bears a contradiction if universalized (i.e., everyone votes anti-abortion) that renders the maxim immoral, at least according to Kant’s categorical imperative. For the maxim “Vote anti-abortion” universalized could bring with it a trashing of the environment to the extent that the maxim no longer makes sense because there is no possibility for abortions when there are no human beings remaining. In other words, the maxim universalized is self-contradictory, so the maxim cannot be taken as a fact of reason (i.e., as having the necessity of reason, as in 4+5=9) and thus the maxim is immoral. This is obviously a rationalist method of assessing morality.
The main oversight by the reactionary politicized priest is that voting on a single issue opens one up to the risk of having voted recklessly with respect to other issues. Moreover, the tenet that one single issue is so much more important than all the others, such as social justice and aiding the poor, even with respect to the religion (and religious morals) not to mention politics is faulty at best. In Christianity, for example, Jesus is depicted as urging aid to the poor—the least of us or the lowly being exalted. Considering the Republican condition for raising the debt-ceiling in July 2011 that unemployment compensation be ended, it is difficult to see how voting for a “pro-life” candidate on abortion could be
consistent with Jesus’ admonition. Even from the standpoint of following Jesus, the self-vaunted ideology of the priest is problematic for him. With respect to humility, which the Catholic Pope (Joe Ratzinger) has maintained is God, a partisan petition is at the very least unseemly and ultimately self-defeating with respect to union with God.
See John M. Broder, “Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race,” The New York Times (August 18, 2011).