Tonight's "Town Hall Meeting"

Before the last McCain-Obama debate I posted some questions posed by the journal America. (A link to those questions can be found in the article below.) For tonight's debate, America puts forward the questions below. In some fashion or another I hope that at least the substance of some of these questions will be put before the candidates as they stand at their lecterns. The last debate leaves me less than hopeful that substantive responses will be made. -ConcordPastor
As the poet Robert Burns once reminded us, the best laid plans are simply those: plans. In politics, plans are always changing to accommodate a political reality that in the information age can shift directions faster than a wildfire. This was certainly true on Sept. 26 during the first presidential debate of the 2008 general election. The forum was supposed to have been focused on foreign policy, but the first third or more of the meeting necessarily focused on the worsening news from America’s financial sector and what Washington should or could do to fix its problems.

The red-hot news cycle means that there is even more reason to make sure that in the remaining debates voters have some opportunity to see not only the candidates’ responses to the press of events, but also their personal philosophies, the underlying political principles that will guide their decisions as president. To that end, America’s editors recently presented ten sets of questions on foreign policy for the consideration of the moderators and candidates. Below are ten similar sets of questions focused on domestic concerns. The next meeting between the candidates on October 7 will be conducted in a “town hall” format, the topics chosen at random by the citizen-questioners. The final debate on October 15 will be a moderated forum with questions from journalists on domestic policy. At least, that is the current plan.

1. Both of you have spoken of greed as one cause of the current financial crisis. In your judgment what is the difference between greed and a morally legitimate pursuit of profits in a capitalist system?

2. Do you believe that the current financial crisis is an inevitable consequence of an inherent boom/bust tension within capitalism, or could it have been avoided? If it could have been avoided, how? What steps might you take as president to ensure the American people that it will not happen again?

3. Since the days of the Carter administration, deregulation has been a bipartisan policy. Yet if government regulations for financial institutions had required more transparency and clearer disclosure to borrowers as well as investors, many argue that the present crisis may have been averted. Do you support re-regulating the financial sector to require more transparency by banks and marketers of securities?

4. The cost of the projected buyout of the financial markets is an astonishing $700 billion. The federal treasury may recover the majority of that money through the future re-sale of the securities it will purchase. Yet is likely that $100 billion or more of the taxpayers’ money is gone forever. Can you explain to the American people why the federal government appears to have $100 billion or more to spend on this bailout while voters are also told that the government does not have the $50-60 billion required to extend universal health coverage to every American? Can you explain how the federal government can morally justify this bailout while simultaneously seeking to reduce Medicaid spending by $15 billion over the next five years?

5. There has been much fear in recent weeks that the current financial crisis may cause a recession that would rival the Great Depression in its severity. Yet for many Americans that is a merely academic question. Thirty-six million Americans already live in poverty, 15 million in extreme poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Thirty-five million Americans are classified as food insecure, meaning they cannot afford groceries. According to government figures, 16 million American households either paid more for rent than the federal government considers affordable or live in crowded or substandard housing. In your judgment, do these statistics also represent a failure of America’s economic system? Do you believe that they present the world’s wealthiest nation with a moral challenge? If so, why are these concerns seemingly absent from our national political debate?

6. There are currently 12 million undocumented workers in the United States. Raids of workplaces by federal officials as well as the rate of deportations have increased dramatically, frequently resulting in the separation of children from their parents. One U.S. Catholic bishop has said, “The humanitarian costs of these raids are immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society.” Do you agree with this statement? If so, what steps would you take to address this concern?

7. Both of you have spoken of the importance of faith in your lives and about how faith affects your worldviews and your judgments. Both of you have also said that it is not appropriate for a political leader to “impose” his or her moral or religious views on others. What do you believe constitutes such an imposition? Is it consistent, for instance, for a political leader to denounce the immorality of torture but reserve his or her moral judgment on abortion?

8. Currently, over 100 new coal-burning power plants are in the planning stages in the United States, yet the burning of coal is a major contributor to global warming. You have both spoken of the need for a new national effort, similar in kind to the space program of the 1960s, to develop cleaner, greener technologies. Do you believe that such a major national effort will require an economic or political sacrifice on the part of America’s energy industries? Will it require a personal sacrifice on the part of individual Americans? If so, what?

9. Only 25 countries in the world carried out state-sponsored executions last year. Of these, the most state-sponsored executions took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States. Are you comfortable with the United States keeping this company? Does the fact that capital punishment is a practice we share only with some of the world’s most oppressive regimes give you pause?

10. Do you believe that it is ever morally permissible to create a human life, for any purpose, with the certain knowledge that such a life will be deliberately destroyed? In your judgment, what are the moral criteria that must be met to justify the deliberate taking of a human life?


  1. Concord Pastor,
    I believe in this election cycle the bishops have argued that the right to life issue is the most important, and must be given the greatest weight by Catholic voters. I hope readers of America don't get the mistaken impression that abortion is in any way equivalent to issues of immigrants rights, the economy or the environment. It is not, it is a foundational right, besides which questions of social justice pale.

  2. I agree with you that the candidates may not have the ability to give good answers to questions such as these.

    It's frustrating when those that could potentially be the leader of our nation don't seem to have the character or courage to actually face the issues that are most important to the rest of us. And that is unnerving.

    Great blog - I discovered you by accident and recently added you to my own list. I hope you don't mind.

  3. Anonymous: To the best of my knowledge the bishops have not actively discouraged Catholics from studying and thinking about issues in addition to the issue of abortion.

    The bishops have also said that Catholics are not single-issue voters.

    While the bishops have again this year drawn attention to abortion as the gravest issue facing the American voter, that does not mean that other issues are not of consequence.

    To speak of other issues does not necessarily imply that one has made all issues equal.

  4. Walt: I'm pleased that you've linked this site to yours - welcome aboard!

    (How did you accidentally end up here?)

  5. I don't believe in abortion but I do not think it should be the sole issue. Other issues such as reducing poverty, increasing education, and improving healthcare would have the effect of reducing abortion and I think that is the overriding goal to have. Those who are wealthy and choose to have abortions of "convenience", will always find ways to have abortions; it is those who have little who have to resort to (often unsafe)abortions. I do not defend them but do contend that given better circumstances, those abortions would not be necessary.

  6. I found your blog through that of another priest - yours makes 4 priests whose blogs I follow, 3 Catholic and one Orthodox.

    FYI, I was born at Emerson Hospital and raised not too far from Concord. Small world.

  7. Novo,

    Do you think that a better economy would have any impact on the aborting of 90 percent of children who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome before birth, for example?

  8. I think that those in poverty would be more able to support such a child if they were, themselves, less in need and would, therefore, be more likely to keep the child. For those not in poverty, I don't think it would make any difference.


  9. Don't you think that Catholics standing up in a group and supporting life, standing up and explaining why abortion is wrong, making sure society and politicians heard the reasons against abortion and for life, wouldn't that perhaps persuade many people to rethink the issue? Instead of saying, well, they're going to do it anyway...

    Abolitionists didn't take that attitude toward slavery -- they saw it as evil and condemned it as such, and fought efforts to accommodate it.

  10. This issue has been discussed for decades and the discussion is heightened every four years when a presidential campaign rolls around. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would not end. Abortion would continue to be legal in many states. Women who could afford it would travel to a state where abortion was legal. Women who could not afford it might revert to "back alley" abortions. The vast majority of abortions are sought by women who feel as if they cannot afford to have a child. One solution is to provide services for the well being of women who live in poverty or near poverty. Another is to encourage the use of birth control in order to avert unwanted pregnancies.

  11. Even if all of the above were true, Anonymous 4:40 -- and I don't agree with your facts or your "solutions" -- Catholics in good conscience can never condone the killing of the unborn, for any reason whatsoever. It is an intrinsic evil.

    Remember Mother Teresa's response to those who called for abortion on economic grounds: "Give the child to me." She saw abortion as the ultimate poverty, a spiritual poverty. She also said "the fruit of abortion is war." Her meaning was that any society that was willing to so radically devalue human life by legalizing abortion would certainly not hesitate to kill others, including innocent civilians.

    Remember, too, that poverty is relative. IN the US, the poor have telephones, running water, TVs, access to health care, welfare benefits. Certainly NOT perfect, but nowhere near Asian or African standards of living. Obesity is a disease of the poor in our country.

  12. Maybe someone here could answer a question for me. Obama is not for third term abortions, as far as I know, unless the life of the mother of the unborn child is threatened. If a doctor tells a mother she will die if she gives birth ... how do we justify the mother being killed by giving birth and letting the unborn child live? Aren't both options killing someone?

  13. Anonymous 5:43: Abortion is an intrinsic evil. Do you believe it is any less forgivable than other less serious sins?

  14. Intrinsic evil?
    There is no one, right wing, left wing, catholic, protestant and anything in between who has the right to tell me what I can and can not do with my body. No one!
    And to call me intrinsically evil without knowledge of my own situation is completely hypocritical since we all have "sinned" in our own lives. As Christ said...let he without sin cast the first stone.
    There are so many issues that bring people to this decision, and no one knows the reasons. And there are a hundreds of reasons that people make this choice. There is no justice in condemning anyone who has made this decision. Perhaps some empathy is needed instead of condemnation. THAT is the just way of Christ.

  15. Anonymous 6:51: Less forgivable? That is up to God, and is dealt with by the Church, which offers a guarantee of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I believe the only unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

    Mary: Perhaps the story of St. Gianna will illuminate the question. She was an Italian doctor who refused treatment for cancer because it would injure her unborn child. She died, but the child lived to see her mother become a saint.

  16. Mary wrote: If a doctor tells a mother she will die if she gives birth ... how do we justify the mother being killed by giving birth and letting the unborn child live? Aren't both options killing someone?

    By taking the child's life to preserve the mother's, the life of someone innocent and without a voice in the matter is ended.

    In allowing the innocent and voiceless one to be born, the mother gives her life for her child.

    No greater love has anyone than to lay down one's life for one's friend. That is the way Jesus put it...

  17. Patricia: The state (let alone any religious body) has many laws determining things we are allowed and not allowed to do with our bodies. None of us is totally free to just do as we please.

    The Church says that aborting a child is an intrinsically evil act: the taking of defenseless, innocent life. The Church does not say that one who has an abortion is an intrinsically evil person. That's a significant and important distinction to make.

    While the Church condemns abortion it does not condemn women who have abortions but indeed does approach them with great empathy, sensitivity and understanding. I know that from my own ministry and from the work of Catholic Charities and Project Rachel.

    You are correct in suggesting that Christ did not condemn sinners -- but he certainly did condemn sin. The story of the woman caught in adultery is the perfect example. Rather than condemn her, he condemns the hypocrisy of those who are about to stone her to death. As they drift away from the scene he turns to her and says, "Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more..." The woman had sinned but there is no condemnation of her - just Jesus' instruction that she sin like this no more.

    That is the just way of Christ...

  18. Question no 9, regarding the death penalty is quite ridiculous. Many countries have the death penalty. AMERICA could just have easily have said, all those countries have prisons, just like the US, how does that make you feel, in such company?

    How about something truly relevant.

    What AMERICA could have asked, is

    "As the Catholic Church has nearly 2000 years of biblical, theological and traditonal support for the death penalty, do you believe that the US can still consider Christian fundamentals when imposing the death penalty?"

  19. Yes, you are right. There is no love greater than that you would put your life before a friends. But being a mother, I can't help but think of the mother who has a couple of little children waiting for her to return home to her, that are dependent of her for their love, needs, comfort, and affection. In taking the life of the mother ... in many instances, the mother might have other much loved lives to consider.

    Another case of many, many ... different circumstances.

  20. Anonymous who believes the only unforgivable sin is against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ... is God. Three persons in one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I've been taught that the Catholic Church believes in forgiveness ... in all sins. Once a sin is committed and the sinner seeks forgiveness ... that sin is forgiven by Jesus. No matter how serious the sin.

  21. Dudleysharp: Current Catholic teaching on the death penalty is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

    Respect and reverence for life from conception to natural death...

  22. I'm exercising my write to be judicious in choosing comments to be published here. Some comments would require me to respond, and at greater length than I can make time for.

    So... Thanks to the reader who responded to Mary's comment above. To sum up:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864:

    "'Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.' (Matthew 12:31)

    "There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss."

  23. To the reader who commented on the death penalty:

    Your comment included a large portion of extraneous material which I'm unable to edit out and have chosen not to post here. (To protect the integrity of comments, Blogger does not allow the blog writer to edit submitted comments.)

    Your readiness to "confirm" that the pope's review of some material in the Catechism of the Catholic Church was "incomplete and improper" is something you might want to take up with the pope. You can email him at benedictxvi@vatican.va

  24. I haven't written in a long time, but do keep up with reading the blog. May I digress from the constant barrage of judgements and negativity concerning termination of pregnancy, and the disregard for the people who opt to have abortions? One thing on the posts Concord Pastor is that you say the intrinsic evil is different then the intrinsic evil act. Not the person. All we all have to do is read the posts on this blog to see that that is not the way most people who have responded feel. They are both pitted togather, and that is where I find the discussion most desterbing. It is hurtful to the people who have chose abortion for whatever reason.
    The words intrinsic evil, are something I can't get beyond without thinking of something that, possibly, at least in my mind may have some intertwining issues.
    I'm sure people will not react well to my thoughts, but I will only respond this once with my own opinions.
    Let's take the issue of a terribly bad marriage and a mother who has other children to care for.. Perhaps even too many. When a another child is born into this dysfuctional hell, and before she, or he is even school age, the father begins to sexually, emotionally and verbally abuse this child. Each and every time he abuses the child a little piece of their soul is broken. The child may learn to live life as a person with a normal childhood. And as they grow into adults if they are lucky enough to have the courage and strength to do so, learn even more to hide the terrible grief, brokenness and fragmentation from others, while living in a secret hell 24/7. They have no end in sight. They have been broken into too many fragments that are too many too put back together. They learn to pretend in a way no one can see, all the while acting as if they are changing and evolving into a person who can survive and live full, healthy lives. This to me is a perfect example of intrinsic evil. Anyone who can ruin a persons life. anyone who can destroy any semblance of peace and happiness. Anyone who forces a child/adult into this type of conundrum is indeed intrinsically evil. When that child begins life, grows, and lives day too day with the fact that that they wish the pregnancy was terminated, rather then live a life they have been dealt. I find the perpetrator intrinsically evil. That is pure evil. And I do not believe that there is any sin worse. I understand that when pregnant, the mother does not know what will happen after the birth, but there are many of us out there that wish the option was available. To live with pain, hurt and brokeness every single day of your life, no matter how much help you get, is a lifelong process and to believe God will forgive is beyond my wildest dreams. Yes they are 2 different issues, but do indeed intertwine on some basis.

  25. It seems to me that I have heard the words "intrinsically evil" used in a different context by the church. Just the use of this phrase in any context makes me cringe. GWB's "Axis of Evil" is another inflammatory use of words that does not help bring the hopeful end result.

  26. Surely, the "hopeful end result" of the use of the term "intrinsic evil" by the Church is to alert people to the dangers of the act so labeled. It's a grave warning: STOP!

    Anything that is intrinsically evil cannot be sugar-coated. It cannot solve a problem. It cannot be a mere preference. An act that is intrinsically evil is bad, in and of itself.

  27. I am surprised there has been no mention of war in this discussion. I find it difficult to live in a country whose citizens and parents send people off to kill and be killed. My cousin just departed for his first mission in Iraq a few days before 9/11/08. I pray for his soul. Why does abortion get so much attention when war gets hardly a mention? The "enemy"'s soldiers are as beautiful and human as our own.

  28. You are right. "Intrinsic evil", makes most of us stop and listen. We, meaning people who strive to be good in our lives, would never want to be looked upon or thought even to ourselves, as to be an intrinsic evil. Which is why those who are guilty of such acts; cringe, repent once again, and seek forgiveness for sins already forgiven; once they read how terrible the sin they once committed really is. But it is very important for readers to know, your sins are forgiven no matter how serious and intrinsic they are. Of course it was brought to my attention that sins of the spirit are not forgiven. I am sorry that I don't know the scriptures by heart. But I do know that when we seek forgiveness ... Jesus will forgive us.

  29. Mary: There is no sin outside the pale of Jesus' mercy. Any one of us, however, can refuse the mercy and pardon of Christ and the Holy Spirit whose desire is to open us to that forgiveness. When we reject forgiveness, the Lord does not force it upon us. When we accept forgiveness, his mercy washes over us like a great and mighty river!

  30. Why no one has mentioned war? People get on a roll when it comes to the topic of abortion, and no other issues: war, poverty, etc., can get them off of their roll. They are single issue people and that is that. I believe the number of comments in response to this post has surpassed the number of comments that came in for your post on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

  31. God asks us to pray for each other, and in our current society, we see so much secularism, so much hatred of God that we as the faithful have to realize the eternal consequences of such attitudes.

    Weneed to pray about this election.

    There IS such a place as Hell, it's entirely possible to go there for eternity, and all that is required for such a ticket is...well....a lot of attitudes expressed today. Even among Catholics!

    It's unpopular and considered "superstitious" to suggest that one is in danger of Hell; yet, one day we will all go to our judgment, and at that moment, we lose our free will, and if we have abused our freedom in this life we will pay for it for eternity in the next.

    The tragedy of this is impossible to express, especially considering all we have been given to assist us in attaining holiness. And it's not just about us; it's about our awareness of the needs of others, not just materially, but SPIRITUALLY. If we're not praying, if we're not working to save souls...we're not doing our jobs.

  32. Just the kind of comment we need to lift our spirits while the economy is falling apart....


Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!