Try as we might to prevent it, every now and again during one of our Masses someone will put leaflets or flyers on the windshields of cars in our parking lots. Now this hasn’t happened recently, but with elections around the corner, it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. I think two things need to be said in regard to these leaflets and flyers.
First, I am convinced that the people who leaflet cars during Mass do so out of a sense of commitment to their cause or candidate. From a certain perspective, this is commendable. It reminds us that we have the right to participate in the political process on all levels. The problem is that someone could infer that because the leafleting occurred on Basilica property, that The Basilica was endorsing a particular cause, or candidate for that cause. In this regard, we need to be clear. While The Basilica—like all Catholic Churches—has the right and the responsibility to commend and endorse positions on moral issues, it cannot, has not, and will not endorse a particular candidate for any political office at any level, even if that candidate espouses our values and moral principles.
Walking the line between clearly stating our moral principles and beliefs, and appearing to endorse a particular candidate, can be very difficult. On the one hand, our Church has a fundamental commitment to stand for justice. This commitment demands that the Church, as an institution, just like its individual members, must involve itself in fashioning and maintaining the common good. However, a distinction needs to be made as to how this is done. One way is to get involved in advocating for particular issues, e.g. respect for life, housing, jobs, economic issues. Another option is to support particular candidates or political parties. Individual Christians may do either or both. The Church as an institution may only do the first. The Church needs to remain apart from partisan politics in order that it can speak more clearly, freely and in an unbiased manner for fundamental moral values.
While I think we do a good job of this at The Basilica, we need to be honest that at times the Catholic Church in the United States has failed in this regard. At times we have all heard U.S. priests and bishops become so strident about an issue at election time that it seems they are endorsing a particular candidate or party. We need to remember, though, that for the Church, values are what is most important and what is at stake. Endorsing particular candidates or a particular party limits our Church’s ability to speak with authority to all the issues. The Church needs to refrain from partisan politics in order to speak more effectively and from the perspective of justice, to all the issues.
I’m hoping that no one leaflets any cars at The Basilica during this election season. But in case it happens, please know this was not done with our permission. If it does happen, though, may it spur all of us to participate in the electoral process and give witness to our beliefs and values by voting.