Things I have no choice but to write

Category: catholic

Its Hard Being A Catholic These Days; It Is Time To Get Back To Basics

 

It is hard being a Catholic these days. Every day, I am assaulted by new reports of sexual abuse by priests, and new allegations of the Church hierarchy trying to cover it up. Worse still, are the Church’s defensive reactions to the media, which only serve to make the Church look even more dreadful. But is times like this which remind us of what God is actually calling us to do.

The daily news continues to be depressing. Every day there is new news about fresh allegations of abuse across the globe, new allegations of cover-ups by the institutional Church, or new resignations as a result of the allegations.

For the record: I do not excuse any of the behavior and we, the Church, deserve everything we get. We let this happen. We did not ask questions. We decided the institution was more important than children. We decided to protect the Church’s image, rather than the most vulnerable.

To be clear: By “we” I mean the whole Church, the institutional Church, the Faithful and the theologians/scholars. While I realize that the modern Church is not a democracy, we, the faithful, did not hold our leaders accountable. In this instance, the civic world is doing it for us. We have abrogated our duty.

This is hard for me personally. Much of my identity is based on being Catholic. I had 16 years of Catholic education, and the members of the clergy were more than often than not inspiring and great role models. I looked up to people in the Diocese of LaCrosse, WI, like Sister Renee my 3rd grade teacher, Father Bob Nelson, and Bishop John Paul. At Marquette University, I was inspired by Father David Haschka, Dan Schutte, and Father John Naus. Since graduating, I have a new set of heroes in Father Tom Reese, and Father Jon Pedigo.

This must be even harder for the 99% of the clergy who are honest laborers in the field of the Lord. I witnessed this recently when talking to a local priest, and I could tell the daily news of priestly abuse was taking its toll. I could see that wearing the collar was very difficult for him. This is a good man trying to build a community and save souls. His leaders, and his organization, let him down.

But it is times like these that we need to remember who we are as Catholics, the good that we do, and what our core values are. It is times like these, when we need to stand tall, fix the problems, we have, and more importantly, get back to our core values. It is times like these when we need to focus on doing good in the world.

What are those core values? Now is the time to re-read foundational documents of the modern Church to remind ourselves what we believe and what we are called to do. I look for solace in two key modern documents, Deus Caritas Est, and Faithful Citizenship. Both of which have powerful calls to action for the modern Catholic that we can scarcely ignore.

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was a marvel of clarity in its call to action. He reminded us that faith is not enough, and that we need to be active in the modern world. And that the best way to achieve justice in the real world is through politics.

The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics [28a]

It is clear from the encyclical that we are called to act on injustice in the real world to seek a just ordering of society, and that we must act on our values. We must take to heart the words of James 2:26, which reminds of that faith without action is like a body without a soul….dead.

What are our “civic” values as Catholics. Faithful Citizenship provides a clear framework for the key issues to be considered. They are:

  • The Right to all Life, and the Dignity of the Human Person
  • Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  • Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  • Solidarity, or We are One Human Family
  • Caring for God’s Creation

This document gives us a comprehensive list of the important issues of the day, in clear language. It reminds us that all of these issues are important, and that while some are more urgent, all of these issues need attention. (I prefer the two page version, here).

We have done wrong. We must stand up and take responsibility for the actions of our Church without defensiveness, justification, or rationalization.

We must also do good. We must get back to basics, and renew our efforts to be a positive force for change in the world. We must fight for human dignity. We must fight for justice in our families and in our communities. We must fight for a better life for the poor and vulnerable. We must fight for the rights and dignity of all workers. We must fight to bring together the people of the world into one human family. And we must fight to become worthy stewards of God’s creation.

It is in fighting for these values, our values, that we will be able to weather the storm we’re in, and ultimately renew our Church.

The Catholic Right is Missing An Important Opportunity

The Catholic Right is in a full lather about President Obama over some recent events. The shame of it all is that their intemperate reactions are actually damaging a golden opportunity to make serious progress on their own agenda.

The broader press has finally become aware of the sturm und drang that erupted over Notre Dame’s decision to ask President Obama to give the Commencement speech at its graduation. Peter Steinfels had a piece discussing the issue on May 8th in the New York Times. Those of us in the Catholic Democrats movement have been watching with a mix of amusement and horror since the news broke in March. I first found out when a family member, an alumnus, started ranting about writing Notre Dame out of his will. The issue wasn’t partisan, I was told. It was because President Obama was so rabidly “pro-abortion”.

The Notre Dame incident is the symptom of a larger problem. I was recently at a Silent Auction for my children’s school. I began chatting to someone in the Parish administration. This is someone who very nearly voted for President Obama, and someone with whom I agree on many social justice issues. We talked about our families, and we talked about politics, since I was shamelessly pitching Obama during the election season. “He’s a radical abortionist, you know,” they said, meaning Obama. I was floored. This was someone who I know to be a “Moderate California Republican”, which means they would be a centrist Democrat in any other state but Massachusetts. This is someone who does good work for the Church and who I had previously considered someone who I could come to common ground on difficult issues. It was as if a Catholic version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was playing itself out, and the aliens had just converted another one, right in front of my eyes. (An aside: In her defense, we both had had a drink or 2. We are Catholics, after all.)

Let’s make one thing clear. No one is “pro-abortion”. It is a horrible procedure. The Right uses this to insult the moderate elements in society, and hurl their self-righteous attitudes in peoples faces. It is a shibboleth which identifies the speaker as a reactionary who is more interested in the correctness

I was also struck by the controversy around the Freedom of Choice Act(FOCA). Even before the inauguration, some members of the US Conference of Bishops we circulating the rumor that President Obama would be signing FOCA as soon as it came to his desk. In early January, I got a call from someone with works in the Church locally asking me if the rumor was true. Recall this was in the middle of a global economic meltdown and in the middle of two wars. I called around to a couple of my contacts in DC, and the response was “universal”. There were other issues taking a much higher precedence, and by the way, it had not even been introduced in Congress. They actually have to write legislation first, remember?

Candidate Obama and President Obama have been clear from the beginning. Abortion is a serious moral issue. He has stated clearly that our focus should be to look for new ways to reduce the number of abortions in this country. During the campaign, he frequently called for people on both sides of the issue to find common ground, and work toward solutions that will lower the number abortions in this country.

Rather than focus on reducing the number of abortions in this country, the Catholic Right would have us believe that there is only One Solution: Overturning Roe V. Wade. The focus strictly on legal means while totally ignoring innovative solutions for eliminating the number 1 cause of abortions in this country: Unintended pregnancy.

Democrats in Congress have a solid track record of legislation seeking to get at root
cause of abortions in this country. A recent example is Senator Bob Casey’s Pregnant Women Support Act legislation. In addition, during the 2008 legislative session, Democrats introduced “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” bill (HR 1074) and the “Prevention First Act” (HR 819) bill, which shows they are serious about finding new solutions to serious problems posed by the practice of abortion. Their new approach could be a forerunner of a strategy that hopes to avoid the divisiveness of the past.

For the first time since 1973, we have an excellent opportunity to reduce the numbers of abortions in this country through a mix of incentives and social programs. People on both sides of this issue agree that there are simply too many abortions in this country. If we find common ground, if we work together, we can pass meaningful legislation and appropriate for meaningful social programs that will make a serious dent in this on-going tragedy. Why can’t the Catholic Right see this?

Sadly, my fear is that the abortion issue is merely a proxy for the partisan control for power. The Notre Dame incident is more about a down-at-the-heals Republican Party attempting to inject wedge issues into our discourse in order to protect the size of its base. The conservatives prey on Catholics who believe that abortion is a grave moral evil, and they do so for partisan gain. My hope is that on May 17th, the President’s soaring rhetoric will rise to the occasion and bring us together as a people to work on solutions, not divisiveness.

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