Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Catholics" and racial bias

There are several serious reasons why a Catholic may decide to vote against President Obama.  Racism, however, is not one of them and it is an embarrassment to our Catholic faith to see an obviously racist posting on a blog that claims to uphold our faith.  

Check out the blog: Restore DC Catholicism and to Monday’s  (October 29 th) Posting: “Wow! New Migraine Treatment Under Obamacare!”    Hey Janet, Way to go, girl—you’ve shown us your true colors and they ain’t pretty. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When Religious Freedom Was In Danger in America

Friedhof Cemetery in Washington
Township, Douglas County SD
site of the graves of Joseph and
Michael Hofer, Anabaptist Martyrs
We hear a lot about the threat to religious liberty in the United States today and while researching the Anabaptist movement for a class that I am teaching, I came across an interesting story about a threat to religious freedom in the United States 95 years ago.  It wasn’t Catholics being threatened with mandatory contraceptive coverage, but a far more dramatic story of Anabaptists who gave their lives rather than surrender to the laws of the United States.    First, some background.
The Hutterites are a Anabaptist denomination that emigrated to the United States in the late nineteenth century from the Russian Empire—though they were not ethnic Russians but Tyrolean Austrian.  Founded in the Austrian Tyrol in the sixteenth century by Jakop Hutter, a hat-maker and itinerant preacher, the Hutterites had left their native Austria for Moravia (in today’s Czech Republic) to escape persecution by the Catholic Hapsburg rulers of Austria.  Hutter himself was eventually captured by the Hapsburgs and burned at the stake in Innsbruck in 1536.  When Moravia fell under the Hapsburg empire, the colonies of Hutterites in Moravia eventually fled first to Transylvania and then to the Ukraine to avoid persecution and military conscription.
Like many Anabaptist groups, the Hutterites are and have always been radical pacifists.  Their religion prohibits them not only from bearing arms, but from wearing military uniforms, following military orders, or paying taxes that support war.  In the Ukraine—then a part of the Russian Empire—the Hutterites had long been exempted from military service but in the second half of the nineteenth century, were required by the Russians to do alternative service in forestry.  Even this was a conscience problem for them as they saw their alternative service as an indirect participation in the war effort. 
Four hundred Hutterites emigrated from the Ukraine to South Dakota in the 1870’s.  There they established their radical way of life which, based on the Acts of the Apostles, requires that property be held in common. That marked them as very odd ducks in American society that has long had a paranoia of anything “socialist” including religious communitarianism.  Four men from this colony in Freeman, South Dakota—the brothers Joseph, Michael, and David Hofer and a relative, Jakob Wipf—were drafted in 1917 to fight in World War I.  Community leaders were in a quandary as to what they should do.  The decision was that they should report to the induction center as ordered but neither put on a uniform nor carry a gun.  They were forcibly shaved of their beards and had their hair cut contrary to their religious customs and sent to Fort Lewis Washington where they were court-martialed and sentenced to 35 years in prison for their refusal.  (The sentence was later reduced to 20 years.)  They were sent to Alcatraz, then a military prison, where they were chained to the ceiling of a cold and damp underground cell.  Uniforms were left in the cell and the prisoners told that if they were cold they could dress in the uniform—they stayed cold rather than compromise their beliefs.  They were transferred to Leavenworth Kansas but Michael and Joseph Hofer were so weakened by the cold and by the near-starvation they had had to endure, that they died three days apart.  The bodies were shipped back to their families in South Dakota.  When their coffins were opened, the bodies had been dressed in the military uniforms they had refused to wear as a mark of contempt for the martyrs and their religious convictions.  
After reading a story like this I am not impressed at the charges of attacks on religious liberty coming from some voices today.  And as usual I am very impressed at the stories of how Anabaptists—Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish—stand faithful to their beliefs in spite of the disadvantages it causes them in our modern society.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Apologia Pro Vita Mea

Bless me Father, for I
have sinned; I am a
Registered Democrat
In interest of full disclosure, I am a Democrat.  I can’t help it, I was born that way.  I grew up in South Buffalo—the same neighborhood as the late Tim Russert.  Remember how Tim used to describe South Buffalo:  where you are born Democrat and baptized Catholic.  He wasn’t exaggerating.  And I grew up in a Church family.  My dad was a daily communicant—as was his dad.  We went to Catholic School—the Sisters of Mercy.  Like Tim, when it was time for High School, I was sent cross-town, out of the Irish ghetto, to the Jesuits.  I learned my faith—at home, in Church, and at school. 
And what was that faith I learned.  I learned from the good nuns that Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore had gone to bat for Terrence Powderly and the Knights of Labor when more conservative churchmen like Archbishop Corrigan and Cardinal Taschereau were labeling them communists and socialists.  I learned from the nuns that Pope Leo XIII had embraced the side of the working classes against the robber barons with the encyclical Rerum Novarum.  And I learned the Pius XI had reinforced this with Quadrigesimo Anno some Quadrigesimo annos later.  I learned that Monsignor John Ryan who had taught at the Catholic University of America for many years and was the Director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Council (the predecessor of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) wrote about the rights of labor and the responsibilities of management.  I learned that  Bishop Francis Haas of Grand Grapids had served as a member of the National Labor Board and that Bishop Haas and Monsignor Ryan had worked with the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations to help pull us out of the Great Depression which had been caused by the reckless pro-rich policies of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations.  I learned that AFL-CIO President John F. Sweeney had said of Monsignor George Higgins of Catholic University: “He has been an irresistible force in bringing labor and church together…we respect him for his strength, we revere him for his conscience, we stand in awe of his intellect and we thank him for his love.”  I learned from the nuns that discrimination against people for any reasons whatsoever—in those days it was mostly because of race but the nuns didn’t limit their condemnations to that—discrimination against people for any reason whatsoever was sinful and wrong.  And by the way—all this was before Vatican II.  I learned that people had a right to live wherever they wanted and that it was wrong to refuse to rent or sell them property because they were “different.”  And I learned that yes, there were priests and even bishops in some places in the United States that believed that not all people should have equal rights but that they differed from the teaching of the Church and were an embarrassment to her.  I learned that we were here to serve the needs of others regardless of race or religion or any other barrier. In those days, of course, we didn’t have gay rights or women’s rights so those weren’t the issue but we weren’t taught issues, we were taught principles from which we could make rational applications to the issues at hand.  We did learn that rights and responsibilities were not limited to Catholics and did not depend on the state of one’s soul but only on the fact that they were human persons created by God.  The good Sisters themselves probably didn’t understand the implications that would unfold a half-century and more later from their teaching but they laid the groundwork—along with my parents and the parish priests—for the kind of Catholic I am today.
The Jesuits added to this not so much in content as in depth.  They gave us discipline and taught us character.  Their students were not all from the Irish Ghetto and as many came from wealthy families we were a far less homogenous group politically and socially.  The good Fathers of the Society of Jesus were far more sophisticated than the Sisters had been.  We learned more about the abstractions of what justice is from a theological viewpoint.  We learned that the Gospels put before us a certain vision of society—for example we learned that there are frightening implications in the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  What does that story say about distributive justice?  Unlike the nuns, the Jesuits did not give us answers—they posed questions, dilemmas, anomalies, and paradoxes.  They didn’t think for us but they taught us to think and they told us that no one else could think for us.  They refused to think for us and they told us not to let anyone else—no politician, no prelate (nor even a pope), no priest, to professor, no parent, no nobody think for us because God had given us an intelligence and would hold us to account for it one day.  It was and has proved to be a huge responsibility and when people comment on how many Jesuit alumni have left the Church and even devolved into atheism I think it is precisely because the Jesuits would not let us shirk moral responsibility and that proved too heavy a burden for those who wanted to choose “success” or “happiness” or whatever rather than integrity. 
With this sort of a background how could I have become anything other than a Democrat.  Now remember, growing up in New York State in the 50’s and ‘60’s the Republicans were the liberal party—the party of Rockefeller and Javits.  But there is more history than that.
The Catholics in the first days of our Republic gravitated to the Federalist party.  Catholics—in those early days—were heavily of the Maryland aristocracy.  They were moneyed and propertied.  The French Revolution scared them from Jefferson and his Republicans who naively idealized the revolution and its goals.  Jefferson’s party would eventually grow into today’s Democratic Party but the Catholics would find in it a refuge from the more extreme liberalism of the Whigs and the Republicans.
By the 1824 presidential election the Federalist party had collapsed.  George Washington had never wanted to see political parties as he believed—from the experience of the Whigs and Tories in the England of his day—that they divided the nation and that seeking the common good was a collaborative and not a competitive effort.  But political parties were an inevitability given the way government was structured—and probably even more that human nature has been flawed by original sin—and there seems to be an inevitable need, for people to see themselves in opposition to others.  All may want the “common good” but different people will see from different perspectives diverse propositions of what the common good may be.  And so as the Federalists died away it was all but inevitable that a counter-weight to Jefferson’s (and now Jackson’s) political machine should develop. 
You may remember from earlier entries (Jan 22, 23, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, Feb 1, and March 7, 2011) that it was at this time—the 1830’s—that a virulent strain anti-Catholicism first began to reemerge in the American Republic.)  Catholic support for the American Revolution and the spirit of tolerance that pervaded the Republic through its early years had muted the tradition of anti-Catholicism that the colonists had brought with them from England.  But as the first great wave of immigration brought Catholics in great numbers—mostly Irish and German at this point—to America’s shores, there was a negative reaction from those who wanted to “keep America American.”  Episodes like the Charlestown convent burning and the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia and New York represent this caricature of Catholicism as a “foreign” and “unAmerican” religion.
Now pay attention as this explanation is going to use terms in ways that are a bit different than we use them today.  It was the “liberal” faction in American society that wanted to keep the country from immigrant (and Catholic) influence.  They saw Europeans as monarchy-loving and unable to absorb the democratic principles on which our nation was founded.  They sought to pass laws limiting numbers of immigrants except Protestants from Britain.  They wanted to put in difficult barriers from those born in other European countries attaining citizenship.  They wanted to limit positions as public school teachers to Protestants.  This was all to protect the American tradition from being corrupted by monarchy and Catholicism.  Catholicism was identified with the European absolutist monarchs—France, Spain, Portugal, Bavaria, the Austrian Emperor, and, of course, the Pope who himself was king of a significant slice of the Italian Peninsula called the Papal States. 
The Jefferson-Jackson party—the Democratic Republicans—today’s Democrats—were the conservative party.  And while Jefferson had thought religion, all religion, was only for the common sort of people and not intellectuals like himself, and while Jackson had a frontier Second-Great-Awakening prejudice against Catholicism, their party offered a safer refuge for Catholics than the liberal “Whigs” who saw Catholicism as unAmerican and dangerous to democracy. 
The Whigs themselves soon, by the 1850’s, morphed into what we know today as the Republican Party.  Catholics were, for the most part, not as bitterly opposed to “The South’s Peculiar Institution” (slavery) as the evangelicals that made up a significant part of the Whig (and then Republican) Party.  (Yes, these were days when the Evangelicals and Republicans were liberals.)  In the Civil War while Archbishop John Hughes of New York was an ardent supporter of the Republic and encouraged recruitment in the  “Fighting 69th  (New York 69th  regiment) among the Irish immigrants of New York City, Catholics in general were more tepid supporters of “Mr. Lincoln’s War.” 
After the Civil War the estrangement between Catholics and the Republican party only grew stronger.  In the 1884 presidential campaign, Republican candidate James G. Blaine, was on the platform when a speaker, the Reverend Dr. Samuel Burchard declared “We are Republicans and we don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.”  Blaine did not disassociate himself from the remark and it cost him the Catholic vote and the election.  It also firmly impressed on the Catholic memory that the Republican Party was no friends of the Catholics. 
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked by massive immigration from Catholic Europe—not only Ireland and Germany, but Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Once again the Liberals—and this politically meant the Republicans—were alarmed at the number and influence of the immigrant populations.  Quotas were imposed, though not very successfully, favoring Protestant nations of northern Europe over the Catholic populations of central and southern Europe.  The interventions of Pope Leo XIII to try to avert the Spanish-American War were resented by the Republicans—the party of Teddy Roosevelt who declared: “it’s a little war, but it’s the only one we have.”  The liberal goal was to spread America and American democracy—and with it Protestantism—around the world and the defeat of Spain put both Cuba and the Philippines under American tutelage. 
It is difficult for us to think of Manifest Destiny (a polite term for American Imperialism), colonialism, anti-immigrant sentiment, English-only, etc. as a liberal agenda.  It only goes to show how ideologies, like fashions, change.  But as for American Catholics, they saw themselves as being pushed to the margins of a society that idealized and identified itself with old blood and old money.   This view of America believed and taught that anyone could pull themselves up by the bootstraps and holding up rugged individualism as the American way saw labor unions and collective protection of workers as subverting our American principles.  Consequently the immigrants and factory-workers—overwhelmingly Catholic—turned to the Democratic Party where they felt they were being heard.  The dedication of Church leaders such as Cardinal Gibbons solidified the ties between working-class and immigrant Catholics and the Democratic Party. 
Not all bishops supported the working classes, of course. Corrigan of New York and O’Connell of Boston—an arrogant blowhard of a mitered Pharisee if there ever was one—supported the Protestant ascendancy of the old and moneyed families and the few Paddy-Catholic nouveau riche against the social and economic interests of the sheep entrusted to their episcopal care, but while these bishops had great power they did not have the respect that was given to Gibbons and those bishops who were concerned about the working classes—many of whom were forced to live in squalor while their employers, the great Robber-Barons, had their Fifth-Avenue townhouses and summer homes in Newport.
Just as not all bishops supported labor, nor did all Democrats like Catholics.  Woodrow Wilson, in so many ways an idealist, had a strong streak of anti-Catholicism.  He was, after all, a preacher’s kid from the Old South and carried all those prejudices.  He made sure that Benedict XV was kept out of the peace conferences that ended World War I and that may have played a role in the unhappy and unjust “peace” that would bear fruit in a resentful Germany rising from the encumbrances placed on it by the Allies and striking back in World War II.  But at home in the United States the Catholic faithful overlooked Wilson’s biases and maintained their loyalty to the Democratic Party.  In 1928 the Democrats took a bold chance and nominated a Catholic, Governor Al Smith of New York, for the presidency.  Bold, it was also a bad choice.  A tsunami of Anti-Catholicism swept over the country as rumors of a papal takeover and destruction of the Republic threw the nation into a frenzy.  Smith lost in a landslide as Protestant Ministers joined Ku Klux Klanners in rallying bigots of every shade of sickly pale from Boston Brahmin to Southern Cracker to keep the nation Protestant and Republican.  But it was still good for the Democrats.   The defeat of Smith solidified Catholic support for the Democrats as the sense of shared defeat made the Catholics feel that the Democrats were their protectors while in fact the Democrat machine probably saw them more as a constituency to be manipulated than an honored ally.
FDR made the most of that alliance.  In his programs to rebuild the nation from the disaster of the Great Depression he made fast the ties between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party.  Roosevelt came from a very blue-blood WASP family who only knew Catholics as chauffer’s and parlor-maids, but he didn’t let his personal prejudices get in the way of valuable political alliances.  He courted the Catholic Church.  He made it clear that he wanted the national capital to be the seat of an Archbishop: the honor of the United States required it.  He appointed prominent priests and monsignors to various posts—mostly having to do with economics and labor relations.  He sent a personal representative to the Vatican.  (Congress, or the national mood, was not about to let him establish formal diplomatic relations.)  Not all Catholics liked him.  Father Charles Coughlin, a Michigan priest with a popular—very popular—radio following, quickly turned from a Roosevelt supporter to a Roosevelt foe but Coughlin, a notorious anti-Semite, was probably more valuable as an enemy than a friend.   Roosevelt actively courted Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago, and Mundelein, though no liberal, relished the attention. Then there were any number of social progressives in the hierarchy—Cardinal Mooney of Detroit, Archbishops McNicholas and Sheil, Bishop Frank Haas of Grand Rapids, Monsignor John Ryan of Catholic University.  Harry Truman, a Baptist, also kept the Catholics on his side continuing the alliance between Democrats and labor.  This was a time when Catholics worked in factories or construction and depended on labor unions to protect them.  Catholic teaching on the rights of labor, articulated by Leo XIII and Pius XI, brought politics, economics, and religion into harmony.
The apex of the Catholic/Democrat alliance was reached when John F. Kennedy was the Democratic nominee for President in 1960.  Catholics saw the day come when the highest office in the land was now open to one of their own and they were no longer second class citizens.  The anti-Catholicism that had surfaced during the campaign only served to solidify the marriage of Catholics and the Democratic Party, but things were already beginning to change. 
Thanks to the GI Bill Catholics were beginning to move up the social ladder rapidly and from the blue collar workforce into the professions.  Democrats too were changing—from working-class liberals to suburban liberals.  The issues had changed from economics to social questions and Catholics, particularly those who attended Church, were not always ready to move.  Catholics had been slow to get aboard the Civil Rights movement though eventually they came over—not without some pushing from Rome—and they were even slower to stand up against the war in Vietnam.  But where the great divide fell into place was with Roe vs. Wade and the consequent legalization of abortion. 
Abortion has been perhaps the most divisive issue in America since the Civil War, but what is the most dangerous aspect of the polarization caused by this issue is that the various sides have been unable to establish any dialogue or discussion that can bridge the divide and find some common ground on which to build a national consensus.  When the late Cardinal Bernadin called for such an initiative his fellow prelates, especially the much admired Cardinal Law and his shanty side-kick, the ideologue Cardinal Hickey publicly ripped him apart in a shameful manner.  One can be solidly pro-life and willing to speak with—and listen to—those who are “pro-choice.”  Indeed, if we ever want to resolve this issue in order to protect the unborn we will have to listen attentively to one another.  A refusal to dialogue only condemns the reluctant mother to be pitted against her unborn child, but at this point both sides are so septic that I wonder if any rational conversation is in the realm of possibility. 
Catholics only began going over to the Republican party in the 1984 election as Ronald Reagan had begun to win their trust against a Democratic Party that had begun to take them for granted.  Unlike in the America of my salad days, Catholics are no longer automatically Democrats.  Now there is a split down the middle.  Most who have become Republicans have done so not so much for the conservative social agenda as Catholics, abortion aside, still tend toward the left on social questions (“tend” being the operative word).  White, professional Catholics from the more secure social classes feel more at home in the Republican party as that is where their colleagues and neighbors feel most at home.   Blue collar, racially diverse, lower economic strata Catholics (of which there are fewer and fewer)—along with us educated old liberal leftovers from the sixties—still hang out with the Democrats though we often feel like the patronized stepchildren of the chic arm-chair liberals that run the party.  Sometimes I wish I had taken less philosophy courses and more business ones and then I too could have voted for Newt in the primaries.  But at the end of the day I can’t slip my history, my Catholic history and while I have voted for Republican candidates when I think they are the better person for the office, and while I will at times vote Republican again—like Tim Russert I am going to have to explain to Saint Peter why, at heart, I am a Democrat regardless of the attempts of our good bishops to convert me. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

One Soul Wrestles With The Questions

A regular reader sent me this face-book posting from a friend of his.  I think It outlines well the dilemma that many good Catholics are facing in trying to use the principles of our Catholic faith in making their choice for which ticket in the presidential election they might vote.  Despite the pontificating  of some, it is not an easy choice.   

I am glad voting is such an easy thing for so many of my friends. In the recent months, the lines have been drawn and the troops allied on either side shooting at each other. I'm still hanging out in the middle, and I am taking fire.

For the sake of honesty, I should note at the outset that I am left leaning politically, but I am anti-abortion and it is a priority issue for me. I am a Catholic, and my faith takes precedence over all else.

I am deeply disturbed by the election choices this year.

I see on the one hand a man who would overturn the ACA. He says this often and proudly. Sometimes he throws a few pennies to the moderates who support the act, or most of it. He has, every so often, said that he would do something about the most popular components. But he has no firm plans, and the only clarity is that he absolutely will overturn. Setting aside questions of who can do what, this is not acceptable. My daughter has a genetic syndrome which has meant that her medical bills are incomprehensibly high. She has needed, and will need, multiple complicated surgeries. She has had multiple hospitalizations, for things like colds that barely keep most kids home from school. She has consulted with more specialties than I knew existed. I can credit a humbling number of doctors with saving her life, because her life has been saved more than once. She was diagnosed prenatally. I knew how complicated her life would be early enough that abortion was not just an option, but it was the option recommended to me by my doctor. Now, one candidate thinks that it is OK that people like me- who decide to cherish our unborn little one even when it is bound to be very difficult- should be bankrupted by medical bills. We have good insurance, and our insurance cannot kick us out when we reach a certain cap. If we did get dropped, another insurance company could not deny us based on her history. Thank you, ACA. The candidate that is comfortable with my family's financial ruin as a direct result of my choice to protect my wonderful daughter calls himself pro-life. The candidate who saw my situation as an emergency and fixed it, calls himself pro-choice.

I simply do not believe that Romney cares about the unborn. If you care about the unborn, you do not allow that they be punished for the crimes of their father. Either we are right, and the unborn are people deserving of the same protection as their older siblings or not. Or we are wrong. I just don't see the grey area here. If we are wrong, it is absolutely an assault on women to insist that they carry a pregnancy to term. If we are going to claim the moral high ground, we have to insist that the babies are babies. They are to be treated the same as their older siblings. The second we admit exceptions, (other than the life of the mother) we yield the moral high ground. Maybe it does not matter whether the candidates care about the unborn. Maybe it only matters what they will do to protect them. In that case, I have to weigh whether certain specific abortion restrictions will save more lives, or whether things like safety nets for women in crisis, affordable health care, and paid parental leave will save more lives.

I see one candidate who would throw a beloved family member out of the country because he has no documentation. He would leave behind a wife and daughter. This candidate calls himself pro-family. The other candidate seems to care, but has had neither the fire nor the political capital to address this assault, because my beloved family member is not among the most sympathetic of the undocumented. He was not dragged across the border as a child. He is not a grandmother. Nonetheless, I believe it is gravely immoral to break up his family.

I see one candidate who either does not understand the Catholic Church, or does not care. He is bound and determined to cut off her arms. The HHS mandate on contraception forces Catholics to violate the dictates of the Church. It is that simple. I am more angry than many of my Catholic compatriots on the subject. When Obama said repeatedly and specifically to Catholics, prior to his first election, that of course he would ensure that his healthcare reform would include strong conscience protection, I believed him. Now, he wants me to wait until after the second election to find out what accommodations his administration is willing to make to fix the promise he broke. I actually think that there is reasonable middle ground here. Conscience clauses have clear precedent. But any accommodation will bring out the noisiest rancor on the far left. Saying that women who don't want it don't have to get it is irrelevant. Saying that priests and parish secretaries are exempted is not enough. We, the Church, are our various ministries. We are charities, hospitals, schools, and universities. We hire and serve people who do not share our faith because the call to service is universal. We cannot choose between service and paying for contraception. You may think it is no big deal, but we think it is gravely immoral. We are not trying to make your choices for you. We just don't want to pay for them.

What about the economy? It is supposed to be the issue at the forefront of every thinking voter's mind this year. The truth is that the economy is not one issue, but many. Anyone who wants to reduce the economy to a numbers game does not understand what is at stake. It is also true that neither candidate is willing to be honest about how we are going to get out of debt. One candidate is promising rainbows and unicorns. No one will pay more and we won't cut anything. Yay! One candidate is pretending he can place the sole burden on the very wealthy. (You are supposed to hear, "not you." If you heard "you" than put another very in there. The very VERY wealthy. Not you, of course.) If anyone has sorted out who to vote for based on economic concerns, I am interested in your psychic powers. Now, of course, some of us will trust the democrats to act like democrats and the republicans to act like republicans. In that case, do I want raised taxes or tax cuts for not me? Do I want safety nets in place?

I will say this, the Ryan budget, which neither is espousing openly, has been condemned by Catholic bishops as immoral. Cuts are too deep and they leave too many falling through cracks which are widened into gaping holes by poor a poor economy.

Speaking of Ryan, that was an interesting choice for VP. Who is he? He is known for his immoral and unpopular budget. (That will pick up a few far right votes.) He is a Catholic. (That should sway some Catholics, and we are notorious swing voters.) And he has pretty blue eyes. What else? He actually has a record which we can assess- unlike Romney. He has a solid anti-abortion record, which he stands by. He is not good on crime, by which I mean, he votes for stronger sentences for juveniles and against alternative sentencing for rehabilitation. He is desperately bad on the environment. But here is where it gets interesting, at least to me. He voted against paid parental leave. He voted against mental illness being given the same standing as other healthcare issues. He voted in favor of denying treatment for lack of a Medicare copay, so long as it is non-emergency. (Just wait till it is an emergency, then come back.) Throw a little Ayn Rand in there and I just cannot get behind this guy.

On top of all of this, I am supposed to consider gay rights? War? More war? Not really a war, just a particularly violent non-war? The death penalty? Education? Euthanasia?

P.S. If one more person tells me to vote with my "lady parts" I swear I am going to scream. For those still out of the loop, women are not just baby making machines which are either currently functioning or not. We vote on the same variety of issues as men.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

One Way to Atone for Our Sins

The coffin of Jimmy Saville, papal knight
and sexual predator, awaits being brought
to Leeds Cathedral for funeral Mass last
I never knew who Sir Jimmy Saville was until the news broke about his history of alleged sexual abuse of minors—with over three hundred accusations against him he is reported to be one of the worst sexual predators in the history of Great Britain.  When you consider the history of the British monarchy that is quite a distinction.  Saville was a radio and television personality over the last fifty years or so who parlayed his fame from a media personality to being a major fundraiser for British charities.  For his charitable work he was knighted first by Queen Elizabeth and later by Pope John Paul.  Archbishop Nichols of Westminster has petitioned the Vatican to posthumously remove the papal honors and the Royal Household is considering rescinding the Imperial honors.  It is, of course, an embarrassment that a man who was such a prominent Catholic have this sort of disgrace pinned to his name.  But there is another side of this that we as a Church should look at.
In the last few weeks Americans have been made painfully aware of the rampant sex-abuse scandals in the organization of the Boy Scouts of America.  Their recent release of files has shown over 500 cases that were swept under the rug but some sources, including Wikipedia, claim that there were two thousand cases of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts of America since since the mid 20th century.  All the time that the Catholic Church was being excoriated for its handling of abuse cases, the BSA kept smugly silent about the secrets in its own closet.  But then that is human nature, I would suppose. 
And of course the problems of Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky matter show that this same desire to protect the institution at all costs and regardless of the safety and suffering of others is not a Catholic matter or a Scouting strategy but that it is endemic in our society.  
The Catholic Church has undergone—finally and not without great pain—a revision of protocols to insure that the welfare of the vulnerable will not be subordinated to the good of the Institution again.  Of course such individuals as Bishop Bruskewitz, former Bishop of Lincoln, rejected such protocols for their jurisdictioncs, but the acceptance of the “Dallas Accords” has been all but universal and seems to be securely in place.  This is perhaps due more to the strictures of the companies the insure the various dioceses than a genuine desire for reform and protection but whatever the reason the Church is to be commended on its clean-up of a horrible mess.  But I think that we, as Church, can do more and that is my point in this posting. 
The Catholic Church has learned some valuable lessons in dealing with its sex abuse crisis.  I personally do not believe that sex abuse is a topic for Sunday morning sermons any more than I believe abortion, birth-control, homosexuality, or other sexual issues belong in Sunday sermons.  I do think they need to be addressed in other fora however.  Without resorting to the pulpit, I do think the Church could play a very important role in bringing this problem—a widespread problem in our society—out into the light.   In particular I think the Church could do a great service in educating parents of children enrolled in Catholic schools and in religious education programs of danger signs for which to watch in protecting their children.  I think the Church could sponsor programs in which people who have been victims have an opportunity to heal together and I think many of these same people could be encouraged to speak in consciousness-raising fora in parishes and Catholic institutions.  The topic of sexual abuse and how to recognize its danger should be incorporated at age-appropriate levels in curriculum of Catholic education.  (And we must remember that while this is a difficult balance, this particular issue needs to be addressed while children are still quite young because that is when they are particularly vulnerable.)    Finally since most abuse is in the context of the family—not the Church and not the Scouts and not Little League—we need to provide support for parents who fear that a spouse or close relative is in danger of harming a child. 
As a Church we have failed and failed miserably but now we have an opportunity to redeem that failure and make it work for good.  Let’s not pass it up. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

On All of Our Shoulders III

In my last two entries I have been posting the document “On All of Our Shoulders,” a critique according to the magisterium of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s social philosophy by more than 150 prominent Catholic scholars and theologians.  Here is the final section.  This is neither an attack on the Romney/Ryan ticket nor an endorsement of the Obama/Biden ticket but it does shatter the lie that the Republican ticket is “the Catholic thing to do.”  There is no clear choice for a Catholic at the polls this year—or most years.  Unfortunately this is not because both parties are offering us a platform consistent with our gospel values but rather because each of the two major parties has made serious moral compromises.  In the end it is up to each faithful Catholic citizen to examine his or her conscience and prayerfully choose the candidates whom they believe will do the greater good despite the shortcomings in their platforms.  We need to pray and to trust that God’s Kingdom will prevail not through any one of us but through the balance achieved in the common voice and thus we need to profoundly respect those who with due consideration make choices different than our own.   It is time for the hysteria to end and prayerful reflection to prevail. 

Five Principles of Catholic Social Doctrine Most in Danger of Being Forgotten or Distorted

There are many principles of the Church's social doctrine that are effectively communicated and widely known. Chief among these is the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. Although this fundamental doctrine is far from adequately implemented in our laws, there is little or no confusion about the Church's teaching on this matter. We offer here a list of principles of Catholic social doctrine—not to argue their priority over others—but because we judge these to be the most in danger of being ignored or distorted in contemporary public debate.

1.    The Catholic view of the human person is social not individual. Congressman Ryan has stated that he learned from Rand to view all policy questions as a "fight of individualism versus collectivism." [7] The Catholic Church does not espouse "individualism," but rather sees it as an error as destructive as collectivism. [8] Blessed John Paul II described "individualism" as a dimension of the "Culture of Death" arising from an "eclipse of the sense of God." [9] The human person is "by its innermost nature, a social being. ["10] We are radically dependent upon and responsible for one another. Again, in the words of John Paul II, "We are all really responsible for all." This truth of the human person is tied to the central doctrines of the Church. It reflects the very "intimate life of God, one God in three Persons." [11]

2.    Government has an essential role to play in protecting and promoting the common good. The error of individualism leads to a mistaken understanding of the role of government. For too long politicians have echoed Ronald Reagan's misleading mantra "Government is the Problem." The Catholic Church, on the contrary, because of its social understanding of the human person, considers government to be as "necessary" for human nature as the family. The state exists to "defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies." [12] Thus, while the Church does not offer a specific blueprint for policy, it does view our government's action on behalf of the common good a positive good in itself.

Catholic apologists for small government repeatedly invoke a single paragraph from John Paul II's Centesimus Annus which cautions against the excesses of a "social assistance state" ignoring the decades-long papal consensus supporting social insurance and welfare systems. In the same document, John Paul described the "intervention of governmental authority" on behalf of the defenseless as "an elementary principle of sound political organization" taught by the Church for a century. [13] John Paul later stated "One can only rejoice" that "States set up social welfare systems to assist families…and pension funds for retirees." These express a sense of national "responsibility" and "solidarity." [14]

3.    The doctrine of subsidiarity both limits government and demands that it act when local communities cannot solve problems on their own. Subsidiarity has both negative and positive dimensions. Negatively, it limits overreach by government (as well as other large organizations, including corporations). Positively, the concept (which means "help" or "assistance)" requires that government act when problems cannot be solved on the local level.

Ryan has invoked subsidiarity to justify devolving management of Medicaid to states thereby ending centralization "in the hands of federal bureaucrats." At the same time, his budget cuts Medicaid by $750 billion over ten years, a policy that will cut healthcare for an estimated 14 to 27 million Medicaid recipients. [15]

The broader outlines of the budget plan will radically reduce the size of government and consequently cut funding for private and religious safety net providers such as Catholic Charities who depend upon federal grants and contracts for much of their funding. This fails the positive obligation under subsidiarity to render needed assistance.

4.    The "preferential option for the poor" demands both individual and collective action, including the acts of the state. In the words of John Paul II, the preferential option for the poor affects "our daily life as well as our decisions in the political and economic fields;" placing demands upon individuals as well as "leaders of nations." [16]

The portrayal of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew is a judgment of the nations based on how they treat the "least of these." This was the "central moral measure" applied by the USCCB in its evaluation of the Ryan budget. "The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first." [17]

Ryan, like Rand, sees "dependency" as our most serious problem. Thus, he describes his understanding of preferential option as "don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life." [18]

It should go without saying that poverty is not caused primarily by a too generous government safety net that becomes in Ryan's words, "a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency." [19] It is much easier to cut government programs than to help people out of long-term poverty as the very mixed results of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act prove. [20] Ryan's 2012 budget achieves 62% of its designated savings from cuts to programs for low-income families and individuals while cutting the top marginal tax rate and the corporate tax rate. [21] It is impossible to justify this as a serious exercise of the preferential option for the poor.

5.    Economic forces must be reckoned among any serious account of the threats to society and human dignity. Ryan's budget resolutions speak mainly of overbearing government and free individuals acting in a private sector whose justice is never questioned. It is hard to reconcile this vision with the history of the past forty years, in which globalization has deindustrialized America and deregulation has increased the power of private corporations. At the same time, unions, which official Catholic teaching has long recognized as indispensible to the rights of workers and the common good, have been severely weakened. [22] Whatever the threat of government power, any adequate response to our challenges must address the facts of economic power as well. Modern papal social doctrine has addressed both threats since its inception.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI has offered an analysis more probing than that offered by either political party.

Benedict speaks of the loss of state power in the face of globalization and calls for the development of new forms of government engagement.

In our own day, the State finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which…has altered the political power of States….[T]heir powers…need to be prudently reviewed and remodelled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of today's world. [23]

Benedict continues the century-long papal teaching that the market alone cannot address the needs of the common good:

Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution. [24]

Benedict offers a description of the temptation to reduce the social safety net that reads like an analysis of the Ryan Budget:

From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare…are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today's profoundly changed environment….[T]he market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses…. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks. [25]

The momentous challenges facing our nation cry out for the full wisdom of the Church's social doctrine. We live at time when the social indifference of libertarian thought is achieving broad cultural legitimacy and political power. This vision of the human person and society are fundamentally at odds with the Gospel and the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine. Legitimate disagreements with the Obama administration must not lead the Church to edit the fullness of its teachings for political expediency. Our political obligations as Catholics go beyond choosing a candidate for which to vote. In the words of Faithful Citizenship, "our participation should help transform the party to which we belong." [26] Ours is a moment that demands the fullness of the Church's teachings as few others have. To be truly prophetic, the Church—bishops, clergy and lay faithful—must proclaim the fullness of its message to all parties, movements, and powers.


7.    Address by Paul Ryan to Atlas Society "Celebration of Ayn Rand," 2005. 
8.    Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2425. "The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with "communism" or "socialism." She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for "there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market." Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended."
9.    John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, #22-23.
10.Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, #12.
11.John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #38, 40.
12.Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1882, 1910.
13.John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #48, 10.
14.John Paul II, Address to Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 2002.
15.Kaiser Commission On Medicaid And The Uninsured, "House Republican Budget Plan: State-by-State Impact of Changes in Medicaid Financing," May 2011.
16.John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #42.
17."Federal Budget Choices Must Protect Poor, Vulnerable People, Says U.S. Bishops' Conference," April 17, 2012.
18."Paul Ryan Says His Catholic Faith Helped Shape Budget Plan," Interview with David Brody, Christian Broadcasting Network, April 10, 2012.
19.The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America's Promise (2012 Budget Resolution), 25.
20."The prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011. This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform." "Extreme Poverty in the United States, 1996 to 2011," National Poverty Center, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, February 2012, 4.
21."Chairman Ryan Gets 62 Percent Of His Huge Budget Cuts From Programs For Lower-Income Americans," Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, March 23, 2012.
22.John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, #20, and Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, #25.
23.Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 24.
24.Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 36.
25.Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 35.
26.United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, #14.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On All of Our Shoulders II

Yesterday I posted the first two sections of the statement “On All of Our Shoulders,” an evaluation of the Ryan Budget proposal according to the norms of the magisterium issued by 150+ Catholic scholars and theologians.  Today I am posting the next two sections.   My point, as I wrote yesterday, is not to portray Congressperson Ryan in a negative light and certainly not to make him out to be a “ bad Catholic,” but only to demonstrate that the choice for Catholic voters in this election is not a moral “slam-dunk” in the Romney/Ryan hoop.  I believe that a Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for the Republican ticket because of its opposition to legalized abortion.  I also believe that a Catholic can look at the moral issues of the Republican Platform’s economic policies and compare them unfavorably—again, from a moral standpoint—to those of the Democratic candidates and go for the Obama/Biden ticket.  There are serious moral flaws in the projects of each party.  Ironically the Democrats seem to understand this better than the Republicans, but I think it is important that we not only look at the spectrum of issues in making our choices, but respect those who also look hard at the same moral spectrum of issues and make a different choice.  So now, back to “On  All of Our Shoulders….”

Prudence Misused
Catholic promoters of Ryan's policies often invoke "prudence" to argue that since bishops are not competent to judge the details of policy proposals, there is no properly "Catholic" problem with his policies. This distorts the authentic Catholic meaning of prudence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as "right reason in action." It is the virtue through which we "apply moral principles to particular cases." [2] In St. Thomas Aquinas's words, no one "can properly apply one thing to another unless he knows both the thing to be applied and the thing to which it has to be applied." [3] Thus, prudence demands both knowledge of the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine and honest attention to the details and realistic consequences of policies.
Aquinas also warned that prudence is a risky business. We are perennially tempted to use it as a cover for achieving goals contrary to our professed principles. Aquinas taught that the vice of "craftiness" often masquerades as prudence. Craftiness uses "means that are not true, but fictitious and counterfeit" to achieve its ends "whether good or bad." [4] For that reason, we must always scrutinize the principles that inspire our actions in prudential matters. Are our actions and policies consistent with the ideals we proclaim? Or would an honest assessment reveal they are guided by less laudable motives?
Prudence and Principle, Love and Truth:
The Church's social doctrine is not simply an imperative to believe in God and help the poor, for which any proposal can claim equal legitimacy by promising positive consequences. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that the Church teaches specific principles of social doctrine.
These principles of the Church's social doctrine "concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from the relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations." [5]
A Catholic use of prudence requires evaluating the compatibility between policy proposals and these substantial teachings.
Benedict XVI expressed the true challenge of Christian prudence in his great social encyclical Caritas in Veritate: the truth of Christian love must animate all dimensions of society. Caritas is more than a generic inspiration, if love is truth, it must give specific form to our actions.
Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word "love" is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.
Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present. [6]

Prudence and Policy
Prudence also requires consideration of the full range of options available and an honest assessment of the outcome of policy proposals. After decades of tax cuts, honesty requires considering revenue increases in addition to program cuts. Government programs are not perfect and need to be improved. Proposals to slash or eliminate programs without proposing alternatives, however, is exactly the kind of indifference Jesus condemned in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus.

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1806
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II: 47, 3 resp.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II: 55, 3 resp.
5. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #161.
6. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, #3,4.