In a recent political ad, Catholics Called to Witness (CC2W) tells Catholics to look at all of the issues facing America this November (including energy, jobs and the economy). Among these issues are gay marriage, abortion, and religious freedom/the contraceptive mandate. Near its end, the ad (which has gone viral in the nearly three months it’s been out) says votes related to these three latter issues “will affect the future–and be recorded in eternity.”
Personally, I thought the ad was right on point–abortion and the contraceptive/sterilization/abortifacient mandate are, in my opinion, two critical political issues this fall for any Catholic in good standing with the Church. However, this ad naturally drew controversy. One person who opposed the ad’s message was Frank Cocozzelli, a New York City lawyer who writes for the liberal blog Daily Kos. Unfortunately, Cocozzelli makes a couple of significant errors in his post, and is misleading at other points.
First, Cocozzelli says Catholics Called to Witness claims some issues (life, marriage and religious freedom) are “non-negotiable,” and indicates they are prioritizing the issues as an independent organization. This is technically inaccurate. While the group does say this in the ad, CC2W is merely repeating the Catholic Church’s official position on the matters. While the Church’s moral positions on issues that do not concern grave or intrinsic evils (such as those relating to immigration, health care and social justice) are to be heeded, the Church acknowledges that the complexity of the issue is such that the respective moral concerns may be addressed by a number of acceptable proposals. Thus, the Church defers to the “prudential judgment” of statesmen and policy professionals, without regard to partisanship. This deferential treatment is not accorded to gay marriage, contraceptives, or abortion.
Second, Cocozzelli disputes claims that President Obama is anti-Catholic. While I think it is debatable as to whether or not the contraceptive mandate was specifically meant to target the Church, it is not debatable that the Church will likely be compelled to shut down its hospitals (about one-sixth of all hospital beds in the nation are Catholic), schools and other religiously-affiliated organizations across the nation should the contraceptive mandate be in place come August 2013. It is also fairly clear that the Administration misled Archbishop Dolan regarding the mandate in November 2011.
Third, Cocozzelli says “…there may be more going on here than using Catholic damnation anxiety as a tool to roll back marriage equality and reproductive rights. The video may also be part of a wider effort to eradicate public education.” Eradicate public education? To back this rather sensational accusation, Cocozzelli cites associations the video’s creators have with several groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HLDSA). However, Jeremiah Lorrig, Director of Media Relations for HSLDA, told me the organization’s mission is to “promote parental rights so they can decide on the best educational choices for their children … public or private.” Michael Ramey, Director of Communications & Research for ParentalRights.org – another group targeted by the post–e-mailed me the following: “Millions of parents all over the country rely on public schools as the means by which they exercise their right to direct their child’s education. They will continue to do so under [our proposals]. Any charge to the contrary is ridiculous.”
Finally, Cocozzelli says the ad explicitly implies damnation to hell if one votes for a candidate (i.e., President Obama) who supports the three “non-negotiables.” However, my viewing of the ad is merely that a voter who will support candidates in opposition to the Church on these moral and faith teachings will have to own that support–as they will have to own every act in their lives–when facing Christ at the gates of heaven.
Before writing this post I managed to track down Cocozzelli’s law office in New York to ask him about his knowledge related to the Church being correct on all matters of faith and morals. He explained that he was indeed raised Catholic and felt that social justice issues were paramount, as opposed to the non-negotiables described in the ad. I left my conversation with him on cordial terms, and I think his intent in going after the ad was well-intentioned (as opposed to, say, this Daily Kos poster, who apparently believes the video’s message was organized by the Church’s hierarchy). Unfortunately, though, it seems his political viewpoints got in the way of the facts on a number of occasions, most importantly in ways that could mislead the reader as to how Catholics ought to make decisions on political decisions related to faith and morals.
This article originally ran on First Things