Mercy, Evangelization, and Pope Francis

Paul Fahey – November 9, 2016

This past summer I read a really wonderful book by Pope Francis titled, “The Name of God is Mercy.” The book is the transcript of a long interview the Holy Father did with a Vatican journalist about the Year of Mercy. Since this Year of Mercy ends this month, I thought that one last reflection on this Jubilee Year is in order. Also, now that the election is over I think a little more mercy in our lives would be a good thing.

I found the book comforting and refreshing, but I also found it very challenging, reading it was a kind of examination of conscience. The entire book really is fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For this article, I wanted to share one powerful passage from the book with you and give some comments on it. I would encourage you to read Pope Francis’ words slowly and prayerfully, read them as if he was writing to you personally.


This passage comes from the chapter titled, “Shepherds, not Scholars of the Law.” Pope Francis says:

We need to enter the darkness, the night in which so many of our brothers live. We need to be able to make contact with them and let them feel our closeness, without letting ourselves be wrapped up in that darkness and influenced by it. Caring for outcasts and sinners does not mean letting the wolves attack the flock. It means trying to reach everyone by sharing the experience of mercy, which we ourselves have experienced, without ever caving in to the temptation of feeling that we are just or perfect.

While he doesn’t mention the word “evangelization,” I think that is precisely what the pope is talking about here. I’ve heard it said that evangelization is one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is. Likewise, I think Pope Francis would say that evangelization is one sinner showing another sinner how to experience God’s mercy. What’s cool about thinking of evangelization this way is that it’s not complicated and it doesn’t require a theology degree. How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? How has God saved you from your own sin and suffering? Have you ever shared this story with anyone? The pope continues:

The more conscience we are of our wretchedness and our sins, the more we experience the love and infinite mercy of God among us, and the more capable we are of looking upon the many “wounded” we meet along the way with acceptance and mercy.

Shortly after being elected pope, Francis was asked “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” And his response was, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” The Holy Father says that it is a true grace for someone to feel like a sinner, and that if we don’t feel that way then we should ask God for the grace to feel like a sinner. It is only as a sinner that we can experience God’s infinite mercy, it is only in our weakness and humility that we can truly know God’s greatness. When I read this passage of the book I was really challenged. I don’t like to see myself as a sinner, I like to think of myself as a good and righteous person. Since then I’ve found myself at times asking God for the grace to see myself as a sinner in need of mercy, because if I’m not a sinner then I have no need of a Savior. Recognizing oneself as a sinner is also one of the first steps of evangelization, the pope says:

So we must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam is his own. Let us always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when ninety-nine righteous people have no need of repentance. When a person begins to recognize the sickness in their soul, when the Holy spirit – the Grace of God – acts within them and moves their heart toward an initial recognition of their own sins, he needs to find an open door, not a closed one. He needs to find acceptance, not judgement, prejudice, or condemnation. He needs to be helped, not pushed away or cast out. Sometimes when Christians think like scholars of the law, their hearts extinguish that which the Holy Spirit lights up in the heart of a sinner who stands at the threshold, when he starts to feel nostalgia for God.

This passage really hit me like an examination of conscience because I find myself really quick to judge someone else’s faults. Too often I act like a “scholar of law” who stands on a self-righteous pedestal judging others. It’s easy for us to treat people as “the other,” as enemies in a culture war, as bad Catholics, instead of Children of God. But judging other from “lofty heights” is the opposite of evangelization.

It’s easy for us to judge the young unmarried couple bringing their baby to be baptized, the couple who lived together before their wedding, the couple we know is using contraception, the gay person at work, the person with the Other Party’s bumper sticker in the church parking lot, etc, etc. I use all of these examples because these are ways I have judged others in the past. “These people” aren’t enemies in a culture war, these are the “lost sheep” who Jesus rejoices over more than the ninety-nine who never strayed.

Pope Francis is telling us that we can only stop judging others and start loving them when we have the humility to see ourselves as the greatest sinner in the room. The Holy Father said, “Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine.”

In these final days of the Year of Mercy let us pray for the humility of Pope Francis and the courage to share God’s mercy with those who have fallen away from the Church. Let us ask God for the tremendous grace to see ourselves as sinners so that we may fully experience His Love.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.


Voting with the Heart and Mind of the Church – Part 3: Our Options this Election

Paul Fahey – October 24, 2016

This is the third article in a three-part series I’ve written about voting with the heart and mind of the Catholic Church (Here is Part 1 and Part 2).

In the first article I talked about how Catholics are called to be “salt, light, and leaven” in the political arena, and thus we have the moral obligation to vote. However, if we vote like everyone else, and not like Catholics, then our political participation is worthless.

In my second article I talked about how to vote as a Catholic. We all have political priorities, issues near and dear to us, issues that impact our families and jobs. However, as Catholics we are called to make the Church’s priorities, Christ’s priorities, our own. These priorities that the Church is most concerned with are rooted in the infinite dignity of every human person.

The Church also puts a special weight on issues that are so dramatically opposed to human dignity that they are “intrinsically evil.” These are issues that can never be supported and must always be opposed. The US Bishops list the following issues as intrinsically evil: abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, torture, targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, and redefining marriage. Furthermore, the Church says that of these issues abortion and euthanasia have the highest priority. However, the Church also warns us against being “one issue voters.” We cannot focus on just one issue and ignore or dismiss the others (though support for an intrinsic evil “may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support”).

With all of this in mind, it quickly becomes clear that all of the major candidates running for president this year actively champion intrinsic evils. So I want to spend the rest of this article laying out what options Catholics have this presidential election. Based on the US Bishops’ document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, we have three options for this presidential election that won’t violate our consciences.


via Wikimedia Commons

The first option is simple. A Catholic in good conscience can choose not to vote for any of the major party candidates and instead vote for one of the few third party candidates who do not support any intrinsic evils.

The second option is also pretty simple. A Catholic in good conscience can choose to be a conscientious objector to this presidential election and just vote down ballot. The bishops say, “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate…” So while this is an “extraordinary” thing to do, a Catholic can simply choose not to caste a vote for any presidential candidate.

The third option is a little more complicated. A Catholic in good conscience can vote for either one of the major party presidential candidates in spite of their support for intrinsic evils. However, this is not an option that Catholics can choose lightly. The USCCB says:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, 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.

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably 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.

When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.


Let’s unpack this teaching. A Catholic in good conscience can vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil if the Catholic meets the following narrow criteria:

  1. The Catholic voter recognizes that the candidate supports this grave evil. If we are going to vote for either of the major party candidates we cannot be ignorant of the evil things that they support, nor can we dismiss or downplay those evils.
  2. The Catholic voter opposes this evil and votes for this candidate in spite of the candidate’s intrinsically evil position and not because of the candidate’s support of intrinsic evil.
  3. The Catholic is voting this way for truly grave moral reasons and not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences. In other words, if I choose to vote for either of the major party candidates I must be doing so for truly grave moral reasons and not because the candidate is a Democrat, a Republican, a woman, a business leader, etc.
  4. The Catholic is voting for a candidate in an effort to prevent the election of another candidate who the Catholic truly thinks is even more morally flawed than the one they are voting for, and who also supports intrinsic evils that are proportionate to the evils that their candidate supports.

A couple things to keep in mind with all of this. I am not saying that all candidates who support intrinsic evils are morally equal. As I said above, the US Bishops say that abortion and euthanasia are the most important issues to consider. Thus if a Catholic is considering voting for a pro-choice candidate, they need to really pray and discern what evil or evils are proportionate to the evil of abortion.

The Church is not in the business of telling us who we should or shouldn’t vote for, and the US Bishops explicitly say that Church leaders should avoid endorsing or opposing political candidates. Ultimately the bishops present these teachings to us and then let us form our own consciences and make our own decisions. The US Bishops say:

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 policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.

So what is our responsibility as Catholics this election? First, we must form our own consciences by knowing what the Church teaches and what issues are most important to the Church. Perhaps the best way to do this is to read  the wonderful USCCB document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. There are many Catholic voters guides out there from reputable sources that misrepresent Church teaching, so I would suggest only reading voters guides that come from our bishops. Second, we must do our best to set aside our political priorities and embraces the Church’s priorities. Finally, and most importantly, we must take this decision to prayer and lay everything at the feet of Christ asking for His guidance. If you do this, then you can cast your vote not only in good conscience, but with confidence that God will bless your effort and bring good from your decision.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Capital Punishment in the United States is, in practice, always evil

Let’s talk about the death penalty.

I’ll tell you my conclusion up front. While the Catholic Church teaches that, in principle, recourse to the death penalty is morally acceptable, in practice (at least in the modern United States) the use of capital punishment cannot be justified. Therefore, any advocacy for this procedure should be avoided. Essentially, in principle, the death penalty is licit, but it is always evil when we factor in the current circumstances.

I’m throwing my argument out here hoping for thoughtful disagreement, because well, I know I’m speaking contrary to many Catholic minds much greater than my own.


Attribution: Alexander Gardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As always, let’s start with what the universal catechism has to say (paragraph 2267):

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The key phrase is this, “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” To state this another way, capital punishment is only morally acceptable when used to defend innocent lives from a violent criminal. In the United States today we have the means to lock up unjust aggressors for life, therefore the death penalty can never be morally used.

However, it may not be the case that the catechism gives the entire story here. Catholic thinkers Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette make a compelling (though I’m not fully persuaded yet) argument that in addition to defending innocent lives, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church holds that a state can also licitly resort to capital punishment in order to execute just retribution of a grave offense. If justice is giving a man what is owed to him, be it a day’s wages for a day’s work for example, then the death penalty is truly what’s owed to the serial killer. They state:

The fact is that it is the irreformable teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, not merely to ensure the physical safety of others when an offender poses an immediate danger (a case where even John Paul II was willing to allow for the death penalty), but even for purposes such as securing retributive justice and deterring serious crime.

I’m not going to go into their argument here, I trust that if you question their reasoning you will read their articles yourself. However, I don’t think that the death penalty can still be licit in the US even if Feser and Bessette’s conclusion is correct. My argument is rooted in the very first sentence of the catechism quote above, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty…”

If the state is going to deliberately end the life of a human person then the level of certainty that the accused is actually guilty must be as close to absolute as humanly possible, but I don’t think we are capable of that in the US today. One major factor is the racial bias the US has when it comes to who we execute (see here, here, and here). Our uncertainty concerning the guilt of prisoners on death row can also be demonstrated by the 156 death row inmates who have been exonerated in the US since 1973, not to mention the several cases where there’s evidence of a person’s innocence but they have already been executed.


Clayton Lockett

Furthermore, the US does not have a great track record when it comes to executing criminals humanely. 3% to 7% of executions are botched, with modern methods having the higher failure rate.  One of these botched executions was performed on Clayton Lockett, whose lethal injection, in 2014, took 45 minutes to end his life. There are several reasons why this is the case, but one major reason is because it’s wardens and lawyers, not doctors or personnel with medical experience, who guess both what drugs to use and a drug’s dosage for a lethal injection.

So even if the state can justly kill a criminal for the sake of retribution, there should be an indefinite moratorium on capital punishment unless we can be morally certain that a person is guilty, that there was no racial bias in their trial and sentencing, and that we can guarantee them a humane death. Barring that, I would dare to say that, from a Catholic perspective, capital punishment in the United States today is, in practice, always evil.

Why Catholics do not have to vote for Trump

Paul Fahey – July 31, 2016

There’s an article going around by a student at Christendom College, Colleen McCrum, titled 10 Reasons Catholics Should Vote for Trump. In his public endorsement of Donald Trump, Catholic apologist Steve Ray quotes the entirety of McCrum’s article.

To be entirely honest, it’s really unfortunate to see good Catholic and pro-life leaders like Steve Ray publicly endorsing a pro-choice, pro-torture, pro-war crime, pro-deportation of millions of non-violent people back to extreme poverty and violence, strip club owner for president. Vote for Trump if your conscience tells you to, and form your conscience by following your bishops and reading Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. But please, please, don’t undermine the Catholic and pro-life political witness by publicly endorsing Donald Trump.

All that said, I wanted to directly respond to those 10 reasons why some think that Catholics should vote for Trump. The original post is in regular font and my responses are in bold:


1.) He’s not Hillary Clinton.

We know exactly who she is, what she is, what she stands for, and can pretty well guess what she will do to our country. We can’t risk her getting into office.

If you can’t vote for Trump, vote against Hillary. The only realistic way to do this is by voting for Trump, since he is the only candidate that has a chance against her.

This argument presumes that the Catholic/pro-life vote is already owed to Trump and that not voting for him will be a vote for Hillary. This is false. My vote and your vote are our own. This argument also flies in the face of the US Bishops who clearly say that voting for a third party, or abstaining from voting, are acceptable positions when all major party candidates support intrinsic evils. Paragraph 36 of their document states:

When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the
conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

*Shortly after I initially posted this article I came across a very lucid blog post by Brandon Craig dismantling the argument that not voting for Trump is giving a vote to Hillary. It’s titled, “No, a Vote for a Third Party (or Abstaining from Voting) Is not the Same as a Vote for Hillary” and is a great read.

2.) He might pass and protect pro-life laws.

While we know for sure that Hillary will push the corrupt Planned Parenthood down our throats every chance she gets, and she will keep abortion-providing Obamacare in place, Trump is a bit of an unknown with the potential for being pro-life. That is, he claims to be pro-life, and it’s worth the leap of faith on this one. He has said, “Public funding of abortion providers is an insult to people of conscience at the least and an affront to good governance at best.”

He might, if it is advantageous for him on that day. Or he might not. We can’t know because he has given no real demonstration of an actual commitment to unborn lives, just cheap lip service (poor and confusing lip service at that). Here are four reasons to seriously doubt that Trump is in any way pro-life:

1. He says he’s anti-abortion. However, in the spirit of Reagan’s quote, “Trust but verify” and Jesus’ saying “You can know a tree by its fruit,” I have not seen any actually verifiable fruit of his anti-abortion stance. None. He has only said that he was anti-abortion when it was politically advantageous for him to do so.

2. He’s only called himself pro-life since he started running for president. Before that he supported abortion and donated money to pro-choice candidates (including Hillary Clinton), praising them as great leaders and individuals.

3. Back in April he changed his mind on abortion literally three times in less than a week, his last position being that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and that he has no interest in changing it. He said, “At this moment the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way…

4. He dehumanizes women, the disabled, immigrants, Muslims, etc. on a regular basis. So I have little reason to think that he values human life that doesn’t immediately benefit him.

3.) Voting for an imperfect man is not a sin.

I have taken philosophy and theology classes since 8th grade. I mention that to lend myself some credibility, not to imply expertise in the subjects. But I studied them enough to know that neither Aquinas nor Aristotle ever said that the ruling sovereign has to be a saint. I understand that lending someone your vote is a big deal, and it is preferable to have a candidate you really believe in. Many people do really believe in Trump, and so this might not be an issue for you. But if you have reservations, I would ask you to consider that:

Imperfect? Pope Francis is imperfect. President Lincoln is imperfect. Paul Ryan is imperfect. Donald Trump is pro-choice, pro-torture, pro-war crime, and pro-deportation of millions of non-violent immigrants back to the poverty and violence they fled from. He is morally corrupt. Calling Trump imperfect is disingenuous, and voting for a candidate because of their support of intrinsic evil is formal cooperation in evil and, yes, that is a sin. Our bishops explain in paragraph 34:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an
intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting
workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, 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.

4.) Voting for a third-party in this presidential election= a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Recent polls have shown Trump ahead by a couple points. He has a chance in this election, so every vote counts.

I’m sympathetic to the ideals of third-party candidates, Libertarians, and Independents. It’s a democracy, anyone should be able to win. We have a rigged system right now, which only allows Republicans or Democrats to realistically win. However, the way to further these other parties is in local elections, and ongoing campaigns. Fuel the fire during the off-season, not during the presidential race! Be realists, not idealists. We have to work with what we have.

This is the same argument as #1.

5.) There will likely be several Supreme Court spots opening up.

The president is in charge of appointing the Supreme Court justices. With Hilary, we know the type of person she would nominate. With Trump, we might have a chance of getting better people in.

There is a vacant seat right now. There have been rumors about Justice Thomas retiring this year. Ginsburg is already 83, and Kennedy will be turning 80. Breyer is 77. The record age for a Supreme Court Justice was 90; the average being closer to 80. We’ll probably be looking at a few new Justices this term and the next.

The Supreme Court argument is the best argument that I’ve heard about why a pro-life voter should support Trump, but it’s far from a perfect argument. Fr. Joseph Faulkner shared a comprehensive counter argument on his Facebook page earlier this month. Here it is:

1) Presidents do not pick justices alone. The Senate is a serious bulwark against extreme justices. Therefore the single worst thing to do is to nominate Donald Trump who is toxic to the down-ballot and risk losing control of the Senate. Wise people said that back in January but nobody listened. Now that they are stuck with him, the best thing for a Republican Congressman in a close race to do is distance himself from him.

2) if Hillary becomes president and gets an “extra” Supreme Court pick up to fill in Scalia’s seat, that’s also entirely on the GOP. Knowing that HRC had a real chance to win in 2016 it was imprudent to leave that unfilled when Obama offered a relatively moderate option. And this GOP intransigence adds to the national perception that Republicans won’t play fair. More danger for those Congress seats in November.

3) As has been said elsewhere and before, it would be better for a conservative Senate to have a clear opponent on SC picks in Clinton than to have to figure out how to oppose a moderately unconservative pick by their own party member. What’s worse: HRC putting up 4 radical pro-aborts you can fight or Trump giving you 2 soft conservatives and 2 non-conservatives that you can’t oppose?

4) I have seen nothing to make me think Trump won’t pick whoever he feels like on that given day. I do not believe he has principles on this. He changed his position on abortion 5 times in 3 days this spring. I do not believe that he will go from the “list” that he has shared. Some people have objected to this: “No, he has to; otherwise we will vote him out.” Really? You’re really going to vote him out if he’s the sitting president and there’s another Hillary or the next Obama waiting in 2020? Bull. He owns you if you make him incumbent— and for the exact same reasons he has you pinned now.

5) If Solon were alive today he’d say “Call no president happy until he and his SCOTUS picks are deceased”, meaning every president is just waiting for his Supreme Court picks to fail him. Republicans have had the White House the majority of the last 65 years and have had a disproportionately high number of SC nominations, and yet GOP courts gave us Roe v. Wade and have never removed it. Their fallen justices have ranged from full traitors (Souter) to “not total surprises” (Day-O’Conner, Kennedy, et al.) to “good but still faulty” (Roberts, et al.). Point is: even the best Presidents making their best picks have, at worst, been horribly betrayed and, at best, still been disappointed that things couldn’t change under them. If Reagan got Kennedy and H.W. got Souter, what will even Trump’s very best pick turn into?

Summary: put not your trust in princes. Or presidents abd justices. Hillary may not be as capable of the evils you fear (if Congressmen are savvy or at least lucky) and Trump is almost certainly not going to deliver the good you hope for.

6.) Ben Carson endorsed him.

As Carson said, “It’s not about Mr. Trump. This is about America.” Carson is a Christian and a man of character, and a week after dropping out of the race, he took the time to vouch for the character of Trump. He said, “Some people have gotten the impression that Donald Trump is this person who is not malleable, who does not have the ability to listen, and to take information in and make wise decisions. And that’s not true. He’s much more cerebral than that.”

Because Ben Carson should be a greater influence on Catholics than our own bishops? Note also that the context in which Carson said that Trump was “cerebral,” he also said:

There’s two Donald Trumps. There’s the Donald Trump that you see on television and who gets out in front of big audiences, and there’s the Donald Trump behind the scenes…They’re not the same person. One’s very much an entertainer, and one is actually a thinking individual.

So Trump’s private self is dramatically different than his public self? And we should see this as a virtue or somehow an endorsement of his character? Usually two-faced people are despised and called “hypocrites.”

7.) In the interest of our religious freedoms.

The government is slowly stripping our country of religious freedom. Across the United States, crosses are being labeled as gang symbols, Catholic business owners are being pressured to provide abortion access to their employees, and believing in the beauty of marriage is becoming equivalent to hating gay people. In the past 8 years, under Obama, our country has already changed.

We can’t risk another 8 under a similar president.

So we will just assume that Trump will be an improvement over Obama or Hillary? Again, where are the verifiable fruits of this claim? 

8.) He is a successful business man.

Our economy could use some expertise in that area. I know he’s  had some bumps in the road, but there is a possibility he could bring good ideas to our economy.

So is the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, but that doesn’t mean we should feel morally obligated to make him the president of the United States.

Speaking of Epstein, in 2002 Trump said, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” Maybe that should give us some pause.

9.) He hurt my feelings; I’m still voting for him.

Many of the objections I hear, and made myself (earlier on in the race), against Trump include: he’s cocky,  he’s racist, he’s sexist, he’s a joke, he’s not smart enough. The majority of these claims come from statements he has made, not actions.

And all of his pro-life claims (to my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong) “come from statements he has made, not actions.”

10.) He’s not Hillary Clinton.

As you may be able to tell, my motivation for writing this is mainly that I know some Catholics are having a hard time deciding whether or not to vote for him. He is not my ideal candidate by any stretch of the imagination. However, I think he’s decent in many ways, and ultimately better than his opposition. For me, that is enough, and I hope you will end up deciding that as well.

Obviously this is also the same argument as #1. However, I wanted to add that the common thread through these arguments is an intense fear of Hillary Clinton.

Some of this fear is rational. Hillary (and the Democratic Party) is pushing a radical pro-abortion agenda. I use the terms “radical” and “pro-abortion” intentionally. They want to totally oppose the Hyde Amendment (the law that prevents taxpayer money from being spent on abortions), which has had bipartisan support for years. Hillary also supports late term abortions, a position that’s not only out of touch with younger voters, but with the general population as well. Her position is even radical when compared with “liberal Europe’s” abortion laws which overwhelmingly ban abortions after 20 weeks.

However, some of this fear is irrational and apocalyptic. I had a Trump supporter recently tell me:

You and others on this thread who either vote for hillary or refuse to vote at all or vote for 3rd party candidates that have no chance, you and they will be responsible for the slaughter that will continue and increase beyond comprehension under hillary. Not only here but throughout the world. You will be responsible for the murder of your children and of your loved ones and if you don’t think that couldn’t happen just look around, muslims hate Catholics worse than LGBT.This election is not a joke, it is the survival of a nation, and of a people.

If I vote third party and not for Trump, will I really be responsible for the slaughter of multitudes, including the murder of my children and loved ones? This kind of sentiment is irrational and apocalyptic fear mongering, and it is utterly despicable when used to manipulate people to vote for “your candidate.”

Please do not ever feel morally obligated to vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils. Please do not let people bully or scare you into voting against your conscience. Please stop telling Christians and pro-lifers that they have to vote for Donald Trump.

Voting with the Heart and Mind of the Church – Part 2: The Church’s Priorities

Paul Fahey – July 25, 2016

This is the second article in a three-part series I’ve written about voting with the heart and mind of the Catholic Church (Here is Part 1 and Part 3).

In Part One of this series on voting with the mind and heart of the Church, I talked about the unique role that Catholics have in politics, using the USCCB’s document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship as my guide. Specifically, Catholics are called to be salt, light, and leaven in all areas of human culture, including the political arena. Thus, political participation is not only a good and noble thing, but it is also a moral obligation. However, as Christ warns, “…if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13). In other words, how are Catholic voters distinct from secular voters? How do we vote as Catholics and not as pagans? How do we bring light to the political arena and not simply acquiesce to the darkness?

The short answer is that we make Christ’s political priorities our own. We all have our own political preferences, issues close to our hearts, policies that may directly affect our life, families, or livelihood – and that’s great! However, as Catholics we are called to be docile before the teachings of Christ and to make the Church’s priorities our own. Only in this way, as the bishops say, will we “help transform the party to which we belong” and “not let the party transform us.”


The Church’s priorities are rooted first and foremost in the immeasurable dignity of every human person made in the image of God. Several things follow from this fundamental principle, and I want to highlight a couple of them. First, the Church is concerned with particular issues and not political parties. All of the major political parties in the US support policies that fundamentally violate human dignity. The embrace of any major party’s entire platform would be irresponsible and immoral for a Catholic.

Second, rooted in the principle of universal human dignity, the Church teaches that there are actions so opposed to human life that they can never be morally justified. These actions are called  “intrinsic evils,” sometimes referred to as “non-negotiable issues,” and I want to spend most of my time talking about them. The USCCB explains:

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.

An intrinsically evil action can never be justified regardless of the circumstances. Note that this is different than a “regular” evil action. For example, killing a human being is evil, but not intrinsically evil. If a gunman stormed into a public building and started shooting at innocent people, a person could legitimately shoot and kill this gunman in order to defend their own life and the lives of others in the room. Thus, because there are circumstances in which killing another person is licit, killing itself is not intrinsically evil. However, intentionally killing an innocent person (i.e. murder) is an intrinsic evil.

The bishops go on to list some relevant examples of intrinsic evils that Catholics can never support or condone (note that this list is not exhaustive as there are other intrinsic evils that the USCCB does not mention):

A prime example [of an intrinsic evil] is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5).

…Similarly, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, and other acts that directly violate the sanctity and dignity of human life are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life, such as genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Nor can violations of human dignity, such as acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning, ever be justified.

With this list of intrinsic evils in mind the USCCB warns against two “temptations” that the faithful must avoid. The first temptation is thinking that there is no distinction, no difference in moral weight between issues. The bishops clearly state, “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.”

However, the bishops then warn us against the second temptation, which is to focus on just one issue and to ignore or dismiss the rest. The bishops go on to list care for the environment, racism, unjust discrimination, unjust war, torture, lack of basic resource, lack of health care, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, religious liberty, and unjust immigration policies all as issues of grave concern for Catholics. The USCCB states:

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.

Then to emphasize their point, the US bishops quote a fantastic document by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. This document says:

It must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility toward the common good.

With all of this in mind, two conclusions quickly become apparent. First, all major political parties actively champion intrinsic evils. Second, all of the major candidates running for president also actively champion intrinsic evils. So what options do Catholics have this presidential election? How can we participate in this election and not violate our conscience by condoning intrinsic evils and supporting policies that violate human dignity? Don’t despair, there are options. And that is what I will discuss in part three.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Voting with the Heart and Mind of the Church – Part 1: A Catholic’s Role in Politics

Paul Fahey – July 18, 2016

This is the first article in a three-part series I’ve written about voting with the heart and mind of the Catholic Church (Here is  Part 2 and Part 3).

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:14-16.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s a presidential election year. Are you looking forward to November? Are you tired of all the political conversations or does discussing politics get you excited? Are you feeling hopeless, frustrated, or angry at how this election is going? Do you look at the candidates before us and want to move to Canada, eh?

Today begins the Republican National Convention where they will, barring a miracle, nominate Donald Trump to be the Republican candidate for president. Likewise the Democratic National Convention will be following shortly thereafter and we will see Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. In light of that, I wanted to take some time to write a few posts about how we as Catholics are called and empowered to act. Specifically, I want to explain some of the foundational principles that guide a Catholic understanding of politics and then use those principles to lay out the options that we as faithful Catholics will have come November.

Before I dive in, though, I want to touch on two things. First, we all have deeply held political, economic, and moral priorities. So before you start reading this, I want to assure that my goal is to present to you what the Catholic Church teaches and not simply my own thoughts and opinions. My primary source is the wonderful USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops) document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” If you’re interested in politics, frustrated with this election, or totally confused about what to do come November, then this document is for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Second, I urge you to approach what the Church teaches with an open mind and heart. We are called to be docile in the face of the teaching of Christ and His Church. We are called to make Christ’s priorities greater than our own. It’s good to feel challenged by the Church’s teaching because the Church is a mother who instructs us and always urges us to more fully mature into images of Jesus Christ.

So what is a Catholic’s role in politics? Our bishops say, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation…The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.” Let’s unpack that.

Jesus calls all of His followers to be light for a darkened world. Because of the grace given to us through the Sacraments and in having a personal relationship with Christ, Catholics are specially equipped to be bearers of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in all areas of our culture, which includes politics. Also, because of the centuries of rich teaching from the Catholic Church regarding human nature, ethics, and social justice, Catholic are uniquely qualified voices of reason in the political arena. Therefore Catholics have a “moral obligation” to participate, at least at a minimal level, in the political system that they find themselves in. So here in the US, where we have a representative government, voting is that minimal participation.

However, just showing up and voting isn’t good enough. If we don’t act any differently from anyone else, then how are we lights in the darkness? We do a service to our country when we vote, but only when we vote as Catholics. The US Bishops say:

“Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable…As citizens, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”

So how do we do this? How do we vote as Catholics and not like everyone else? How can we participate in politics so that our political party and our society are transformed for the better rather than us being transformed for the worse? That is what I will discuss in Part Two.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

How Do We End a Culture War?

In June 1996 the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hundreds of locals were present in protest of the event, and rightly so. The KKK has, since its inception, been a force of racism and bigotry. One protestor present that day was 18 year-old Keshia Thomas.

During the protest someone announced over a megaphone that there was “a Klansman in the crowd” The man was quickly knocked to the ground and kicked and hit with placard sticks.

As people shouted, “Kill the Nazi,” Keshia Thomas, fearing that mob mentality had taken over, decided to act. Thomas threw herself on top of the man she had come to protest, protecting him from the blows.

When asked about her actions, Thomas said, “Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘this isn’t right’… I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me… violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”

This photograph was named one of Life magazine’s “Pictures of the Year” for 1996

Now, contrast Keshia Thomas’ story to that of Bahar Mustafa, the diversity officer at Goldsmith’s University whose job it is to promote good relations and practices towards different minority groups. Mustafa’s job is currently under scrutiny after she tweeted “kill all white men”. She sought to justify her actions by arguing that this phrase and others that she’s used are a way to “reclaim” power for minorities and women. Mustafa seems to believe that such sayings are appropriate weapons against racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry, perhaps made all the more potent for their shock value and aggressiveness.

I offer these stories as examples of some of the ways we have come to confront the specter of racism. The first is a story of love, the second, of cultural warfare. I don’t know if Keshia Thomas is Christian but it certainly would come as no surprise because her actions exhibit precisely what all Christians are called to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us clear instructions on how to deal with our enemies saying, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” He continues, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Keshia Thomas had the opportunity to hurt someone she thought hated her, or even to stand by and watch as others did it but instead she protected him. She responded to hate with love and gave mercy for bigotry. In a political sphere entrenched in a culture war this is not the kind of response that most American politics, conservative or progressive, demands of us, but it is what Jesus demands of us and as Christians that’s something we should take far more seriously.

Mustafa said only BME (black and minority ethnic} women and non-binary people were allowed to attend an anti-racism event.

Mustafa’s confrontation of course represents another extreme. Like Thomas, Mustafa protests the evils of bigotry but hers is a justice without mercy in which hate is traded for hate and bigotry returned in response to bigotry. In contrast to the love Jesus demands we show our enemies, these tactics are meant to silence, shame and destroy. They are weapons of war that hurt the innocent and the guilty alike. Mustafa’s statement “kill all white men” is reminiscent of the Massacre of Beziers. In 1209, after the city had been taken by Christian crusaders there was the question of what to do with the enemy as the innocent of the city were mingled among them. One abbot allegedly said “kill them all and let God sort them out” which is precisely what happened. Mustafa’s flippant tweet shares the same sentiment that abbot expressed 800 years ago.

The metaphor of war in describing our cultural encounters is evident everywhere. Opponents on hot-topic issues like abortion and homosexuality are often portrayed as being at war with one another and one need merely turn on the TV to witness a constant barrage of angry epithets from both sides. Divisive language meant to garner support from one side and dehumanize the other are frequently employed: categorizations like “makers” and “takers” for example. Accusations of racism , sexism, freeloading, and even communist conspiracy abound. Any advantage that can be obtained to help your side or hurt theirs will be used. Like destroying a small business owner’s livelihood when they refuse to bake you a cake. In the culture wars there are only two kinds of people. There are the good guys and then there’s everyone else.

While the rhetoric of war may be an effective tactic in ginning up support for one’s cause, when it comes to overcoming bigotry and establishing ourselves as a peaceful and tolerant society such weapons are ultimately self-defeating. To realize such a society means giving up the win-at-all-costs, scorched-earth mentality; it means seeing our opponents, not as enemies to destroy, but as humans in need of love. The culture wars and a tolerant society are incompatible because to achieve such a society means being willing to sometimes back down from a fight, even lose, rather than demonize and scapegoat the enemy. It means turning the other cheek and walking a mile in another person’s shoes

Ultimately, we may not be meant to win the culture war but we are called to end it. Such a tremendous task can only be accomplished by an equally radical commitment to love as Jesus taught us. The division and hurt present in our nation today will not be healed by epithets or witty remarks but by genuine encounters with our “enemies” in which we say, “you are loved.”