Our own Bishop took quite a bit of flack in some quarters this past week when he made a post to Facebook that criticized one of the nominees for Vice President of the United States this year. That candidate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, has come out saying that he is a “traditional Catholic” but that he is “pro-choice.” He said, however, that he is “personally opposed to abortion.” Bishop Stika thought this was something of a teachable moment, and in stating his pastoral view of the situation he minced no words:
“I have real issues with the Republicans. And I wait to see what the platform is with the Democrats. But when a senator says that he is a traditional Catholic but is pro-choice. Well he is a liar. And I would never use the Eucharist as something to deny a person of this ilk. Why are pro-choice people so adamant against ultrasounds and information about abortions and waiting periods. Because they are afraid of the truth. An unborn child is a human who suffers pain and has emotion. And it is a cold blooded evil act when a child is aborted. God help our country. It seems there are a bunch of evil people running our nation and the world.”
The overwhelming majority of the response on Bishop Stika’s personal Facebook page was positive. So much so that the few opposition responses were somewhat predictable and few, mostly from people who erroneously believe that it is not the place of a bishop (or any cleric) to discuss politics. Politics frequently intersects with the Church on a wide range of issues, and so as much as we might like to avoid it, it is often impossible to do so. Where politics intersects with Church teaching, a bishop has a duty to speak out, especially where it may concern the protection of life itself.
Much of the negative response came from elsewhere on Facebook when the bishop’s post was shared. Much of this came from people who claimed that it was wrong of the bishop to “question [Senator] Kaine’s Catholicity” since the Bishop of Richmond, Kaine’s home diocese, had not yet released a statement (he has since done so, it is a statement which simply restates Church teaching without much addressing the Senator’s adherence or lack thereof to that teaching).
This deacon, who still prays daily for an increase in humility, must respectfully disagree with the assertion that Bishop Stika was wrong in any way. Senator Kaine made his contrarian comments on Meet the Press to a national television audience, passing himself, and more importantly his ideas off as “traditional Catholic” in this historically Protestant country, and hence opening Catholics and Protestants alike to a great deal of confusion about what the Church teaches. It might cause Catholics to think that it is acceptable for a Catholic to support abortion. It would certainly cause evangelical Protestants in a diocese with a Catholic population around 3% to question how committed to traditional morality their Catholic neighbors are. Because the Senator made his remarks in the national media, any bishop who is concerned about how those remarks may impact the souls under his care is right to address them in a very direct way.
The other criticism levied at Bishop Stika by some in social media was that he dared call Senator Kaine “a liar” for continuing to call himself a “traditional Catholic” while continuing to support legalized abortion, saying that the bishop is making an accusation against Senator Kaine which is a judgement reserved to God alone. Yet in the plain language of Sacred Scripture itself, we see that an apostolic writer used that very kind of language (cf. 1 John 2:3-6):
“And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
If an apostle can use this kind of language to describe those who do not keep the teachings of Christ, so can a bishop, who we as Catholics believe to be a successor to the apostles, someone with the same kind of authority from Christ that the apostles had (cf. John 20:22-23).
There is a lesson here. It does not matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, or an independent who is just somewhere in between. If you are going to involve yourself in politics and publicly announce yourself to be a “traditional Catholic” but then take a public position that not only violates Church teaching, but violates one of the Ten Commandments itself, you should not expect to be spared the public rebuke of certain bishops, and hopefully a great many of them. Our bishop not only had a right to speak up against the confusion Senator Kaine may cause, he had a duty to do so. We ought to be thankful that he had the courage to carry out that duty.
We can only pray that Senator Kaine might see the error of his ways for the sake of his own soul and any others he might lead astray. May the Lord give all of us particular wisdom during this difficult Presidential election year.