Things I have no choice but to write

Category: progressive

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 Left and Abortion: A New Perspective

Abortion is the single most divisive, polarizing and destructive issue in American politics. It is an issue that has been used by political consultants for decades to drive a wedge into the Catholic community, severely diluting our ability to have a voice on a range of other important topics.

Consider the following: If I say “Catholic Democrat” what is the next word that comes into your mind? “Abortion”. It is the issue that sucks all the air out of the room, and keeps us from making progress on other important issues like human rights, poverty, worker’s rights and stewardship of the environment. The politicians on both sides know it. They use this issue to bend our community to their political ends.

But a new study (“Induced Abortion: estimated rates and trends worldwide”, G. Sedgh, et al) published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, offers some data which may allow some common ground for Catholics. It may also allow us to make headway on other important issues such as the war in Iraq, poverty, human rights, and stewardship of the environment.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church is clear. As Catholics, we believe in a “consistent ethic of life” from the moment of conception to a natural death (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, November,2007) Abortion is an intrinsic evil, and morally unacceptable in all cases. Every abortion is a tragedy. Every abortion is a failure of the Catholic community. Every abortion is a failure of society to protect our women and our children. Every child deserves a chance at life, and every woman deserves unfettered healthcare options.

But what if making the practice illegal had no effect on the number of abortions? What if making the practice illegal actually caused more harm? What if making the practice legal actually caused the number of abortions to go down?

If all this were true, it could change the nature of debate, and strengthen our community and our ability to be a force for positive change in the world.

The facts of the study are clear. First, there is some encouraging news. The number of abortions is down worldwide for the period from 1995 to 2003, by from 46 million to 42 million. Every abortion is a tragedy, and a diminution of the number is a good thing.

However, the rest of the data in the study is bracing. We know, for instance, that unsafe abortion is major cause of maternal mortality, and a threat to women’s health. We also know that safe abortions have relatively few heath consequences.

The study’s most startling finding is that overall abortion rates are roughly similar between developed countries (where abortion is largely legal) and developing countries (where abortion is largely illegal). This indicates that criminalizing abortion has no effect on lowering the abortion rate, but it does have the effect of causing serious risks to women’s healthcare. In effect, criminalizing abortion does more harm than good.

The study also says that 48% of all abortions were unsafe, and that 97% of all unsafe abortions happen in the developing world. Of the 42 million abortions performed, 35 Million of them were performed in the developing world, where the practice is largely illegal.

If all this is true, then what is an American Roman Catholic to do? We need to work for an end to the practice of abortion, the same as before. However, we need to achieve this without criminalizing it, as this only causes a greater harm. As Democrats have shown with their “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” bill (HR 1074) and the “Prevention First Act” (HR 819) bill, 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 will avoid the divisiveness of the past, and give a glimmer of hope that we can make real progress on this issue in the future.

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