Sunday, November 28, 2010
Total Fail: Catholic Social Teaching and Evangelization
9:30 pm est
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Noted with pleasure
4:44 pm est
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
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
Worcester Bishop Robert McManus.
Monday, November 15, 2010
More on Rubio, evangelicals and CST
12:25 am est
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.
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:
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
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Marco Rubio and Catholic Social Teaching
12:47 am est
Nov. 5 in his “Distinctly Catholic” blog, Michael Sean Winters asks “Is Seanator-Elect Marco Rubio a Catholic?”
Winters cites an article in Telegraph.co.uk.
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.”
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.”
“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.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
More faith-based social justice, not less
11:40 pm edt
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.