February 28, 2005

The Lebanese Government Has Fallen

The pro-Syrian government of Lebanon fell today, with the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami. Fifty thousand Lebanese protesters are calling for the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon; Syria's military has been active in Lebanon since the Lebanese Civil War. The protesters gathered in Beirut's Martyr Square, even though the Lebanese Interior Ministry had ordered the military to keep the demonstrations from occurring by any means necessary. Although it's still hard to tell, it looks like Syria will be forced to leave Lebanon and the sovereignty of Lebanon will finally be restored. This is, of course, good news for the Middle East.

It's interesting to note that international pressure has been put on Syria lately, and that this effort has been spearheaded by the United States and France. Hopefully this will serve as a lesson to leaders of both nations that they can accomplish much more together than they can accomplish by themselves.

In the meantime, pray for the people of Lebanon, especially the Lebanese Christians. Our Lady of Lebanon, St. Maron, pray for us.

February 27, 2005

The Holy Father on Nutrition/Hydration

In March of 2004, Pope John Paul II made a statement to the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State which has contributed to the outpouring of Catholic support for the Schindlers' battle against the removal of Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube. For those who have not yet seen it, here is the part of the statement that pertains to the question of nutrition and hydration:

The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.) and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery.

I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.

The obligation to provide the "normal care due to the sick in such cases" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iura et Bona, p. IV) includes, in fact, the use of nutrition and hydration (cf. Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", Dans le Cadre, 2, 4, 4; Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, Charter of Health Care Workers, n. 120). The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission (Pope John Paul II, Address of John Paul II to the Participants in the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas", #4).

The Holy Father's statement has recently been reinforced and applied specifically to Terri Schindler-Schiavo's situation in a statement by Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

February 25, 2005

Schiavo Fed Until March 18

Judge George Greer has issued a stay until March 18, blocking Michael Schiavo from removing Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube until then. This is a mixed blessing -- on the one hand, it will keep Terri fed until March 18 and will give the Schindlers and Florida officials time to do something definitive to keep her alive. But on the other hand, Judge Greer has said that this will be the last stay he will grant. Apparently, Greer is "no longer comfortable" granting delays in the case, because "there will always be 'new' issues." One would wonder why Judge Greer is uncomfortable with granting these stays, but is still comfortable with starving/dehydrating a woman to death.

In the meantime, the Schindlers intend to pursue new medical tests, hoping to reveal that Terri has greater mental capability than thought. The Florida Department of Children and Families also intends to investigate Terri's case, especially the claims that she is being mistreated by being denied medical care and rehab. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of Terri's collapse, which resulted in her current disability.

As I said, Judge Greer's final stay will expire on March 18, which is the Memorial of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. St. Cyril was a bishop and confessor, and he is now a Doctor of the Church. Beginning on March 9, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis will sponsor a novena to St. Cyril of Jerusalem for Terri Schindler-Schiavo's intentions. In the meantime, in preparation for the novena, you may want to pray the following prayer, derived from the collect for St. Cyril's memorial:

Father, through Cyril of Jerusalem you led your Church to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of salvation. Let his prayers help us to know your Son better and to have eternal life in all its fullness. Through his intercession, extend your saving hand to Terri Schindler-Schiavo, and grant her abundant life in this world and in the world to come. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Coming together as the Mystical Body of Christ, we can make a difference for Terri. Let us ask for the intercession of St. Cyril, and all the saints, as we continue to fight for her life and the lives of all those who are vulnerable to our culture of death.

February 24, 2005

Lending money to the poor - microcredit

One thing I have learned the past few years is that many people are poor because they lack the resources to pull themselves out of their poverty. In my work with Habitat for Humanity, I learned that some people simply don't earn enough to get a down-payment for a house, so they remain stuck paying landlords for lousy apartments or unsafe rental houses. By requiring no down payment and providing interest-free loans, Habitat for Humanity helps such families work their way out of poverty.

In many countries, the working poor are simply looking for enough money to purchase raw materials so they can produce and sell something. But, without money to purchase the raw materials, they basically turn to loan-sharks who charge high interest and otherwise manipulate them. In these countries, 'microcredit' - small loans from a couple dollars on up to $50 or $60, with a fair interest rate - helps raise people from poverty and become more independent. We don't hear much about microcredit in developed countries, but it is big business in the developing world.

The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania just wrote an article about Muhammmad Yunus, one of the pioneers of microcredit and now managing director at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. His bank loans around $500 million each year in microcredit, 96% of that to women. It's a good article to read and become familiar with the benefits that microcredit brings.

I don't know if Catholic churches or social agencies in developing countries provide microcredit. but it sure does seem to fit with the Church's social views. (Update from Tim - Catholic Relief Services does have a microcredit program.)

February 22, 2005

Why A Living Wage is Good for the Economy

In a previous post, I explained the concept of Living Wages, and why they are important for economic justice. I also believe living wages are good for business, and for the economy. For the record and for what it's worth, I am a Republican small-business owner.

People and their families need a certain amount of money to simply live. They need shelter, food, transportation, and so on – and this all costs money. Without that money, they will likely depend on some sort of public assistance, and in some cases they will ‘do without,’ damaging their health. Both of these actions also require money – public assistance comes to people from a government’s tax funds.

When someone ‘goes without’ with regard to their well-being, they end up getting care in hospital emergency rooms or forgoing such care at all. If they depend on the hospital emergency room, they most likely won’t be able to pay much of the bill – if any. So, that shortfall is subsidized by higher health insurance premiums paid by those who have insurance. If they forgo health care, they are less productive in the work force, causing lower productivity and higher costs for their employer.

If employers had to pay a living wage, those people who work would be able to use their wages for shelter, food and transportation instead of relying on public assistance. They might even be able to afford basic health insurance, which improves their productivity and keeps them out of the emergency room. Less demand for public assistance means lower taxes, increased productivity means lower costs for businesses.

In simple terms, we have a choice: a low minimum wage with high levels of public assistance and health care premiums, or a higher living wage with lower levels of public assistance and health care premiums. The money for these basic needs has to, and will come from somewhere; it’s simply a matter of which route it takes. Living wages are good for business, or at least they have a neutral impact, as reported by the Economic Policy Institute.

One principle of Catholic social teaching is that of subsidiarity – in simple terms, don’t do at a high level what can be done at a lower level. If we force business to pay living wages, the transfer of money happens at the lowest, most direct level - between employer and employee. Without a living wage, we have increased taxes on employers and employees, and those tax revenues are eventually collected and (hopefully) redistributed to those who need it. But that money takes a long path to get from the employers/employees all the way back to the working-poor who need it. And that path is filled with various political agendas that may derail it. Why make it so complicated?

On Terri Schindler-Schiavo

Most Catholics are aware of the situation involving Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, wants to remove her feeding tube, but her family has objected based on a number of inconsistencies. The Holy Father has also recently objected to the removal of nutrition and hydration in general.

In light of the fact that the Schindlers' objections have not been properly evaluated by the courts in the state of Florida, and in light of the Holy Father's statement of March 2004, we, the contributing writers of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, strenuously object to the planned removal of Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube. We call upon the Florida courts to give due consideration to objections made by the Schindlers, by the office of Gov. Jeb Bush and by pro-life advocates nationwide. We call upon Michael Schiavo to acknowledge his own possible biases and to allow Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo's family to handle her care. In general, we call upon all Americans and all of our leaders in all branches of government to embrace a consistent ethic of life that will contribute to the growing culture of life, rather than achieving one last sad victory for the culture of death which is now diminishing.

As a result of our objection to the removal of Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube, we have decided to join in a growing movement of weblogs -- called a "BlogBurst" -- which will write in support of Terri Schindler-Schiavo's life. In solidarity with Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo, the Schindler family and disabled persons worldwide, we will strive to write about Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo at least once per day. We encourage other weblogs to participate in this BlogBurst. More information can be obtained from the Hyscience weblog, and the code for joining the BlogBurst can be found here. Anyone who joins the BlogBurst should be sure to e-mail Hyscience and let him know.

As we continue to fight for a consistent ethic of life in our culture, let us always remember that we are fighting for people, not issues or platform planks. We are fighting for people like Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

May God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- protect our disabled brothers and sisters, especially Terri Schindler-Schiavo, from all harm. And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and all the angels and saints, pray for the repentance of all those who would disrespect the dignity of human life. May they come to believe in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and be led by their belief to respect the sacred nature of all human life. Amen.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Abby Kraft
Steve Bogner
Joe Cecil
Nathan Nelson

Contributing Writers,
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

February 18, 2005

Why I Voted for John Kerry

The elections are long behind us, but the polarization within the Catholic Church over the 2004 election continues to spark debate.

In Why I Voted for John Kerry I use Church teaching to explain why I voted for Kerry even though I am daily Mass attending, registered Republican who supports a Right to Life Amendment prohibiting all direct abortions.

The Church Teaching on the War in Iraq

Many Catholics are unaware of the Vatican's and the bishop's united and "unequivocal" opposition to the war in Iraq. In The Church Teaching on the War in Iraq I highlight the authoritative teaching of the Church demonstrating a clear message that the war in Iraq does not meet the strict and rigorous traditional just war requirements.

February 17, 2005

Questions About Church Teaching on Gay Civil Unions

This post originally appeared at In Today's News on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005.

Some conservative Catholics want a Constitutional ban on gay marriage because homosexual acts are considered intrinsically disordered (par 2357 of the CCC), and therefore a non-negotiable issue in politics.

Gay unions or marriages are seen as a departure from traditional marriage and a threat to the institution of marriage itself.

Here is a link to the Catechism on the Vatican's site.

According to the Vatican, artificial contraception is an intrinsically disordered act (par 2370 of the CCC).

Should the production or sale of contraceptives be banned under civil law, and the issue considered a non-negotiable political issue?

According to the Vatican, masturbation is an intrinsically disordered act (par 2352 of the CCC).

Should there be a legal remedy for those caught in the act of masturbation?

Should there be laws against the production and sale of pornography, and the issue be considered a non-negotiable political issue?

According to the Vatican, all of these sins fall under the sixth commandment: Do not commit adultery.

Included in this commandment is also the prohibition to remarry a different person after divorce.

These would seem to be more direct offenses against marriage.

Should there be laws with criminal penalties against adultery as well as for remarriage after divorce?

Paragraph 2351 in this section highlights that the sin of lust is a disordered sexual desire that intentionally separates sexual expression from the unitive and procreative dimension.

How does a gay couple intentionally separate sexual expression from the procreative dimension in a way that infertile heterosexual couples do not?

If deliberately separating sexuality from procreation is always wrong, why can married heterosexuals knowingly and deliberately engage in conjugal relations during a period of a women's cycle that is infertile?

There was an ancient Christian non-sacramental rite of adelphopoiesis uniting people of the same gender in an indissoluble bond as spiritual siblings.

Could this rite be restored as a recognition of committed same gender love, whether such a couple is having sex or not?

If the rite of adelphopoiesis were restored, could it be bestowed with benefits under civil law that mirror those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, such as inheritance rights, tax benefits, the ability to adopt, power of attorney and so forth?

Is giving one couple the exact same civil rights that other couples already enjoy really "special rights"?

There are far fewer passages in the Bible referring to homosexual acts than there passages supporting slavery. The historic context of these sparse references does not account for a possible unchosen and unchanging homosexual orientation (see my lengthy exegesis).

Is it possible that by avoiding anachronistic isogesis of the texts, the Bible simply does not specifically address the questions we ask today?

How is a gay civil union a greater threat to heterosexual marriage than an infertile couple or a couple practicing natural family planning?

Vowed celibacy in religious life is a non-sacramental gesture.

Though the model of sacramental marriage in Scripture and Tradition is always that it is between a man and woman, is there any reason not to celebrate non-sacramental unions where love, commitment, monogamy, and self sacrifice for another are present?

In recent years, a relatively new theological concept called complementarity between the sexes has been introduced by the Vatican. The idea is that the male and female complete one another.

If this theory is true, how does vowed celibacy fit into the theology?

Where does a hermaphrodite fit into the theology?

Why is vowed celibate life not considered a threat to heterosexual marriage?

Why are orphanages run by vowed religious less threatening to children than adoption by a same gender couple?

Aren't something like 80 to 90 percent of pedophiles and ephobophiles in the general population heterosexual married men?

Father Donald Cozzens has suggested that up to half of priests are gay.

If you could see into his soul, and saw that your own pastor is chaste but same sex attracted, would you think differently about gays?

Further, does a Constitutional Amendment violate the social justice principle of subsidiarity if the states can regulate marriage?

Could the promotion of economic justice do more to save heterosexual marriages than passing a Constitutional ban on gay marriages?

The Vatican condemns unjust discrimination directed at persons with predominate same sex attractions.

Why doesn't the prohibition of such discrimination forbid us to try to create legislation that would prohibit a gay civil union?

Saint Thomas Aquinas held the position that civil law only needs to enforce morality on issues where direct harm is caused to another in this life.

What harm is caused to others by permitting gay unions?

Non-infallible Vatican directives advise Catholic politicians to vote against legalization of gay civil unions out of fear that homosexuality would spread in society, somewhat like a disease (see text).

Does this theory of the origins of homosexuality make sense to most people?

How many of us believe our dominant sexual attractions were chosen or formed purely by society's marriage laws?

If marrying someone of the same gender is like marrying a dog, which of the two people is the dog?

How did encouraging monogamous commitment come to be seen as promoting a decadent life-style?

If people are born predisposed to same sex attractions, why did God allow this?

Did God create some people with same dominant same sex attractions?

If grace builds on nature, how do persons with natural same sex attractions live the graced life as gay people?

The Second Vatican Council acknowledges in GS 76 a legitimate autonomy of Church and state. In a representative democracy, Catholic politicians would seem to have some moral obligation to represent their constituents' interests.

If the majority of Americans favored gay civil unions one day, is there any principle of Catholic morality that would obligate a politician to vote against the consensus of his or her constituents on this issue?

Why did the organization called "Catholic Answers" include gay marriage with four right to life issues as one of only five "non-negotiable" political issues in the 2004 voter's guide?

Was this shameless promotion of Bush disguised as religious guidence?

Why was gay marriage non-negotiable on this list, while the "strict and rigorous" conditions for a just war in par 2309 of the CCC are negotiable?

Why was gay marriage on the list, but the Holy Father's and the USCCB's opposition to the death penalty was not on the list?

Was it homophobia that inspired support for Bush - an anxiety provoked by people who experience homosexual attractions?

What is the source of anxiety about homosexuality?

Is it merely the so-called "ick factor", and if so, should ugly heterosexuals be banned from marriage?

Are the arguments against gay unions any different than the arguments against inter-racial marriage?

Are we afraid we'll "catch it" if exposed to it too much?

Do we consider how anger and hate are the triggered by the same stimuli as fear and anxiety: the fight or flight reaction?

Even if the Church is right that gay civil unions should not be legal, in light of an unjust war, abortion, the death penalty, a growing gap between rich and poor, rising divorce rates, and so forth, should a Constitutional ban on gay civil unions really be a high priority and non-negotiable issue to American Roman Catholics?

February 12, 2005

Economic Justice: Earning a fair living wage

This has always seemed so simple to me – living wages. Call it a living wage, fair-housing wage, or just the regular old minimum wage, but whatever it’s called I believe people deserve to be paid enough to afford decent housing, food, clothing, and so on. And the current minimum wage doesn’t even come close to that.

What is a living wage? It’s the hourly wage, based on a 40 hour work week, that a person is to be paid so as to afford decent housing. There are various formulae for determining that hourly wage, but here’s one that I like and is easy enough to understand. I simplified it a bit:

HUD fair market rent / 0.30 / 170 = Living Wage Hourly Rate

The Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) recommends people spend at most 30% of their gross income on housing, which is where we get the 0.30 factor. And on average, there are about 170 working hours in each month. The fair market rates are available from HUD.

In my area of the country (Hamilton County, Ohio) the living wage for a single person comes to $9/hr. In the rural Kansas county I grew up in, the living wage is $5.57/hr. I ran the numbers for all the counties (hey, I have an MBA, I do these things) and the minimum living wage came to $4.22/hr in Clay County, KY and the maximum was $20.10/hr in the Boston metro area, for a single person.

The Federal minimum wage is $5.15/hr – only 60 of the 3,266 counties listed had a living wage that was under $5.15/hr. Some states and local governments have minimum wages higher than what is set at the Federal level. And, there are a variety of housing subsidies that may be used in certain situations.

There are two reasons to pay higher wages. First, from a Catholic social justice perspective, it is an offense against human dignity for people to work full-time and not have enough money to live a decent life. It’s unjust and suggests some level of manipulation or being taken advantage of.

The second reason is both social and economic – it would be good for businesses, the economy and society. I’ll explain my arguments for that in my next posting.

February 08, 2005

The Catholic State of the Union

Oswald Sobrino from Catholics in the Public Square has highlighted a few excerpts from President Bush's recent State of the Union address and has discussed how they mesh with some Catholic moral and social teachings. The State of the Union address is basically a reflection on what the President has done so far, and what he intends to do from this point forward. It usually sets the tone of upcoming policy decisions. It's a fairly important statement, and I thought I would give it some consideration here. Since Catholics in the Public Square has already done a fine job of explaining how the State of the Union address met some standards of Catholic social teaching, I thought I would concentrate on how it fell short of some of those standards.

The Federal Budget

America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all.

There is nothing inherently wrong with cutting federal programs. In fact, if the goals of the programs can be accomplished at a lower level, the principle of subsidiarity demands that the programs be cut and that the goals of the programs be accomplished either at lower levels of government or by private citizens and private organizations. On the other hand, if the goals of these programs cannot be accomplished at lower levels, then the government would have a responsibility to maintain them.

So, the question is: What will Bush cut?

- He will cut $45 billion in health care for low income families and senior citizens over the course of ten years. By 2010, the amount cut would be enough to provide health care for 1.8 million children or 345,000 senior citizens.

- Food stamps will be reduced by $1 billion over ten years. This means that somewhere between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand fewer low income people will receive nutrition assistance.

- Home heating and cooling assistance has been cut by $200 million. This development comes despite rising fuel costs.

- Education and training programs are facing serious cuts. Worker training programs have been reduced by $300 million, high school vocational education has been cut by a stunning $2.2 billion, and the Even Start literacy program has been eliminated. One should note that one of President Bush's proposed solutions to the present job crisis in this country was education and retraining -- but he has now cut worker training and high school vocational education by significant amounts.

- Veterans' care will require doubled co-pays for prescription drugs, and users of the Veterans Administration or other government health care will be charged $250 per year.

- Law enforcement grants will be cut from $2.8 billion to $1.5 billion.

- Grants for land and water conservation will be cut by $100 million.

- President Bush's budget will eliminate the Community Food and Nutrition Program, the migrant and seasonal worker training program and all Amtrak subsidies.

The government's responsibility is to preserve the common good. Chief among the responsibilities which flow from preservation of the common good are the protection of basic human rights and the enforcement of law. The $1.5 billion allocated for law enforcement grants will not be sufficient; in fact, the previous $2.8 billion was insufficient. Some of President Bush's other domestic cuts will affect basic human rights like the right to food, the right to education and the right to health care. His cuts in the areas of land and water preservation are not harmonious with Catholic teaching on environmental stewardship. The government has a responsibility to enforce the law, to provide for basic human rights and to protect the environment. By eliminating and reducing funding to programs which will do just that, President Bush raises serious questions as to whether or not he's serious about the responsibility of the government to the common good of the American people.

President Bush assures us that this budget will cut the fiscally irresponsible deficits in half by 2009, but the budget does not fully take into account the cost of the Iraq War, the cost of Social Security privatization or the cost of making his tax cuts permanent. National Public Radio reports that the programs eliminated and reduced in the President's budget account for approximately 6% of the deficit, while his tax cuts account for 50% of the deficit. He has nevertheless made clear that he intends to make these tax cuts permanent.

Finally, it must be noted that some of President Bush's shall we say, less than kosher, programs are now guaranteed at the expense of government programs which preserve the common good. For instance, there is every indication that President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld intend to once again urge Congress to grant them funding for nuclear proliferation. We should not be taking up nuclear proliferation in the first place, but we certainly should not be doing so at the expense of domestic programs for the common good.

The budget does eliminate some military production programs, but overall the Defense Department will receive an additional $19 billion, for a total of $419.3 billion -- which, as I said, does not include the cost of the Iraq War, left unmentioned in the President's budget.

The only conclusion that can be reached is that President Bush's budget is seriously flawed. It is inconsistent with Catholic social teaching -- and that's putting it mildly.

(Much of the above statistical information comes courtesy of the Daily Kos and from an e-mail sent by Elizabeth Sholes of California Church IMPACT).

Education & Jobs

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we're closing the achievement gap for minority students. Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success. We will help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career, by reforming our job training system and strengthening America's community colleges. And we'll make it easier for Americans to afford a college education, by increasing the size of Pell Grants.

I agree with President Bush on these things, but I see a schism between what he's saying and what he's actually doing. For instance, it is true that the standards of high school education are higher because of the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is also true that because the Bush Administration has underfunded No Child Left Behind these standards cannot be met by many high schools. Under No Child Left Behind, schools are punished for being unable to meet standards that they cannot possibly meet without adequate funding.

Also, as I have already mentioned, President Bush is cutting funding to worker training programs and high school vocational education. How does he intend to do that and "help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career"? What he's saying here in the State of the Union address and what he's doing in the new budget cannot be reconciled. I agree with President Bush in theory about what needs to be done about education and job training -- now, if only he would do it.

Health Care & Liability Reform

To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable, and give families greater access to good coverage and more control over their health decisions. I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive health care agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology to prevent medical error and needless costs, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts, and medical liability reform that will reduce health care costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.

Again, much of what President Bush is saying here is inconsistent with his budget. If President Bush wants to make health care more available, why is he cutting $45 billion in health care for low income families and senior citizens? The schism between what he's saying and what he intends to do is confusing and troubling.

I think most people can agree that medical liability reform is needed, but there are a variety of ways to go about effective medical liability reform. President Bush's proposal for medical liability reform would, in effect, punish the victims of medical malpractice by limiting their ability to pursue justice. In many cases, the Bush proposal for medical liability reform would create a situation in which caps on monetary awards would keep victims from even being able to cover the medical costs which result from malpractice. Respect for the dignity of human life demands that justice be done in cases of medical malpractice, and it certainly demands that the victims should at least be able to pay resultant medical costs. It should also be pointed out that while President Bush has presented the illusion that medical liability is somehow primarily responsible for the rising cost of health care, such is not the case. There are many complex factors contributing to this problem, all of which must be addressed in order to ensure the basic human right to health care.

Energy & Environment

To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home -- including safe, clean nuclear energy. My Clear Skies legislation will cut power plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens. And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology -- from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. Four years of debate is enough: I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy.

It is encouraging to hear President Bush's plans to protect the environment and provide responsible energy, but once again, his budget contradicts his words. His budget cuts grants for land and water conservation by $100 million. The budget eliminates several Department of Energy programs. This schism between the State of the Union address and the new budget really needs to be addressed.

One area that needs work is the area of nuclear energy. First, we still don't know what we're going to do with nuclear waste in the long term -- disposal of nuclear waste creates the potential for natural and man-made disasters. Secondly, it has been demonstrated that America's nuclear power plants are not sufficiently secured, leaving open the very real potential for a terrorist attack. Not only would such an attack cause unfathomable environmental devastation, but it would pose a grave risk to human life. In order to protect the dignity of human life from terrorists, in order to preserve the common good and in order to be good stewards of the environment, all of the many problems with nuclear energy must be addressed.

The Federal Marriage Amendment

Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges. For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.

No one can dispute that President Bush is in fundamental agreement with the Catholic Church regarding the institution of marriage. Most Catholics would see President Bush's support for the Federal Marriage Amendment as totally consistent with the Church's social teaching. However, while it cannot be disputed that the Church opposes same-sex marriage, how best to present that opposition in civil society is still marked with a big question mark.

The question in my mind is this: Does the Federal Marriage Amendment contradict the principle of subsidiarity? Remember, subsidiarity means "that the functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately." The looming question for Catholics who oppose gay marriage is whether or not it can be adequately prevented at lower levels of society. If it can, the principle of subsidiarity demands that it be prevented at the lower level.

It seems to me that this can be accomplished at the lower levels of government. Individual states can pass amendments to their state constitutions prohibiting same-sex marriage to prevent state courts from overturning existing laws (such was done by eleven states in the November election), and the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress ensures that no state will be forced to recognize gay marriages from other states. Unless and until the Supreme Court declares the prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the prevention of gay marriage can be accomplished by individual states and should not, according to the principle of subsidiarity, be accomplished by the federal government. It is therefore my contention that the Federal Marriage Amendment represents a violation of the principle of subsidiarity, and thus is inconsistent with Catholic social teaching.

The Death Penalty

Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice. In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit -- so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction. Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.

Although I am primarily pointing out the inconsistencies with President Bush's State of the Union address and Catholic teaching, I feel that I must point out an instance in which he is showing significant signs of mature development. By urging the expansion of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction, and by suggesting a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, President Bush has shown a significant change in opinion regarding the use of the death penalty. His opinion is still not perfect by any means, but it has moved toward greater consistency with Catholic social teaching. As Catholics committed to the fullness of Catholic social teaching, let us continue to urge the President to come to an understanding of the death penalty in which it should only be used when protection of the common good demands it. Due to our modern prison system, such cases "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2267).

Syria & Iran

To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act -- and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

President Bush's language regarding Syria and especially Iran is very troubling. President Bush is accusing Iran of the same things he used to justify war with Iraq: pursuing weapons of mass destruction (particularly nuclear weapons); sponsoring terrorism; and the commission of human rights abuses against the Iranian people. One will note the use of the word "government" in reference to Syria's leadership and the use of the word "regime" in reference to Iran's leadership -- "regime," the same term used for Saddam Hussein's government. His direct address to the Iranian people is also very troubling. Is he advocating for the "liberation" of Iran? All signs indicate that he is.

As American Catholics, we must state unequivocally that we will not support any further acts of aggression by our government in the Middle East, nor any warfare whatsoever unless the standards of Christian just war doctrine are manifestly observed. We must remind President Bush that, practically speaking, further military intervention in the Middle East would be impossible without military conscription (the draft) -- and we must remind the President that he and his Republican Party promised the American people that they would not call for conscription.

In the event that the President and Congress do call for conscription in a war that is clearly unjust, American Catholics should be prepared to conscientiously object to the war(s) by refusing to take up arms against our global neighbors -- even if it means civil disobedience.

As Catholics, we must also urge our government officials to respect nuclear disarmament even as they call upon other governments to do so. It is hypocritcal to expect Iran or any other nation to give up nuclear weapons if we are not also prepared to do so -- and yet the President and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld continue to seek funding for the expansion of our nuclear arsenal. Finally, our government must consistently apply its policy on nuclear disarmament. It is manifestly ridiculous to ask Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions while Pakistan, India, Israel and many other nations maintain their nuclear programs without being challenged by our government.

Full Justice -- Not Just Some

As Catholics, we are called to respect the fullness of Catholic social teaching. While we can applaud our elected officials for embracing parts of a social justice ethic, we must not be satisfied with partial observance of social justice norms.

In this critique of the President's recent State of the Union address, I have pointed out inconsistencies with Catholic social teaching. Perhaps the most serious inconsistencies are our ambitions toward nuclear expansion and our aggressive overtures toward Iran and other nations in the Middle East. These inconsistencies with the principle of peace and disarmament and the principle of global solidarity are inseparably tied to respect for the dignity of human life. I have also demonstrated inconsistencies with six other principles of social justice: common good and community; the option for the poor; societal rights and responsibilities; the role of government and subsidiarity; economic justice; and stewardship of God's creation.

It is good that President Bush's approach to preborn and elderly human life is consistent with Catholic social teaching. It is also good that President Bush's approach to immigration is harmonious with Catholic social teaching. Whenever President Bush or any elected official is consistent with an authentic social justice ethic, we should support them in that and encourage them to continue with that consistency. However, we cannot settle for partial fidelity to social justice. We cannot even settle for half. We cannot stop until a complete ethic of social justice is embraced. We cannot call someone truly, completely pro-life if he or she is expanding the nuclear arsenal and very strongly implying a desire to commit another unjust act of aggression. We can commend them for their protection of preborn and elderly human life, but we can't tell them that it's enough and not expect them to protect all human life.

My hope is that all Catholics will seriously reflect on the possible inconsistencies of all elected officials with Catholic social teaching and encourage them to pursue a straighter path to holiness, both individual holiness and holiness for society at large.

February 07, 2005

Catholic Social Principles

I thought that in order to get the ball rolling for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I would post the major themes or principles of Catholic social teaching. There are roughly ten of them. From the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Office for Social Justice:

1. Dignity of the Human Person

Belief in the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all Catholic social teaching. Human life is sacred, and the dignity of the human person is the starting point for a moral vision for society. This principle is grounded in the idea that the person is made in the image of God. The person is the clearest reflection of God among us. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: We at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis might point out the obvious -- that the dignity of the human person calls for a consistent ethic of life, which respects the dignity of all human life. It would not allow Catholics to value some human life (i.e., preborn life) but not value other human life (i.e., criminals or Iraqis). While we would acknowledge that some violations of human dignity may carry more weight than others, we would encourage Catholics to oppose violations of human dignity wherever and whenever they occur].

2. Common Good and Community

The human person is both sacred and social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community. Human beings grow and achieve fulfillment in community. Human dignity can only be realized and protected in the context of relationships with the wider society.

How we organize our society -- in economics and politics, in law and policy -- directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The obligation to "love our neighbor" has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The principle of the common good reminds us that our own lives, the lives of those in our own families or the lives of those in our local communities are not the only human lives that we should be concerned with. We have to be concerned with human life in the wider society, not just in America but throughout the world. Thus, the millions dying of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the genocide occuring in the Sudan and the deaths of both American military and Iraqi civilians throughout Iraq should all be of concern to Catholics, and we should be doing everything we can to help in all of those situations].

3. Option for the Poor

The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor. The "option for the poor," is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.

The option for the poor is an essential part of society's effort to achieve the common good. A healthy community can be achieved only if its members give special attention to those with special needs, to those who are poor and on the margins of society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The most imperative issue facing society is how it treats the poor, vulnerable, deprived and powerless. As many pro-life Catholics have pointed out, this option for the poor includes in a special way preborn life, because they are truly the most vulnerable human beings. But the option for the poor cannot be viewed as an option that now applies exclusively to preborn human beings. It is still morally imperative for Catholics to work for changes in society so that attention is given to the special needs of the poor].

4. Rights and Responsibilities

Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency -- starting with food, shelter and clothing, employment, health care, and education. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities -- to one another, to our families, and to the larger society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The fundamental right of human beings is the right to life, but human beings also have a right to that which is required for human decency. According to Catholic social teaching, we have a right to food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care and education. Further, Catholic teaching is emphatic in stating that violations of any of these rights are gravely immoral, and it is not at all unreasonable to see a connection between some violations of human rights and the violation of the fundamental right to life. For instance, the absence of the right to health care, to employment, to education or to other human rights often lead young women to feel as if they have no choice but to end the life of their preborn children. Regardless of whether or not this thinking is right or wrong, providing for these other human rights may lead to a greater respect for the fundamental right to life. All human beings have corresponding responsibilities, including the responsibility to make sure that others' basic human rights are met].

5. Role of Government and Subsidiarity

The state has a positive moral function. It is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common good. All people have a right and a responsibility to participate in political institutions so that government can achieve its proper goals.

The principle of subsidiarity holds that the functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When the needs in question cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene. (See selected quotations on the role of government and subsidiarity.)

[Blogger's Note: The state is meant to be an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights and build the common good. Unfortunately, there are many instances when the state is not an instrument for any of these justice-building goals. That's why all people have a right and responsibility to participate in political institutions, which includes voting in democratic governments, to ensure that the state can achieve the threefold goals we've mentioned. Catholic teaching also emphatically endorses the principle of subsidiarity. Unfortunately, subsidiarity is not very well respected by either of the two major political parties in our American government. Many conservative Catholics will argue that Republicans pay more respect to the principle of subsidiarity by limiting social programs and promoting involvement in private charities. Liberal Catholics might argue that needs cannot be adequately met by private charities in today's world, which is why we need social programs to supplement private charity. It is true that when needs cannot be met at lower levels, the government is required to intervene. Still, both of our major political parties could benefit from a greater respect for subsidiarity].

6. Economic Justice

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. All workers have a right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe working conditions. They also have a fundamental right to organize to join unions. People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life.

Catholic teaching opposes collectivist and statist economic approaches. But it also rejects the notion that a free market automatically produces justice. Distributive justice, for example, cannot be achieved by relying entirely on free market forces. Competition and free markets are useful elements of economic systems. However, markets must be kept within limits, because there are many needs and goods that cannot be satisfied by the market system. It is the task of the state and of all society to intervene and ensure that these needs are met. (See selected quotations on markets, workers rights, and labor vs. capital.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic social teaching opposes both communism and unfettered capitalism. The Church's social teaching emphasizes the right to productive work, the right to decent and fair wages and the right to safe working conditions. The right of workers to organize and form labor unions is also strongly supported by Catholic teaching. This is an area in which the Republican Party, particularly, is lacking. Republicans often oppose raising the minimum wage, which at $5.15 an hour cannot be considered either decent or fair since it does not meet the cost of living. Republicans are also notorious for their opposition to labor unions and for "union-busting." Catholic Republicans have a responsibility to challenge their party to have greater respect for the rights of workers].

7. Stewardship of God's Creation

The goods of the earth are gifts from God, and they are intended by God for the benefit of everyone. There is a "social mortgage" that guides our use of the world's goods, and we have a responsibility to care for these goods as stewards and trustees, not as mere consumers and users. How we treat the environment is a measure of our stewardship, a sign of our respect for the Creator. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Although the Bible is clear that God has given us dominion over the Earth, it is also clear from Catholic social teaching that this dominion also gives us a responsibility to the Earth. How we treat the environment is a measure of our respect for God, who created the universe and saw that it was good. By disrespecting and abusing God's good creation, we disrespect and abuse God the Creator].

8. Promotion of Peace and Disarmament

Catholic teaching promotes peace as a positive, action-oriented concept. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and confidence between peoples and nations. It involves collaboration and binding agreements." There is a close relationship in Catholic teaching between peace and justice. Peace is the fruit of justice and is dependent upon right order among human beings. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The promotion of peace has been a major theme of Catholic social teaching, especially in the pontificates of Pope Bl. John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Although it is separated from the dignity of human life here, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops include peace and disarmament among the life issues -- strongly implying that peace and disarmament are inseparably tied to the dignity of human life].

9. Participation

All people have a right to participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of society. It is a fundamental demand of justice and a requirement for human dignity that all people be assured a minimum level of participation in the community. It is wrong for a person or a group to be excluded unfairly or to be unable to participate in society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic social teaching is very clear that there should be no prejudices against individuals or groups, and that no one should be excluded from participating in society. Although we have made large steps toward equality in America, there is still work to be done].

10. Global Solidarity and Development

We are one human family. Our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, economic and ideological differences. We are called to work globally for justice. Authentic development must be full human development. It must respect and promote personal, social, economic, and political rights, including the rights of nations and of peoples. It must avoid the extremists of underdevelopment on the one hand, and "superdevelopment" on the other. Accumulating material goods, and technical resources will be unsatisfactory and debasing if there is no respect for the moral, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of the person. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic teaching is clear that we are one human family. This stands in contradiction to the American tendency toward isolationism, which sometimes leads us to think primarily of ourselves and less about the rest of the world. It also contradicts our policies on immigration, which are decidedly anti-immigrant].

These ten principles are not the sum of Catholic social teaching, but they represent major themes which should be important to all American Catholics. All of the subsequent principles can be said to be rooted primarily in the dignity of the human person -- making Catholic social teaching a form of personalism. This personalism is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the redemption of the material world, which ties Catholic social justice to the central teaching of Catholic Christian faith.