Archive for usccb

Congratulations to Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I am taking a short break from my vacation to share this NCR story about Professor Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s acceptance speech at this week’s LCWR annual assembly on the occasion of her having received this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award. Her remarks (those made public in new reports, the full text has not yet been made available) are courageous and honest. Not only does Prof. Johnson deserve this recognition in light of her academic work, but her steadfast yet respectful engagement with the USCCB committee on doctrine in the wake of its treatment of her writing remains a model of faithful response. I wish to extend my congratulations to Prof. Johnson and to my sisters in the LCWR here. To read more, see Religion News Service story or the NCR report by Dan Stockman here:


The Vatican and women religious are caught up in a tension with historical, sociological and ecclesiastical roots, but a solution could be found, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson said.

The Fordham University theologian praised the sisters for their commitment to “meaningful, honest dialogue” and urged them to stay the course.

Johnson was honored Friday with the Outstanding Leadership Award by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of women religious leaders in the nation, representing about 80 percent of the 51,600 sisters in the United States.

Both Johnson and LCWR have been criticized by the church, and Johnson told the nearly 800 sisters gathered here for LCWR’s annual assembly that the criticisms of her writing and of LCWR are intertwined.

Johnson is widely admired by LCWR members, and she urged them to hang on despite an ongoing investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I think both of us are caught in a situation not of our own making,” she said.

Johnson, a Sister of St. Joseph from Brentwood, N.Y., is considered one of the architects of feminist theology. She has published nine books and more than 100 essays in scholarly journals, book reviews, book chapters and articles; her work has been translated into 13 languages. She holds a doctorate in theology from The Catholic University of America and is a distinguished professor of theology at Fordham.

Johnson is a former president of both the Catholic Theological Society and the ecumenical American Theological Society, was a consultant to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and the Church. She was featured in a Library of Congress calendar called “Women Who Dare.”

She is also controversial. In April, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ordered that after this assembly, speakers at the group’s events must be approved by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who heads the congregation’s five-year reform agenda for LCWR. Müller cited LCWR’s selection of Johnson for the Outstanding Leadership Award as one reason for the mandate, noting that Johnson has been “criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in [her] writings.” Sartain attended each of the public events during the LCWR assembly except for Johnson’s presentation, as he was traveling Friday night.

LCWR communications director Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Annmarie Sanders said the assembly directed the board members to respond to the mandate but would not say what that response would be.

“They told the board to take the next steps,” Sanders said.

A statement on the action to be taken is expected sometime after the board finishes meeting Monday.

In 2011, the doctrinal committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Johnson’s 2007 book, Quest for the Living God, is not in accordance with official Catholic teaching.

Johnson’s selection as a speaker, Müller said in April, “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment” and further alienates the LCWR from the bishops.

“It was clear from his statement that Cardinal Müller neither read the book or my response, but simply echoed the criticisms of the panel,” Johnson told LCWR members. “But the committee’s assessment of Quest is itself theologically flawed.”

Johnson reiterated her stance that the book does not say the things the panel claims it does and that she does not believe the things they say she wrote.

“It criticizes positions I take that are in accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in several instances, it reports the opposite of what the book actually says in order to find fault,” she said. “In my judgment, and this is difficult to say, but I do believe such carelessness with the truth is unworthy of the teaching office of bishop.”

Johnson said the doctrinal congregation’s criticisms of LCWR are similar.

“The investigation’s statements express a vague, overall dissatisfaction and distrust on certain topics, and judgments are rendered in such a way that they cannot be addressed,” she said. “But your willingness to stay at the table and offer meaningful, honest dialogue is a powerful witness.”

Johnson said historically, there has always been tensions between religious communities and the hierarchy because one is based on a radical living of the Gospel and the other is based on administration, which requires order.

The issue is also sociological, she said.

“The church did not start out this way, but as an institution, it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is executed in a top-down fashion and obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest of virtues,” Johnson said.

Finally, she said, the tensions are ecclesiastical because women religious have undergone the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and the hierarchy has not.

“Certainly, the LCWR and the sisters they lead are far from perfect, but they have got the smell of the sheep on them,” she said to heavy applause. “Post-Vatican II renewal has not taken place at the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith].”

LCWR said Johnson was chosen for her distinguished academic achievements and scholarly contributions and for her consistent focus on those suffering and in need.

“Through her engagement of the most difficult questions of our day and her attention to violations of God’s beloved creation,” the LCWR statement regarding the award said, “she works tirelessly for change in our world that is in accord with Jesus’ vision of the reign of God.”

Franciscan Sr. Nancy Schreck, who delivered this year’s keynote address, said Johnson’s speech was “fabulous.”

“She names things so clearly, but at the same time, her commitment to the faith is unquestionable,” Schreck said.

Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler praised Johnson’s assessment of the situation.

“Her analysis of the difficulties between the hierarchy and where religious communities are was right on, and she did it on so many levels,” she said. “What do you do when you’ve gone ahead and implemented Vatican II and they haven’t?”

Following her speech, Johnson received a long standing ovation, and afterward, dozens of sisters waited in line to speak with her while dozens more waited outside the hall to order audio recordings of the speech.

Johnson closed her talk by sharing an Apartheid-era photo of a wall in South Africa where someone had written “Hang Mandela!” Someone else had come and penciled in “on” to make it “Hang on, Mandela!”, completely changing the meaning of what had been a statement against anti-Apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who was still in prison at the time.

That creativity, she said, subverted a slur into an inspiration, a curse into a blessing, and that same creativity can be used to change the present situation.

And so, to LCWR members, she urged, “On!”

Photo: NCR

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
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