You may recall that back in November 2007 a group of "prominent lay Catholics" released a statement titled, "Catholic Call to Observe Civility in Political Debate" (several online searches cannot locate the actual document). Catholic News Service reported:
Charging that the debate leading up to the 2008 elections "is increasingly filled with attacks on private conduct and recriminations," a group of prominent lay Catholics called for a "spirit of civility" in all political discussions and said the church must be protected "from being stained by the appearance of partisan political involvement." ...
The statement directly confronts an issue that arose in the 2004 presidential election campaign, when some U.S. bishops said they would deny Communion to Catholic politicians who voted in opposition to church teachings on such issues as abortion or embryonic stem-cell research.
"As lay Catholics we should not exhort the church to condemn our political opponents by publicly denying them holy Communion based on public dissent from church teachings," it said. "An individual's fitness to receive Communion is his or her personal responsibility. And it is a bishop's responsibility to set for his diocese the guidelines for administering Communion."
But the statement also urged restraint by Catholic politicians and said those who "advertise their Catholicism as part of their political appeal, but ignore the church's moral teachings in their political life confuse non-Catholics by giving the appearance of hypocrisy."
Indeed. And if I were videotaped holding hands and playing tonsil hockey with a woman other than my wife after publicly declaring my support of traditional marriage and family values, it might also cause confusion and give the appearance of hypocrisy. Actually it would be both scandalous and hypocritical. Isn't that obvious? (Answer to rhetorical question: No, it apparently isn't to some folks.) Of course, to warn against appearing hypocritical while also saying "we should not exhort the church to condemn our political opponents by publicly denying them holy Communion based on public dissent from church teachings" strongly implies that "civility" involves the complete absence of moral judgments about public actions. Which is, simply, ridiculous. As Dr. Ed Peters noted at the time:
The CACG seems completely unaware of the important distinction between public and private responsibility in the administration and reception of Communion when it asserts: "An individual's fitness to receive communion is his or her personal responsibility." But, as so many writers in so many fora have noted (e.g., here, here, here) the observance of Canon 915 (that binds ministers in the public arena) is at issue here, not Canon 916 (that binds individual members of the faithful in conscience). I cannot imagine a group that claims to be making a credible contribution to this vital discussion not even alluding to, let alone reckoning with, this key distinction. The CACG does neither.
Finally, despite having stated (more or less accurately) that "it is a bishop's responsibility to set for his diocese the guidelines for administering [C]ommunion", cannot the CACG see that some bishops have concluded that certain people's activities (albeit in the political sphere) constitute, under Canon 915, a disqualification for reception of the Eucharist in their diocese (that is, as far as these bishops' responsibility for the Eucharist extends)? What exactly, then, is the CACG's complaint against these bishops, except that that the CACG (resting on shoddy argumentation) disagrees with their decision?
This is all background to the release of a statement titled, "Catholic Laymen in the Public Square: A Catholic Response to the 'Call for Civility," signed by numerous Catholics, many of them well-known, including Judge Robert Bork, Dr. James Hitchcock, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Bernard Dobranski, Father Tom Euteneuer, Jim Holman, William E. May, George Neumayr, Father Frank Pavone, and many others. It states, in part:
6. Some ask for civility now for one reason, abortion. John Paul the Great called abortion the greatest civil rights issue of our time and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops recently called it the number one political issue of our time. Embryo-destructive research, and homosexual marriage follow right behind, though numerous Catholic politicians also oppose the fundamental teachings of the Church on these issues.
7. The lack of public civility comes not from pro-lifers but from those Catholic politicians who support the right to kill innocent life in the womb and those who support defining man-woman marriage out of existence. But, some want to treat these politicians differently because they agree with them on important but purely prudential questions like health care, and the minimum wage.
8. These are old and tired arguments that have been criticized by successive Popes and by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for putting unequal problems on the same moral plane. Though not all of its signers intend it, we believe the effect of the "Call for Civility" would be to silence the pro-life and pro-family movements. We oppose this effort root and branch.