Panel ponders path to civility following presidential election

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WASHINGTON — If Catholics have a role in helping heal divisions after a turbulent presidential election year, they need to start looking inward, according to some panelists at a Nov. 1 forum at The Catholic University of America on "Citizenship and Civility: The Role of Catholics in Rebuilding the American Political Culture."

And in Stephen Schneck's view, perhaps civility ought not be on the agenda, in order to bring about lasting change.

"Conflict is a part of political life. It's always been a part of political life," said Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University and an associate professor of politics there.

Effigies of King George of England burned on "liberty trees" during the American Revolution were "an incivil, uncivil act," Schneck said, but it brought about a necessary change of how those living in a fledgling United States were governed.

Chad Pecknold, a Catholic University associate professor of systematic theology, said he was reminded of the late educator and social critic Neil Postman, who 30 years ago wrote "Amusing Ourselves to Death," which Pecknold said gives an apt analogy for the presidential campaign. "It's not about the state taking over, but the citizenry giving up and giving in to entertainment," he added. "We're all suffering from political exhaustion ... yet we're tuning in by the millions to inane debates."

"In my working life, there's never been this level of vitriol," said Melinda Henneberger, a longtime political columnist who is on the board of contributors to USA Today who traces her career back to 1988. She also is a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies.

She called this the "'unfriend me now' election," based on Facebook posts that warn readers to "unfriend me now" if they don't support the writer's candidate.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, suggested that self-righteousness has been at work throughout the election and that humility was needed. "We'll never get to the bottom of our differences" if all that's done is checking off policy positions, he said.

Henneberger resisted the attempt to put Pope Francis in a camp; she was one of three panelists who quoted from his speech last year to Congress during his 2015 U.S. visit. "He's not on one side or the other. He's Catholic," she said. "That's a model for us."

"We have to get our house in order. I include myself in that," Reyes said. The way to connect with others is to make intentional friendships with people not like oneself, but even to do that, he said, "we have to unplug" from the continuously connected lifestyle.

Co-sponsoring the forum with Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies was the National Review Institute, a nonprofit set up by National Review magazine founder William Buckley to advance the conservative principles he championed, as well as the university's College Republicans and College Democrats clubs. 

Form your conscience:

• Find more resources on forming one's conscience from the Archdiocese of St. Louis:

• Read the USCCB's document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship": 

Dominicans help others seek out saints in a tough election season

WASHINGTON — The tension and frustration that the country feels over an election season filled with insults and rancor, feels a bit more amped up in Washington, the city where the winner of the presidential race will reside.

With days to go before Election Day, the feast of All Saints seemed like a good occasion for the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, about three miles from the U.S. Capitol, to provide some respite for the weary. While some attended Halloween festivities Oct. 31, the Dominicans filled their chapel in the evening with candles, prayer and people, as hundreds gathered for an event focused on the saints on the vigil of their Nov. 1 feast. They listened to the words of St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Paul II and St. John Chrysostom as well as Pope Francis' remarks on one of the newest saints of the Church: St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Recognizing the tension in the country, Dominican Brother Isaac Morales said he hoped the evening would provide "a sense of hope" and connection with the saints during a tough period. After all, he said, the saints, too, faced seasons of trouble. He recalled St. John Paul's trials and tribulations as well as Mother Teresa's. He said it was edifying to see the chapel packed with those seeking prayer and serenity.

— Catholic News Service 

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