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A Spotlight on the uses and abuses of Catholic Social Teaching

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'Catholic Identity' with Heart


My favorite Catholic neo-conservative, George Weigel, gives Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted “full marks” for his Draconian actions regarding an unusual, heart-rending and complex medical situation in a Catholic hospital that resulted in the termination of a pregnancy to save the life of a mother of four young children. 

An article in the Jan. 21 issue of The National Catholic Reporter makes it clear that Weigel sees the bishop’s unnecessarily harsh behavior as a big win for "Catholic identity" and what Weigel calls “the Catholic brand.”

The nun who recommended that it would be better to save the life of the mother rather than that both mother and unborn child die has been excommunicated. The unrepentant Catholic hospital has been stripped of the Eucharist and its Catholic status. All this by Bishop Olmsted. This even though a number theologians have argued that in this case the all-important "intention" of the act was not to kill the unborn child but to save the mother.

It would seem that the picture of Catholic identity held up here is that our leaders are inflexible, punitive, lack common sense, and have no understanding of or sympathy for pregnant women. 

This case, and Weigel's typically facile rhetoric, does serve at least one useful purpose. It brings to mind what indeed should be part of true Catholic identity in a secular world. Yes, Catholics must be pro-life, but an enhanced Catholic identity would  oppose violence in all types of situations. I call this a "comprehensive culture of life," and I would argue that this is what the late Pope John Paul II was arguing for in his 1995 encyclical "The Gosepl of Life." In it, among other things, the late pope further develops Catholic doctrine toward abolition of the death penalty.

As an example of this “comprehensive culture of life,” John Paul II opposed the unjust invasion of Iraq in 2003. You may know that Mr. Weigel was a great cheerleader for this war of agression, touring the country saying that the pope's opposition was just the type of thing popes are expected to say. (Read: You can ignore the pope on this one). I saw Weigel say just this at Williams College; this while peddliing a book called “The Courage to be Catholic.”

Above all else, Catholic identity should identify us for all the world with our Master, the one who said to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to care for the least of His brothers and sisters.

This would mean that U.S. bishops would speak out against our hyper-violent society, in which, according to New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. (Where’s our “War on Murder?”)

Closer adherence of Catholic identity with Jesus Christ would require our bishops to speak out forcefully against our interventionist foreign policy. And how about a prophetic stand against the U.S. defense budget, larger than that of the rest of the world's combined? 

But not only bishops. If more and more Catholics became pro-life in every aspect of our lives, Catholic identity would not only be more faithful to the Gospel but Catholics would be much more influential, as Catholics, in our public life.

The term "Catholic identity" also brings to mind the fundamentalist, sectarian stance which would  have the "orthodox" not engage in dialogue or cooperative effort with those of other views in order to maintain iron-clad fidelity to true doctrine. 

Again, this may be “Catholic identity,” as defined by pre-Vatican II Baroque Catholicsm, but it is not in fidelity with the example of our Master, who hung out with sinners, tax collectors, women with shady pasts, etc. He also engaged and debated the Pharisees, those guardians of "orthodoxy."

Such engagement in the thick of the world, at times encountering hostility, was difficult and challenging for Him no doubt. But He was motivated by love and sustained by prayer. What a wonderful identity Catholics would have if both laity and hierarchy exemplified love and prayer in their enagement with the world.

There is plenty of injustice and crime and killing in the world — including the United States — for Catholics to confront without persecuting a dedicated nun who made the best call she could in a complicated and tragic situation.

12:23 am est          Comments

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bishops' Statement on Arizona Shootings

Here is the official statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the shootings. The statement is fine. However, I would be interested in the official analysis of the "wider implications" of this horrendous event, should there ever be one. 


Archbishop Dolan Calls for Prayers, Greater Respect for Human Life in Wake of Arizona Shooting

WASHINGTON -- (January 10, 2011) The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) renewed their call for respect for human life, as the nation mourned for those affected by the shooting that killed six, including John M. Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for Arizona, and wounded at least a dozen others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The incident occurred on the morning of January 8, when Giffords was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.
“Our prayers and concern are with those most immediately affected by this violence,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB. “We commend to God those who have died and we pray for the families who lost loved ones and for those who are suffering from their wounds. We also pray for the person who committed these acts and those who are responsible for his care.”
“While we as bishops are also concerned about the wider implications of the Tucson incident, we caution against drawing any hasty conclusions about the motives of the assailant until we know more from law enforcement authorities.” Archbishop Dolan said. “Violence of any kind must be condemned. When the target of a violent act is a public official, it shakes the confidence of the nation in its ability to protect its leaders and those who want to participate in the democratic process. As bishops we call once more for respect for the life and dignity of every person as we work together for the common good, seeking to address the various social and political issues that face us as a nation.”

1:28 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 8, 2011

“Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

These words of Pope John Paul II stand our for me in the wake of this abominable attack on a Congresswoman and the killing and critical wounding of many others today in Arizona.

We Americans are addicted to violent rhetoric and to violence itself. This tragedy is an opportunity for our Catholic Bishops in the U.S. to speak out in a prophetic way against all violence, not just the violence of abortion.



10:36 pm est          Comments

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