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Issue Date:  November 5, 2004

A Catholic response to Catholic Answers


I have a question for Karl Keating: Why do we need you?

For those who do not know, Karl Keating is the president of Catholic Answers, which describes itself as “the largest Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization in the U.S.” I would not dispute that description, unless we include the Roman Catholic church as a Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization. I suppose that I would include the church, and the fact that Mr. Keating does not may point us toward his answer to my question. More on that in a moment.

I recently received a fundraising appeal from Mr. Keating’s organization, and his pitch was simple: “Help us make sure Catholic voters STOP voting for pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, and pro-homosexual politicians.” (I have preserved Keating’s own anxious emphasis in this essay, adding none of my own.) I quickly dismissed a mental picture of goons hired by Keating to tackle Catholic Democrats as they approach the ballot box. In fact, Keating’s plan is almost as elegant. He wants to publish a “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” to “educate Catholic voters on the key moral issues of our time and show them how to vote the Catholic way.” Those key moral issues, according to Keating, are in ranked order: 1) abortion; 2) euthanasia; 3) fetal stem cell research; 4) human cloning; and 5) homosexual marriage. Those are “five ‘nonnegotiable’ issues that all Catholics need to understand and to vote against if we are to keep America from collapsing.”

Mr. Keating offers statistics to demonstrate the need for his voter’s guide. “Catholics make up 26 percent of the electorate,” but “Catholics are more likely to vote for ‘liberal’ candidates” (note that the voter’s guide “does not endorse any particular candidate or political party”). In the face of these statistics, Keating’s goal is a modest one. Keating foresees a time when America’s 65 million Catholics will vote “in harmony with church teaching” to “change the face of American politics.”

I will admit that I do not lead a Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization, so I may lack some of Mr. Keating’s sophistication in these matters. But “chang[ing] the face of American politics” seems like a very strange goal for a Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization. I readily can understand a desire to win souls or to stop abortions by winning souls. I have a bit more trouble understanding why the things of Caesar -- “the face of American politics” -- occupy such expensive real estate in Mr. Keating’s world.

I have to wonder as well at his ranked list of “nonnegotiable” moral issues. It is not so much that I do not understand why he has included those five as much as I do not understand why he has excluded others. In the midst of a war that has no relationship to “legitimate defense” and under a president who, as governor of Texas, signed off on more executions faster than any other governor in the nation, the exclusion of those issues is interesting. Could “bloodless means” not have been “sufficient to defend human lives,” as the Catechism requires, in every one of those 152 cases where Gov. Bush signed a death warrant? Is the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay or the pursuit of an unprovoked war a negotiable moral issue?

The voter’s guide, Mr. Keating assures me, “can be given to anybody, not just Catholics,” because even “non-Catholics will see the consistency of Catholic moral teaching, and they’ll find that consistency attractive.” I am at a disadvantage here as well, since I have been a Catholic all of my life. Even so, I always have found the “consistency” of Catholic moral teaching attractive. Perhaps that is why I find Mr. Keating’s inconsistency a bit disturbing.

I should return to my original question: Why do we need Karl Keating? Perhaps Mr. Keating proposes that the church has failed us, and that Catholic Answers can spread the message of the Gospel more effectively and win more followers than the church herself. Popes and bishops have proclaimed the message of the Gospel for generations, and the result has been the absence of unified, Catholic, political action that Mr. Keating laments. Certainly, if we follow Mr. Keating’s logic of “wayward” and “authentic” Catholics, the church has done a very bad job and an organization like Catholic Answers might be just the thing to take its place. This is an interesting proposition, and one worth considering.

But perhaps the better answer is that we do not need him -- or, to be more precise, his organization -- at all because the universality of the church must admit to more than one political perspective. This is why even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has described “proportionate reasons” for supporting candidates who happen to be pro-choice. This also is why the church has inveighed against mixing politics with the faith since the earliest period of Christianity. We must not allow the view of our ultimate goal to become clouded by the temporal and obviously partisan cares of this world.

So, Mr. Keating, I regret that I cannot support your organization, and neither can I abide by your voting instructions. I will maintain my membership in a Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization older than yours, however. Perhaps, one day, you will support us.

Steven P. Millies is assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 2004

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