November 5, 2012
His Eminence Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
1011 First Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Cardinal Dolan:
As a Baptist minister and as a patriotic American, I have been deeply disturbed by the disproportionate role religion has played during recent election cycles; it is unlike anything I have seen in my decades of ministry. Indeed, at times, the entanglement between religion and politics has seemed to threaten both the integrity of religion and the vitality of politics. Recent appeals to the Catholic flock that have been or will be read in churches in several states may not have crossed a legal boundary, but I am a firm believer that what is ethical is every bit as important as what is legal and in that respect, a line has been crossed.
In the most recent example, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, IL, mandated a letter be read in every parish in his diocese that not only distorts the truth, but calls on parishioners to vote. While he does not explicitly tell Illinois parishioners for whom they should vote, his call to vote comes after explaining how sinful it would be to support the policies of the President and “current majority” of the Senate, making it rather clear for whom he believes a Catholic should vote. One week prior, Bishop David Laurin Ricken of Green Bay, WI, posted a letter (also shared in church bulletins) noting “some candidates and one party” have included in their platform positions contrary to the teachings of the Church and “to vote for someone in favor of these positions means you could…put your own soul in jeopardy.” Bishop Ricken’s letter clearly implies which of the political parties he believes promotes “intrinsically evil” policies.
By contrast, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Rev. Steve Angi, wrote a letter in a different vein, one that I hope you will support becoming the norm of how the Catholic Church speaks to its flock about elections. Chancellor Angi reminded church leaders in his diocese that not only does the Church “not wish to engage in political activity” but that it is important to not speak or act in a way “that could be construed as endorsement.”
I hope that you agree with me in thinking that religion should never be used as a political tool and clergy should never abuse their pulpit by turning it into a political stump, rather than a platform to inspire, comfort and educate their flock about the faith. A church pulpit is the nexus of Christian beliefs and contemporary issues. The pulpit’s authority is compromised if those who stand in it and preach from it claim a divine authority for
endorsements or condemnations of candidates – even when such statements are cloaked by an appeal to religious liberty. I believe in and will defend the right of clergy to speak to their flock about the challenges facing our nation – including the Catholic Church’s perspective on women’s health care – but that does not and should not include using the pulpit to push a partisan agenda.
People of faith can of course, should they so choose, turn to their spiritual leaders for moral grounding as they contemplate the election. However, it is for each individual voter to make his or her own decision. As the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hope you will act to ensure that the messages are shared in parishes around the nation – and by you yourself – do not declare or even imply which candidate the faithful should vote for; because, what is ethical is just as important as what is legal.
Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.