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Cardinal Wuerl: ‘We are in the pulpit as proclaimers of the Gospel, not as political leaders’

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/10/16

The cardinal archbishop of Washington has some strong words about priests who dabble in politics.

From the cardinal’s column this week in the Catholic Standard:

There are times when bishops and pastors have a duty to share our Catholic teaching, to point out the moral and human dimensions of public issues and call for the protection of the weak and the pursuit of the common good. But these obligations cannot substitute for the leadership of lay men and women. Pastors need to encourage, inform and assist lay women and men in their duty to bring the values of our faith into civic and public life. The temptation might be to short circuit this process and have clergy impose specific political approaches or policies and even proclaim their preferences for candidates for public office. This practice is not new. Shortly after the Council, I recall vividly the debate over whether priests should run for political office. I thought it was a bad idea then as I still do now. For the bishop or priest to get directly involved in partisan politics is to confuse and distort the correct understanding of the distinctive and complementary role of clergy and the role of the laity. For many of the faithful and clergy, this mixing of roles – pastor/teacher and political authority/advocate – would have the unfortunate effect of diminishing the bishops’ spiritual authority and moral credibility by reducing, in the perception of many, the bishop to the role of a lobbyist or partisan. …Today it is the central role of the bishop and priest to teach the faith, share Catholic moral and social principles, and to encourage lay men and women in their primary responsibility to take these truths and values into the economic, political and cultural world. …Each year in which we move toward a national election, I remind my brother priests that we are in the pulpit as proclaimers of the Gospel, not as political leaders. No one elected us as their political representative and there might be serious reason to believe they probably would not. We are there to present the Word of God. Our listeners, who come from differing political parties and have diverse ideological perspectives, have a right to hear the Gospel and the Church’s teaching on faith and morals proclaimed with fidelity, consistently and courageously and not packaged in someone’s personal, partisan political views. When we look to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the historic presentation of Pope Francis to our Congress, or the writing and example of his recent predecessors, we see the best ways to offer a principled, serious and challenging call to Catholics to bring their faith into public life. It is essential for laywomen and laymen to take up the responsibility of standing up and speaking out for the values of our faith. My hope is that we might read and reflect on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship since it provides authentic and practical guidance in the face of the  complexity of moral decision making when exercising  political responsibility in these challenging times. It is clear about  the distinctive and complementary roles of ordained and lay members of our community of faith. As pastors, we are called to teach, teach and teach. As lay men and women, Catholics are called to be “salt, light and leaven” in our democracy.

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