Here is a moderate (well I think so) personal evaluation of our relation with our young president. I have tried to be charitable and moderate in my tone. Of course I did not vote for him and would not vote for him in the future. But I want to understand where so many Catholics are coming from as supporters of the president and having voted for him. I sincerely long to at least feel he respects us and that he will not impose on us the values of the secular world.
Where the current administration both differs and can find common ground with Catholic doctrine:
I) Main areas of divergence:
a. Abortion: The president is a staunch supporter of abortion rights all the way to the last weeks of gestation. As a senator he voted against a ban on partial birth abortion (a particularly cruel method of killing the fetus just moments from birth). The president has publically declared his goal of reducing abortions, at this is a laudable objective. Jet his way of coming to a reduction of abortions is by further promoting contraceptive methods and sexual education that directly contradict Catholic moral theology. How can we work with president Obama on this area? The president has a right to disagree with Catholic doctrine, but as he is aware, abortion is a tragedy and for faithful Catholics there can be no compromise in the killing of innocent life. We can work as Catholics to promote life choices within our legal framework and to evangelize. The president can respect this and help by not forcing medical personnel and Catholic medical facilities to provide abortion services that are against Catholic morals.
b. Stem Cell Research: The president supports embryonic stem cell research and seems to have embraced the idea that this type of research is the only hope for illness like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others. We need to work with the president by trying to convince him that this type of research has been superseded by adult stem cell research and also about the moral dangers of promoting the use of human embryos as research material for experiments. It is a slippery slope that easily takes us into moral landmines and the real possibility of evil.
c. Contraception: The president, as most modern Americans, accept the use of contraception as perfectly natural way of controlling population and regulating family planning. As Catholics we can not impose our moral ideas on the rest of Americans, but we can work towards convincing the president that as parents we have the right to know when medical personnel at schools and other organizations prescribe and give contraceptives to our children under 18 years of age. The same goes to providing abortion to teens and not notifying parents of the intention and the accomplished fact. As a family man the president can relate to this (even though he has expressed that if his daughter would conceive out of marriage he would agree to an abortion).
d. Sexual Education: As Catholics our children must not be forced to receive sexual education that is against our doctrines and moral ethics. We can work with the president by comparing our situation as Catholics with the situation of Muslims. Just as Muslims demand respect for their customs so do we as Catholics.
e. Homosexual Unions: The president is a staunch supported of so called “gay rights”. Yet to his credit he has refused to redefine marriage and supports the concept of marriage as between a man and a woman. Yet his administration is clearly sympathetic to gays and lesbians and so called transgendered persons. Again, as Catholics we can not impose our morals on the general population, but we can ask the president to respect our beliefs and not view and call them as “obsolete attitudes” as he has done recently. We also need to ask the president ensure that the federal government will respect the freedom of Churches and Church related institutions not to hire gays in areas that affect our doctrine or extend benefits to homosexual couples as if they were married.
f. End of life: The president agreed with the decision by Terri Schiavo’s husband to withhold water and food from her, starving her in a painful period a several days. This seems to indicate that the president agrees with those who judge a life according to “quality”. As Catholics we consider innocent life sacred from the time of birth to the time of death.
II) Areas of Agreement
a. Social Justice: The president has a strong social justice sense that may irk some more right leaning Americans. Yet the truth is that Catholic social teaching has no quarrel with favoring the poor, providing health care to people, etc. America is a very prosperous country and even today it provides people with freedoms and opportunities that are undreamt in other parts of the world. We can work with the president in including the poor and the working people in achieving the American dream for as many people as possible.
b. Health Care: The president’s aim to provide universal health care is a point where we as Catholics can agree or disagree. Providing health care to the poor, the handicapped and the elderly who can’t afford medical care to buy medical insurance is a worthy goal. We can work on a plan with the president that allows choice of health providers does not stifle competition and ensures that Americans get the best care possible.
c. International Coexistence: The president has declared his intention to promote pace, respect to other countries sovereignty and cooperation in international initiatives. As Catholics these are worthy goals and we can work with the president as our own conscience dictates.
In his speeches the president has adopted a reasonable tone and seems to adopt moderation in some of his policies. Yet there are profound areas of disagreement between the president and Catholic doctrine. We can not ignore these areas. Furthermore, the president is at the forefront of a philosophical movement that sees religion in general as something from the past and somewhat an impediment to progress. The president believes in the unbounded capacity of the government to provide a road for the happiness and progress of the people. Yet experience shows that governments in themselves become the problem and that a philosophy that ignores the relationship between God and men and even acts in hostility towards it violates one the most profound needs and experiences of men, the religious experience and the reality of a personal God in the life of people.
Can we hope to have respect and understanding from president Obama for our Catholic believes? I hope so. The United States is still a country where we can practice our faith in freedom in all of its ranges from ultraconservative to ultraliberal. This is a precious freedom and something that the president can protect and encourage. Yet the cultural and political trends to curtail, minimize and make our faith irrelevant by indoctrinating our youth in the secular philosophy are undeniable. We can’t hope and it would not be realistic to expect America to become a Catholic country. It has never been so and probably never will, but we can ask from our young president respect for our beliefs, freedom to practice them and the ability to live it in the public arena without hostility, derision or discrimination.