Letters to the Editor

Prayer Is Apolitical

Dear Editor: Paragraph 15 of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States says:

“15. Clergy and lay people have complementary roles in public life. We bishops have the primary responsibility to hand on the Church’s moral and social teaching. Together with priests and deacons, assisted by religious and lay leaders of the Church, we are to teach fundamental moral principles that help Catholics form their consciences correctly, to provide guidance on the moral dimensions of public decisions, and to encourage the faithful to carry out their responsibilities in political life. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the Church’s leaders avoid endorsing or opposing candidates. “

When a Catholic priest, religious or prelate stands at the podium of a national political party’s presidential nominating convention the neutrality encouraged by paragraph 15 above is seriously compromised. Msgr. Harrington’s appearance at the podium of the RNC as pictured on the front page of the July 23rd issue of The Tablet above the caption, “Leading Nation in Prayer,” is such a compromise. While the purpose of the appearance was to offer an invocation, can such an appearance ever be neutral? It is a powerful symbolic act for a member of the clergy, a religious or prelate, regardless of his or her faith, to stand at the podium of a national political party. The appearance itself, regardless of what may be said, can be taken as a communication of support for the party, the platform and the candidates. Appearances matter; a picture is worth a thousand words.



Editor’s Note: Prayer, by its very nature, is apolitical. The words of Msgr. Harrington’s prayer certainly prove that. There is a long tradition of clergy leading prayers at political conventions, without inferring any endorsement. In 2012, Cardinal Dolan prayed at the RNC and was subsequently invited to pray at the DNC. Archbishop Thomas Wenski prayed at the 2008 RNC and Sister Catherine Pinkerton led prayers at the 2008 DNC. None were taken to be an endorsement.

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