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(John Carr served as Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference for more than 20 years.)


Sadly, you (in your column) seriously misunderstand or misrepresent the substance of my column on prudential judgment. Your readers might be interested in the following brief excerpts from the column which undermine the accusations and implications contained in your misleading post:

“They [advocates] emphasize the distinction between fundamental moral principles that have compelling moral claims (like the duty to protect innocent human life) and prudential judgments that are matters for debate (like how to overcome poverty).The distinction is valid, but neither stands alone. We have a duty both to reject policies that violate fundamental principles and to pursue positive actions to carry out moral obligations.”

“Prudential judgment can become a mistaken rationale for ignoring Catholic teaching that conflicts with our partisan or ideological preferences or to act on some principles and ignore others. Some resist racism or other denials of human rights but fail to protect the foundational rights to life and religious freedom. Others deeply committed to unborn human life resist the Catholic condemnation of torture or the church’s call to end use of the death penalty. Pope Francis is challenging us to embrace the fullness of the Gospel, to resist isolation and ideology to protect the lives and dignity of all.

“Catholic teaching is a coherent whole—not a menu of compelling moral absolutes, a set of fundamental ethical principles and a collection of optional positions. Bishops are not just another interest group, and their statements are not just another set of talking points. They deserve serious attention and action. But they are not the whole church. Lay women and men need to become more informed and engaged in their vocation to be ‘salt, light and leaven’ in public life.”

“The recognition that public choices require prudence is not a way of escaping ethical responsibility; it is a call to principled discernment and decision-making. It is a beginning of moral discussion, not the end.”

This is hardly an a column that “advocate(s) an end to the practice of prudential judgment,” in your words.

As for your charge regarding my alleged “history of preferring political activism over faithfulness to Church teaching,” you don’t know me, my faithfulness or my work over two decades of service to the Catholic bishops. I trust their judgment over your citation of discredited allegations on the web. You might want to be careful about making sweeping claims about other people’s faithfulness in the future.

Far from attempting “to silence rational discourse about the proper role of government and prudent courses of public policy in the name of Catholic teaching” [your words], I was trying to make a constructive contribution to the discussion. about the role of prudential judgment in public life. Sadly, your post in misrepresenting what I said doesn’t advance that discussion, but diminishes it.

I urge your readers to read the column in America and make their own assessment. It can be found at http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/dear-prudence.

John Carr