Archive for usccb

Reconsidering Our Ecclesiastical Priorities: Penance and Social Justice

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Reports out of the Fall USCCB assembly have been mixed, to say the least. News outlets and social-media sources have effectively reported on some of the more controversial statements, discussions, proposed texts, and documents to be the subject of consideration in Baltimore in recent days. To be fair, not everything has been negative. Take, for example, the USCCB’s interest in social media and internet presence of the church. On Sunday the USCCB hosted a gathering of significant Catholic bloggers that allowed for the bishops and those who were providing online content in a variety of forms to interact. The event included a panel discussion with clergy and laity who are actively engaged with social media today. The reports about this event from colleagues has been generally positive (by way of full disclosure, I was invited by the secretary for communications to participate in this event, but had to decline due to pastoral ministry obligations).

However positive the initial steps to explore social media and internet presence as modes of evangelization might have been, the news chatter has been preoccupied with some more disconcerting reports. The first was related to Cardinal Dolan’s presidential address in which he called for a more concrete sense of penance. Citing Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dolan asserted that the Second Vatican Council’s call for penance has, rather than being taken up wholeheartedly, seems to have diminished from sight. He said:

What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.

He rightfully challenges us as members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, to be aware of the need for consistent penance and, as we recall at the start of every Eucharistic liturgy, to be mindful of “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” He continued:

And so it turns to us, my brothers. How will we make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own loves and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve? Once again, we will later this week approach the Sacrament of Penance.

And we’ll have the opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the Sacrament. We will “Keep the Light On”during the upcoming Advent Season!
The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.

For the most part, this is a welcomed attempt to draw our attention the perennial need we have to be aware of our own individual sinfulness. Yet, what is more absent than present is the admittance and call for continual awareness of our collective sinfulness.

Contrary to Francis of Assisi’s powerful expression that human beings are to be reconcilers and peacemakers (see Canticle of the Creatures) — and Francis is of course the paradigmatic model of Christian penitence — this exhortation for the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year seems to miss the mark.

What the Cardinal does not seem to consider is the individualistic quality of such an act, one in which unity might be seen as ghettoized superficiality rather than an expression of genuine solidarity. My understanding of the lifting of the mandatory abstinence from meat throughout the year in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) is rooted in this very fact. Instead of something as trivial as dietary abstinence, the faithful was simultaneously challenged and empowered to engage in more constructive, solidarity-building, and meaningful forms of good deeds and penance.

It’s hard to see how the reinstatement of meatless Fridays will effect the spirit of penance Dolan genuinely and legitimately sees as part of the spirit of Vatican II.

Furthermore, what makes this suggestion controversial is that, some have argued, it is not the “people in the pews” who are in most need of renewed emphasis on penance in their Christian lives — God knows (literally) how difficult it is to live authentic Christian discipleship today in light of the various pressures from all sides and conflicting narratives that both come from within and without the Church — BUT, there is a need for our ecclesiastical leaders, especially the bishops, to demonstrate their embrace of penance.

There are manifold ways in which we could offer a litany of the things our bishops have “done and have failed to do” in the last decades and in recent years. The model of the Archbishop of Dublin and our own Cardinal Séan O’Malley in the penitential act seeking forgiveness for the abuse cover-ups in Ireland some years back is a good start. Yet, the US bishops have failed to do something similar.

Then there is the controversial text that, thank God, was not approved this week (despite it still garnering a plurality of bishop support). The proposed statement, “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times: A pastoral message on work, poverty and the economy,” was a pathetic shadow of the true depth, richness, and challenge of Catholic Social Teaching. This was made most clear by the retired Archbishop (and former USCCB President) Joseph Fiorenza. According to an NCR article, Fiorenza publicly decried the draft text and noted that it “did not have a single reference, even in a footnote, to the bishops’ landmark 1986 pastoral letter, ‘Economic Justice for All,; which the bishops developed after years of consultation with economists and other experts. The letter addressed a full range of applications of Catholic social teaching to economic policy and practice in the United States.” The article continued:

“I am very disappointed, and I fear that this draft, if not changed in a major way,” will harm the U.S. bishops’ record on Catholic social teaching, he said.

“The title of this document is about work, and it seems you only gave one sentence to our social teaching … on the right of workers to unionize,” he said.

“One sentence,” he added. “It’s almost like it was an afterthought. But when you look at the compendium of the social teachings of the church, there are three long paragraphs on the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike.”

Those kinds of rights are “at the heart of our social teaching” on the rights and dignity of workers, he said.

Indeed this is most troubling. That the bishops would even consider a text containing such an oversight bespeaks some serious problems. On the one hand, it might be symbolic of the shift in the US episcopacy toward a political engagement with so-called “conservative” views that have been extraordinarily hostile to organized labor and the rights of workers in recent years. On the other hand, it might be symbolic of the general ignorance of the USCCB’s textual history and Catholic Social Teaching more broadly on the part of recently appointed bishops in recent years and decades.

That 134 bishops would still vote to pass such a text is halting. (The text failed to gain the necessary votes even with 134 yes; 84 no, and 9 abstentions).

The NCR piece continued:

“Why don’t we address [in the proposed statement] the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, beginning with Paul VI in Populorum Progressio [his 1967 encyclical letter, "On the Progress of Peoples"] and John Paul II, Benedict XVI: They speak about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots and the right to a redistribution — redistribution has become a dirty word, yet the [recent popes] have said that this must take place,” he said.

“There’s not a word about this” in the proposed new statement on the economy, he said.

“I fear that this will not be an effective instrument” for the bishops to address the current woes in the U.S. economy or the people suffering from those problems, Fiorenza said.

What is striking, and fearsome at the same time, is that the most vocal critics of this new direction are the retired bishops. Where are the current bishops who should know better? When the retired auxiliary bishop of Hartford, Peter Rosazza, asked the chair of the drafting committee whether an economist had been consulted — the disturbing answer was that none had! How did these bishops responsible for drafting a document on the economy propose to do so without consultation of economists, ethicists, and theologians?

These two issues to come out of the Fall USCCB meeting are indeed troubling, but we must not get too carried away with concern just yet. What this signals to me is the need for the Church in the United States to collectively and genuinely reconsider its priorities. What is important? What are the signs of the time? and How do we read these signs in light of the Gospel?

Photo: CNS/Pool

A Prayer for Election Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published this prayer before an election. Today, as we go to the polls to cast our votes for our representatives in public office, may we remain open to the spirit and, as this prayer so pointedly reminds us, remember those whose voices are so infrequently or never heard — that we can look at all human persons as our brothers and sisters, and stand up for their rights and against injustice. May our actions and our lives truly reflect the Reign of God, which, as this prayer also reminds us, is a Kingdom of justice and peace!

Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city and state and country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.

We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Photo: Stock

The Catholic Vote: Thirty-Years Later

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Contrary to what is proffered by a certain young man about my age and his colleagues over at a website (unsanctioned by any official Roman Catholic authorizing body) by the same name as this blog post, the Catholic vote is not constituted by a singular issue, nor is there — following my earlier post on this subject (“A Tale of Two Catholicisms: A Response to Molly Worthen“) — a single “Catholic” candidate for political office. The partisan quality of the discussion and debate centering on the moral responsibility, role, and stakes of participating in the representative democracy of the United States has reached an all-new high.

This is where Cathleen Kaveny’s excellent essay, “The Single-Issue Trap: What the Bishops’ Voting Guide Overlooks,” comes in. Focusing her comments on the USCCB’s 2007 and 2011 Catholic voter’s guides (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship) within the context of the USCCB’s previous guide of 1976 (Political Responsibility: Reflections on an Election Year), Kaveny keenly observes the shifts in emphasis, the implicit political manipulation, and the ostensible lacunae of the current document that serves as the only sanctioned text from the US bishops on assisting Catholics in the civil duty to vote.

The first point of contrast between the 1976 and later guides that Kaveny notes is the shift in the optimistic and ecumenical tone of the former document, which called all Christians to “join together in common witness and effective action to bring about Pope John [XXIII's] vision of a well-ordered society based on truth, justice, charity, and freedom,” toward a more pessimistic and narrow vantage point of late. Kaveny writes:

By 2007 these optimistic assumptions had evaporated. The tone of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is decidedly battle-weary, suggesting a lament for a nation mired in political crisis and trapped in a moral self-contradiction verging on hypocrisy. Whereas in 1976 the bishops addressed the challenge of political engagement, by 2007 the predominant concern is moral skepticism and relativism; the bishops worry more about the human capacity to recognize moral truth than about the motivation to act upon it. Accordingly, their text emphasizes the church’s capacity to teach the moral truth relevant to political society. “What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and about the sacredness of every human life helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason.” As its title indicates, the guide is concerned about faithful citizenship—citizenship exercised in accordance with the truths recognized by the Catholic faith.

In summary of the text (which, if you haven’t read it in full, you really should), Kaveny rightly emphasizes the intention to remain objective on the part of the USCCB vis-á-vis particular political candidates. However, the noticeable shift in what Kaveny describes as “prioritization of the issues” seems to lead some readers to think that theres is always an implicit endorsement of a give candidate. Importantly, the document makes clear that:

“a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism [and, NB, these are only two examples of the many forms of intrinsic evil about which the Church teaches and are contained throughout the document], if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (emphasis added).

Equally important, the bishops write:

“a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (emphasis added).

It is significant that there are very nuanced, if imperfect, presentations of guidance in forming one’s conscience to vote in a morally upstanding way. What often gets distilled as a “black-and-white” dichotomy — Candidate X is “pro-life,” and Candidate Y is “pro-choice,” therefore you “have to vote for Candidate X” — is, in fact, much more nuanced.

These nuances and complexities of the moral guidance of the bishops must be taken into consideration and, as it is clear within the text, the so-called “pro-life” position of a candidate does not exonerate that candidate from due consideration of other positions that person might hold concerning life issues, concerning systemic injustices, and the like. Similarly, there is a clear provision to permit Catholic voters to cast a ballot for someone who might hold a particular position seemingly in favor of an intrinsic evil, provided that (a) the voter is not casting his or her vote precisely in favor of that position and (b) there isn’t another candidate who espouses a position on an intrinsic evil, whether or not it is the same issue (i.e., abortion does not have to be the only “intrinsic evil” at stake).

Kaveny wisely points out that the wording of the USCCB 2007 and 2011 documents, in contradistinction to the 1976 text, can be misleading because of its particular phraseology in terms of ordering and emphasis in making these two points. However, a careful reader notes the twofold imperative (don’t let a claim to be against an intrinsic evil override critical examination of a given candidate’s other morally inadequate positions and that you can vote for a candidate who espouses a position in favor of an intrinsic evil provided that you’re not voting for that candidate in favor of that issue per se and that no other non-intrinsic-evil-espousing-candidate exists).

Another deficiency of the 2007 and 2011 documents, Kaveny writes, is the omission of other possibilities of real consequence in an age of pandering to various constituencies. “The bishops do not even raise, for example, the possibility that a particular candidate (or party) might fabricate a commitment to end abortion for strategic political reasons. Forming Consciences does not caution voters to evaluate the sincerity with which a candidate holds a particular position; rather, it seems simply to assume candidates will enact their platforms if elected to office.”

Kaveny offer four areas of consideration Catholic voters should weigh in making a decision about a candidate:

  1. Competence—does the candidate have the intellectual capacity, the experience, the temperament, and judgment to do the job?
  2. Character—does the candidate have a good set of moral values and the integrity to pursue them in situations of temptation and fear?
  3. Collaboration—can the candidate work well with other people, both political allies and opponents?
  4. Connections—what are the moral and practical ramifications of the candidate’s political and financial connections for the manner in which he or she will carry out the job? Politicians, after all, do not act alone; they operate within networks of political power, including party affiliations, lobbyists, and big corporate and individual donors.

She goes on to make some very important and compelling observations about the act of voting and the role of elected office as such.

The point of electing candidates to an office is to empower and enable them to accomplish a set of tasks in service of the common good. Various qualities go into being an effective political servant…

What are the virtues of a good public servant? Recent Catholic moral theology has witnessed a resurgence of interest in the role of virtue in the moral life; it would make sense to extend the analysis to the virtues necessary for political leadership, particularly in a pluralistic liberal democracy such as our own.

In that context we might ask, Does someone who does not support overturning Roe possess ipso facto a defective moral character that renders him or her unfit for office? In my view, the answer very much depends on the reasons underlying the position. Living in a pluralistic society requires citizens to develop a sense of which views fall within the category of “reasonable, but wrong.” So, for example, the character of a candidate who thinks that unborn life has no value whatsoever at any stage in pregnancy should be evaluated differently from one who thinks that American society is too divided over the issue to make fundamental alterations to U.S. constitutional law.

What is most important, echoing a claim I made two days ago here at, a claim confirmed by Kaveny who is both a professor of ethics and of law (she understands the judicial and political stakes far better than I), is that:

For nearly forty years, abortion has been a constitutionally protected practice, and its legal status is not immediately susceptible to any sort of significant change at the federal level. The difficulty of changing this reality via a constitutional amendment has led large segments of the prolife movement, including the U.S. bishops’ conference, to concentrate on achieving that same goal indirectly, by electing presidents who will over time remake the Supreme Court. It seems to me that the divisions in the country that make the direct strategy practically impossible also tell against the effectiveness of this indirect strategy.

Moreover, the indirect strategy has significant moral problems. Supporting a constitutional amendment directly targeted at undoing Roe conflicts with few, if any, of a voter’s other duties to promote the common good, and merits serious consideration. But the prolife movement’s indirect strategy of making abortion a litmus-test issue for voters, with the expectation that they will elect officials who will somehow overturn Roe, does raise red flags. The duty of a voter is to promote the common good by selecting the best candidate for a political office in light of the range of factors I have outlined. Given that most office-holders have multifaceted responsibilities, voters cannot consider only one issue—even a fundamental issue—in casting their ballots. Presidential elections are no exception.

In theory one can vote for all the self-proclaimed “pro-life” candidates that he or she wishes, for one’s whole life, and the effect could be exactly the same: nothing. A particularly egregious danger when candidates or entire political parties adopt such a “position” precisely to entice a constituency to vote for a candidate (or candidates) without any reasonable expectation that the elected officials that tout such a position can effect any actual change. This is exactly the reason why the US bishops make clear that you cannot overlook the other dimensions of a candidate because of a self-proclaimed status as “pro-life.”

What are we to do, then? What is the role of the voter in an election year such as this? Kaveny’s concluding paragraph summarizes the challenge and goal well:

Voters cannot blind themselves and focus single-mindedly on one issue in the abstract, even if the issue is abortion. They must select among candidates, not among issues—and they are morally required to do so in light of the concrete challenges and possibilities for the common good posed by a specific election at a specific time. This, and not a litmus test of issues, is what forming consciences for faithful citizenship is really all about.

You must select a candidate and not an issue. Human beings, finite and fallible human beings, are seeking to represent a collective citizenry and are not to be treated as metonymic or proxy representatives for “issues.”

Photo: Stock

US Bishops, Nuns Agree: Romney, Ryan Budget ‘Fails Moral Test’

Posted in LCWR, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The day after the LCWR completes its annual meeting the GOP presumptive nominee for president of the United States, Mitt Romney, announced that he has selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to be his VP running mate. What is interesting about this announcement is that one of the few things about which the United States Bishops have explicitly agreed with the United States Women Religious in terms of politics and faith is the immoral status of the so-called “Ryan Budget.”

On April 17 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement about the Ryan budget after the professed Roman Catholic legislator claimed that his budget was “inspired by his Catholic faith.” According to a Religion News Service article:

A week after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan claimed his Catholic faith inspired the Republicans’ cost-cutting budget plan, the nation’s Catholic bishops reiterated their demand that the federal budget protect the poor, and said the GOP measure “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

Similarly, Bishop Stephen Blaire of California expressed additional and direct concern over the economic policies proposed by the young congressman and now VP nominee, as the RNS story continues:

Tuesday’s statement from the bishops came the same day as Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., called a proposed cut in benefits for children of immigrants “unjust and wrong.” Blaire, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also decried any cuts in food stamps while preserving federal subsidies for industrial farming enterprises.

“Congress faces a difficult task to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices,” Blaire wrote to the House Agriculture Committee. “Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.”

During a time so marked by the public disagreement between the Women Religious and the Bishops in the United States following the CDF’s “Doctrinal Assessment” of the LCWR, it is striking to note the unified front on this particular moral issue: both the bishops and nuns have been and continue to be adamantly opposed to the Ryan budget and economic policies.

This unjust economic policy and proposed budget served as the impetus for the now well-known “Nuns on the Bus” campaign launched this Spring by several representatives of American Women Religious communities and sponsored by NETWORK, the Catholic Social-Justice Lobby. In a CNN report, Sister Simone Cambell, executive director of NETWORK, explained:

“It is one thing to have political differences, but to try to hide a budget that will devastate people and claim that it is supported by your faith. It is unacceptable. He is wrong and he needs to be told so.”

This joint resolve to fight for the principles of Catholic Moral Teaching stands as a major obstacle for the GOP. Can Catholics in good conscience vote for a presidential ticket that represents such an immoral and unjust position?

There is, as always, lots of talk by some about the Democratic party’s platform as being “pro-choice” and the moral questions related to voting for candidates with such views. As the Bishops make clear in their voting-guide document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” Roman Catholics are not to be one-issue voters, but people who take into account a wide array of moral issues and vote according to their well-formed consciences.

Additionally, the Canon and Civil Lawyer and former Law-School Dean Nicholas Cafardi recently raised some important questions about what it means to even talk about a “pro-life” candidate and whether the GOP presumptive nominee qualifies: “Which Presidential Candidate is Truly Pro-Life?

The immorality of the Paul Ryan Budget and his economic policies that stand in stark contrast to Catholic Moral teaching — as condemned by both the US Bishops and American Nuns, as well as others — is one of these factors that must also inform one’s decision this Fall.

Photo: AP

PEW Study: Catholics More Satisfied with Leadership of Religious Sisters than of American Bishops

Posted in LCWR, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 7, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

In a very interesting report recently released by the PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life, which covers a variety of issues ecclesiastical and political in nature concerning Roman Catholic views in the United States, shows that 83% of those polled are “Satisfied with leadership of ‘U.S. Nuns, Sisters,'” while only 70% are “Satisfied with leadership of ‘American Bishops.'” By percentage points, those polled are more satisfied — in descending order — with “Your Parish Priest,” “Your [Local] Bishop,” and “The Pope,” over the collective category of “American Bishops.”

The PEW researchers explain in their summary report:

he percentage of Catholics who say they are satisfied with the leadership of American bishops is significantly higher than it was a decade ago, at the height of the church’s child sex abuse scandal (70% today, 51% in 2002).

While Catholics are generally satisfied with the leadership of their local and national clergy, they express the highest satisfaction with leadership of U.S. nuns and local parish priests. About half say they are very satisfied with the leadership that nuns and priests provide (50% U.S. nuns, 49% their own parish priests). By comparison, 36% of Catholics say they are very satisfied with the leadership of their bishop, 34% with the pope’s leadership and 24% with the leadership of American bishops.

Interestingly, and perhaps alarmingly to those American Bishops involved in the recent LCWR “doctrinal assessment” and its wake, those who self-identify as “more observant” (a category largely informed by frequency of Mass attendance) and “White” are not less-satisfied with the “U.S. Nuns, Sisters,” but share the more general level of satisfaction with their work and leadership within the Church. This population, however, is in fact more satisfied with the leadership of “The Pope,” “Your [Local] Bishop,” “Your Parish Priest,” than the broader population. And that population is (only) six-percentage-points more satisfied with the “American Bishops” than the broader pool, but still ranks the “American Bishops” the lowest in terms of satisfaction with leadership — eight-perecentage-points behind the “U.S. Nuns, Sisters” and an impressive thirteen-perecentage-points behind “Your Parish Priest.”

White Catholics who attend Mass frequently are more satisfied with the leadership provided by the pope, bishops and parish priests than are those who attend less frequently. However, there is no significant difference in views of the leadership provided by nuns: 90% of low attendance white Catholics and 84% of more frequent attenders are satisfied with the leadership of U.S. nuns and sisters.

What does this mean for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States? Perhaps not much, at least in terms of its potential to affect policy and practice on the part of the church’s leadership.

However, it does say something very significant about the broader population’s view of the American Sisters who are perceived by self-identified “less-observant” and “more-observant” Catholics alike as offering satisfactory leadership for the Church. The American Bishops, however, receive the lowest endorsement of their leadership in each category polled, including the group most likely to rank their leadership higher: “white, observant” Catholics.

I wonder what the USCCB leadership thinks of this news.

Photo: PEW Forum

The Constitution, the ‘Fortnight’ and Questions of Religious Liberty

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 1, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Apart from a few well-publicized events like the liturgies televised at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and a few events that seem to appear in YouTube videos of smallish crowds gathering in front of clergy, did anything happen with the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign? In the current issue of America magazine, the editors ask this question and offer a balanced reflection that does not take a side in the debate. The opening paragraph of the editorial (“After the Fortnight“) describes what took place or, rather, what ostensibly didn’t.

The Fortnight for Freedom, a series of public activities sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposing infringements on religious freedom, concluded on July 4. The immediate impact of the campaign, however, remains unclear. Reportedly only some 70 of the nation’s 198 dioceses announced programs and activities for the fortnight. In some, little attention was paid to the effort; in others it was energetically promoted.

It’s indeed telling that less-than half of the US dioceses, if this number is correct, participated in the event. The diocese in which I minister currently did not, to my knowledge and that of my fellow clergy, make any sort of organized effort to promote the event. And, frankly, I don’t see that as a problem because there remained a number of unanswered questions about the purpose and goal of some of these events. This was likely the reason why a majority of US bishops did not formally participate in this campaign.

As for the 70 dioceses that did organize events, there are questions that still remain, which have not been adequately addressed. Such as: what do the “Fortnight” organizers have to say about the second half of the First Amendment explanation on the right of religious liberty? As one esteemed professor of constitutional law said to my students back in early July (we had invited him to be a guest speaker in our seminar in interreligious dialogue because of his vast experience as an attorney specializing in religious matters in DC) when one student asked about the validity of the HHS lawsuits and the attention certain US bishops have been giving to this subject: “there are two clauses to the so-called ‘separation of church and state.'”

He said that the US bishops, with good reason, are concerned about the “free exercise clause” of the First Amendment. They are focused on their right to practice their faith in a particular way, but in — at times — an overreaching manner. Importantly, he noted, the US bishops have seemed in this latest effort to focus their attention on the “free exercise clause” to the exclusion of the equally important “establishment clause.”

The central issue in all of this is the way in which Catholic organizations (and not the churches themselves, which have remained exempt from the ‘mandate’), such as hospitals or schools, take money from the federal government and, because those funds originate from taxpayers, they have certain restrictions. These conditions, the so-called HHS mandate in this case, are perfectly legal and, whether some catholics like it or not, are actually in place to make sure other peoples’ religious liberties and other constitutional rights are not infringed.

This is the importance of recognizing the “establishment clause,” so that the Catholic faith does not receive preferential treatment in the public square and in the receiving of public taxpayer funds. Note the distinction: it is the Catholic faith, not the church, that would be receiving the preferential treatment, thereby violating the prohibition of the establishing a religion in the US Constitution, because what is at stake here is so-called “Catholic” non-profit organizations that are not places of worship per se (again, hospitals, etc.).

This part of the issue has, to my knowledge, never come up in the public discussion about the “Fortnight” campaign, the few organizations and the about 13 dioceses who have filed lawsuits because of the “HHS mandate.” This is the most glaring oversight — how do those who are worked up about the “free exercise clause” justify their simultaneous promotion of the violation of the same Constitutional Amendment with regard to the “establishment clause?”

To illustrate another way this could be resolved without compromising the “establishment clause,” is to do what Fordham University Theology Department Chair Terrance Tilley suggested some months back in an NPR interview: Catholic organizations can simply stop taking federal funds. There. But this is not mentioned by those so worked up about the specter of religious-liberty threats.

Returning to the America editorial this week, the editors are correct to say that this is not as straightforward as either side makes out. The President and his administration had failed to take into consideration the ramifications for the way in which this change was presented and implemented. Our guest speaker also made that point. He told our class that he saw serious missteps in the way this was handled on the part of the administration.

That said, the bishops are also responsible for some missteps, as the America editorial highlights:

The mistake of the religious liberty campaign has been to personalize the problem, assigning singular blame to President Obama. It has also inflated the controversy by trying to make a variety of different local, state and national problems appear to be a vast conspiracy. Its hyperbolic rhetoric, while it charges up “true believers,” hardens the hearts of adversaries and alarms people in the middle. It is possible that in overplaying its hand, the campaign, its agents and allies have diminished their ability to share in shaping policy.

As the Duquesne dean emeritus and law professor Nicholas Cafardi says, in his essay “Politics and the Pulpit: Are some bishops putting the church’s tax exempt status at risk?” the overtly partisan tone and tenor of some of the recent US bishops comments — including the “Fortnight” campaign — pushes the boundaries of what is legal. This echoes the concern raised in the editorial response to the “Fortnight.”

The final paragraph of the America editorial summarizes the current situation well:

In recent years Catholic institutions have made defensible moral compromises to deal with state and local health-insurance mandates. Abroad, other bishops’ conferences have likewise responded to similar secular challenges without apocalyptic appeals. More attention should be paid to preparing creative, alternative responses before the church finds itself saving face by shutting doors, a response a few bishops have threatened. That outcome would be unfair to the millions who have come to rely on church institutions and one surely undesired by President Obama no less than by most bishops.

Another way is necessary. This adversarial, partisan, and exclusive focus on the “free exercise clause” to the exclusion of the rest of the Constitution, especially the “establishment clause” of the same amendment, is a dead-end. Can we come up with a better way to addresses these concerns and differences without, to borrow the editors’ phrase, resorting to “apocalyptic appeals?” Can we be a little more Christian in our behavior, language, and public presence?

Photo: Stock

The Need for Discussion and Debate Among Church Leaders

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Few people seem to remember what the early Church was like. I mean the EARLY Church. Go back and look at the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of Paul, the evangelists’ accounts of the Good News of Jesus, the non-canonical sources and so on. Discussion and debate permeated the style of leadership of the early Church communities because everything was so new and uncertain. The first generations of the “followers of The Way,” as Christianity in its inchoate state was known, were trying to grapple with questions about who Jesus of Nazareth was and is, what it means to talk about resurrection, what it means to talk about humanity and divinity together. There were questions about who was and was not part or could be part of the community. Was it only Jews? Could Gentiles convert? Did they have to be Jews first?

You have two of the most significant followers of Jesus of Nazareth, Peter and Paul, on two very different sides of the proverbial aisle on the question of who could and couldn’t be admitted to the nascent Christian community. It was a very public and well-known debate.

You have, just a few centuries later, the famous Christological Ecumenical Councils, at which some of the most foundational creedal statements of the Christian faith were concretized. By the standards of the outcomes of those Councils, many of the bishops who entered the Council did so as technical heretics, at one time convinced of an opposing or all-together different theological view.

Even at our most recent ecumenical council, the Second Vatican Council, we have the best documented historical record of any over the course of some two thousand years and in the record reveals a very lively and at-times contentious discussion and debate about procedure, theology, canon law, engagement of the Church with the world, interreligious dialogue, the meaning of the Church and so on!

Had there been no discussion and debate among Church leaders at any point in history, we simply wouldn’t be the Church and the Spirit wouldn’t be able to work through the gifts, minds and hearts of a diverse body of leaders.

So why do so many Church leaders today, particularly in the in the United States, believe that discussion and debate are bad for the Church? Why are certain partisan voices permitted to reign hegemonically, while critical voices or alternative views are silenced, ignored or pushed away?

Several news stories and opinion columns (most notably E.J Dionne of the Washington Post and Kevin Clarke of America) have recently highlighted the much-forgotten reality that not all bishops think alike. Granted, it has been the widespread opinion that recent pontiffs, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI particularly, have sought through episcopal appointments to create a more like-minded body of leaders, but the truth is the Spirit continues to work despite human efforts to control.

The diversity in view on matters such as the recent lawsuit against the government brought about by 43 Catholic institutions and dioceses, the role of some Church leaders’ roles in conservative politics, and other important issues, suggests that there exists the condition for the possibility of real discussion and debate among Church leaders.

But the question is why isn’t there any legitimate discussion or debate?

My intuition is that there is a collective experience of the specter of fear, which haunts the bishops as much as it haunts individual men and women who cowered at Cold-War rhetoric, Iraqi ‘WMDs,’ and the omnipresent threat of terrorism in the public square. For the Church, this specter might cast a shadow on certain bishops — perhaps even the majority (note well that only 13 dioceses out of nearly 200 US dioceses are involved in this recent lawsuit) — in the form of Vatican reprimand, removal from office or some other curbing of a bishop’s individual authority by virtue of office.

The truth is, canonically and ecclesiologically, individual bishops who are Ordinaries of a given See (diocese), have very exclusive power. National bishops conferences, thanks to John Paul II, now have very little actual power. Likewise, the Vatican dicasteries and the Pope himself have little canonical power to intervene in the affairs of a given diocese or bishop. Generally, when such things happen, it’s in the form of behind-the-scenes pressuring or “promotion” to Rome or something of the like.

Yet, such iterations of the specter of fear make their appearances in the events such as those that occurred in the Diocese of Seattle with Archbishop Hunthausen in the 1980s when John Paul II did not like the complaints he and other officials were receiving about the Seattle bishop’s outspoken opposition to nuclear weapons and the policies of conservative politicians to limit care for the poor. Hunthausen, curiously enough, was in attendance for all four sessions of Vatican II, then the youngest US bishop. Ostensibly, his efforts simply to live out the Council’s decrees got him in trouble. And the other bishops of the United States took note.

Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, CA, deserves accolades and support for his honest and intelligent assessment of the situation concerning the latest hype surrounding the government’s HHS mandate. Clarke quotes Bishop Blaire and explains:

Bishop Blaire explained he was worried that some national groups appear to be seizing on the issue and transforming the dispute over religious liberty into a political fight.

“I am concerned that in addressing the H.H.S. mandate,” he said, “that it be clear that what we are dealing with is a matter of religious liberty and the intrusion of government into the church and that it not be perceived as a woman’s issue or a contraceptive issue.

“I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.”

Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored. He worried that some groups “very far to the right” are trying to use the conflict as “an anti-Obama campaign.”

What we need is more discussion and debate among Church leaders. In an age of sexual-abuse and financial scandals, leadership in our faith community should strive to be transparent in every way. Church leaders need to remember that they are indeed successors to the Apostles, such as Peter and Paul, who themselves debated far more foundational issues in the public square. Church leaders need to recall that it is ok to have differing opinions, even on theological issues, as long as their openness to the Spirit and their willingness to discuss such issues with charity, such as the events of the Church’s ecumenical councils, pervades the discourse. And Church leaders must recall that they are servants of the people of God and of the Truth and that requires a humility that does not seek a hegemonic voice, but instead reflects the unity amid diversity so representative in the Catholic tradition.

What we need is to return to our historical and theological roots to recall that honest discussion and debate among church leader is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit, not a reflection of disunity.

Photo: Stock

Holy Week and the Death Penalty

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Jesus was condemned to death.

This fact becomes, like far too many of our prayers and reflections on Scripture during Holy Week, overlooked by much of the Church because it takes on a “religious” or all-too-familiar tone and quality. It is simply the First Station of the Cross or it becomes associated with something much larger than its own reality, the small prelude to the bigger Passion. It becomes tamed and domesticated and pious. It becomes something other than what it is: the stark, scandalous reality that the Son of God, the Word-made-flesh was sentenced to the death penalty and died as one of society’s criminals.

While what we call to mind this week is the whole life, death and resurrection of the Lord, we also call to mind the fact that the Lord died because he suffered at the hand of the state’s Death penalty. What better time is there for us to pause and consider the ways in which we are committed to being part of, as Pope John Paul II had said, the “culture of life” over and against a “culture of death?” Here we recall with horror execution of Jesus Christ, but do we exhibit a comparable horror at the reality that the United States continues to execute men and women today?

In 1999 the United States Bishops (USCCB) released a document titled, “A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty,” inspired by the call of the Holy Father, then Pope John Paul II to end this barbaric and inhuman practice. Instead of reiterating what the bishops say, I’ve posted the text below. During your prayer this Holy Week I invite you to reflect on this call, now more than a decade old and as relevant as ever, and consider what you can do to help end this attack on the dignity and sanctity of human life.

The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.1
–Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999, St. Louis, Missouri

For more than 25 years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for an end to the death penalty in our land. Sadly, however, death sentences and executions in this country continue at an increasing rate. In some states, there are so many executions they rarely receive much attention anymore. On this Good Friday, a day when we recall our Savior’s own execution, we appeal to all people of goodwill, and especially Catholics, to work to end the death penalty.

As we approach the next millennium, we are challenged by the evolution in Catholic teaching on this subject and encouraged by new and growing efforts to stop executions around the world. Through his powerful encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul II has asked that governments stop using death as the ultimate penalty. The Holy Father points out that instances where its application is necessary to protect society have become “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”2 In January 1999, our Holy Father brought his prophetic appeal to “end the death penalty to the United States, clearly challenging us to “end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”3 Our Holy Father has called us with new urgency to stand against capital punishment.

Sadly, many Americans–including many Catholics–still support the death penalty out of understandable fear of crime and horror at so many innocent lives lost through criminal violence. We hope they will come to see, as we have, that more violence is not the answer. However many in the Catholic community are at the forefront of efforts to end capital punishment at state and national levels. Catholics join with others in prayerful witness against executions. We seek to educate and persuade our fellow citizens that this penalty is often applied unfairly and in racially biased ways.4 We stand in opposition to state laws that would permit capital punishment and federal laws that would expand it.

We strongly encourage all within the Catholic community to support victims of crime and their families. This can be a compassionate response to the terrible pain and anger associated with the serious injury or murder of a loved one. Our family of faith must stand with them as they struggle to overcome their terrible loss and find some sense of peace.

We fully support and encourage these and other efforts to uphold the dignity of all human life. The actions of Catholics who consistently and faithfully oppose the death penalty reflect the call of our bishops’ statement Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics: “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”5

Respect for all human life and opposition to the violence in our society are at the root of our long-standing position against the death penalty. We see the death penalty as perpetuating a cycle of violence and promoting a sense of vengeance in our culture. As we said in Confronting a Culture of Violence: “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.”6

We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes but for what it does to all of us as a society. Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.

We are painfully aware of the increased rate of executions in many states. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, more than 500 executions have taken place, while there have been seventy-four death-row reversals late in the process. Throughout the states, more than 3,500 prisoners await their deaths. These numbers are deeply troubling. The pace of executions is numbing. The discovery of people on death row who are innocent is frightening.

In the spirit of the coming biblical jubilee, we join our Holy Father and once again call for the abolition of the death penalty. We urge all people of good will, particularly Catholics, to work to end the use of capital punishment. At appropriate opportunities, we ask pastors to preach and teachers to teach about respect for all life and about the need to end the death penalty. Through education, through advocacy, and through prayer and contemplation on the life of Jesus, we must commit ourselves to a persistent and principled witness against the death penalty, against a culture of death, and for the Gospel of Life.

Photo: Stock

Archbishop Dolan’s Words of Challenge and Inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

After yesterday’s post here on, some might think (as one of the commenters on that post does) that I don’t believe anything good could come from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting. But that’s not true. On the contrary, though I may be respectfully critical of the leadership of the Church that I love (I wouldn’t be committed to religious life or the lifelong study of theology if that weren’t true), I also celebrate with the People of God when such occasions permit. This is the case with much of what Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, said in his opening address to the assembly of US bishops.

While I do not agree with quite everything the archbishop expressed in his remarks — particularly the more subtle references to challenging responses from the faithful to a top-down delivery of disciplinary and moralistic grandstanding and the tacit demarcation of the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ — he offered some wonderfully refreshing and, as Professor Terrence Tilley, chair of the theology department at Fordham University, said yesterday in an interview, almost poetic reflections that called his brother bishops to task and reminded them of who they are.

At various points Dolan did not shy away from acknowledging that the Church is indeed imperfect, with, as he put it, “wrinkles, warts, and wounds all the more.” He acknowledged that the bishops themselves are also sinners, “We profess it, too.  WIth contrition and deep regret, we acknowledge that the members of the Church — starting with us — are sinners!”

He pointed out that next year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Church should recall that Vatican II “showed us how the Church summons the world foreward [sic], not backward.” While he readily admits the repeated failings of the Church at times, he offers an optimistic description of the role of the Church in the world.

…the Church invites the world to a fresh, original place, not a musty or outdated one. It is always a risk for the world to hear the Church, for she dares the world to “cast out to the deep,” to foster and protect the inviolable dignity of the human person and human life; to acknowledge the truth about life ingrained in reason and nature; to protect marriage and family; to embrace those suffering and struggling; to prefer service to selfishness; and never to stifle the liberty to quench the deep down thirst for the divine that the poets, philosophers, and peasants of the earth know to be what really makes us genuinely human.

And then, of course, there is the most frequently cited part of the archbishop’s talk: the reference to the fishermen called to be apostles and the challenge the bishops have today to return to that guiding image of evangelization and mission.

Jesus first called fishermen and then transformed them into shepherds. The New Evangelization prompts us to reclaim the role of fishermen. Perhaps we should begin to carry fishing poles instead of croziers.

There is a lot to appreciate in the archbishop’s presentation, not the least of which is his ostensible openness to reenergizing and enlivening the life of the Church and the community of faith. He made the point rather directly that he see the need for us, and even more so for the bishops, to, “resist the temptation to approach the Church as merely a system of organizational energy and support that requires maintenance.”

Wisdom indeed. But is Archbishop Dolan (and those who would follow him) willing to accept the implications of such a statement? I hope so. Far too often the actions and statements of the leaders of the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States much more than in other parts of the world, reflect a paradigm that appears more interested in protecting a “system of organizational energy and support that requires maintenance.” There seems at times to be little life, little prophecy, little Good News in the day-to-day life of the Church. Hopefully that changes, perhaps Dolan will inspire his brother bishops to be more open to the Spirit — even if She leads them into places neither Dolan nor his fellow bishops would care to go.

Photo: CNS Pool/Stephen Brashear

Whose Religious Liberty? The USCCB and its ‘New Issue’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Perhaps the most anticipated discussion, and subsequently the most reported, of the annual fall meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was the presentation on the theme of “religious liberty” to the assembly of bishops by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.  Additionally, a committee of the USCCB tasked with addressing the issue of “religious liberty” was announced (for information see this USCCB press release). The National Catholic Reporter covered this matter in a November 15 article with a rather telling headline, “Bishop Says Religious Freedom Under Attack in America.” The basic thrust of Lori’s presentation focused on what he (and some other bishops) have observed as a “threat to religious freedom” present in the legislative and executive actions of the United States government. The NCR article reports:

“There is no religious liberty if we are not free to express our faith in the public square and if we are not free to act on that faith through works of education, health care and charity,” Lori said in his first address to the bishops as chairman of the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In sum, this statement is not at all problematic. Lori is correct in the assertion that, by virtue of the protected rights guaranteed in the US by the Constitution’s First Amendment, women and men of any faith tradition ought to be able to express her or his faith in public without fear of reprisal. And if that was really what this matter was about, then I don’t think there would be such incredulity among those — including myself — who have been following this particular discussion.

There are a host of contradictions and ill-fitting arguments that accompany the announcement of this new issue taken up by the USCCB with the founding of an Ad Hoc committee to respond to this seeming threat.

First among them is the ostensible misnomer of the entire enterprise. What is being billed as a response to “the attack on religious liberty” in the United States (which is, of course, a serious and constitutional accusation) is really a repackaging of a particular anti-abortion/anti-contraception (commonly referred to as “Pro-Life” in the narrow sense) agenda. I’m not about to say that the Church in the US must kowtow to positions it sees as systemically sinful or evil, but I do think we should name things accordingly and be forthright about real issues.

The would-be impetus for these new discussions, as Lori and others claim, is the explicit violation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Yet, in reality what is presented resembles something more like a nebulous infringement on First-Amendment rights of US Catholics — particularly Catholic employees in NGOs and health-care organizations — rooted primarily in matters related to contraception and abortion. The truth is that one will find it very difficult to adjudicate the issues in favor of Lori’s committee and others who claim that, according to the law, the Church’s right to restrict other constitutional rights guaranteed to others by virtue of Catholics’ right to religious freedom, in this case access to the full range of modern health care procedures, medications and consultations.

Religious liberty is not a theme that is appropriately invoked to justify denial of other rights, which is what the USCCB argument under the guise of “religious liberty” is all about. Church leaders should, then, focus their attention on public education and moral formation in order to explain why individual moral agents (people themselves) should not use contraception or seek abortion and so on. But what I see this committee eventually doing is trying to again approach the legislative process with yet another plan of attack to overturn Roe v. Wade and perhaps go farther to criminalize currently legal practices and health-care options (think of the recently overturned legislation in Mississippi). Like the Mississippi legislation, this religious-liberty business will also not work, because it is in no way judicially tenable.

The Church leaders here are fixated on legislating morality instead of working to both address the more systemic issue of injustice in our society and help the faithful develop a well-informed conscience. The way that the United States political and legislative system works (and nowhere in the founding documents or principles of this nation is there the faintest claim that it is or should be a “Christian nation”), the Catholic tradition’s emphasis on the freedom of conscience can play freely in a constructive and helpful way. I am not the most qualified to talk about political theory and religious expression, someone like my friend David Golemboski — former employee of NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, and a current doctoral student at Georgetown studying political theory and Catholic social teaching — is better suited to respond to the technical issues present in the bishops’ latest discussion, but my sense is that there is an inherently flawed notion of what the relationship between the Church and the US government, specifically, and the Church and any government, more generally, really should be.

I’m not at all convinced that religious liberty is really at stake here. If it were, I would expect to see other matters playing more prominently in the USCCB’s discourse, issues like violence, war, economic injustice, prophetic preaching, and other issues that explicitly relate to our faith, our expression of that faith and the actions of the government. Yet, it is abortion and contraception that is the single focus of this matter of “religious liberty.” Where is the cry on the bishops part that Catholics should not serve in the military? Where is the reaction to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the increasing gap between wealthy and poor?  Where are our foreign-policy concerns from a Catholic perspective?

Another problem with this particular iteration of the anti-abortion/anti-contraception campaign is that the government is in no way overstepping its bounds to interfere with the individual exercise of a religious institution’s right to practice (or not practice) what it believes, as Lori and others claim. What is really at stake is money. As I understand it, all the Catholic hospitals in the country can refuse to offer certain procedures that do not reflect the mission of the institution, but that refusal to provide constitutionally protected rights for others will result in the end of government funding. The institution is entirely free to continue operating and offering service, but must do so with private funds — just as in the case with individual churches and places of worship, the government will not support the confessional or religiously partisan institutions (that is a matter of the establishment clause!).

If religious liberty was truly at stake, the funding concern wouldn’t be privative as it is in this instance, but instead be made manifest in overt efforts to interfere or suppress the institutions proper.

Another matter, this one of logical contradiction, is the claim that Loris makes that secularism should be seen as system of belief. NCR reports: “‘Let us make no mistake. Aggressive secularism is also a system of belief,’ he commented.” Lori’s point is that the US government seems to be promoting (“establishing”) so-called “aggressive secularism” as a particular faith tradition in the public sphere. I’m not sure that I buy this argument, to begin with, but one should follow the trajectory Lori outlines to its logical conclusion. If what he’s saying is true, that “aggressive secularism” is a belief system, then it has just as much right to exist and for its practitioners to live according to its principles (whatever those might be) as do the Catholics in this country. That is, Lori is arguing for the infringement on the constitutional rights of the practitioners of “aggressive secularism,” just as he claims the Catholics’ rights are infringed.

In other words, the argument used to help bolster the USCCB’s claims that religious liberties are under attack in the US actually highlights the way in which the USCCB wishes to curb the religious liberties of others. You see the problems here.

Instead of masquerading a narrowly defined “pro-life” agenda as a “new issue” — religious liberty concerns — the USCCB should be much more forthcoming about its goals and intentions. It seems that something has to change. If the US Church leadership wants to claim religious liberties are under attack by the same government that guarantees them, then there has to be more than what is presented to justify that position. Where has the government established laws to prevent the practice of Catholicism, the right to erect places of worship, the ability for religious communities to minister to others? (which, by the way, makes the immigration issue in Alabama and elsewhere much more about religious liberty than the healthcare matters).

The other option is to forego the ruse of this constitutional threat in order to focus more forthrightly on matters that Catholics see as important, and seek to educate the faithful and broader public about why these are matters we should all care about. But, as far as a threat on religious liberty is concerned, I’m not buying it. Bishop Lori and his new committee has a lot of work to do in order to make their position sensible and salient.

Photo: Stock

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