Guest Post: North Dakota Bishop’s Letter Seems To Endorse Berg Over Heitkamp In Senate Race


Earlier today there was a post on SAB about North Dakota state Senator Tim Mathern criticizing Catholic Bishop David Kagan over a letter he is disseminating to parishes in the state. Senator Mathern asked that his statement on the matter be published as well.

Bishop David Kagan has prepared an internal letter to be read in all Roman Catholic parishes in North Dakota during the liturgies of the weekend of October 27 and 28, 2012. The letter engages in partisan politics and damages the bounds of personal conscience, the Church’s role in building the common good, and the non-profit status of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. I urge Bishop Kagan to withdraw or change the letter.

As a matter of respect for the person of Bishop Kagan and Office of Bishop, I have attempted to speak with Bishop Kagan about the letter, which was scheduled for release this weekend but has come to my attention in advance. My preference was to ask him privately to change or withdraw the letter as written. Yesterday, I was informed by Bishop Kagan’s staff that Bishop Kagan would not be returning my call. As a private conversation is not possible, it is now my responsibility to communicate publicly about this matter of immediate importance.

Bishop Kagan’s letter is here [Scroll down].

I ask Bishop Kagan to withdraw or change the letter for three primary reasons:

1) The Bishop’s position is inconsistent with the principle of Primacy of Conscience, a long accepted position of Roman Catholic moral theology.

The Bishop’s letter states: “A properly formed Catholic conscience will never contradict the Church’s teachings in matters of faith and morals.”

As exemplified in the sentence above, Bishop Kagan short circuits conscience formation by insisting that properly formed conscience must follow his direction. He speaks as if the Church and he himself are infallible on matters of personal conscience. In a misstep of power, he colludes the complicated doctrine of papal infallibility with the positions of the Church. A Catholic owes a duty to listen thoughtfully to the Bishop, but if in “good conscience” he or she cannot give assent, the Catholic must be free to follow his or her own conscience, which is the true moral responsibility.

On his blog, Franciscan author Richard Rohr writes about the primacy of conscience: “Although the first principle of Catholic morality is that ‘You must follow your conscience,’ we usually immediately override it with the second principle, which is that ‘You must form your conscience’ through Scripture, tradition, and prayer, which I surely agree with. It balances individualism with community. But let’s never forget the first principle is still first!”

In placing the second principle before the first, Bishop Kagan’s letter impedes the needed discussion of what we all can do to promote the value of life and solve difficult public policy issues.

2) Bishop Kagan’s approach misuses parishioners’ trust in Church authority and is therefore not in the best interest for the Church or the building of the common good.

The Bishop’s letter states: “There are some actions that are never acceptable and should not be made so by law.” After outlining some of these actions, the letter then says: “These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned.” Ultimately, the letter declares: “In this election year, the positions of the two political parties and the positions of their candidates are well known.”

While the Bishop has a right and responsibility to teach on matters of faith and morals, the difficulty arises when he applies the teaching to this specific practical case. Doing such and including it as a request on voting for or against a specific person or party misuses the trust of the people in the Church and damages their faith.

As the Franciscans state in a recent Directorate: “In the election sphere today, there is often an attempt to link our Catholic faith squarely with one political party. Although most religious leaders assert that our faith is not adequately represented or served by the platform of any particular political group, some, overtly or tacitly, strain to demonstrate how one party is the only morally acceptable choice. Such effort is wasted. The world is a morally complex and ambiguous place, especially when it comes to political decisions.”

Further, in “Authority and Conscience,” Cardinal Avery Dulles teaches: “There is always a temptation for church authorities to try to use their power to stamp out dissent. The effort is rarely successful, because dissent simply seeks another forum, where it may become even more virulent. To the extent that the suppression is successful, it may also do harm. It inhibits good theology from performing its critical task, and it is detrimental to the atmosphere of freedom in the church. The acceptance of true doctrine should not be a matter of blind conformity, as though truth could be imposed by decree. The church, as a society that respects the freedom of the human conscience, must avoid procedures that savor of intellectual tyranny.”

In addition to the issues noted by the Bishop, there are issues of equal concern which the Conference of Catholic Bishops have asked citizens to consider; these issues include poverty, immigration, war and peace, and the Ryan budget. Serious and devoted Catholics who are of both political parties are now weighing a host of issues.

To direct parishioners toward or away from one particular political party is a misuse of faith and trust. Sitting in the pews, parishioners have every reason to expect that the message will be relevant to current events and issues of conscience. However, endorsement of a political candidate, either by inference or direct statement, serves to disenfranchise, discourage, and even, to some, harm. Such an act bends religious faith toward service of a political party.

When Bishop Kagan states that the “positions of their candidates are well known,” he suggests that one party conforms to the Bishops’ view of Catholic teaching and the other does not. This is not the case, and for both parties, the party platform neither dictates nor controls the views and votes of the candidates themselves. This has been apparent in the presidential race; consider the views expressed by the platforms of the parties and the expressions of Governor Romney and President Obama. The differences between parties and candidates become even clearer in statewide and local district legislative races.

3) Bishop Kagan’s letter refers to a specific candidate or candidates and political parties, which strikingly risks the Church’s 501(c)(3) non-profit status.

The Bishop’s letter states: “Please do not vote for the candidate who is most likeable.”

North Dakotans who have been exposed to political coverage or advertisements this election season can readily identify the candidate who is considered the “most likeable.” Repeatedly, newspaper reports use this designation for one candidate, as do ads against her candidacy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is currently running an ad that says: “North Dakotans think they like Heidi Heitkamp…You might like Heidi…”

The Bishop’s counter-endorsement of one candidate serves as an endorsement of her opponent. The Bishop explicitly urges parishioners to vote, saying “Each Catholic citizen has the privilege and duty to participate in our Nation’s governing by the exercise of our constitutional right to vote…As your Bishop I urge you to exercise this cherished right.” He then indicates who not to vote for.

As a condition of non-profit status, the United States Internal Revenue Service tax codes prohibit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing any candidate. Even the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, in their guidelines regarding “Activities to Avoid,” state the following: “In order to avoid violating the political campaign activity prohibitions, parishes, other church organizations, and their representatives should remember these guidelines: Do not endorse or oppose candidates, political parties, or groups of candidates, or take any action that reasonably could be construed as endorsement or opposition.” [Emphasis added.]

In closing, I urge Bishop Kagan to withdraw his letter due to its infringement on the Primacy of Conscience, its effects on parishioners and the common good, and its violation of proper conduct for non-profits.

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  • zipity

    Mmmmm….I love the taste of the tears coming from the Libtards crying over their upcoming shellacking at the polls. They’re sweet and salty at the same time…! And there’s so many of them…

  • Lianne

    I didn’t read the letter. I didn’t finish reading your lengthy post. I wonder if you would have asked for the letter to be withdrawn or changed if you felt it had endorsed Heidi?

    • Pope Foolumus

      Excellent, but you must realize anything Heidi is for or Obama endorses Rob Port is against.

      • Lianne

        Rob does, at all times, support free and open speech. That is the point of this discussion. We all know what Rob believes about many social issues and those beliefs are not necessarily those of the Republicans or Conservatives.
        The caption of this post speaks volumes.

        • Rob

          When it comes to social issues, there are a lot of things I don’t agree with the Catholics on. But I think they have every right to have a position and talk about that position.

          • Testy Tickle

            Let them be like corporations and pay for their free speech. You believe in free speech the rich are freer to speak than the poor. Some dolt must pay you to spread your right wing propaganda, your speech is bought and paid for.

      • Gern Blanston


      • Gern Blanston

        How can you be a bigger yutz? I’m sure you’ll show us…

        • $8194357

          Hes just getting started….

      • $8194357

        Smart man then mr. port as hidey and obama
        serve the anti christs agendas and ideologies.
        and so do you Joel…

  • headward

    I didn’t see anything in there that promotes one party or person directly. Why does this democrat wants the church to limit their free speech? I hear from dems that there is a separation of church and state when there is a prayer in schools but now they cannot speak freely from the church.
    Really the letter states to have principle and morals when voting. I think what Tim is possibly also trying to say is that Rick is that obvious choice so they cannot speak about morals and principals.
    I just find it odd that a senator would go after the a church like this. This will give the letter more coverage. So odd.

    • Lianne

      I have now read the letter and there is NO mention of Berg or Heidi. The bishop does clearly state the beliefs of the church and is asking that the members of the church think on those things when they vote. The senator’s reaction is quite over the top and like you say has now given state wide coverage to a private church matter. Thank you Mr. Mathern.

  • Robert Portly

    How could the Catholic church possibly support someone like Berg who insist the rich have 700 billion in tax cuts while poor people have no health insurance? How could any religious person support the whole concept of Republican greed? North Dakota has 24,000 children living in poverty, Berg does nothing, but Berg insist we give tax breaks to billionaires . Morality? There is not an once of Morality in a Bishop who would support greed over the decency of providing for the poor.

    • Tim Heise

      You need to learn the difference between consacration and socialism.

    • RCND

      Don’t ever confuse Social Justice with Socialism. The church teaches social justice, but that primarily falls on the shoulders of believers and the church itself. It is not a teaching that endorses socialism as an economic system or form of government

    • InTheKnow

      Again, this hours Socialist Minute from Joel H is brought to you by his twin brother Hidey Hightcamp.

    • Gern Blanston


      • $8194357


    • Hugh Jorgan

      So, asswipe, do you appreciate your freedom to bash the Catholics? Try this kind of crap with Islam and you may find yourself sitting on a car bomb. But I’m sure you couldn’t think of anything to complain about with regards to Islam.

    • Hal625

      Sen. Matharn is a government bully attacking Christian morality and the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.

      1. Obama and Congressional Democrats extended the Bush tax cuts.
      2. Obamacare passed, everyone has a right to any healthcare they want.
      3. Why do you hate America and the Capitalist system?
      4. Obamacare passed, how can 24K ND children be in poverty when now they can pursue any desire without worrying about being able to afford incurred health expenses as Sebilious claimed?
      5 Berg promotes economic policies that will grow the economy so there is opportunity for everyone.
      6. The Bishop is properly teaching christian morality and does more than you with regard to providing for the poor.

  • Robert Portly

    The Catholic church has taken part in the enslavement of Indian children. The Catholic Church drove thousands into slavey and poverty in south America. The same Catholic Church stood by and did nothing as priest raped alter boys. Now we are supposed to turn to the corrupt outfit and let them tell us to vote for the man who wants to give the rich 700 billion while the poor do without. No one in their right mind would fall for this religious quackery.

    • The Whistler

      Way to go Senator Mathern. Nice of you to start the Catholic bashing.

      • Hal625

        That is exactly why he did this. He is a government bully attacking christian values.

    • Gern Blanston


    • Joel Highfat

      And the Democratic Party fought to retain the institution of slavery in this country, aligned itself with KKK and trampled all over the 1st Amendment their Sedition Act of 1917. Oh, and just where in the letter did the Church say to vote for Berg?

    • Hammer of Heretics

      Robert Portly–your comments only reflect your bigoted and hateful views of the Catholic Church. It is sad to think you consider this comment an intelligent response.

  • exsanguine

    The Church is infallible. Humans are not. Now piss off.

  • Dallas

    I think it’s just an attempt to distract from the multitude of unaswered sex abuse charges still pending against the church. Didn’t the Fargo Diocese have two priests, who were charged and then skipped the country, after being advised to do so by former Bishop Aquillo? I think one was from Ireland, the other from the Philippines.
    Wasn’t Kagen named as part of the cover-up of sex abuse scandals in Illinois before being sent to North Dakota?
    If the church wants an involvement with politics, let them pay taxes. Their own parishoners don’t listen to the edicts. 70% of catholics practice birth control and most believe priests should be allowed to marry.
    Might be about time to call the whole bunch in front of a grand jury to find out where the money from the Vatican Bank really went and who’s paying who for what.
    The Pope’s personal assistant was convicted last week of theft of property for stealing documents and giving them to a reporter in an effort to stem corruption.
    Come clean Bishop Kagen or shut-up!

    • Pope Foolumus

      Amen, Amen, Amen. Bring these fakers to just for the crimes they have committed in the name of religion.

      • Gern Blasnton


    • robert108

      Thanks for reminding us that the Catholic Church admitted sodomites into the priesthood. Big mistake.

      • Hammer of Heretics

        Robert–I see you are back with your ignorant fundamentalist nonsense. If you were baptized with water in the Catholic Church, you would come to know the Truth and that Truth would set you free.

    • Hammer of Heretics

      This is simply ignorance passing as “informed” insight. There is no institution in the world that will last until the end of the world except the Catholic Church as the Lord Jesus promised. It must also be admitted that no institution in the world has done as much good as the Catholic church. You do the devil’s work.

  • Overstated

    Sen. Mathern must have whipped out his jump-to-conclusions mat.

    Nowhere does the letter even reference a particular race. If he’d like to continue pushing Heitkamp as the “likable” candidate, he might look to the recent polling that has her within just a couple points of Berg in favorability.

    • Gern Blanston

      It IS interesting: i went into the letter assuming it was about the presidential election. It took me a few moments to figure out why he was so upset about the “likeable” line. Overstated’s point is valid – it does NOT indicate for what race the letter references. It could be all races for all we know. So when this letter is read this weekend accross the state, how many folks are going to think about Heidi? Probably a lot more now that Senator Mathern has made this fuss.

      • Gern Blanston

        The irony is that in my experience many Catholics vote in the liberal candidate based on the social justice meme. Of course their mistake is assuming that charity, as a form of social justice, is a role for the Federal Goverrnment.

  • Tim Heise

    This is very odd of Sen Tim. He must not be up for reelection. Nothing wrong with the letter. I feel it is wrong to question the faith of others so I will not. Still this is odd of him.

  • whowon

    Booing God at the Democrat convention didn’t set well with many Americans. How many Bishops have sued this administration over the HC mandates now? Won’t be forgotten, Dems did this to themselves in front of millions.Vote as you like, it won’t be Heidi here.

  • The Whistler

    Mr. Mathern your letter is nonsensical. The church has every right to explain how their teachings apply in the world outside of the church. What do you have against free speech and freedom of religion.

    I had thought that while we disagreed on policy issues you probably were a decent enough guy. I find now that you are a despicable person.

  • Patrick R. Pfeiffer

    Dude, ever hear of Jeremiah Wright; David Pfleger; Jesse Jackson Sr. or Al Sharpton? Get lost pal.

    • The Whistler

      Mathern probably gets a tingle when Jeremiah Wright got on a roll god damning America because America has free speech and freedom of religion.

  • Guest Observer

    Shame on you Tim Mathern! You illustrate a sad little man that is entrenched way to far into communism. I am sure if this letter from Bishop Kagan was in anyway favorable to Heidi, this whole debate would not be taking place.

  • Legend

    Mr mathern. If you don’t like it switch religions. We don’t need people like you in the Catholic Church that legislate against the teachings of our religion. I’m sure the Lutherans would be glad to have you. Thank you bishop kagan

    • InTheKnow

      He sounds like a perfect fit for the ELCA.

  • James T. Avard

    Tim, please quit embarassing yourself, personal conscience for a Catholic is based on sound Catholic doctrine exercised with charity. Your approach is boarderline and your wisdom is lacking.

  • Thresherman

    I’d to see Mathern prove in a court of law that telling someone not to vote for the most likeable candidate is an endorsement of a particular indidvidual.

  • Conservative_Egghead

    Mr. Mathern’s understanding of Catholic theology is flawed (as it has been for years – his continued presence in the State Legislature and self-promotion as the “Catholic Conscience” of the Senate should be a scandal to the Faithful). The concept of “intrinsic evil” (which Bishop Kagan references in his letter) is a well-established principle of Catholic moral theology going back to at least St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa (and one finds kernels of it in St. Augustine as well). I’m sure Mr. Mathern finds it inconvenient that his party has chosen to promote acts and policies that fall under that definition, but that’s his problem, not that of the Church.

  • Conservative Soccer Mom

    What is the Bishop’s mailing address? I would like to send him a personal note of congratulations. How refreshing it is to see a high church leader actually leading his flock, despite the public flack from people like Sen Mathern. Way to go Bishop – you renew my faith in the Catholic Church’s ability to be salt and light.

  • NDSiouxFan

    Mr. Mathern, you are wrong. It is pretty simple:
    1. The Church says that abortion is wrong.
    2. The Democrat party opposes #1 above.
    Therefore, Roman Catholics should not be voting for Democrats that subscribe to the party platform.
    If you are allegedly a Roman Catholic, then you have strayed beyond the Church’s teachings. You should start going to a Lutheran church so that you can get into arguments about gay ministers.

  • Clint F

    If you don’t like getting guidance in forming your conscience, don’t go to church – go to the Kennedy Center or the Universalist Unitarians.

  • Steven

    I see that he can not quote the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church). if he tried to he would see the it agrees with the good Bishop.