Update: Father Byers’ run for political office?

just me 02Inspiration: My dad was commander of the famed USMC Fighter Attack Checkerboard squadron (flying the gull-wing Corsairs from 1943-1953), became whatever the jarhead equivalent of a JAG is by being put through Georgetown lawschool even while being the back-in-the-day equivalent of what is now called a Top Gun instructor at what is now Andrews (Air Force) Joint Command just South of the District of Columbia. He became the most powerful attorney in Central Minnesota, did some lobbying stints at the legislature, knew all the big name politicians, became Mayor of our town of @50,000, and had his sights on more encompassing offices in D.C. Meanwhile, he became father of my brother and myself, which I’m guessing distracted him quite a bit.

I asked him once why he wanted to be an attorney and a politician, and he said without hesitation (surprised at the question, stunned really), with all of his idealism shining out: “Because that’s my vocation, to help people. I want to help people. This is how I help people.” And, yes, he did quite a lot of pro-bono work, having deep respect, to the core, for salt-of-the-earth Americans who just want to do the right thing.

He very much wanted me to follow in his steps. We discussed that many times as he drove me to school on his way to work. My response was, of course, about the priesthood, and I would cite his own words back to him, and then wax poetic: “Because that’s my vocation, to help people. I want to help people. This is how I’m to help people……” He was wanting to start me off as a high school Page in the legislature. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I gone that direction.

Priests in politics are generally a catastrophe. Just recall a few: Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Haiti), Robert Drinan (USA), Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann (Nicaragua / Libya) along with both Ernesto and Fernando Cardinal (Nicaragua). They were president, in congress, worked as foreign minister or ministers of the interior and of culture, etc. D’Escoto was a particular problem for me personally when I was in Nicaragua back in the Reagan years.

As for me, there is presently a push for me to be elected as Alderman of Andrews with its 1,700 population. O.K., nothing like those other priests on so very many levels! Ha ha ha! And don’t forget, I was one of the best students ever of Father of Liberation Theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez (now O.P.). Honestly!

But, seriously, there are far reaching, deep problems here in Andrews which are suffocating (purposely?) the town literally right out of existence, and sometimes a quiet voice interested in law and order and jobs and getting stuff for kids to do instead of drugs and wanting infrastructure for basic utilities like water and services like proper local law enforcement and fire-fighting can be helpful. And sometimes a foreigner (I wasn’t born here) can in fact be helpful as he is not beholden to feuding and the good ol’ boys’ club that might well protect, fiercely, the drug world and all sorts of corruption. Seriously.

But, what does the Code of Canon Law say?

Can. 285 §1. Clerics are to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming to their state, according to the prescripts of particular law. [For instance, being a dealer for blackjack at the local casino.]

§2. Clerics are to avoid those things which, although not unbecoming, are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state. [An arguable point, as some political offices are rendered out of service, or that’s at least a possibility, right?]

§3. Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices [This is pretty absolute, but there is some backtracking about the scope:] which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power. [And this is a question for an alderman whose job descriptions in various municipalities or districts thereof are as different as one grain of sand is from another. Is an alderman specifically of Andrews, who, unlike other civilians, has a vote at town meetings, and who is representing the best interests of residents… is he per se EXERCISING civil power by a vote that is quite removed from the actual execution of a resolution, the who, what, why, where, when and how, which is instead brought to bear not at all by aldermen, but by the Mayor, by the City Manager, etc.? In other words, is there not a distinction between public office and the “participation in the exercise of civil power”? Otherwise, why bother, in the law itself, with adding a clause which does in fact make a distinction between public office and “participation in the exercise of civil power” unless there is such a distinction recognized by the legislator. Diversely, all public office by its nature is a participation in the exercise of civil power on some level, or that public office would not exist in the first place. There is a distinction, then, about the immediacy of the impact of the public office on any exercise of civil power, so that a more remote action, such as a vote, is permissible and even perhaps becoming of the clerical state depending on the service involved for the common good, while a more immediate practical day to day application is what is forbidden by this sub-paragraph.]

§4. Without the permission of their ordinary, they are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons or secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts. [But permission is in fact a possibility so possible that it is placed in the law itself.] They are prohibited from giving surety even with their own goods without consultation with their proper ordinary. They also are to refrain from signing promissory notes, namely, those through which they assume an obligation to make payment on demand.

By the way, just to say, for those who don’t know what an example of the Good Ol’ Boys club might be, here is an example: a statute that prohibits residents from running for office or getting a job with law enforcement if they are not “lifers”, that is, born here. Imagine the law suits on that one! And the results! “We do things our own way ’round here!” Etc.

I don’t need a membership to validate
The hard work I put in and the dues I paid
Never been to good at just goin’ along
I guess I’ve always kind of been for the underdog

Favors for friends will get you in and get you far
Shouldn’t be about who it is you know
But about how good you are

Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club
Cigars and handshakes, appreciate you but no thanks
Another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me
Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club

There’s a million ways to dream and that’s just fine
Oh but I ain’t losin’ any sleep at night
And if I end up goin’ down in flames
Well at least I know I did it my own way, hey

Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club
Cigars and handshakes, appreciate you but no thanks
Another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me
Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club

Favors for friends will get you in and get you far
But when did it become about who you know
And not about how good you are?

Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club
Cigars and handshakes, appreciate you but no thanks
Another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me
Don’t wanna be a part of the good ol’ boys club
I don’t wanna be a part of your good ol’ boys club

Just to say, being an Alderman for this tiny town hardly takes away from my priestly duties. In fact, I think it facilitates some of my objectives which I share with our police chief regarding community leaders finding ways to get us out of the quagmire we are in.

Any canon lawyer out there who is willing to take a stab at this? Be nice! I know I’m ignorant and that’s why I’m asking for help. Isn’t that a good thing that I’m wanting to follow the codified summary of the pastoral wisdom of the Church distilled from millennia worth of countless events? Whatever you think are my motives, don’t think I’m wanting to run for public office or not. That’s actually not my point. I’m wanting to know this for a multitude of reasons, and this is just one more thing that finally pushed me into investigating this aspect of the Church’s jurisprudence. Can you help?

UPDATE: O.K. So, that would be a NO! vote from one of the best canon lawyers in this dark world of ours. Absolutely not, he said. He even went so far as to say that being an Alderman for this itsy bitsy village would be an impediment to Holy Orders if I wasn’t already ordained. I’m slowly backing away away from the situation and then turning and running so fast I’m outrunning gamma rays. Having said all that, it’s nice to know you’re wanted. There was a bit of a powwow last night at a brewery with some of the local best of the best good guys representing all the first responders and even the office of the […edited…] doing their best to convince me to go ahead and see if this would be possible.

6 Comments

Filed under Father Byers Autobiography, Politics, Priesthood, Vocations

6 responses to “Update: Father Byers’ run for political office?

  1. pelerin

    ‘Priests in politics are generally a catastrophe…’ wasn’t Abbe Pierre an exception? Interestingly when asked if he had been a ‘bon depute’ he replied ‘Non!.’

  2. Cathy

    My own small foray into politics was simply to assist the president of the HOA which I belonged to in hiring contractors to do necessary work for which the HOA was responsible. The result, secret meetings by the previous administration, then an open meeting to discredit the president and vote him out for not doing things as they had always been done – put what the HOA is responsible for in the bylaws via the members fees on the backs of the members to take care of themselves. Definitely a matter that will try one’s soul!

  3. elizdelphi

    I am relieved that you were persuaded it was not a good idea! I didn’t want to say it!

  4. Father George David Byers

    I am also relieved.

  5. monicaharris58

    Maybe you are not fully aware of how much influence you already have, as a holy priest? Way more than as a civilian soldier.

  6. Father George David Byers

    I looked at this as outreach, ecumenism, and making it all better… Which can get people interested. One of the best will come to Mass this weekend. 🙂

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