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A Spotlight on the uses and abuses of Catholic Social Teaching

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Total Fail: Catholic Social Teaching and Evangelization

We live in strange times. The recent release of a book excerpt in which Pope Benedict XVI indicates his opinion that use of condoms to prevent the spread of the HIV virus can in some circumstances be a moral action set off a media extravaganza.

Clearly, what the Catholic Church holds and teaches still matters, or at least generates wide interest, especially in anything dealing with sexuality.

Yet, the response of many to a papal pronouncement or published opinion, not only outside the church but almost equally within, is to nod and dismiss the message as irrelevant. 

John J. Dilulio Jr. has an excellent column in the Nov. 29 issue of “America,” titled “Blending In.”

He notes that when it comes to voting, U.S. Catholics are pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the population. “On nearly every public policy issue on which there is good national polling data...Catholics as a group come as close to any religious denomination does to mirroring what most Americans believe.”

This could be seen in their voting patterns in the last two natonal elections: Democratic in 2008, Republican in 2010. 

Long gone are the days when John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency, and Catholics were somehow seen as less than fully American. Yet, the march into the political and cultural mainstream has come at a price, Dilulio writes.

“The country’s Catholic bishops face a flock that includes large numbers of people who hold positions at odds with church teaching (on abortion, the death penalty, programs to assist the poor and many other issues).”

My belief, butressed by much of what I have seen, read and experienced in recent years, is that a majority of Catholics let their politics lead their faith, rather than using their faith to determine their politics. This is true of both liberals and conservatives, but is most striking, and disturbing, in the U.S. on the right.

For instance, I do not have polling data, but I can easily imagine hundreds of thousands of Tea Party Catholics, totally at odds with church teaching on war, the universal destination of goods, the preferential option for the poor, the common good and the death penalty, reverently invoking the notions of the anti-Catholic Ayn Rand.

Dilulio concludes on a somber note: “Have American Catholics been folded so completely into the nation’s political and cultural mainstream that they can no longer be its political salt and cultural light, or so divided among themselves that they can never speak truth to power in one faith-filled voice? I pray not, but I fear so.”

Clearly, Catholic teaching about economic justice, the environment, war and life — while still influential (and often distorted) in some spheres — is a pretty much a cipher to the average American Catholic. And by all indications it will remain so. Not only do the U.S. bishops speak with a muted voice compared to the past, they are moving increasingly to a focus on abortion and gay marriage to the exclusion of all else. Economic justice, war, the death penalty, be damned.

As an editoral in the Nov. 26 issue of the National Catholic Reporter notes, “Just how deeply insular and inward looking the [U.S. bishops’] conference has become was apparent in the fact that the agenda for this year’s meeting, conducted amid the greatest recession since the Great Depression, contained no mention of the poor, the jobless or the state of the economy.”

This is ironic and sad, for the social teaching of the Catholic Church is considered part of its evangelization effort.

In his social encylical issued 23 years ago, “On Social Concern,     (“Sollicitudo Rei Socialis”), Pope John Paul II wrote that “the teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the church’s evangelizing mission.”

He adds, “The condemnation of evils and injustices is also part of that ministry of evangelization in the social field which is an aspect of the Church’s prophetic role.”

But, judging by the priorities of the U.S. bishops, endless wars, rising inequality, massive unemployment while corporations make record profits, governmental gridlock on climate change, and a whole host of other concerns merit silence.

In a further irony, Pope Benedict, just last year, laid out a bold vision for the future and broke new ground in Catholic social teaching with his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”

Have the bishops made a wide effort to promulgate this encyclical? No. To apply it to the situation in the U.S.? No. To hold widely publicized discussions of it at Catholic colleges and universities? No.

The sad fact is that the Catholic Church in the U.S. — particularly the hierarchy — seems exhausted. Statistics point out that among native-born Americans, the Catholic Church keeps losing members to other faiths and to no faith at all. The influx of Catholic Latinos, which keeps up the total number of U.S. Catholics, seems to give many bishops an excuse to hop on the merry-go-round called denial.

Though I would love to see CST used as a tool for evangelization among those across the political spectrum, the Catholic Church first needs to be leading its people — especially the young — to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the first and supreme requirement of evangelization.

With more and more given this solid and indispensible foundation, then perhaps Catholics would let their faith determine their politics and find a common set of priorities and a new voice, a voice free from the enforced conformity of political ideology.

9:30 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 19, 2010

Noted with pleasure

I noted with pleasure earlier this week that the bishops of my state have written to urge passage of the START Treaty.  


Mass. Catholic bishops urge nuclear treaty support

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Roman Catholic bishops are urging the

adoption of a nuclear arms treaty.

In a letter to Massachusetts U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown,

the bishops say they support the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The deal, also known as the START treaty, but must be ratified by the

U.S. Senate.

The bishops say their support for the elimination of nuclear weapons

is based on a commitment to preserving human life and dignity.

Kerry helped shepherd the new START Treaty through the Senate Foreign

Relations Committee. Brown has yet to take a position.

The letter was signed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Fall River

Bishop George Coleman, Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell and

Worcester Bishop Robert McManus.



4:44 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 15, 2010

More on Rubio, evangelicals and CST

To expand on my last post. Rubio may indeed be an “honorable statesman,” even if he is misguided. Out of fairness, I should note that Catholics in general have a lot to learn from evangelicals about taking their faith seriously, frequent prayer and Scripture reading, sharing their faith, and in making people feel welcome in church.

But when it comes to Tea Party and Republican orthodoxy, the selfishness-is-good, self-sacrifice-is-for-losers philosophy of Ayn Rand is just the opposite of “a profoundly Catholic Christian humanism.” Yet so many politically "conservative" Catholics embrace it.

Rubio, in embodying the hyper--individualistic ideals of the Tea Party does not get a pass just because he opposes abortion. Even some athiests and agnostics oppose abortion. There is much more to Catholic social teaching than opposition to abortion on demand as practiced in the U.S., but most Catholics are woefully ignorant of it.

Catholic Social Teaching is a rich tradition, most fully developed in the last 120 years, a tradition that people and activists of ofther faiths envy. See this in the Oct. 25 issue of America by David Golemboski, an associate lobbyist  in Washington, D.C. with the national Catholic social justice lobby Network:

“Advocates for non-Catholic traditions have often said to me that they envy the Catholic Church for its richly developed and clearly articulated social principles. Catholic teaching resonates outside Catholicism. And the language of Catholic social teaching (human dignity, civic participation, preferential option for the poor) is used widely by faith-based coalitions to express shared priorities.”

12:25 am est          Comments

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marco Rubio and Catholic Social Teaching

On Nov. 5 in his “Distinctly Catholic” blog, Michael Sean Winters asks “Is Seanator-Elect Marco Rubio a Catholic?” Winters cites an article in 


In the article, Damian Thompson writes that the Tea Party darling  and rising GOP star from Florida “appears to have deserted the Catholic Church. He attends the evangelical Protestant Christ Fellowship Church in Miami, and donates lots of money to it as well. That is no secret – but until this week it wasn’t widely reported.”


Rubio’s new church seems to be aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, though this is not clear. Thompson cites another blog, “by the well-known Catholic blogger the “Liberal Traditionalist,” a law student from Florida called Eric Giunta, who wrote a post entitled “Marco Rubio: Catholic or Southern Baptist? Voters deserve to know.”


Giunta writes:


“Rubio is by all accounts an honorable statesman, and a true conservative whose policy proposals seem to be informed by a profoundly Catholic Christian humanism. I supported his Senate candidacy, and he certainly deserved the Catholic vote (and others as well).”


Now, I do not care a whit if Rubio has left the Catholic Church. What I take issue with is the paragraph immediately above. I passionately disagree that the money-first, market-worshipping, hyper-individualistic politics of the Rubio or the Tea Party are informed by anything approaching “a profoundly Catholic Christian humanism.”


This last phrase sounds like something made up by neo-conservative Catholic George Weigel. What does it mean? It’s just an apologetic, bombastic phrase meant to give a “Catholic” seal of approval  to a candidate a political conservative wants to support anyway.


What we need is to compare Rubio’s positions to those of actual Catholic social doctrine. Does he support the preferential option for the poor? I don’t think so. Does he support universal access to health care, not just in theory, but in actual effort and practice? I don’t think so. Does he actively support the principle of the universal destination of goods — meaning that everyone is entitled to a living wage and a share of the world’s resources? I don’t think so. Does he support nuclear disarmament? I don’t think so.


I also disagree with Winters bringing up the fact that the Catholic right should, perhaps, denounce Rubio as an “apostate” — even though it’s clearly offered as a rhetorical ploy. Even the sarcastic suggestion is pointless. Salvation can be found elsewhere than just Catholicism — and the hyper-individualistic, make-it-up-as-you go, and nationalistic and militaristic bent of so much of American evangelicalism suits Rubio’s politics much better than does Catholicism.

12:47 am est          Comments

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More faith-based social justice, not less

I would like to second this thought from Father John Dear, SJ, printed in his online column of March 23 on the National Catholic Reporter Website:

"When demagogue Glenn Beck urged Christians recently to quit any church that used the words "social justice" or "economic justice," he betrayed the depth of our cultural darkness. But poor Glenn Beck cannot even imagine the church's true political calling to be a disarmament movement, a revolutionary community of active nonviolence in resistance to war and empire."

The horrific massacre of Iraqi 60 Christians at church in in Baghdad last Sunday by terrorists points out yet again the folly and immorality of the U.S. invasion of that country. Christians were not singled out for special persecution under Hussein, the tyrant who was an American ally in the 1970s. 






11:40 pm edt          Comments

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