The U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Election of Donald Trump

November 14, 2016 at 10:19 am | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, The Hierarchy, U.S. Politics | 9 Comments
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When I began writing this article in my head, I envisioned accusing the U.S. Catholic bishops of colluding by their silence in the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

But as I began researching the matter, I realized that the bishops actually colluded in Trump’s election, that is, by what they said about the election, as well as by their silence about it.

Now let me be clear: I am not suggesting that every Catholic bishop in the United States colluded personally in Trump’s election. A few may have raised questions about him or his policies and statements. What I aim to indict here is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its leaders, who are elected by and represent the American bishops.

In truth, the USCCB did not say or publish a great deal about the election. But what they did publish is very telling. On October 13, four weeks before the presidential election, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the president of the USCCB, issued a “news release” under the heading “The Gospel Serves the Common Good, Not Political Agendas.” Here are the first two sentences of the first paragraph of that ”news release.”

“At this important time in our nation’s history, I encourage all of us to take a moment to reflect on one of the founding principles of our republic – the freedom of religion. It ensures the right of faith communities to preserve the integrity of their beliefs and proper self-governance.”

The second paragraph elaborates on the fact that the truths of the faith are not formed by a consensus of contemporary norms. The third paragraph calls on public officials to respect the rights of people to live their faith without interference from the state. And a middle sentence of the last paragraph says, “Too much of our current political discourse has demeaned women and marginalized people of faith.”

A priest friend recently said that the bishops could not speak out against Trump because it would be a violation of the separation of church and state. But this “news release” clearly speaks out for Trump, or if not Trump per se, then for the Republican candidate for president who was, in fact, Trump. This is so because the words “freedom of religion” are code for the culture wars agenda that the bishops have pushed throughout the Obama administration. “Freedom of religion” of course, means the bishops’ freedom to deny gay people the right to marry and adopt children and to deny women the reproductive health covered under the Affordable Care Act. Certainly this statement, and the court cases the USCCB have backed in recent years, are nor referring to the “religious freedom” of American Catholic women, the vast majority of whom report using or having used artificial contraceptives while sexually active.

It is also worth noting that the word “immigrants” appears nowhere in Archbishop Kurtz’s statement, although Donald Trump’s statements about Mexican immigrants contradict Catholic social teaching and were rebutted by Pope Francis.

The next “news release” from Archbishop Kurtz on behalf of the USCCB appeared the day after the election. The first two paragraphs congratulate Donald Trump and other elected officials, call for unity and acknowledge that “millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity for their families voted to be heard.”

The longest and most substantive paragraph, however, begins with the following sentence: “The Bishops Conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end.” It includes in that category of human life “all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life…migrants and refugees…(and) Christians and people of all faiths suffering persecution around the world, especially in the Middle East.” Then the final and longest sentence in the paragraph says,

“And we will look for the new administration’s commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form.”

I would argue that this “news release,” like the October one, makes quite clear that the most important thing about the election of President Trump is his working with the bishops on “life” issues and “religious freedom,” that is, outlawing abortion, depriving women of basic reproductive health care and gay people of their rights. Trump’s commitment to turning back already inadequate climate change regulations and deporting perhaps millions of the members of the growing majority group in the U.S. church are secondary.

Two events provide context for these statements. First, on the Sunday before the election, a Catholic priest, Frank Pavone, head of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, held an aborted fetus up over an altar, with a crucifix behind it, and spoke out in favor of Donald Trump and the Republican platform because of their position on abortion. By Monday evening, the night before the election, the released  video of Pavone and the fetus had several hundred thousand views.

The diocese of which Pavone is a priest, Amarillo, Texas, issued a statement saying that they were opening an investigation into Pavone’s actions and that his actions and the presentation in the video that he released are inconsistent with the Catholic faith. The archdiocese of New York, where the Priests for Life organization is located, stated that it does not have a relationship with Pavone and has no comment on the video. There has been no news from the Amarillo Diocese since, nor any further comment from the archdiocese. The video seems to have been taken down.

Then two days after the election, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and of a major Vatican secretariat under Benedict XVI, in an interview published in the Italian conservative daily Il Giornale, said that President-elect Donald Trump will uphold Christian values, and that he doesn’t “think the new president will be inspired by hatred in his handling of the immigration issue.” Burke went on to state that Trump understands the fundamental vales that are of importance to Catholics and will do everything he can to fight abortion.

To be fair, one U.S. bishop, Mark Seitz of El Paso, spoke out after the election about his concern for “brother and sister refugees and migrants who have escaped …unimaginable violence and suffering in their home countries…about our bothers and sisters who are Muslim who may be singled out…” But even this was after first expressing his joy that those at the first stages of their lives prior to birth would be receiving more protection. At least when he segued into his concern for refugees and migrants, Bishop Seitz began the sentence with “but,” acknowledging that the election of Donald Trump brings with it certain tensions, not to say contradictions. I have been unable to find anything from any other bishop, and certainly not from the USCCB itself, that was nearly as strong as Seitz’s statement.

Let me conclude, then, by making a few obvious points. Donald Trump has been divorced twice—the only president in the history of the country for whom that is the case. He has claimed the right, on a widely viewed video, to assault women sexually, and has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by twelve or thirteen women. I myself strongly suspect that he has paid for abortions for more than one of the many women he has forced himself on sexually over the years. Why wouldn’t he have done so?

Trump has also called Mexicans criminals and rapists, and promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. And let’s be clear, many of these are the same people who are  saving the U.S. Catholic Church from the plummeting memberships that afflict mainline Protestant denominations. Trump is also planning to revoke the nuclear arms deal the Obama administration forged with Iran–one of the most significant steps away from nuclear war in recent years. And he has declared the global climate catastrophe about which Pope Francis, the head of the universal Catholic Church, has spoken out in galvanizing and unambiguous terms, to be a hoax.

This is the man whom Cardinal Burke believes, and that almost all his brother U.S. bishops seem also to believe, is going to uphold Christian values? Seriously?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Greatest Environmental Threat?

August 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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As you perhaps know, earlier this week the Associated Press reported that in the month after it was published, fewer than half of the Catholics in the United States had heard of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. And only 23% of U.S. Catholics had heard about it at Mass.

Because of this, I was pleased to see that on July 22 the Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Nicholas Di Marzio, chose to use his regular column in the diocesan newspaper, The Tablet to tell the people of the diocese about Laudato Si’, and to urge them to study it using resources provided on the web page.

That is to say, I was pleased until I got to the following paragraph in the article:

“If we are to look at our environment in our world today, the most dangerous place for human beings seems to be a woman’s womb. In our own country, almost one million abortions are performed each year, not to count the worldwide number of abortions. Truly, the environment that is most dangerous to human beings and the one which causes the most direct threat is the misunderstanding of contraception and population control. Abortion can never be an answer to our ecological and psychological problems as human beings. Pope Francis says, ‘To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.’ He goes on to say, ‘A just society recognizes the primacy of the right to life from conception to natural death.'”

I was somewhat shocked by the bishop’s suggestion that abortion and contraception are the greatest threats to the  environment in today’s world. Pope Francis does speak out several times against abortion and against lack of respect for life more broadly. But the remarkable thing about the encyclical is that in it Pope Francis explains that these sins are integrally connected with other grievous sins against the poor and creation. Without saying so explicitly, he undercuts the ideological hierarchy of his predecessors in which sexual sins are vastly more serious than social ones.

I decided to write a letter to the Tablet explaining that what DiMarzio says is not what the encyclical says. I figured the odds on the letter getting published were .00000000000001. A month later, I realize that those odds were too optimistic.  So instead of sharing my thoughts in the Tablet, I’m sharing them here with you:

Dear Editor,

My deepest thanks to Bishop DiMarzio for his recent “Put Out into the Deep” column on Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home (July 22). I was especially moved by the Bishop’s memories of how his own grandfather “Francesco,” embodied one of the points Pope “Francesco” stresses in his encyclical, never wasting what God has given us, never colluding in today’s “throwaway” culture.

I am also grateful that Bishop DiMarzio’s calls us to study Laudato Si’ and provides a link to the Tablet’s on-line study guide. With Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other religious people around the world, not to mention atheists, Marxists, and “nones,” reading and responding to the encyclical, it certainly seems fitting that we Catholics should do so as well!

My one concern about the Bishop’s column is that he seems to suggest that the environment that causes “the most direct threat” to human beings is “the misunderstanding of contraception and population control.” Of course, Pope Francis does clearly state on several occasions in Laudato Si’ that abortion and lack of respect for life are part of the throwaway culture that threatens God’s creation.

But it would be a mistake to say that Laudato Si’ places abortion and contraception at the top of a hierarchy of sins against God’s creation. It is no coincidence that in his chapter on “integral ecology,” that is, on the inherent connection between all things, Pope Francis stresses the integral connection between environmental destruction and “the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the poor… buying the organs of the poor for resale, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted. This same use and throw away logic generates so much waste because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.” (123)

Pope Francis affirms the Church’s teaching on the preciousness of unborn life. He also challenges us to realize that this precious life extends to all of God’s creation–the earth we live on, the water we drink, the plants we eat and the air we breathe, and that we must revere all of it.

Sincerely,

Marian Ronan, Ph.D.

Research Professor of Catholic Studies

New York Theological Seminary

475 Riverside Drive

NY, NY 10115.

The Pope! The Pope! The Pope!

October 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Well, you have admit, Pope Francis is getting some serious media coverage.  As John Allen quips in the National Catholic Reporter today, “If a Las Vegas casino had opened a betting line eight months ago on the likelihood that within a year the most popular figure on the planet would be the pope, one has to imagine the odds would have been awfully long.” But here’s Francis, making headlines everywhere. In the latest  summary of articles on Christianity that I receive weekly from the New York Time, three of the pieces are about the new pope.  And there were two articles about him in the last issue of The Nation, that former hotbed of  anti-Catholicism.

This outpouring of interest in and enthusiasm for the pope inspires several thoughts in me. First of all, it suggests that the Catholics won the Reformation. Roman Catholicism is the biggest organized religion on earth, with 1.2 billion members. One journalist–don’t ask me which one– suggested recently that the pope is now  the global symbol not only of Christianity, but of religion. I can imagine a few Muslims taking issue with this. But as for Christianity, it’s hard to dispute. Part of the problem is the clothes—who wants to photograph the head of the World Council of Churches in a suit and tie when you can get these guys in archaic dresses and hats? The universal fixation on the pope also suggests that the Catholic emphasis on, not to say brutal enforcement of, unity does have its upside. Why talk to the 476 and counting heads of various Protestant denominations when you can just call Rome? Nearly a half a millennium after the posting of his ninety-five theses, Luther must be turning over in his grave.

But as Allen also mentions in his NCR article, despite the new pope’s enormous popularity, there are still a few sticking points. Allen calls them Francis’s “Older Son Problem,” referring to the elder sibling who got seriously pissed over his father’s ecstatic welcome of the returned prodigal brother. These include, according to Allen, some faithful Vatican personnel who were not pleased by the pope’s references to the “leprosy” of the Vatican court; some pro-life Catholics who feel less than appreciated by the pope’s suggestions that their efforts have been “over the top”; and some evangelical Catholics who have toiled heroically to defend and clarify orthodox Catholic identity and who suspect the pope is pulling the rug out from under them.

As for me, however, I’m with Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and University of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting: it’s Francis’s support of church teaching on sexuality that renders problematic this great outpouring of enthusiasm.  As Pollitt wonders, is warm Pope Francis’s  acceptance of church teaching on contraception, abortion, and the exclusion of women from ordination  “Sexism with a Human Face”?  In his New York Times blogGutting answers the question unambiguously: “Unless the pope is prepared to reject the hierarchy’s absolute condemnation of these actions (any abortion, any homosexual act, any use of artificial contraceptives) and revise the official teaching, his comments reflect merely changes of style and tone.” Gutting finds a few glimmers of hope—references by Francis to the infallibility of the faithful in matters of belief and to the “uncertainty” that always accompanies spiritual discernment.  But Gutting does not expect Francis to change Catholic sexual teaching.

Pollitt’s and Gutting’s concerns call to mind the explanation of the ideology of the post Vatican II church in Gene Burns’s illuminating 1994 study, The Frontiers of Catholicism: The Politics of Ideology in a Liberal WorldBurns, a sociologist, argues convincingly that after Vatican II the hierarchy—the ranking—of the various Roman Catholic ideological positions underwent rearrangement. Before the Council, Catholic theological doctrine was the single most important part of Catholic thinking, with social and sexual teaching equally important but secondary. In the nineteenth century, for example, abortion and belief in the separation of church and state were equally gravely sinful, but heresy was worse.

With Vatican II, however, the church’s (belated) acceptance of the modern world undercut the primacy of Catholic doctrine per se. By admitting, for example, that a human being does not have to be Catholic—to believe in Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church—in order to be saved, the church undercut the absolute status of its theological doctrines.

But as Burns explains, no institution gives up its claim to absolute truth and power willingly. After the Council, then, the RCC replaced its claim to absolute doctrinal truth with a claim to the absolute truth of its sexual teaching, based not in the Catholic tradition, but in Natural Law. According to Natural Law, all human beings are forbidden to have abortions, to engage in homosexual acts, to divorce their spouses. The Catholic church became the keeper of this universally mandatory law. Thus in the ideological hierarchy, as defended and enforced by the Catholic Church,  universal (Catholic) sexual teaching is on the top, and mandatory for all; Catholic doctrine comes second, and is mandatory only for Catholics;  and Catholic social teaching comes third, and is optional, that is,  subject to individual “prudential judgments” (as the American bishops sometimes put it.)

It sometimes seems as if Pope Francis isn’t privy to this ideological hierarchy–or at least he doesn’t grasp that social justice is entirely optional. Who knows–under his leadership, the Catholic ideological hierarchy may be rearranged again; maybe all three kinds of teaching will get put on an equal level.  If the Catholic ideological hierarchy changed after Vatican II, it could, conceivably, change again.

But let’s not kid ourselves: such ideological reconfigurations don’t happen easily, or quickly, as the repression of liberation theology by John Paul II in the 1980s suggests. In the short-term, and for a good while thereafter, Pope Francis will be keeping sexual teaching on the top (and, to switch metaphors, women and gays on the bottom) no matter how warm and loving the style in which he does so.

Further Thoughts on the Church and the “Obamacare” Contraceptives Mandate

November 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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A number of things about the behavior of the US Catholic Bishops during the recent presidential campaign scandalized me, to use an old-fashioned word. But nothing equalled my horror at the bishops’ decision to stage their “Fortnight of Freedom” campaign in protest against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate of free contraceptive coverage four months before the presidential election. The following is a slight revision of an article I published last spring in EqualwRites, the Philadelphia Catholic feminist newsletter for which I’ve been writing for nearly twenty years. I think some of what I discuss there is worth reviewing as we move toward implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a second Obama administration.

 

The re-election of Barack Obama would seem to have settled the question of the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican candidate promised to eviscerate on his first day in office. But the conflict between the US Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over the act’s mandated provision of contraceptives is unlikely to end any time soon, alas. The bishops, as you will recall, rejected the administration’s proposed compromise that insurance companies, not employers, cover the costs of contraceptives under the ACA. The bishops even claimed that individual employers be exempted from providing such coverage if it violated their “freedom of religion.” I imagine Cardinal Dolan and Co. are planning new forms of protest even as I write.

As we anticipate the next stage in the bishops’ war to control women’s reproductive functions,  there are, I believe, two aspects of the previous round of controversy that deserve attention.  The first is the failure of a wide range of journalists and commentators, including white male liberal Catholic commentators, to so much as hint that the question of contraceptive coverage has anything to do with women.

Before I examine what these commentators said, let’s clarify a few points. Not only do 98% of US Catholic women report having used contraceptives at some time, a significant majority of Catholic women—62%—supported the Affordable Care mandate that Catholic and other religious hospitals and universities provide free contraception coverage as part of their insurance coverage. Indeed, a majority of US Catholics across the board support that mandate.

But the commentators, even Catholic commentators, rarely addressed this reality in the months leading up to the election. Early on there was Michael Sean Winters’s article, “J’accuse,” in the National Catholic Reporter.  Let’s set aside Winters’s outrageous comparison of the contraceptives mandate with the first in a series of anti-semitic events, the Dreyfus affair, that culminated in the Holocaust. (“J’Accuse” is the title of a famous newspaper article by the French writer Emile Zola accusing the French government of antisemitism for convicting Captain Dreyfus of  treason.) Only once in the entire article does Winters use the word “woman,” and that in reference to Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association, presumably one of the 2% of Catholic women who has never used, or needed, contraception (and who at that point agreed with him). Instead he states, in typically Catholic binary language, that “It is a mistake of analysis to see this as a decision about contraception. The issue here is conscience.” No reference is made to the National Institutes of Medicine ruling that contraception coverage is an essential part of preventive health care for women, never mind to the millions of actual US Catholic women whose health, and sometimes lives, depend on such care.

And Winters isn’t the only one. The NCR, in its February 9th editorial, echoes Winters’s claim that “conscience, not contraception, is the essential issue,” while not using the word “women” once. And on the PBS News Hour, Mark Shields and David Brooks likewise managed to reject the HHS mandate two weeks in a row without uttering the word “women.” On Weekend Edition, NPR’s Scott Simon, apparently oblivious to the statistics on US Catholic women’s support of the mandate, opined that just because Catholic women use contraceptives doesn’t mean that they support the denial of religious freedom to their church. And in their February 24 editorial, the more moderate Commonweal also rejected the mandate on the basis of religious freedom, though it does at least nod in women’s direction in the last paragraph.

A few Catholic women—Gail Collins in the New York Times, and moral theologian Lisa Fullam on the Commonweal blog page—did indeed speak out. By and large, however, the most recent phase of the contraceptives controversy was a phallic struggle between white Catholic men, bishops and lay journalists, on one side, and the Obama administration. The majority of US Catholics and even larger majorities of Catholic women, people of color, and Millenials, support the mandate. This struggle may be about conscience, but it’s even more about anyone daring to tell old white guys what to do.

The other dismaying aspect of the current  “(some) Catholics against the HHS mandate” brouhaha is that it feeds into a growing Right Wing effort to undermine access to contraceptives in the US and around the world. As Mark Oppenheimer explains in a January 20th New York Times op-ed piece, after decades of supporting the use of contraceptives, increasing numbers of US Evangelicals are now joining Catholic conservatives in their opposition to them. One aspect of this is the “Quiverfull” movement, which advocates large families, as exemplified by the Duggar family, the enthusiastic Rick Santorum supporters featured on the reality show, “19 Kids and Counting.”

All these kids jumping around can seem rather jolly, but there’s scary stuff underneath these developments. One is the increasing support for the argument—also advanced by the institutional Church—that most contraceptives are abortifacients. This is argued because oral contraceptives and others that contain hormones make the endometrium less receptive to embryonic implantation. But the embryo, opponents of contraception argue, is a person from the moment of conception. Or, as the American Association of Pro-Life ObGyns puts it, “There is an unarguable logic connecting the contraceptive act and the abortive act.

But as Jamie Manson argues convincingly on her NCR blogpage,* even Catholic Health Association ethicists have acknowledged that neither the IUD nor Plan B work by preventing implantation; instead, they prevent fertilization. At first, the argument against Ella seems more compelling, since its “chemical structure is similar to that of RU-486,” an acknowledged abortifacient not covered under ACA. But Ella comprises a much smaller dose of the chemical similar to the one in RU-486 and functions to delay or prevent ovulation. As an article from the British medical journal the Lancet indicates, only if Ella is given in a dose far beyond that provided under the ACA can implantation be impaired.”

Scientific evidence does not deter those determined to deprive women of reproductive health care, however. Thus far, attempts to enforce this belief by getting the “personhood” amendment added to state constitutions have failed, but the “personhood” movement continues its efforts. Meanwhile, Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs committee voted eleven times in October of 2011 to block funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides reproductive services to women, men, and young people in 150 countries around the world.

Surely Michael Sean Winters, Mark Shields, the NCR, and the rest, in their opposition to the ACA-mandated contraceptives coverage by Catholic universities and hospitals, do not intend to support the drive to make contraceptives illegal. I fear that by eliding women, and especially Catholic women, from the conversation, they have done so despite their good intentions

An Ayn Rand Catholic?

August 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As you surely know by now, Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. Paul Ryan, of course, is the author of a budget passed by the US House of Representatives in March that would have cut Medicaid and other health programs by $770 billion and other programs, including welfare, food stamps, agriculture subsidies and transportation by nearly $2 trillion. You also may have heard that Ryan is a Roman Catholic.

What you may not know is that the great inspiration of Ryan’s career in politics is Ayn Rand, the 20th century Russian emigre novelist, and political ideologue. Ryan announced this himself at a meeting of the Ayn Rand Society in 2009, that is to say, three years ago. Rand was adamantly opposed to any connection between the government and the economy. She had her reasons: she’d grown up under Soviet communism and believed that Stalinist repression of free enterprise was the greatest evil known to humankind. Her philosophy is the absolute reversal of all things communist: laissez-faire economics, radical individualism, every tub on its own bottom. She despised the New Deal, and hated Eisenhower for not eviscerating it. (To learn more about all this you can listen to an interview of the Stanford University Ayn Rand scholar, Jennifer Burns, on today’s Brian Lehrer Show  on WNYC).  This radical economic individualism is what Ryan’s budget embodies and what Romney has endorsed by choosing Ryan as his running mate.

The other thing worth knowing about Rand, however, is that she was an absolute atheist. This, according to Dr. Burns, was why, despite her opposition to communism, she was not popular in the 1950s and 1960s, during the “Cold War.” Communism was identified with atheism, so an atheist anti-communist was a contradiction in terms. She was also adamantly opposed to libertarianism, believing it was hypocritical, and hated Ronald Reagan because of his adulation of the Religi0us Right. In some respects, she was an individualist’s individualist, belonging to no party except her own. This is the great inspiration of Paul Ryan’s career in “public service,” as he describes it.

In her interview Dr. Burns argues that as Paul Ryan has become a figure on the national stage, he has tried to put some distance between himself and Ayn Rand’s atheism, but that his economic position is still Randian through and through. And if you’ve studied much philosophy you realize that it’s not so easy to to divide something like the religious/metaphysical dimension of a world-view from its economic/political perspective: atheism fits pretty well with massive individualism and letting the market take care of everybody. Alternatively, it’s kind of hard to believe in the Christian God and leave your neighbor to shift for him or herself. (See, for example, Luke 10:25–29.)

So as a Randian, can Paul Ryan be a Catholic? Well, as another Paul said, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so I guess Ryan is as much a Catholic as the rest of us sinners. It’s worth noting, however, that the US Catholic bishops criticized Ryan’s budget fairly strongly, arguing that it fails to meet the moral criteria of “promoting the common good of all.” With the choice of Ryan as Romney’s running mate, the bishops’ criticism is getting a certain amount of play, in an editorial in the New York Times, for example.

Trouble is, hardly any ordinary Catholics are aware of the bishops’ criticism of the Ryan budget. (I’ve been taking a survey.) What they’re aware of is that the bishops sponsored a two-week protest against the Obama administration’s denial of Catholic institutional and individual entrepreneurial religious freedom. I’d be willing to bet my vast fortune that not fifty priests in the entire country addressed the bishops’ criticism of the Ryan budget from the pulpit. How many do you supposed spoke of the “Fortnight of Freedom”? Meanwhile, I note that Paul Ryan’s ideological mentor, Ayn Rand, was adamantly pro-abortion. Wonder what Paul-baby will make of that one?

The Seven Deadly Sins

May 1, 2012 at 9:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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The “seven deadly sins” have a long history in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Rooted in the Book of Proverbs, they were consolidated in the 4th century by Evagrius Ponticus, a monk, and reconfigured in 590 CE by Pope Gregory I; Dante likewise included them in his Divine Comedy.

The seven deadly sins have had a very long run. In parochial school in Philadelphia in the 1950s I memorized the pre-Vatican II version and I still know it by heart:

Pride;

Covetousness;

Lust;

Anger;

Gluttony;

Envy;

Sloth.

But since Vatican II, as you perhaps know, very much has changed, including a shift from a broader notion of the Catholic Christian faith to a narrower and narrower fixation on sexual morality . Appropriately enough, the seven deadly sins have been reconfigured to reflect these changes. Now they are:

Abortion, even if mother and child will die without it;

Gay sex and marriage;

Failing to work actively against these first two sins;

Use of artificial contraceptives;

Women getting ordained, or even discussing the possibility;

Spending too much time on justice and peace;

Advocating for health insurance in a country where millions don’t have it.

I trust that those of my readers who are Catholic will take note of these changes and behave accordingly.

Can the Church Hurry Up?

March 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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To give you a little background on my approach to this question, I begin with a story. It’s 2000 or 2001 and my husband, the Baptist minister, and I are in Siena on holiday. We are visiting one of the basilicas in Siena; I forget which one. In the basilica we come upon a statue of a young man. Next to the statue is a sign that says “This is a statue of Blessed Joachim Piccolomini, who died in 1305 and was beatified in 1609. The Servite fathers and brothers of this basilica never cease to pray for the canonization of Blessed Joachim. If you or someone you know has been blessed by a miracle through the intercession of a Blessed Joachim, please notify the Servite Superior, Father So and So.”

My husband has learned to value much about the Catholic tradition in our quarter century or so together, but I have to confess, he began laughing hysterically as we read the sign.

“It’s been four hundred years since he was beatified!!” he shouted? “And they’re still praying!?”

“This should give you some insight into the women’s ordination issue,” I replied.

Blessed Joachim seems to have been a holy fellow, utterly dedicated to the poor. But he is not my main concern today. My concern is that in recent months I have been reading like a crazy person about climate change and related catastrophes–extreme weather, desertification, floods, climate migration by hundreds of millions, water shortages, and wars that those shortages are guaranteed to produce. (See Gwynne Dyers Climate Wars if you need the details.) By 2050 we are going to be into all of this big time. And some of it much sooner.

So my question is, can the Church–and here I mean the Catholic Church, the second largest religious body on earth–hurry up and get its members to focus on the imminent destruction of nature, including the Life with which it is otherwise so preoccupied?

Now in point of fact, Pope Benedict XVI has made a number of statements about the seriousness of the climate crisis. At the Third World Water Forum in 2003 the Vatican representative  actually called the world water crisis, “in the broad sense of the concept, a right to life issue.”

Trouble is, I have never heard the world water crisis or climate change mentioned from a Catholic pulpit. Certainly not the way I have heard the rights of the unborn stressed from the pulpit. Yet truly, if the human race is washed away, or if it incinerates itself with nuclear weapons as Pakistan has already threatened to do to India over water shortages there, will this not be the killing of the unborn on a scale that abortion could never possibly effect?  So why aren’t the (remaining) Catholic priests in the US denouncing the massive  CO2 production by American Catholics (including me, let me add) that threatens God’s very creation? Why isn’t the Vatican ordering them to do this?

Now we know that the institutional church can hurry up. It recently decided to ignore the time limits on the canonization process–not on behalf of Blessed Joachim, from whom the Servites must continue to pray–but for Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified in May.

The question is, can the Vatican and the bishops get a move on with regard to the survival of nature, including all God’s children? Or is the beatification of one of their colleagues, with whose politics they identify, more important than that?


The Church of Anti-Football?

January 27, 2011 at 11:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In the past few years, my church’s fixation on abortion seems not to have receded very much. Most recently, we have the spectacle of Sister of Mercy Margaret McBride being excommunicated for chairing an ethics committee that decided that the death of a fetus alone is better than the mother of the fetus dying along with it. Before that we observed the US Catholic bishops opposing the extension of health care to millions of Americans on the off-chance that the bill providing the coverage might increase abortions, though experts assured us that this was not the case. And before that a number of those same bishops, including the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,  Cardinal George of Chicago, denounced the University of Notre Dame for inviting the first African-American president in the history of the country to be its commencement speaker exclusively because of his position on abortion. As George Dennis O’Brien argues in his new book, Roman Catholicism is becoming the “Religion of Anti-Abortion.”

But Anti-Abortion is not the only kind of religion. As Ben McGrath puts it in his provocative article in this week’s New Yorker, the United States has a secular religion–football. Such a notion is hard to dispute at any time, but just now, as many millions of American families are gathering around football’s flat screen altar for the greatest liturgy of the year, it’s a no-brainer. And if McGrath is correct, the Religion of the Anti-Abortion is not the only one facing serious conflicts; the secular religion of football is confronting a few as well.

These conflicts circulate around what McGrath’s characterizes as “the concussion crisis,” and particularly around the growing awareness of a condition called CTE–chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  CTE is “a condition that is believed to result from major collisions—or from the accumulation of subconcussions that are nowhere near as noticeable, including those incurred in practice.”

The public was introduced to this condition in a series of articles by New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz. In the early part of the 2000s, Schwarz began learning of increasing numbers of former NFL players who seemed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Some had become homeless after losing their capacities. Others had committed suicide.  Journalist colleagues began to call Schwarz the “Alan Brockovich” of football for this heroic (and unpopular) work. Mothers of young football players were some of his most avid readers. McGrath’s narration of Schwarz’s work is such a terrific read, it would be worth your attention even if there were nothing more to it.

But of course there’s a lot more to it. As McGrath indicates, football players are being harmed at all age levels. In Spirng Hill Kansas an honors student dropped dead from a subdural hematoma after making an interception at his high school’s homecoming game. Another high school player dropped dead of a “heart stoppage,” and a third committed suicide after sustaining a season-ending concussion. And these are just the anecdotes; wait till somebody starts collecting the statistics.

Some will argue that high school students, as minors, deserve protection, whereas professional football players have a perfect right to render themselves brain-dead if they want to. But as McGrath also points out, “two-thirds of N.F.L. players are African-American, and the white players do not typically come from New Canaan. The sport has long had a heavy underclass or, at least, working-class strain.” So the people getting their brains smashed may not be aware that they have very many other options.

I could end this right here, but I’d like to return for a moment to the matter of my church being the Religion of the Anti-Abortion. The fact is, Roman Catholicism is also intimately involved in the American secular religion of football. Catholic high schools and colleges all over the US field football teams. But the US bishops don’t seem too concerned about the serious harm that these young men risk by playing this sport. Unless I missed something, the US bishops have not as yet attacked the University of Notre Dame for endangering the lives, or perhaps I should say, the Life of their players.

I can only speculate on the reasons for this. Perhaps the bishops think they have no right to intervene in a matter which, unlike abortion, is personal. Perhaps, although they feel perfectly free to tell women what they should and should not do with their bodies, they don’t feel entitled to issue such orders to men. Or perhaps the financial implications for Catholic high schools and colleges are just too massive. In the last year for which there are figures, the University of Notre Dame earned $59.8 million from its football program, though that is down from previous years. And a lot of other Catholic schools are in financial difficulty as well.

Maybe a bishop will write back and fill us in.

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