Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Asceticism of Non-partisanship (Huang,SJ)

I am convinced that, unless morally necessary, priests and religious should practice the asceticism of not announcing their personal preferences for political candidates. Particularly not on Facebook.

Like it or not, the moment one is ordained or takes religious vows, one becomes a "public person." As "public persons," clerics and vowed religious speak not just for themselves but for the Church. And since ordination constitutes priests as publicly authorized preachers, priests have to be careful not to seem to confuse particular political choices, within a morally permissible pluralism of options, with the Gospel. Otherwise, one unfairly limits, often without knowing it, the legitimate freedom of the faithful with regard to political choices, and also needlessly jeopardizes the unity in Christ of the Christian community, a unity that transcends parties and which the pastor has particular responsibility for building up.

I think priests and religious have to be more aware of their power, both the official power granted them by the Church in view of their ministry, and the symbolic power that they bear within cultures, particularly cultures in which religion remains a determinative aspect of common life. And they have to be careful and responsible in their use of it, particularly in the way they speak and express themselves in the political realm. Unthinking speech, in which private opinion and public teaching become confused, can only devalue and cheapen the moral authority of the church in the public sphere.

This is an ascetic practice, because it involves some sacrifice: giving up the gratification of expressing personal political preferences, often strongly felt.

But unless those preferences can be justified as morally obliging on the community, or virtually so,I think priests and religious should not give relief to their private feelings on specific political candidates by public expression.

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