When is a Religious “Principle” Not a Religious “Principle”? When It’s Politically Inconvenient

GOP Presidential hopeful Jeb! (no-last-name-needed) hides behind his adopted Catholicism to defend his position on marriage equality but declines to take his Pope’s teachings about the environment at face value. In doing so, he follows in the grand tradition of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church which has long displayed a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” (a term I borrowed from American Conservative columnist Rob Dreher).

But if he reserves the right to disavow Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change as revealed in the Pontiff’s release last week of a major encyclical on the subject, then he can’t justify his opposition to gay marriage solely on the basis of Church teachings. He simply can’t have it both ways without revealing a kind of political pragmatism that defies any claim to political principle.

In a story posted on Grist, columnist Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t.” Furthermore, he denounced the climate change encyclical even before it was released and, therefore, clearly without having read it. Good, practicing Catholics are not required to agree with or follow the Pope’s teachings as embodied in his encyclicals, but they are required to give those views thoughtful and careful consideration, according to this article from the Catholic News Agency.

Nearly one-third of Congress is Catholic. If all of these politicians were good, practicing Catholics, they would be expected to give serious consideration to Pope Francis’ well-researched and incisive (as well as insightful) teachings on this complex subject. (Yes, I have in fact read the 180-page document in its entirety, which I suspect few if any of those in Congress have done.) If they did that, I suspect it would dramatically shift the tenor of the debate in Congress on climate change policy.

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