Archbp. Gregory of Atlanta speaks about issues and voting

Many bishops have really stood up with clear statements about the importance of weighing the issues before voting, explaining that there is a hierarchy of issues.  Not all issues are of equal importance.  As a matter of fact, one outweighs the others.  It is the sine qua non issue.

Let’s see what His Excellency Most Rev. Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta has to say to his flock via the Georgia Bulletin

My emphases and comments.

What I Have Seen and Heard


Published: October 30, 2008

Thomas Jefferson tailored the famous phrase “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in his development of the Declaration of Independence, borrowing it from the writings of the English philosopher John Locke. Jefferson actually used many of Locke’s political principles throughout that document. He employed that particular well-known phrase in detailing some of the inalienable rights that we enjoy as human beings. They are inalienable because they depend not upon the largesse of any human institution or individual but because they flow from the very nature of our humanity — and therefore they belong to a natural law that predates every explicit or written human law. They are not subject to anyone’s choice or opinion because they arise from our very dignity as human beings[i don’t know why it was necessary to bring Locke’s name in with this.  It overloads the paragraph.  But let that go….  this isn’t a writing class.]

I suspect that over the past 35 years many people in the United States might well have wished that Thomas Jefferson would have borrowed some other phrase from John Locke or at least reordered this particular phrase so that Life did not appear first or even at all in this listing of inalienable rights. But just as Pilate was quoted after the death of Jesus — what I have written, I have written (John 19:22) — [?] Life itself is the very first principle whenever we decide to consider those rights that that are listed as inalienable in the Declaration of Independence.  [?  Well… YES!  Life is the first.  It must be.  But, again, the paragraph is thick, isn’t it?  And I wonder if it won’t leave some people with the impression "Hmm… too bad life is first, but, oh well,  I guess we have to deal with it somehow."  He gets to a very good conclusion, but it seems muddy to me after the introduction of hemmings and hawings.]

I have been asked by a number of people to comment upon the issues that we now face as a nation during this particular general election, [And… other elections too, right?] and a few people (representing both sides of the political aisle) have even clamored for me to propose a candidate for whom all Catholics ought to vote — or to designate one they certainly must not elect. The Church wisely offers only ethical principles and a moral framework for people to consider and to evaluate when you are about to make your crucially important decisions regarding whom to vote for in this election.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has discovered that it is often perilous to align herself to a particular political party or individual leader. [Bogging down again…] Rather we choose to recommend Gospel-based principles and social teachings to our people and to allow you to make appropriately informed decisions. These principles were carefully and adequately detailed in the most recent edition of the Bishops’ quadrennial statement: Faithful Citizenship. For some people these values were too complex, too nuanced and too oblique. They would much have desired a simple option.

According to the principles of Faithful Citizenship, Catholics must support the just care of the poor, the rights of workers, the dignity of people who immigrate to a new nation, the conservation of the environment; we must assess the very complex economic issues, seek to provide affordable health care for people who do not enjoy that security, and foster the more humane treatment of those who are imprisoned, to list only some of the issues that we now face. However, before and prior to all of those vitally important concerns, Faithful Citizenship places the issue of Life itself. [Good.] All of those other matters are of immense and lasting significance, yet they remain of no consequence for those who are not granted the first right — the right to be born[Certainly they are of no consequence to those who are not alive, that is those denied the right to be born.  But I think we have to put this differently.  All those issue above are of less consequence then the issue of the right to be born. Or else, those issues are important because the right to life and dignity is prior.] For this reason, I want to remind all of you, my brothers and sisters, to remember those famous Jeffersonian words borrowed from Locke—and especially remember the order that he gave themHe gets to absolutely the right conclusion, but it is here, with this last sentence buried behind Locke and Jefferson and even the Constitution when really he is making an appeal to the rights we have because they are written into our being.]

On November 5, the social and ethical doctrines of the Catholic Church will be the same as they were on November 3. The dignity of human life will still be the foundational issue that we face in our society and in our world. Whoever is elected will hear the same policies from the Catholic Church that we have promoted not only during this election year but consistently about the sacredness of human life and the issues of social justice that necessarily flow from that leading concern. We will continue to challenge and urge all of our elected officials to enact laws that respect human life at each stage of its existence. These are not principles that we promote only during the election season but every day in season and out of season.  [Well… this is the "IN SEASON" part, I think.] Our social teaching is not a platform that can be adjusted to fit the mood of the moment or the sentiments of the day. Far longer than the Declaration of Independence, the Catholic Church has placed life first among those rights that are therein described as inalienable — no matter what some people may have recently suggested regarding the Church’s teaching on human life. [C’mon… SAY IT, Your Excellency.  What "some Catholic politicians and others who support abortion suggest".]  We will also speak up for the other concerns that cannot be ignored or dismissed because they flow from the very human dignity that we all enjoy as God’s children[Well put.]

Like most of you, I have sometimes felt oppressed by much of the election rhetoric and I am glad that the end is near. This has been a long political season. I deliberately chose to save this column until the final weekend before our election so that I could speak with you about these issues in those closing moments before you cast your ballots. Quite often the last words that we might hear are those that we tend to remember. I am utterly convinced that our people are well prepared to make informed decisions based upon our Catholic faith and its moral framework and the wisdom that you have gained in living our faith each day.

And, from reading this, I think he means that we should vote for candidates who best uphold the sanctity of human life, not because it is in the Declaration of Independence penned by Jefferson (pace Locke), but because all human beings have dignity written into us as images of God. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jim says:

    This statement is too nuanced for my taste. It sounds like USCCB speak.

  2. Jayna says:

    I kept checking my issues of the Bulletin, waiting for His Excellency to write something about the election. I’m glad he finally did (he surely could not have kept silent on the matter). I have a feeling he tended toward parsing his words because of the makeup of the archdiocese. It’s not because there is a large black population, but because parishioners are disproportionately poor, urban, and increasingly are immigrants of hispanic origin who may feel more strongly pulled to vote on economic and political issues, rather than moral. Perhaps they may feel those issues are more immediate to their current situation, though I must stress that I’m not trying to say that the central belief in the right to life is not of any import to these groups in our archdiocese. Just offering some thoughts on the matter.

  3. TNCath says:

    Well, at least he does finally come to the right conclusion–sort of. It seems like he is trying he is trying to convince himself as much as his readers of his position and using lots of verbiage to do so. At least he didn’t say that Catholics shouldn’t be “one issue voters.”

  4. Finn McCool says:

    A number of bishops have spoken and explained about voting and abortion. Would it be possible for them to DO something other than educating? Could a bishop state clearly that a politician who advocates and votes for abortion is excommunicated and may not call himself a Catholic? That he must repent publicly to partake of communion? What do you think would happen if a bishop or pope would do this? If a pope declared an interdict of a state or city that voted for abortion?

    The hierarchy reminds me of the United Nations. Endless talk and attempts to persuade, with nothing to back it up and no real consequences…

  5. Jacob says:

    After reading Finn and Vasa…

    Can we say ‘let down,’ children?

  6. Chironomo says:


    If what you say is true, wouldn’t that be ALL THE MORE REASON to be clear and decisive? Isn’t the point of the Bishop’s statement to make it known that the economic and political issues are not nearly as important? Who exactly is it that the Bishop is concerned about offending? I understand FULLY that there are legal reasons why a Bishop cannot come out and endorse a specific candidate, but those reasons would not prohibit the Bishop from saying (as others have) that a Catholic CANNOT vote for a pro-choice candidate in good conscience. This is YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE of the ubiquitous “should” in our contemporary Catholic lexicon…

    Bishop Says That Catholics Should Vote For Pro-Life Candidate…

    No… Catholics MUST vote for pro-life candidate….

  7. wsxyz says:

    This statement is too nuanced for my taste. It sounds like USCCB speak.

    No surprise. This bishop is a USCCB insider.

    I have been consistently disappointed by Bishop Gregory’s columns in the Georgia Bulletin. He is a smooth politician; never willing to take a firm stand on anything, always hedging and qualifying.

  8. toomey says:

    I don’t know. From some of the stuff he has said here, he just might vote for the community comizar-organizer.

  9. TNCath says:

    Toomey: “I don’t know. From some of the stuff he has said here, he just might vote for the community comizar-organizer.”

    This is what I concluded but was reluctant to say (for fear of being presumptive) when I said earlier that it “seems like he is trying he is trying to convince himself as much as his readers of his position and using lots of verbiage to do so.” It is interesting to analyze what a bishop thinks about an issue by the style and language of his writings. In this case and others, it’s not what the archbishop says as what he did not say. Sadly, I daresay that there will be a number of bishops out there that, in the privacy of the voting booth, will nonetheless cast votes for candidates that support abortion on demand despite what our Faith teaches us.

  10. Ioannes Andreades says:

    And what a bizarre title for the piece!

    If you’re going to write a piece about why the bishops don’t endorse candidates, write about that.
    If you’re going to write a piece about why the Catholic position on abortion is consistent witht the founding fathers and their philosophy of government and rights, write about that.

    “I have sometimes felt oppressed by much of the election rhetoric.”
    I’ve felt quite depressed at times, but never oppressed.

    “I am utterly convinced that our people are well prepared to make informed decisions based upon our Catholic faith and its moral framework and the wisdom that you have gained in living our faith each day.”
    If he’s so utterly convinced, why write the piece?
    Thank goodness for good preparation and wisdom gained, but maybe prayer for guidance wouldn’t hurt either.

  11. Paul Madrid says:

    “Could a bishop state clearly that a politician who advocates and votes for abortion is excommunicated and may not call himself a Catholic?”

    Not unless the bishop exercised his legislative power and made such conduct subject to excommunication latae sententiae. Perhaps he should exercise that power, but no bishop has done so yet.

  12. Bibliothecarius says:

    Fr.Z, you were too kind. His Excellency’s column seemed designed to allow voters to consider the “other factors” in making up their minds. Note: nowhere does Abp. Gregory even use the word “abortion”. To borrow from a previous posting–“penumbras formed in emanations” indeed.

  13. William says:


    I know for a fact that there are a number of Priests in his diocese that are going
    to be voting for Mr. community comizar-organizer.

  14. Kay says:

    I have been so proud of the bishops with the courage to take a stand. (I just loved Vasa’s candor about being a coward and being emboldened by the courage of others. You have to love that honesty.) Of the statements I’ve read, this is the most obtuse and tenuous. (Maybe he voted early for…) We need to keep these church leaders in our prayers. This struggle is only going to get worse.

  15. Paul says:

    I am as Jayna is a member of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I read His Excellency’s column earlier in the week and this was exactly what I expected His Excellency to say. While I love and deeply respect His Excellency, I feel this was a weak effort on his part. While his flock maybe mostly poor, urban, and immigrant that is no excuse to be soft on this issue. If anything I would say it should be an issue that is imperative when addressing the poor, the urban, and the immigrant. Please do not take this as an attack on the Archbishop, his is a strong shepherd and I am proud to be a small part of flock, however here I truly felt he fell short.

  16. Sieber says:

    I recall a quotation to the effect “Let your Yes mean Yes and your No mean No.”

    My kind of nuance.

  17. Karen Linsmayer says:

    Hi Father,

    Tonight I was looking at the Fundrace website, where you can find out who made political donations. I know, I must have a lot of time on my hands. Anyway, I plugged in Long Beach, because my daughter lives there, and in the long list of contributors, a Father James Halley, Catholic priest, St. Francis Medical Center, appeared. He made two contributions – $3400 and $1000 – to Hillary Clinton. It seems by making contributions to HC that he is approving, condoning and saying abortion is perfectly OK. Is there anything anyone can do about this. It is a public website, so anyone can find out who is contributing money to candidates.

    Thanks Father.

  18. Shzilio says:

    Someone mentioned that you can tell a person’s opinion/feelings/belief about an issue based upon the style in which he writes about it.
    ArchBp Gregory is my bishop since I live in his archdiocese, but he has basically resorted to writing around his rear end to get to his elbow. In Managerial Communications this is the sort of writing one uses when firing an employee or providing a negative response to a customer complaint. It’s like saying, “Well, we understand your problem but we aren’t going to do anything aboout it.”
    He either does not understand or care about the importance of this election and he, given his past position with USCCB, and his status in a major metropolitan city can change this election by speaking out.
    I do remember that he was willing to avoid an event that would have awarded a former Georgia Lt. Governor who supported abortion and he did so on the grounds that the former LtGov supported abortion. If his writing had been as forceful as his statement about that event he declined to attend we would not even have to question his writing style.

  19. Erin says:

    Just to clarify what somebody asked about the title, “What I Have Seen and Heard” is the title of his weekly piece in the archdiocesan paper. It always has that title.

    I agree it was tenuous, but I am glad he at least spoke on the issue and said that life was the most important issue. It could have been clearer, though, by use of the word “abortion,” for instance.

  20. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,
    We have been observing (and happily, for the most part, laudetur) the letters of the several bishops in the matter of life and responsible citizenship. One of the things that has been largely missing – and this is not the fault of the bishops, I think, but of the priests and lay Catholic faithful who must follow the bishops and the Church in the intellectual life – is a more systematic attention, or at least thematic discussion of the rational bases for the positions the Church teaches are true.

    Bishop Gregory’s invocation of Locke, however short of the literary and scientific mark it might have fallen, may be read in this light. If that is the case, we ought to laud the bishop’s intention and work to perfect his attempt.

  21. Dr. Eric says:

    When he was my bishop in Belleville, IL he never came right out and stated the issues according to the teaching of the church. It finally came to a head when the majority of the priests of our diocese signed a letter of protest against his successor.

  22. Aelric says:

    I have been reflecting on the following irony:

    The so-called Catholic voices (e.g. the The National Catholic Reporter )that vilify Pope Pius XII for his (supposed) inaction in politics vs. the Nazis are the same who now speak ill of those bishops who do speak forthrightly in the public sphere regarding the evil of procured abortion.

    Before I am misunderstood, however, let me clarify that I personally pray to see Pope Pius XII raised to the altar in my ever shortening lifetime.

  23. There should be no surprises here. Progressives are at the helm throughout the whole state of Georgia. It is already hard enough to evangelize here and our Catholic prelates’ actions don’t make it any easier. The first black archbishop of Atlanta got secretly married and resigned. Of course was reassigned to lead retreats to counsel religious and clergy who had ‘personal problems’. Good choice. I believe Wilton Gregory was the head of the USCCB when the sex scandal broke. Handled that well too. After his predecessor left he allowed females to represent the apostles during Holy Thursday services. That should have been a dead giveaway to his progressive tendencies. Both he and the Bishop of Savannah opposed an admittedly poorly written piece of pro-life legislation. The lack of support was understandably misunderstood by many pro-lifers here. Can we have him sent off to teach ‘centering prayer’ or ‘labyrinth building’ retreats somewhere along with his minions. The state of Georgia needs committed Bishops with a zeal for souls. There is an awaiting harvest here but we get always someone with pruning shears instead of a sickle.

    Sancta Maria, spes nostra, sedes sapientiae, ora pro nobis!

    NB: A TLM in each of the larger cities wouldn’t hurt either.

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