Monsignor James P. Lisante

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A Word from Monsignor Lisante

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Words and meanings

Weíve all been through the joys and pains of standardized testing. From IQ tests in grade school, SATís in High School to GRFís in Graduate School, we learn of our strengths and deficiencies. I know mine well. My math scores tell me that I better keep a calculator close at hand, and a talented accountant as my close friend. My verbal scores, by contrast, tell me that my reading and writing teachers during those early formative years did their job very well. So, for me, words matter a lot. And when I write, I try to be abundantly clear and to the point. In turn, I expect people to read me accurately. To read me fully and to be wary of interpreting me badly. Thatís exactly what a few readers of this column have done recently. Surveying my columns on the moral unacceptability of unlimited abortion, and probably being uncomfortable with my criticism of those in government who support the termination of pre-born life, theyíve decided that I can be dismissed as just some Republican lackey. Easy assertion to make, harder to corroborate. Letís look at the record.

In this column over the years Iíve expressed my vehement opposition to the death penalty. Iíve expressed my serious reservations about American military interventions in place like Kuwait and Bosnia. Iíve expressed opposition for our governmentís racist activities. Iíve argued for the rights of homosexual persons to be treated with dignity and respect. Iíve strongly condemned the so-called "Welfare Reform" which leaves too many of our nationís poor uncared for. Iíve enthusiastically argued the case for a program of universal medical coverage (while insisting that it should not include funding for abortion). Iíve endorsed increases in the minimum wage, supported the right to collective bargaining, and castigated the consumerist bent of capitalist society. I abhor the tragedy of gun violence in American, and strongly support greater controls, Iíve also written of my involvement in the anti-war movement and specifically, the war in Vietnam. How, Iím left wondering, can a person with such positions be dismissed as someone "in love with the Republican Party." These are not, for the record, positions widely held in the GOP.

As far as support for Republican candidates, Iíve liked some while decisively dismissing others. So, for example, a look at what Iíve actually said over the years will reveal that Iíve devoted whole columns to critical evaluations of Republicans who did not reflect ideals which matched the concerns of the Catholic Church. Thatís included local Republican Congressmen, presidential candidates like Pat Buchanan, Governors (like George Pataki and most recently, the pro-choice militancy of Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. On the opposite side of the aisle, Iíve written glowingly of Democrats like Senator Eugene McCarthy ( whose anti-war presidential campaign I had the privilege to assist), Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania for his dedication to a consistent ethic of life, Congressmen Gene Taylor and Tom Manton for being true profiles of courage, and Mayor Ed Koch and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for their wise opposition to the butchery of partial birth abortion.

In other words, a personís political party means precious little. Itís the positions and policies they hold. Uniformly or uncritically supporting a person or party makes no sense for the individual trying to reflect a Christian conscience. Instead, Iíd suggest the candidates of any party should be evaluated on the basis of the values they not only espouse in word but in deed.

The Church gives a basic means for judgment and it revolves around a politicianís willingness to embrace the so-called "Seamless Garment." This will involve a desire by that candidate or office holder to support laws which protect and defend human life at every stage of our development from conception to actual death. So then, we cannot easily choose to vote for candidates who would forfeit the rights of pre-born children. Neither can we ever embrace a candidate who uses a platform of racial division to advance his or her cause. And those who seek electoral success by clamoring for capital punishment do not reflect an appreciation for the sovereignty of Godís dominion over human life, and should be challenged for their advance of the "culture of death." We are the keepers of our sisters and brothers, even more acutely when they are poor, unemployed, marginalized and powerless. Those who would demonize the new American immigrants because they donít look European are promoting a racist view of our country which is unacceptable for the Catholic conscience. And with all due respect to the Bill of Rights, itís unlikely the Founding Fathers of our nation had the weapons we now use to exploit and destroy lives in mind when they wrote in defense of our right to bear arms. In these issues, and in all evaluations of those who seek government office, there is one steady measure of evaluation: do they support or undermine the lives of the community?

Sometimes we pro-lifers are criticized for being "single issue." Those, even in the Church, who would seek to trivialize us, suggest that we care only for the unborn child. In truth, pro-lifers and Catholic Christians in general, are asked to use the affirmation of human life as a mode for accurately judging the worthiness of any candidate to hold office. And, here it gets dicey - for we cannot trade away one class of human life for another. Life isnít negotiable currency. So, for example, the candidate who supports gun control but promotes the abortion of children is not an acceptable choice for us - anymore than a candidate who supports the pre-born, but cuts off aid to dependent children. Instead, our purpose as Catholics attempting to make our values known must focus on those who support and defend all human life. The problem: neither major party does it with any consistency. So we must, candidate by candidate, choose wisely and carefully.

I do not support all Republicans because some are simply wrong on the issues. Likewise, I cannot support any number of Democrats who are wrong on the issues. And what issues do I mean? Those issues in which a candidate fails to articulate a true belief in the sanctity of every human life.

Msgr. Jim Lisante


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