Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
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Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio - June 21, 2008
Put Out Into the Deep
Bishop DiMarzio's weekly column
June 21, 2008
Demands of Faithful Citizenship
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have just returned from the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and with the agenda fresh in my mind, I wish to report to the faithful, clergy and Religious in the Diocese the concerns of the Bishops at this time. There were many individual items discussed during this meeting, but perhaps the most significant was a discussion of the translations of the new Roman Missal.
Over the past several years a new translation of the Eucharistic prayers and all parts of the missal has been undertaken. The first translation, immediately after the Second Vatican Council, was done with great speed because of the necessity to produce an English missal. Now, forty years later, we have the opportunity to look more carefully at the translations to make sure they express the spirit of the original Latin prayers. This work is tedious and painstaking, but I am sure in a few years we will have a new Roman Missal that will make the proclamation of our prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist even more meaningful and reverent.
Other important matters discussed by the Bishops were two recent studies that reflected on the religious state of Catholics in the United States. One I already reported on, which was the Pew study entitled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” One of the principal researchers spoke directly to the Bishops regarding the analysis of the Catholic population and the curious fact that many who were born Catholics have since changed their religious affiliation. There are many reasons for this change and trying to understand it will perhaps give the Church a better opportunity to reach out to those who now only intermittently practice their faith, or practice another faith altogether.
Another study, done by the CARA organization, discussed the sacramental participation of Catholics. It was no great surprise to the Bishops, but the hard facts give us cause to reflect and to plan more intensely for the New Evangelization. This is a critical task of the Church today, to evangelize those who have already accepted the faith and have yet to hear the clear preaching of Jesus from our Catholic perspective. Both of these studies and the presentations by the researchers who developed them gave much food for thought and will be subjects in future planning and programs.
Perhaps most interesting for me was following up on the document “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” This past year, I chaired the Domestic Policy Committee, which was charged with developing a new statement, which is normally issued a year before the national elections, as an obligation of the Church to form consciences, not to endorse candidates, as is done by certain religious bodies. This is a delicate task, however, and one that demands participation not only by the Bishops, but also by the Catholic faithful in an effort to form a conscience that enables the voter to cast a vote based on moral principles. The Church, as a moral teacher, cannot neglect the responsibility to teach what we believe as objectively right and wrong. We also believe in certain methods for attaining the best that we can in our imperfect society. As the Bishops taught, conscience is “a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.”
Our actions do have implications both in time and eternity. We are charged to be the best we can, to do our utmost to form our consciences in relationship to the objective truth. As we make moral choices, we must exercise what is known as the virtue of prudence. Prudence is not caution, but rather it enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1806). How important it is in our complicated world to understand the issues and to choose the best means for achieving a just and moral society.
Perhaps the most important principle for many moral implications in political life is the preservation of life itself. There is a certain inherent hierarchy in our view of moral issues. Logic tells us that without life all the other possible moral choices have no effect since there is no life to which they can be applied. This is certainly true of the issues that threaten life itself today, principally abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia and assisted suicide. These principal threats to the dignity of human life place a special demand on our consciences. Other issues of importance also must be considered, for example, the death penalty, lack of health care, housing, human trafficking, all of which have moral implications, but as I said are in a certain sense secondary to the principal life issues. Our choices very well should reflect this hierarchy of life values.
The primary campaign this year has been one of the longest and drawn out in my memory. We now have two presumptive party candidates that will be confirmed at party conventions and supported by party platforms in the coming months. It is our responsibility, and distasteful as it is, to follow the campaigns so that we can make informed choices knowing the issues before us.
In order to implement the challenge of forming consciences for faithful citizenship, the Bishops have approved several strategies to assist the faithful in using their voices to vote for the good, namely, the distribution of the document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is available free on the Web site entitled www.faithfulcitizenship.org. Bulletin announcements are available at reasonable cost from the USCCB, and an order form was sent to all parishes in the United States. My hope is that many parishes will use the summary of Faithful Citizenship for general distribution.
Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese and I will be providing a workshop for the priests of the Rockville Centre and Brooklyn Dioceses in the fall, two days of teaching and discussion on the document, half the priests on one day and the other half on the second day. This is the first effort since I have been Bishop here in Brooklyn to join these presbyterates together, since they are well known to one another, many of them having studied at the same seminary. This gives us the opportunity for priestly fraternity, while at the same time accomplishes an important task of informing ourselves on how we can assist in the formation of conscience.
Other important action steps developed by the Bishops include meeting with the candidates before the conventions in order to form their consciences according to Catholic teaching. This is a first-time effort on the part of the Bishops’ Conference, to have Conference leadership responsible for policy development, namely Bishops themselves, meet with the candidates. Secondly, a national press conference launching Catholics and leadership closer to the national election and after the party conventions will be attempted for the first time also. Finally, something that I believe can be of great assistance to voters is the comparison of the three platforms in the elections, namely, the challenge of forming conscience for faithful citizenship, which is the platform of the USCCB, and also the Democratic and Republican platforms in a side-by-side analysis, giving some indication of which party platform comes closest to the moral judgments of the Church. Most probably, no party will exactly mirror the moral judgments of our Catholic social teaching, and here is where we must use the virtue of prudence in judging which candidate deserves our vote, which candidate will further the cause of a moral and just society.
Every election campaign is certainly an exercise of “putting out into the deep.” The candidates will, I hope, try to influence the voters not just with sound bites and promises, but with sincere reflection on their part of their positions and how they hope to earn the confidence of those who vote for them. Please keep this election process in your prayers that it might produce good results for our country, so badly in need of good moral judgment.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio - September 6, 2008
Judging the Candidates
Put Out Into the Deep, Bishop DiMarzio's weekly column, The Tablet
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Candidates for political office regularly speak out on moral issues. This is certainly acceptable since our Constitution upholds the separation of church and state. The separation envisioned by our founding fathers was intended as a protection for the free exercise of religion. In his letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury in 1801 Thomas Jefferson concluded that the First Amendment was intended to prevent the establishment of a state church as was the case in some of the original thirteen colonies.
The wall of separation, as some have interpreted it, protects the church from intrusion by the government; however, it does not separate religion and faith from politics, much less conscience from the action of a citizen. Values drive public policy. Unfortunately, it seems that in our society today, values that stem from one’s religious beliefs have less importance than values that arise from ideologies. We will see many examples of this as the election comes closer.
At a recent candidates forum sponsored by the Reverend Rick Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church in California, which boasts a congregation of 40,000 each Sunday. (The Diocese of Brooklyn has an average Sunday church attendance of 240,000.) Pastor Warren was able to summon the candidates, separately of course, to answer a series of questions. After a coin was flipped to determine questioning order, he first spoke with Mr. Obama and then with Mr. McCain.
There were two questions, from the transcript of the televised question and answer period, that I believe are of critical importance for Catholic voters to understand. The first question is: “At what point does a baby get human rights?” Each candidate had an opportunity to answer this question. Mr. Obama believed that this was a scientific and theological question and the answer to which was “above his pay grade”. Specifically, his answer was, “Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that questions with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade. But let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion because this is something obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is there is a moral and ethical content to this issue.”
Mr. Obama went on to say that he is pro-choice, but not pro-abortion, a distinction which is hard to make. But he tried to seek common ground by promising to reduce the number of abortions, citing that our current President, who opposes abortion, has not been able to reduce the number of abortions during his tenure. When asked if he had ever voted to reduce abortions in his own tenure in the Senate, Mr. Obama was not able to respond directly and recognized that if “you believe that life begins at conception, then -- and you are consistent in that belief, then I can’t argue with you on that because that is a core issue of faith for you.
The issue that life begins at conception is probably the issue which most confuses people. It is not through a belief or a tenant of religious faith that we know that life begins at conception, but rather by a scientific fact, a fact which over the past 150 years has been proven by scientific research. That the fertilization of an egg begins the life process, which will result, baring any unforeseen circumstances, in the birth of a child, is an irrefutable scientific fact. Whatever the various stage of human development, zygote or fetus, the creation of the fertilization process is human at all times. Here is the crux of the problem for our society, a human being gains human rights when his or her life process begins. And the slippery slope is that when you can end a life at the beginning, if a logical process is followed, you can also end a life in its final stages.
When Mr. McCain was presented with the exact same question, his response was more direct. He stated, “At the moment of conception.”
Certainly, it is important that we compare the answers and voting records of both candidates on this critical issue of conscience for all Catholic voters.
Another question along these same lines was presented to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Meet the Press, on Sunday, August 24. She was asked by the moderator, Tom Brokaw, “If Senator Obama were to come to you and say, ‘Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?’ what would you tell him?” She responded by saying that she was an ardent, practicing Catholic and had studied this issue for a long time. She cited the teaching of St. Augustine from the early centuries of the Church and seemed to be evasive regarding when life began. Rep. Pelosi went on to say in regard to Roe v. Wade that, “Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child---first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions.”
I am not sure what the distinctions she was trying to make, unfortunately she sounded confused. Mr. Brokaw tried to correct her saying, “The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that…(life begins at the point of conception).” Rep. Pelosi countered that, “And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the Church, this is an issue of controversy.” What I believe, Rep. Pelosi was referring to is the fact that when scientific knowledge was not available to the Church and there was theological discussion regarding the point of animation, when does a fetus become a person? However, the Church in the First Century, in the most ancient Christian document known as Didache stated that “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” This is quoted in the Catholic Catechism. The truth of the matter is that the Church has always been clear about its prohibition of abortion. Despite questions that surrounded the moment of animation the Church imposed various penalties depending on the time of an abortion. We should all be outraged that Speaker Pelosi would claim to be an ardent and practicing Catholic while espousing views that distort history and are contrary to the teachings of the Church.
It is unfortunate that elected officials, even when they recognize that they are dealing with an issue of public policy which touches on questions with profound consequences, sometimes equivocate and try to find loopholes in order to support political positions. It is hard to believe that any Catholic in this country today could not understand the Church’s clear teaching that abortion is always wrong under any circumstance and that life begins at the moment of conception.
A second interesting question that was posed to Senators Obama and McCain was simply stated, “Define Marriage.” Mr. Obama responded by saying, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now for me as a Christian -- for me -- for me as a Christian it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.” When next asked, “Would you support a Constitutional Amendment with that definition?” he responded, “No, I would not.” When asked, “Why not?” Mr. Obama answered, “Because historically -- because historically we have not defined marriage in our Constitution. It’s been a matter of state law that has been our tradition.”
On the other hand, when asked for the definition of marriage Mr. McCain responded, “A union -- a union between man and woman, between one man and one woman, that’s my definition of marriage.” He went on to say that he would favor a Constitution Amendment defining marriage, if the Federal Court decided that his home state of Arizona had to observe what the state of Massachusetts had decided, believing that these decisions should be the province of each state.
It has been said that all comparisons are odious; however, comparing the positions of candidates is exactly what we must do in the current political debate. It is never easy to follow the reasoning of another person, much less the reasoning of political candidates who try to play to the crowd. Clarity and being definitive, however, are two characteristics of politicians that should be most admired.
As we put out into the deep waters of the upcoming Presidential election, we are called upon to be attentive to what the candidates espouse and to their respective parties’ platforms, and to judge each in light of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio - September 19, 2008
Bishop William Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
Catholic Voters and Abortion: 2 Bishops’ View
Published: September 23, 2008
To the Editor:
“Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes” (front page, Sept. 17) says the bishops’ statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” would “explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons.”
Actually, the bishops said candidates who promote fundamental moral evils such as abortion are cooperating in a grave evil, and Catholics may never vote for them to advance those evils.
.... Click Here for the complete letter
Bishop William Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
Brooklyn, Sept. 19, 2008
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio - October 4, 2008
Put Out Into the Deep
Bishop DiMarzio's weekly column
October 4, 2008
True Political Responsibility
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
October has traditionally been celebrated as Respect Life Month. Each year now for several decades, the Catholic Church in the United States has concentrated its attention on life issues during this month. This year’s theme is Hope and Trust in Life!, which is taken from a homily given by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, last year, in which he described a failure to hope and trust in life as “the obscure evil of modern western society.” Recently, when the Holy Father visited the United States and spoke to the Bishops gathered, he commented on the wonderful religious spirit of our country, but also noted that the spirit is too often confined to our places and times of worship. Specifically he said: “The subtle influence of secularism … color(s) the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”
It is important that we give voice to our beliefs and convictions in the public sector. For too long, a fictitious understanding of the separation of Church and State has led many people to believe that his/her moral conviction, and those things that can be known by reason, somehow cannot be injected into the public forum. Because we live in a pluralistic society, where all manner of beliefs and values must be tolerated, we therefore, must keep our moral convictions separate from our decision making. This is truly a misrepresentation of democracy, where all values can be debated in the public forum and where a consensus of voters makes laws and elects representatives.
Several weeks ago, the Holy Father visited France, perhaps the most secular democracy in Europe, and stopped in Paris on his way to the 150th Anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes. In greeting members of the French government in Paris, the Holy Father spoke about the concept of “positive secularism,” in France, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy had discussed with Pope Benedict XVI when he visited him in Rome nine months ago. The Holy Father commented, “…it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of conscience and the contribution which it can bring to among other things-the creation of a basic ethical consensus in society”. I urge you to read President Washington’s 1796 farewell address to the nation which echoes these same sentiments. To claim that we cannot consult any of our moral convictions, especially when they are founded on reason and not just faith, when dealing with issues in the public sphere is truly non-sensical.
The Bishops of the United States, in anticipation of Presidential elections, have, for the past 30 years, published statements on political responsibility. Last year’s statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship was produced through the combined work of all seven public policy committees of the Conference. During my term as Chairman of the Domestic Policy committee, we had the responsibility of coordinating the statement. It is a statement of which I am truly proud, and I feel it has profound meaning for our contemporary situation.
This statement, however, has often has its meaning and content twisted by individuals to support their particular political views. Most recently, the September 17th front page article in the New York Times entitled “Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes” by David D. Kirkpatrick, greatly mischaracterized the Bishops’ statement. Mr. Kirkpatrick erroneously stated that the Bishops of the United States had issued the policy statement in order to allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supported abortion. This was certainly not the intent of the Bishops; and, in fact, the statement clearly identifies the right to life, especially innocent life, as the fundamental beginning of forming one’s conscience in regard to voting for an elected official. After several attempts, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, the current Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee, and I were able to clarify the situation through a joint letter published in the above mentioned newspaper. The only circumstance in which a Catholic might vote for someone who upheld an intrinsic evil such as abortion and euthanasia would be if there were two candidates who held equally erroneous opinions. A Catholic might vote for one with the understanding that one might limit evil more than the other, while never intending to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil.
Forming one’s conscience in the defense of life is never an easy task. This week, the Bishops of the State of New York released our own statement on political responsibility and faithful citizenship. The Bishops of our State have tried to clarify even further, how a Catholic must go about forming their conscience. Voting is a moral act and it is imperative that we cast our votes for those who reflect our Catholic value system. Never can our consciences be corrupted by party loyalty, media portrayals, or personal preferences.
Conscience is the tool that we have to choose good over evil. When confronted with evil we may never directly affirm or support it. The New York State Bishops go on to write that a properly formed conscience will always conclude that “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.”
Last week, a group of Evangelical churches challenged the current rulings of the IRS by publicly endorsing individual candidates in statements from the pulpit. The idea was to challenge the government’s present position that non-profit organizations may not directly endorse candidates. While I believe no Catholic Church participated in this protest, I am keenly aware that there are many religious leaders who do directly endorse candidates and allow political candidates to use their churches to promote their candidacies. This practice is wisely avoided in our Catholic community. The Church endorses Christ and his Gospel and not candidates or political parties. However it is important that the Church preserve its right to speak in the public forum on moral issues; and, after the Church’s positions on these moral issues are made clear, leave it to the well-formed consciences of its members to make decisions about for whom they will vote. Several times I have been asked to give my own personal opinion on whom is the best candidate, and I have always declined. I have never, however, shied away from teaching how we should come to decisions about for whom we should vote.
We must continually put out into the deep recesses of our consciences to properly discern good from evil, and decide what political candidate will best uphold our values and ethics and conform to our faith and reasoning ability. This year’s election, as no others in the past, presents some clear choices. We must all pray that our collective wisdom as Catholics will enable us to form consciences that will exercise true political responsibility.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio - November 1, 2008
Put Out Into the Deep
Your Candidate Represents You
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
November 1, 2008
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The United States is one of the greatest representative democracies in the history of humankind. But what makes participation in our democracy possible? Certainly it is not ethnicity; Americans hail from such diverse places as Africa and Asia, Europe and South America. Nor does religion indicate that we are American. We are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics and Christians. To be an American is unrelated to the color of our skin or the language we speak.
James Joyce once described Catholicism as “here comes everybody.” The same description can be applied to our great nation. Fundamentally, to be an American is to believe that all men and women are equal under the law and that all people are endowed by the Creator with rights that can never be abridged by any government. Wealth offers some an advantage; however, in America all have opportunity.
Politics has, as its ends, justice. If we value these liberties and freedoms upon which a just society is built, it is incumbent upon each and every citizen to be engaged in the political process. In his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI teaches “A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.” (28) Therefore, at a minimum, we should investigate the policies and positions our elected leaders advocate. Optimally, we would influence our representatives to help formulate and shape public policy.
In a few days, we will go to the polls and vote for our candidate for President of the United States. As voters we also determine who is the best fit for Congress, the state house, judgeships and, in some years, city hall. Those for whom we cast our ballot are an extension of ourselves.
Catholic voters are not monolithic. We are Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Conservatives. Some voters are more concerned about immigration issues than education, while others place a priority on the environment over tax issues. Often, one’s priorities reflect their own experience or interests. Nevertheless, as the bishops teach in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.”(31)
What is a particularly disturbing trend is how Catholic voters, sometimes even priests, religious or committed laymen, are not more vocal in their opposition to the destruction of human life. Sometimes I wonder if it is not a lack of faith or a lack of understanding. Our rhetoric on the issues sometimes does not seem to match our actions.
How can any Catholic support those that do not oppose partial birth abortion? The late Senator Daniel P. Moynihan characterized the procedure as near infanticide. To kill the child as it passes through the birth canal, or worse to leave a child that survives abortion on an operating table to die, is inhuman and indefensible. I find it hard to contemplate any circumstances where I could vote for a proponent of such a grave evil.
The late Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil once remarked, “all politics is local.” Indeed, as the Bishops of New York State remind us in their statement, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty, “Many of the most compelling moral issues of the day play out at the state level. Commonsense restrictions on abortion, whether or not to employ the death penalty, issues related to same-sex ‘marriage’ and civil unions, parental rights in education, programs to serve the poor, access to health insurance all of these debates occur in the halls of our state Capitol in Albany. Your vote for State Senator and Assembly Member may be as critical as your vote for President of the United States.”
We as Catholics sometimes also seem to vote against our own interests. How can those interested in Catholic schools not insist that those for whom they vote support parents of children in Catholic schools? Would a parent of a child in public school vote for a candidate that wanted to drastically cut school spending?
In our diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, we have elected officials that are intent on passing discriminatory legislation known as a roll back in the statute of limitations that would bankrupt the Church and leave victims of sexual abuse in public schools without any recourse. The author of this legislation is Assemblywoman Marge Markey from Maspeth and Middle Village. There are also many co-sponsors of this legislation that represent constituents from our diocese. How is it that we do not stand up to these legislators and inform them of our opposition? If they fail to represent our interests, why do we not refuse them our support?
I do not know what motivates a person to select one candidate over the other. What I do know is that the candidate that I select should represent me, my beliefs and values.
There are many grave issues that our great nation and state are contemplating: war and peace, the dignity and sanctity of human life, the economy and environment, education and religious freedom. As we put out into the deep in this election process, I hope and pray that my choices and yours will continue to reflect those values that make our country great.
US Bishops' Conference Statements
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