Comments regarding "Another View of the Common Good" by Al Lemmo and the author’s response

First, from the two who were unhappy with the letter.

From a person who was listed on the roster of conference attendees but apparently did not attend:

Comment:

Dear Sir ~

You obviously have a passion for the things you see as true and important and I commend you for that. I would suggest though that you are doing the very thing that you accuse others of ~ namely drawing a line and making life an either/or proposition. While it would greatly simplify the decision making process, the reality is that very few issues are black and white and the trick is that we must learn to live in the shades of gray. I was not able to be at the April 5th meeting but have great respect for the Alliance and find their agenda to be reflective of Catholic Social Teaching. It is interesting to me that you chose to attach a Wikipedia article on subsidiarity rather than including the many good discussions of this piece of CST available from USCCB and other reputable sources. I would suggest that you seriously read "Faithful Citizenship" (November 2007) and see that the leadership does not hold Abortion to be the beginning, middle and end of life issues and discusses very clearly the option of voting for a person who does not meet the criteria of the PLA people. (in specific # 17---->37)

You stated that there is nothing in Scripture that forces us to care for the poor. Jesus never did force anything...he always invited. If we look at His life however, we see the consistent care for the folks at the margins...the old, widows, sick, poor, children, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the hungry. That seems to be a fairly clear statement of what was important to Him. The measure of biblical justice is how we treat the least among us and this applies not only to individuals but to communities, be they family, national or parish. There are countless Church documents including a fist-full from the popes from Leo on to Benedict that call for people to support those in need, assist them in becoming independent (while recognizing that there will always be folks who cannot meet their needs alone). There are countless calls for the end of war (however since this might upset people we hear little from the pulpit), economic justice, worker rights, prison reform etc. All of which are every bit as much of a life issue as Abortion. To hold the PLA as the benchmark of moral superiority is arrogant and flies in the face of the message of Jesus as well as the teaching of the Magesterium. To tag the Democrat agenda as "Satanic" is indicative of an individual who wears blinders and/or is unwilling to come to the table to honestly discuss finding common ground. Jesus was all about inclusion, not exclusion or a refusal to work with the reality of life today. If you are really hoping for a credible reading of your comments, you might consider tempering the anger and being a bit broader and more open in your review of the materials out there.

Also....where did you get my e-mail address? I know that I do not know you and have not shared the information with you.

(name and city of residence removed)

(philosophical quotation removed)

Response:

I want to thank this person for taking the trouble to respond in such detail and for suggesting an excellent reference which I have read and will cite in this response by paragraph number (e.g., FC22). Its full title is "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/FCStatement.pdf. She will be receiving this email in response.

There is plenty in the Faithful Citizenship document, including the referenced paragraphs, 17 - 37, to support my position. I must say that I did not see that the document "discusses very clearly the option of voting for a person who does not meet the criteria of the PLA (pro-life agenda) people," however, I recognize that my own biases, like anyone else's, will lead me to interpret statements differently than someone else might. Let me first list some examples from Faithful Citizenship that support my position. Statements that might be interpreted to support the respondent's view will be discussed next.

FC22: "There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called "intrinsically evil" actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia."

FC26: "Pope John Paul II explained the importance of being true to fundamental Church teachings:Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination."{(Christifideles Laici, no. 38)

FC27&28: "Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed."3

FC34: "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity."

FC 37: "In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions."

FC40: "The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every person as a child of God."

FC42: "As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."

This last statement has been a guiding principle for voters like myself for many years, but in my experience it has only once made all the difference in determining my vote. In 1978, the abortion issue compelled me to reject the Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, Milliken, and vote for the Democrat, Fitzgerald, in spite of the fact that I considered Milliken by far the superior candidate on nearly every other issue. The matter of abortion is a qualifying issue, a starting point before anything else can be considered.

Let's look at some of the statements in the Faithful Citizenship document that perhaps might lead some of us to make other interpretations, such as justifying voting for a candidate who supports abortion.

(Continuing FC27&28 above) FC29: The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture,4 war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues."

Repeating the last sentence quoted from FC34 above: "At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity."

FC35: "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

The bishops have not defined for us in this document what they mean by "truly grave moral reasons." We are not experiencing in this country anything like genocide, ethnic cleansing or the kind of human engineered famine inflicted on the Ukrainians in the 1930s, which could perhaps be described this way. There is only one population in our country that is being subjected to systematic destruction. The other matters mentioned ("matters for principled debate and decision") cannot be considered as being dismissed, ignored or treated with indifference or inattention. Differences in approaches to these other issues are based on legitimate differences in prudential judgment. They do not carry the same moral weight as the daily direct attack on human life before birth. I see no other way to interpret the selections cited above, where clear differences exist in the positions of candidates for our elective offices, than to vote for the pro-life agenda (PLA). (More on the choice of this term momentarily.)

Moving on, let me briefly explain why I chose the Wikipedia article on subsidiarity (more than one respondent questioned this). Printed material I have did not provide a clear and concise definition I could quote so I did an Internet search and the Wikipedia article was at the top of the list. Since it seemed accurate and consistent with my other materials and even provided some examples of application of the principle, I decided to use it. Here's the section on subsidiarity from the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good website:

Role of Government and Subsidiarity

Government, or the state, has at its core a positive moral function. It's an instrument to promote human dignity, human rights and the common good. Its mission is to work for the benefit of all people. Therefore all people have a right and a responsibility to participate in political institutions. Government functions should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately.

"Society as a whole, acting through public and private institutions, has the moral responsibility to enhance human dignity and protect human rights. In addition to the clear responsibility of private institutions, government has an essential responsibility in this area. This does not mean that government has the primary or exclusive role, but it does have a positive moral responsibility in safeguarding human rights and ensuring that the minimum conditions of human dignity are met for all. In a democracy, government is a means by which we can act together to protect what is important to us and to promote our common values.

- Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy
U. S. Catholic Bishops, 1986

Frankly, I think the Wikipedia article did a better job of explaining the principle for those who did not have any prior exposure to it. I have not checked the USCCB site for other material on this. The key word in the above statement is "adequately" at the end of the first paragraph. Again, there is room for legitimate disagreement based on prudential judgment here. The Wikipedia article referenced the Tenth Amendment (which I cited in an attachment Rejecting the Satanic-"Democratic" Agenda) as an example of the principle even though the Tenth Amendment predates the development of the principle in Catholic Church teaching.

The respondent says that I "stated that there is nothing in Scripture that forces us to care for the poor." What I said (paraphrasing a paraphrase) was that I knew of nothing in scripture or elsewhere that authorized anyone to force others to care for the poor. It is a Christian responsibility, not something we are to force on others by law. I also do not believe Jesus "invited" us to care for the poor. The catastrophic consequences described in Matthew 25 -- eternal damnation -- are not the outcomes associated with merely declining an invitation. We are directly commanded by God to care for the poor. It's how we are to go about it where we seem to have our differences. I might add that the primary error of the damned was that they failed to recognize the Lord in the least of His brethren. There is no other class of human beings that can more accurately be described as the least of His brethren than the prenatal population.

I am in complete agreement with the next few sentences in the respondent's second paragraph.

While abortion is not the only "life issue," it is in a class by itself at this time. My use of the term "pro-life agenda" (PLA) may have been too narrow and thereby produced something of a stumbling block for some readers. The agenda competing with what I called the "social services agenda" or SSA (perhaps also too restrictive as discussed in my response to the next respondent) could perhaps better have been described as the "Rule of Law Agenda" (RLA) or "Constitutional Fidelity Agenda" (CFA) or any number of other things that encompass abortion as well as other important issues while maintaining a conservative perspective. After all, we have legal abortion in this country because the Supreme Court decided that the word "person" in the Constitution didn't apply to prenatal children ("...nor shall any State deprive any person of life...without due process of law..." -- Fourteenth Amendment), a grotesque piece of judicial activism that violated the rule of law.

The respondent objected to my tag of the Democrat agenda as "satanic." I'm not sure if she read all of the attachment, described as "An Open Letter to All Voters on Rejecting the Satanic-"Democratic" Agenda" (SDA Letter) or was simply put off by the title. (It is accessible in its present form at http://cul.detmich.com/Satanic-Democratic_Agenda_#3.html on the website of Catholics United for Life -- page down to the Documents section on the home page, http://cul.detmich.com, and it is at the bottom of the section. Much of my other material begins 6 lines from the top of the Documents section.) Although in all honesty I think abortion alone would justify the "satanic" tag, I made a case for it in the SDA Letter based on the Democrat agenda violating eight of the Ten Commandments as well as undermining our democratic and constitutional republic and the moral and spiritual values of our people. I described the SDA Letter in my June 30th letter as "an admittedly harsh and angry work" that I might want to significantly revise and condense. But there is nothing in it that I will not stand by and defend in spite of the tone of it. It is lengthy because at least in some respects, such as the two paragraphs on economics (added based on unrelated conversation with a Democrat friend), I tried to make a reasoned case for my positions.

The respondent describes holding the PLA "as a benchmark of moral superiority" as "arrogant" and says it "flies in the face of the message of Jesus as well as the teaching of the Magesterium." I don't know how holding the PLA approach as morally compelling (my choice of words) conflicts with the message of Jesus or the Magisterium (perhaps I should have asked her for clarification), but as far as arrogance is concerned, recall that I cited Ezekiel 3:17-21 as justification for my actions. It reads as follows:

"17 Thus the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.

18 If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. 19 If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.

20 If a virtuous man turns away from virtue and does wrong when I place a stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sin, and his virtuous deeds shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him. 21 When, on the other hand, you have warned a virtuous man not to sin, and he has in fact not sinned, he shall surely live because of the warning, and you shall save your own life."

At the risk of being accused of still greater arrogance, I don't believe I've seen anywhere else a description of the outcomes of the Democrat agenda in terms of spiritual and moral degradation as I've outlined them in the SDA Letter. If it's arrogant to point this out, what words would we use to describe standing by and saying nothing when one sees a great evil taking place? Indifference? Callousness? Inhuman apathy? There is no greater calamity than the loss of souls. The bishops note in FC38: "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation." They add in FC53: "We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be." Given the alternative, I'd rather risk being accused of being arrogant, a trivial consideration. How could anyone not speak out?

We face a very clever common enemy who has taken the great good will -- even zeal to do the Lord's work -- of many Catholics and others, and misdirected it to accomplish evil. Government may be a useful instrument in advancing the common good, but it is basically about force and power. This is not what Christianity is about. We should be very careful how we use government in attempting to advance a Christian agenda. How we do things matters. The bishops state in FC20: "The Church’s teaching is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means..." and "...it is important to recognize that not all possible courses of action are morally acceptable." Forcing others through taxation to shoulder the burdens that we ourselves should be assuming is not a Christian approach.

I do not believe that Jesus was all about inclusion. He had many stern words to say and instructed his disciples to shake the dust off their feet as witness against those who would not receive or listen to them.

Lastly, this respondent suggests tempering the anger and being a bit broader and more open in reviewing the materials that are available. This is good advice and I regret it if my SDA Letter may have simply offended some who read only the title or were put off by the tone. I simply went with what I had available at that time which I had put some effort into to frame the issues in a very different way than they are generally argued.

In the spirit of broadening our review of the materials "out there," here is a website that I think many will find useful, although I haven't yet explored it in depth: http://www.saintmarys.edu/~incandel/cst.html.

Once again, I thank this respondent for offering her comments on what I wrote, and especially for doing so in a largely even-tempered manner, in spite of what could have been seen (and may have been seen by others) as unnecessarily provocative.

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From another participant in the conference:

Comment:

Mr. Lemmo, I believe you attended the conference for the common good under false pretenses. I spoke to you at the conference and know you attended all day but you did not come with an open mind if you heard the group promoted more federal government and urged the conferees to vote for Democrats.

I consider your letter and the attachments diatribes, the kind I reject and against which I think a conference on the common good is ballast. By the way, the last attachment by Mathews-Green was an exception. I didn't agree about all her points but she made some arguments without excoriating an opposing view.

When I got your email I felt saddened but as the day went on I got quite annoyed and determined to reply. I don't want or expect a reply if it's more of the same. You are the one who has introduced partisanship into the dialogue, it wasn't there. The Michigan Catholics for the Common Good is not partisan, it does not endorse or condemn candidates, it is neutral on ballot issues but it does introduce Catholic social teaching into responsible conscience formation and elections.

Please strike me off your list.

This person has been removed from the mailing list as requested and will not be receiving this email. However, I do want to comment on her responses.

Response:

First, I think she may have meant "false preconceptions" rather than "false pretenses." I had discussed attending the conference with the telephone contact person from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) and did not hide who I was or what I represented. I remember asking if I would be welcome and being assured that I would be. I named my affiliations, including my more conservative ones, when we introduced ourselves at the conference. There was never any attempt to take part under false pretenses.

I may have had some false preconceptions about what the organization might be advocating. Even after the conference I was somewhat careful in my June 30th letter not to assume too much ("I am writing this letter to offer a minority view that is at odds with the vision apparently held by the majority of participants," "Perhaps I am too suspicious by nature, but there seemed to be two underlying and unstated themes to the conference: that solutions to our common concerns call for more federal government involvement...," "Unless I am greatly mistaken about the vision shared by most conference participants on the role of the federal government..."). Perhaps the respondent does have a point here: I saw the conference and at least some of the organizations represented as likely to advocate a larger role for the federal government. My use of the term "social services agenda" or SSA reflected this impression and may not have been the best characterization of the ideas advocated by CACG or the other organizations represented at the conference.

I had been to a conference (or "summit" as it was billed) earlier in the year, sponsored by an organization advocating economic freedom and prosperity. It was no surprise that that gathering attracted conservatives and that the presidential candidates who showed up, including Mitt Romney and John McCain, were Republicans, in spite of the fact that the organization took no positions on candidates. Likewise, it would be no surprise that an organization that concerned itself with social issues like CACG would tend to attract liberals or that the featured speakers or workshop leaders would speak of "a far right political agenda" or have Democratic Party activism prominently displayed in their bios, in spite of the organization not endorsing candidates.

I definitely did not hear anyone at the conference urge voting for Democrats and the way the conference was structured did not reveal any particular preference for a larger federal government role in the matters discussed. I don't recall exactly why I decided to attend but I'm sure I could sense this would be a liberal gathering that might give an impression that it spoke for an organization of which I am a part, the Catholic Church, in ways that I might not endorse. I probably went to see what I could learn as well as for the chance to have some input and exchange of views. Most of the latter has been through these emails sent after the conference. Better late than never.

I've noticed that people who don't like what I write typically describe it in very general negative terms (trash, right wing, diatribes, etc.) but seldom offer specific criticisms that can be rebutted. It's also unfortunate that some people respond by cutting off communication. I would not characterize anything I sent out with the June 30th letter or the letter itself as diatribes in spite of the somewhat harsh tone. There are things worth being upset about and people should know it. Simply cutting each other off accomplishes nothing.

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I will now follow these discussions with the much briefer positive responses. You will note that some of them suggest rather negative attitudes toward those with whom we disagree. This is also unfortunate and not helpful. Most people want to do what is right and good and how we deal with our social problems is of concern to all of us. Reaching satisfactory solutions is more likely if we stay engaged with each other. I hope to play a part in changing these attitudes and assisting in reaching solutions that will find wide acceptance.

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From a conference participant at my table:

Comment:

Thanks, Al, for your letter. I remember you from our table at the conference. It is always good to have a challenge to clarify our thinking and values. One thing we need to accept is the good will and integrity of others--especially our fellow Catholics. God bless you for sharing your views.

(name removed)

--------------------------

From a member of my parish men's fellowship group who does a great deal of Christian service work and who some time ago described himself as a UAW Democrat:

Comment:

Al-

I agree with you that religion and politics are frustrating. I have made it my mission, with each passing day, to spend less and less time involved in politics. I put my faith in God. I rarely ever respond to politically oriented commentary ... but I wanted to support you by saying that I too share frustration on religion and politics. Have a great 4th of July. You and your late mom remain in my prayers.

Best-
(name removed)

I responded to my friend with this:

(Name),

Response:

Thanks for your response. I hope you realize that when I spoke of having great respect and affection for my more liberal Catholic friends it was people like you, (I then named his wife and two liberal activists in our parish) I had in mind.

May God bless you always.

Al

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From a professor at a major university in the south (his name from a Faculty for Life mailing list in an old email effort):

Comment:

I haven't had a chance to read the attachments yet, but I've read your letter below and you hit the nail on the head repeatedly!

The words "Common Good" reminded me immediately of another left-leaning
movement, "Common Ground", so I wasn't a bit surprised to learn what it was like. I suspect the overwhelming majority of these people will vote for Barack Obama.

But you might be able to sway some of them, or at least get them to respect your voting the other way, if you remind them of how Obama worked against a variation on the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in the Illinois legislature. This had nothing to do with a woman's right to an abortion--it had to do with the aftermath of an abortion, after the woman has already exercised her right. The issue is purely and simply whether the baby is given a fighting chance for life after being aborted.

Good luck at future meetings!
(name removed)

Response:

This person is probably not a Catholic and so may not be familiar with the use of the term "common good" in Catholic social teaching. I'm not familiar with the "Common Ground" movement he mentions but have a faint recollection of some effort in that regard on the matter of abortion. It's very difficult to see any common ground on that subject, at least not directly. I do believe, however, that I share much common ground with the conference attendees and other "liberal" Catholics and intend to stay engaged with them and other people of good will outside the Church who do not necessarily share my views.

-------------------------------

From a friend in my Catholic singles club:

Comment:

Al, Happy to receive your thoughts. For some reason since my computor e-mail system crashed, I cannot open attachments. Could you send them via the body of the e-mail?

I admire your thought processes, eloquence and passion in advocacy of the unborn. What is this all about...unfortunately, celebately male and women's ordination lament? Suddenly, briefly, there is a diminishing of the church's teaching with a left field "solution". Love what you are doing, otherwise.

(name removed)

I do not oppose the Church teaching on ordination of women but was expressing my sympathy for those who felt slighted or hurt by this ruling. These feelings are very real and in many cases run deep. I do agree with those who believe the Church could have and should have made a stronger case with additional reasons for the ruling than what were offered.

Here is part of my response to my friend:

Response:

"I was insinuating that some of those rebelling against the Church are resentful of the celibate male leadership and this may be motivating their behavior. It was not being critical of the leadership of the Church. I was also simply saying that I can understand that many women may feel hurt that they have been barred from the priesthood but that does not justify the kind of destructive behavior some have engaged in. I don't think either comment diminished the message and was not suggesting that there was anything wrong with what the Church has taught."

I guess this misunderstanding is what I get for indulging in a little mild sarcasm ("...most unforgivably of all, celibately male").

--------------------------------

From the operator of a pro-life website:

Comment:

I could never be a Catholic, but other than this, we are totally on the
same page. I found your essays to be excellent.

This individual has posted some of my other material on her website in the past.

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From a member of my Catholic singles club:

Comment:

Hey, Al ! Sounds like you were out of place among that crowd! Whenever I hear of people seeking "common ground" I can’t help recollecting the Bill Clinton & democratic perversion of the notion. Too many people think that the source of morality is common agreement under law. It’s not but the democrats certainly try to bring such unclear thinkers into their fold. The name of the group alone would have been enough to distance myself from it.

Rather than send out e-mails like this, I think you really need to find yourself a website to post these things. You could develop your own blog, too. Forum for discussions, etc.

(personal note removed)

Happy 4th of July!

God bless,

(name removed)

I sent this response:

Response:

Good to hear from you. I believe in engaging people. No progress is made preaching to the choir, slapping each other on the back or shaking our heads and moaning about how bad things are. Although the feedback has been slight, I have reason to believe I made some progress here, and not necessarily in the area of voting behavior. I will address the comments received and keep you posted.

I don't know anything about blogs and little about websites. If no one comes there what good is it? I go to the people who matter, the ones who don't see things the way I do. And I don't think I want an ongoing commitment to have discussions. Sounds very time consuming. I'd rather have my say and maybe refer people to it on a website. For example, my speech on the War on the Unborn along with much of my other writing is posted at the website of Catholics United for Life (www.cul.detmich.com). If you page down to the Documents section my material begins about six lines from the top and there are several lines of links that follow. I refer people there all the time. The attachment on the Satanic-"Democratic" Agenda is at the bottom of the section for now. Check my stuff out and tell me what you think. The section includes many of my letters to the editor that were mass faxed nationwide to several thousand publications. Some were also sent to Canada and I was published from Hawaii to Newfoundland.

(remainder of the message is personal and has been removed except for the postscript)

P.S. It was "common good," not "common ground." The common good is very much a concept of Church teaching.