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Standing up for faith in the public square

In last month's column, I wrote about the need for charity when disagreeing with a fellow Catholic over issues of politics. Borrowing from St. Augustine, I wrote that we should have unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials and in all things charity. This month I wanted to write about the word "partisan."

Given the current political climate, we hear the word "partisan" thrown around a lot. In many cases it's justified.

But recently, it's been used quite a bit in the secular media to describe the U.S. bishops' strong stance against the HHS mandate, parts of which went into effect earlier this month. Sadly, it also is used by Catholics against other Catholics. Even sadder, though, is that standing up for our faith in public has somehow become partisan.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a partisan as someone who is "a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause or person; especially one exhibiting blind prejudice and unreasoning allegiance."

A partisan is not someone who just stands up for what he believes and defends it passionately. Rather, a partisan is someone who holds onto what he believes with unreasoning allegiance or with blind prejudice. Or we can look at it this way, too: partisanship is about the internal attitude or mechanism one uses to defend his/her position. Therefore, it is not about the issues we support. It is about how we go about supporting them and why.

So, for instance, when Blessed Pope John Paul II said in January 2003, just two months before the start of the Iraq War, that "War is always a defeat for humanity," he was not engaging in partisan politics. He was simply reiterating the church's teaching on war, which is always a last resort. He was preaching the Gospel of Life.

Similarly, the bishops' efforts against the HHS mandate are not partisan. They are simply reiterating the church's teaching on liberty, which says that "all men are to be immune from coercion on the part ... of any human power; in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs ...." (Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae #2)

Through the HHS mandate, our current administration has decided to force Catholic individuals and Catholic institutions to do just that. Therefore, the U.S. bishops are responding in light of the Gospel. The vigor with which they are responding reflects the unprecedented nature of the mandate and not partisanship.

That the bishops' defense of our religious liberty negatively affects one political party during an election year doesn't make their defense partisan any more than the bishops' frequent calls for immigration reform make it so. The bishops must teach the truth in season and out of season. Just because the government chooses to adopt positions that harm the common good and violate justice doesn't make the bishops partisan.

So let us be careful how we use our words and try to maintain charity in all things. Next month, I will continue this series by writing about some specific issues.

Omar Gutierrez is the manager of the Archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at

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