Congratulations, new priest! (I don't agree with what you're joining.)
July 19, 2012 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Is sending a congratulatory card to a newly ordained Catholic priest ethically problematic for people who disagree with the Catholic Church on political and social issues?
posted by vegartanipla to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total)
Well, presumably that depends on the individual. For this sample size of one, since i do fall squarely into that camp of people with strong objections to many Church positions: No, I would not have any ethical problems with sending a congratulatory card to a friend, relative, etc, who had been newly ordained.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:11 PM on July 19, 2012

It's totally fine because when you congratulate someone for their achievement, it's not supposed to mean you would do it for yourself, but because the person has accomplished something in line with his or her own values. If you can at all see how the person finds this personally meaningful or will be able to do something decent through this accomplishment then go ahead! Of course if you don't think it was the right choice (again, the right choice for him or her) then there's no need to say anything.
posted by powerbumpkin at 9:20 PM on July 19, 2012

Can you clarify whether you're asking if you (should) have an ethical conundrum if you feel that way (and therefore need help with your conflict of interest), or whether a MeFite, if holding such objections, would find it problematic?

It must surely depend on each individual. That said, presumably, if you didn't believe in adding children to an already overcrowded world, you would still send a congratulatory note to loved ones who've experienced a blessed event. If your friend married someone you despised for trying to cheat off your paper in third grade, you'd likely still congratulate the happy couple. (Leaving aside that etiquette dictates you congratulate the groom and give the bride your best wishes.) A congratulatory card reinforces that you support the individual in following his own bliss; if the person matters to you, you wouldn't ignore it or use it as an occasion to imply he's brought opprobrium on himself. [Replace "you" with "I" as appropriate.]
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Charitable vagueness is maybe your friend here.

"Dear Father N.,

Congratulations on your ordination! May you be filled with the grace to love and serve all those whom you meet. I'm wishing you all the best in your new vocation."

or similar.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're congratulating his successful effort, not condoning the actions of all Catholics everywhere, or suddenly deciding to convert, or whatever. The need to have every single social interaction fully and loudly conform with your current political viewpoint is one of the more frustrating tendencies of modern life, IMO.
posted by SMPA at 9:29 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Can you clarify whether you're asking if you (should) have an ethical conundrum if you feel that way (and therefore need help with your conflict of interest), or whether a MeFite, if holding such objections, would find it problematic?

To me, they're similar enough questions that either interpretation would be helpful.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:31 PM on July 19, 2012

you are congratulating a person for their achievement—not endorsing the church.
posted by violetk at 10:47 PM on July 19, 2012

In my opinion, no. Your congratulations will not support the new priest in any tangible way. In fact, the only potential outcome is that your continued acquaintance over the years might gradually influence the priest in a positive way (for example, if you were gay, and his acquaintance with a real live gay person helped mold his opinions accordingly).

We all have a range of ethical objections. If your acquaintance became a leader in the KKK, well, that could never happen because you'd have stopped associating with him long ago. If your ethical objection to Catholicism is strong enough, you are permitted to cut this person out of your life, but if not, the choice to send a card becomes a question of etiquette, not ethics.
posted by acidic at 11:01 PM on July 19, 2012

Yup. I'm not at all a fan of the Catholic Church, but I'd still be the first to happily congratulate anyone in their successes and achievements within it if that's what they choose to do. Life is hard. Being nice isn't.
posted by involution at 11:05 PM on July 19, 2012

Culturally but not religiously or confirmed Catholic here, and, while I disagree with the Church about a whole lot (pretty much everything other than the golden rule), I would not hesitate to congratulate someone on their ordination anymore than I would have been resistant to congratulating my Jewish friends when they became rabbis or, to take it out of the religious sphere, acknowledge someone who has passed the bar to become a lawyer or the CPA exam to become a certified accountant. It is an achievement and path for that person; my beliefs and desires are pretty much irrelevant. By sending a card, you are acknowledging their hard work, their quest for happiness and fulfillment, and wishing them luck in the journey ahead. We do not need to agree with the people we love about everything, we just need to support them and hope they make the most of their talents and the best decisions possible. I understand the quandary, but it's a done deal and he isn't asking for your opinion or struggling with the decision. Support your friend or family member with the best of intentions and nothing but good can come of it.
posted by katemcd at 11:37 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just sort of applying it to other situations and exploring the metaphorical space.

I object to the many wars the US is currently conducting, but I could congratulate someone completing Basic/SEAL Team/Special Ops training for accomplishing something important to them and something that is very difficult and accomplished by a relative few.

I object to the way some colleges treat themselves as a football program with an inconvenient academic program attached or as a place to milk students dry, but I would congratulate someone finishing college at a football school or someone who did well in football or someone finishing college at a money sink because it's obviously important to them.

I object to most of the practices of the banking and finance industry, but one of my best friends is at the "first against the wall when the revolution comes" tier in one of the big banks. I congratulate him when good work things happen to him.

Personally, I think demanding everyone conform to every stitch of my personal ethics is impossible and tiresome and we owe a debt of courtesy to people we care about, at least up to a point. Obviously, if you got promoted to Head of the KKK or, I don't know, Head Murderer in MS-13, I'd quietly drop you from my circle of friends.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I strongly disagree with much of what the Catholic church says and does, but I've known some fine priests who did real good in the world. The church is hierarchical but it is not monolithic. I might've had serious reservations about sending such a card when I was in my 20's, because I was raised Catholic and was pissed about it, but with the perspective of a couple extra decades... no.
posted by jon1270 at 4:06 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Same principle as love the sinner, hate the sin.
posted by lakeroon at 4:40 AM on July 20, 2012

If you like and admire the person, then congratulating them for their accomplishment shouldn't depend on their politics or the politics of their organization.

FWIW, may Catholic Priests also have issues with many of the Church's policies, and actively work to modernize the church from within the Church structure.

Nothing in life is black and white, but congratulating good people on achieving their goals shouldn't pose any moral or ethical conundrum at all.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 AM on July 20, 2012

I've known a few people in my life whose political beliefs were such they could not sustain normal, healthy relationships (platonic or romantic) unless that person was in total agreement with their beliefs. It took some years of experience and maturing for myself even, to understand that people are people and it's ok to lay your armor down to connect with them on a basic human level. Your scenario is one of them.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:38 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't think of a scenario where it is unethical for you (or would appear unethical to a reasonable observer) to congratulate a friend on an achievement in their lives.

Congratulating someone has zero effect on anything. It's like a handshake or saying "happy birthday". Just a social nicety you do for a person you like.

This is someone devoting their lives to the service of others. That is pretty commendable.

I think it is a (common and understandable) mistake to let one's political feelings cloud their personal interactions. It is somewhat seductive to frame everything we do in political thought, because it makes our actions or decisions seem more important. I'm not just getting a cup of coffee from the shop I prefer, I'm simultaneously knocking a corporate behemoth down a peg while supporting a local business person who in turn supports salt of the earth, goat-riding coffee bean farmers. It's boring getting a cup of coffee, but jeez, that sounds exciting!

So it's kind of the same in this case. Not congratulating someone standing right in front of you who is proud of their accomplishment because some guys in Rome say stuff you don't agree with is taking oneself a little too seriously. A case *might* be able to be made that it is unethical to withhold affection from someone you'd otherwise normally congratulate simply because of your own tastes and opinions.
posted by gjc at 7:45 AM on July 20, 2012

Is sending a congratulatory card to a newly ordained Catholic priest ethically problematic for people who disagree with the Catholic Church on political and social issues?

If you feel the need to ask that question, then the answer is trivially yes, there's a conflict of ethical values at stake there. (Note, "problematic" DOES NOT MEAN "don't do it," it means "let's invest some thought in why and how we do it.") Personally, I think it's reasonable as an ethical practice to congratulate people on spiritual practice, and express disagreement when it occurs and appropriate on political practice.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2012

I would be cool with it. It's like when a friend marries a jerk you still send a congratulations card.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:02 AM on July 20, 2012

Unless you want to put yourself in the position of judging all your friends' choices all the time (they weren't ready for a baby - I'm not congratulating them, her fiancé's a jerk - no wedding card, it's a foolish real estate decision - not going to the housewarming, etc), best to decide that you care about the person and will support them in their choices even when you don't agree.

To my mind the only exception is when their choice is such that it makes you no longer care about or respect them as a friend. But if the Catholic church is so objectionable to you that you can no longer have respect or amity for someone who willingly signs up for a leadership role, then the question of whether to send a card is academic - the person is no longer your friend, hence you would not send a card for anything.

There are things that I can imagine would be so objectionable to me that I would have to feel like this person is not the person I thought they were and I can't be friends with them any longer. For you, the church might be one of them.

But if you were planning on staying friends with them, continuing to share their good times and bad times, then I think it would be hypocritical not to acknowledge this milestone that is important to them, even if you disapprove. A card that says 'I'm so proud of you for sticking to your goals and meeting them and I wish you all the best in this next phase in your life' can be supportive of your friend without endorsing his particular affiliations.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd be fine with it. But I'd probably write the congratulations so that I am applauding specific efforts. So "congratulations on following through with your calling" or "on working so hard" or "finding a path and keeping to it" or "completing your studies".
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2012

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