Participating in political process ‘a moral obligation,’ Carr says at UST

| April 29, 2015 | 1 Comment
John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, is pictured in a 2007 photo. CNS photo/Paul Haring

John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, is pictured in a 2007 photo. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis sees the world from a unique perspective, and when the Holy Father addresses the U.S. Congress this fall, Americans can expect to hear challenges to the way they think and act, predicted a leading Catholic social justice advocate.

“The world looks a little different from the slums of Buenos Aires than it does from Wall Street,” John Carr explained.

The one-time Argentine archbishop looks at the church, the world and the economy “from the bottom up,” Carr said, adding that the pope has the perspective of an “outsider” who is among whom Jesus called “one of the least of these.”

Carr, who led the U.S. Catholic bishops’ justice and peace efforts for 25 years, delivered the inaugural lecture of the new Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul April 23.

An alumnus of St. Thomas who was raised in Hopkins, Carr described himself as one who “grew up in this Church and was shaped by this community.”

After working for the nation’s bishops, he spent a year as a Harvard fellow before becoming the founding director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 2013.

In his talk at St. Thomas — “Pope Francis on Politics: Faithful Citizenship in a Time of Polarization” — Carr bemoaned that Washington politicians from both major parties were “de-moralized,” had “lost their way” morally speaking.

“They should be safeguarding the most vulnerable,” Carr said, “and instead are serving the most powerful.”

Republicans find answers to the nation’s issues in economics and the market, he said, and Democrats find the solutions in “lifestyle individualism.”

The problems are ethical, moral and sometimes spiritual, he added. “Protecting the middle class is the mantra of both parties, when the job is to protect and serve the least of these.”

Involvement required

Still, “Politics is a good thing,” Carr said. “Responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process is a moral obligation.”

He attempted to clear up misunderstandings about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which he helped write.

“Faithful citizenship is not about the religious practices of politicians,” Carr said. “It’s not about the political clout of religious groups. It’s not about ‘the Catholic vote,’ and it’s not about pastors or bishops telling us how to vote.”

Rather, it was written to help form people’s consciences and stimulate further insight, he said.

“We bring a moral framework,” Carr said. “The U.S. bishops’ focus is on moral principles, not polls.”

He added, “I believe Catholics tasked with political life must keep the values of their religion before them with a mature conscience and competence to realize them.”

The mission is clear and visible, he said, and it is built upon “the vision of [St.] John XXIII, the legacy of St. John Paul II, the teaching of Benedict XVI and the simple ways and powerful words of Pope Francis.”

Showing how it’s done

For the latter, actions such as living in a small apartment, dining with the staff and washing the feet of male and female prison inmates on Holy Thursday all give insight into the man, Carr said.

Through his actions, Pope Francis has shown his agenda, he said, listing human life and dignity, a priority for the poor, global solidarity, religious freedom, defense of the family, immigration reform, pursuit of peace and dialogue, and care for creation.

Pope Francis called politics “one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good,” Carr noted, and he quoted the pope directly with regard to how to act in the political realm:

“We must restore hope to the young, aid to the old, open ourselves to the future, spread love. We must be the poor among the poor. We must include the excluded and preach peace.”

The new Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship is an enterprise of the St. Thomas theology department, and is under the leadership of Massimo Faggioli, an assistant professor of theology.

Carr lauded the institute as “an example of how the University of St. Thomas can make an even greater contribution to the common good,” sharing the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and forming new leaders.

Carr is looking forward to the scene this coming fall when Pope Francis addresses Congress.

Vice President Joe Biden — a Democrat — who as president of the U.S. Senate should be seated behind the pope on one side, and Speaker of the House John Boehner — a Republican — should be seated on the other. Although members of opposite political parties, both are life-long Catholics.

With the divisions in American politics and the divisions in the Catholic Church, Carr said he’ll be watching for “who stands up [to applaud] when.”

He added, “People who are looking for Pope Francis to confirm their beliefs will be disappointed. He is a walking, talking parable, and in that way he teaches us more effectively than any encyclical ever could.”

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