May 31, 2005

I'm Confused About Anti-Choice Issues

The more I read about pro-choice and anti-choice issues, the more confused I become. Last week, the U. S. House of Representatives voted to fund embryonic stem-cell research, and it's before the U. S. Senate right now. President Bush has said he's going to veto that legislation if it passes.

Today the issue seems to be the "adoption" of embryos.

Some Catholic theologians are encouraging married couples to adopt unwanted embryos from fertility clinics. Others vehemently oppose the idea, calling it a grave violation of the principle that procreation should occur naturally.

The Vatican has not yet taken a stand. But if Pope Benedict XVI rules against embryo adoption, as some doctrinal conservatives expect, it could create a fissure between Catholics and evangelical Protestants, who have enthusiastically promoted embryo adoption and enlisted the White House's support for it.

Source: click here.

I have never understood the Catholic Church's opposition to in vitro fertilization. I understand their opposition to the destruction of embryos, even though I don't agree with it, especially where stem-cell research is concerned. I mean, I think it's an application of the principle of the double effect, plain and simple, and that's totally "ethical" in Catholic circles. But embryo adoption is another issue entirely.

One of the leading voices in the church in favor of embryo adoptions is the Rev. Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. "It's reaching out to another human being, albeit in an embryonic state, in the only way that that little being can be helped," he said.

But the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, who has a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and is staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, argued that embryo adoptions would make Catholics complicit in test-tube fertilizations, which the church considers illicit. Moreover, he said, artificially implanting an embryo in a woman's womb is a "grave violation of the nature of marital sexuality."

Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University is probably the most conservative Catholic university in the world, owned and operated by the Legionaries of Christ. Father Thomas D. Williams, L.C., is the handsome, articulate young priest NBC and related networks used extensively as a commentator during the death watch, funeral, and burial of John Paul, II, and the election and installation of Benedict XVI. This man is absolutely not a doctrinaire liberal, so this Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk must be far to the right of Attila the Hun.

This Pacholczyk person says implanting an embryo in a woman's womb is a "grave violation of the nature of marital sexuality." With all due respect, what does he know about "the nature of marital sexuality," except what he's read in textbooks written by other (theoretically) celibate men? In fact, what does "the nature of marital sexuality" mean? I've been married 32 years and I've fathered 2 children, but I don't know what "the nature of marital sexuality" means.
I think what we're seeing here is a case of "celibate" men pontificating about relationships between married men and women. I don't think they know what they're talking about, and it confuses me. This Fr. Pacholczyk's position seems to me to be very anti-pro-life. Or, anti pro-choice. Or something.

Ed Deluzain

Part 4: Racism and the Catholic Church

[Contributor's note: This concludes the series on Racism in the Catholic Church.]

Towards Racial Justice in the New Millennium

The Vatican as a member of the United Nations, participated in the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa from August 31-September 7, 2001. The Vatican submitted a document entitled The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society.

This document was reprint of a document promulgated by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1988 with the same title. However, this reprint had an "introductory update" written by Fracois-Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan. This update highlights points made earlier by Lumen Gentium and other documents, i.e., the paradoxical situation of increased globalization with its concomitant xenophobia and racial and ethnic discrimination, the idea that while formal pardon is a necessary balm for reconciliation, it is only through Christ’s grace and love that we can find true reconciliation and the Church has a necessary role to play in this regard.

The document states categorically that racism is an evil and its eradication is an imperative rooted in the human conscience.

The effort to overcome racism does in fact seem to have become an imperative which is broadly anchored in human consciences. The 1965 U.N. Convention expressed this conviction forcefully: "Any doctrine of superiority based on the difference between races is scientifically false, morally condemnable and socially unjust and dangerous." The Church affirms it with no less vigour: all racist theories are contrary to Christian faith and love. And yet, in sharp contrast to this growing awareness of human dignity, racism still exists and continually reappears in different forms. Everyone, therefore, must make efforts to heal it with great firmness and patience.

We have seen how in the past 40 years the Catholic Church has approach issues of social justice and racism. Beginning with the documents of The Second Vatican Council and perusing church documents, both from the U.S. Bishops and from the Vatican, that the Catholic Church boldly proclaims that racism is an evil that permeates society which must be resisted and overcome. As an evil and injustice, the Catholic Church sees it as an essential part of its mission to eradicate racism and pursue social justice. The Church acknowledges that the pursuit of social justice and racial reconciliation cannot be ancillary to the life of Christians, rather, all such pursuits must pervade the entirety of the Christian life: its ritual life, theology, and devotions.

Part 1: Lumen Gentium and the Essential Social Justice Mission of the Church

Part 2: Brothers and Sisters to Us, The U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism

Part 3: The Black Catholic Bishops Speak Out

[The UN World Conference on Racism was not as successful as was hoped, primarily because the George W. Bush Administration decided not to participate to show support for Israel, which felt it was being unfairly targetted by the majority of participants. Besides the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some major European countries refused to fully participate because of the issue of reparations for injustices such as slavery.]

May 29, 2005

Is the Pope Corrupt?

I knew that would get your attention, but that's what a good many people are asking these days. It has to do with a decision by somebody within the Vatican curia to drop the investigation against Fr. Marcial Maciel, L.C., the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. That religious order is widely believed to be a cult, and more than one bishop in this country has refused to allow them to minister in his diocese. That's extraordinary, but it's happened before in Catholic history to orders like, say, the Jesuits. But it's still very much out of the ordinary.
This is what some of the hard liners are saying:

The pope is facing new accusations that he 'faked' an investigation into child abuse by a leader of an influential Roman Catholic order to show the world that he was taking [a] tough stance against offenders in order to get himself elected the leader of the Catholic Church.

The disgraced pontiff Benedict XVI is accused of opening an investigation into the conduct of the alleged serial molester and leader of the Legionnaires [sic] of Christ Marcial Maciel in December [of] last year but promptly dropping the investigation after being elected as the pope last month.

Source: click here.

I think there are a lot of high emotions about this issue, especially among victims of child sexual abuse, and there is relatively little information. The Legionaries of Christ issued a press release last Friday saying the "Holy See" had dropped the case. But, supposedly, the unsigned, faxed memo that served as the basis of this press release didn't come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the arm of the Vatican that is in charge with investigating child sex abuse and that Pope Benedict was in charge of when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.

I'm only quoting the following to show the vitriol of some people on this matter. This is not my opinion, but I think it shows how strongly some people feel.

the time has come
Written by Guest on 2005-05-29 15:44:31
throw a few cardinals in prison and watch how fast the church finds its religion. anybody who thinks these folks are about anything more than power and cash needs to open their eyes. i say we start with international criminal and pedo-priest lover bernard cardinal law. throw his pretentious queenly ass in prison with the plebes and watch the miraculous change that happens in the catholic church.

Those are pretty strong words. I infer that this person is a male Catholic who was probably a victim of clerical sexual abuse, and I can empathize with him. But we don't have the proof yet about Maciel, and we may never have it. Secrecy seems to be a cardinal virtue, no pun intended.

Ed Deluzain

Excuses, Excuses

General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with the press today to defend the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He called the recent Amnesty International report that referred to Guantanamo Bay as a gulag "absolutely irresponsible," and then he went on to characterize those detained at Guantanamo Bay as people who "would turn right around and try to slit our throats, slit our children's throats." Finally, Gen. Myers went on to tell us that "this is a different kind of struggle, a different kind of war." Nevertheless, even while stating that the military has "always handled them humanely and with the dignity that they should be accorded," Gen. Myers admitted that five cases of mistreating the Koran could be confirmed. He was quick to point out that the Koran was not flushed down the toilet -- I guess we're supposed to be satisfied with the fact that the Koran was only "mistreated," but not flushed down a toilet.

When the excuses start flying, you can be sure that somebody somewhere is about to be in trouble. They're getting desperate to cover their behinds.

I think that Gen. Myers and the rest of the Bush administration would like the American people to believe that it's all right to treat people detained at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere with less dignity than prisoners of war are afforded under the Geneva Convention. He'd like us to believe that this is acceptable because these people would, in his words, "turn right around and try to slit our throats, slit our children's throats." After all, this is "a different kind of war," so shouldn't we be treating our prisoners a little bit differently than we normally would? Gen. Myers, like so many propagandists before him, is making the appeal to terror. He is appealing to the American public's less savory characteristics, characteristics which lead us to say: "Yes, we've got to get them, before they get us."

Of course, it's precisely because our enemies are so brutal that we cannot be brutal in return. If we're ever to win the war on terror, it's not going to be through the same brutality that our enemies dish out. As we have seen in recent weeks, returning brutality for brutality only creates more brutality, violence, and unrest. We are creating more terrorists and thus losing the war on terror by our policies, because young men (and women) in the Muslim world who would never engage in acts of terrorism are seeing what we're doing to their people -- some of whom, inevitably, are innocent -- and they're running to al-Qaeda and saying: "Sign me up." As much as the Bush administration would like us to believe that their policies are defeating international terrorism, the reality of the situation is that since September 11, 2001, President Bush and his advisors have only aggravated the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world. Nothing has contributed more to these tensions than the way we've treated our prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

It is time for the President and his government to accept responsibility for the worldwide unrest they've created, for their failure to accomplish anything in the war on terrorism, and for the damage they've done to the safety and security of America. If they will not accept responsibility, then it's time for Congress and the Supreme Court to hold them accountable.

May 26, 2005

Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigration is one of those issues that liberals and conservatives can vehemently argue about. The conservative line goes something like this: We have laws that put certain restrictions and procedures on entering the country and how long one can stay. If someone breaks those laws they have to be held accountable. Furthermore, the illegal immigrants put a drain on public services because they use but don’t contribute. The liberal line: People immigrate to the US to escape poverty and persecution, and they make a tremendous contribution of labor to the US economy. We have a moral duty to care about the fate of illegal immigrants.

I agree with both lines of thought, and both seem a bit idealistic. Given the number of illegal immigrants we now have – estimated by Bear Stearns at around 20 million – we have to take a pragmatic approach. It’s unrealistic to send millions of people back to their home countries, and it’s unjust to allow illegal immigrants to live in an underground economy.

Not a small number of companies employee illegal immigrants, paying them off the books, providing no health care, paying no employment taxes, and withholding no employee taxes. The IRS estimates that $400 billion per year in federal tax obligations goes unpaid because of this. That’s a fair amount of money that could be used to offset the deficit, improve Medicare/Medicaid, and so on. And that number doesn’t include state and local taxes.

Hollow Business Complaints

Some businesspeople will argue that if they can’t employ illegal, or undocumented, workers then they will lose customers because their costs will be too high to compete. But that’s like saying if I don’t cheat on the SAT I won’t be able to get into college. If everyone plays by the rules, then no one has an unfair advantage via breaking the rules.

Still, some businesses will protest that without such undocumented laborers they will lose revenue to foreign firms who don’t have to play by the same rules. But if their business model, once held to a legal framework, can’t compete with foreign competition then maybe they need to find a more profitable business to focus on. Many countries have lower labor costs than the US, that’s just a simple economic fact.

And some businesses will say that the hassle of complying with more stringent immigration law is a costly burden. Well, where do we draw the line with government compliance reporting? Governments can make compliance reporting easier, that is sure, but such reporting is a fact of running a business. It’s hard to see how compliance reporting would sink a business.

Social Justice Concerns

I see two economic justice points here. First, it’s unjust to the undocumented workers to not pay their employment taxes. Employment taxes are used, primarily, to fund unemployment benefits and Social Security/Medicare. Both are social safety nets put in place for good reasons. If an illegal alien is unemployed, they can’t go draw on the state’s unemployment insurance fund. And since they are not participants in Social Security and Medicare, they can not benefit from those programs either. When undocumented workers are unemployed, injured or otherwise unable to earn a living, there is a cost to the rest of society. These undocumented workers do consume public resources – resources which are provided in large part by employment taxes.

The second economic justice issue is that when employment taxes are not paid, that share of the social safety-net burden falls on employers who do follow the law. The law-abiding employers are paying more than their fair share.

Many illegal workers are counted among the poor in our nation. One of the pillars of Catholic social teaching is the ‘option for the poor’ and working to end the causes of poverty. I don’t know of anything that says we are to be concerned only for the poor who are citizens of our country.

Moving Forward

It seems to me there are tremendous benefits of bringing the underground economy into the light by making undocumented/illegal workers legal and forcing employers to adhere to their employment tax duties. The fact is that millions of illegal workers are here, our economy depends on them, and we’ve looked the other way far, far too long. We will benefit by making them full participants in our society and economy.

At the same time, we could also benefit from enforcement of current employment and immigration law. We have laws for a reason, and in this case the enforcement of employment and immigration law can bring benefits to both immigrants and the nation as a whole. There will be arguments over what the laws ought to be, and that is how the political process works. We won’t get it all correct at the outset; it will take years to reform and improve.

Our country is based on immigration – how many of us can claim Native American heritage? Immigrants don’t threaten our country, society or economy. The threat that exists is based on our refusal to approach immigration in a rational, pragmatic way.

May 23, 2005

Senate Compromise Reached

From the pages of Catholic in Exile...

A big thank you to the fourteen senators who compromised with each other to avoid a showdown in the Senate, and to avoid the destruction of one of the constitutional checks and balances granted to the Senate. We must especially thank the seven Republican senators who dissented from the party line in order to preserve civility and moderation in the Senate: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Sen. John Warner (R-VA).

Under the compromise deal, the Republicans have agreed not to use the "nuclear option" to eliminate the use of the filibuster on judicial nominees, and the Democrats have agreed in turn only to use the filibuster "under extraordinary circumstances." Additionally, the Democrats have promised an up or down vote for Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and William Pryor.

For my part, I remain completely opposed to the confirmation of these three nominees, and I remain especially opposed to the confirmation of William Pryor. His support for the death penalty and the use of torture in our prisons, combined with his ambiguity on the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, offend both my Catholic faith and my American political perspective. I hope that once these three nominees are given an up or down vote, they are promptly voted down. If I had to choose between these three nominees, however, I would choose Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown in a second before I would even consider choosing William Pryor. I hope that the Senate will use its common sense in this regard, and that senators on both sides will be thinking more about the common good of the American people than their political allegiances when the up or down votes come.

May 22, 2005

Part 3: Racism and The Catholic Church

The Black Catholic Bishops Speak Out

In 1984 the Black Catholic Bishops in the United States issued a joint statement, ‘What We Have Seen and Heard:’ A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization From the Black Bishops of the United States. In this letter address to all members of the U.S. Catholic community, these Bishops reminded Catholics of the enduring presence of the African-American Catholic community. They noted that the African American Catholics community has come of age and matured in spite of the obstacles of racism that wedded itself to the practice of Catholicism in the United States. It was their hope that through their letter they could encourage the Catholic Church in the United States to open itself to the authentic and original gifts and contributions of African American Catholic spirituality.

The letter notes that in spite of the call for racial reconciliation and justice by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, "Blacks and other minorities still remain absent from many aspects of Catholic life and are only meagerly represented on decision-making level." The Black Bishops that despite the calls from the U.S. Catholic Bishops for an examination of conscience the Catholic Church in the U.S. still had significant strides to make:

These words have not had the full impact on the American Church that was originally hoped. Blacks and other minorities still remain absent from many aspects of Catholic life and are only meagerly represented on the decision-making level . . . This racism, at once subtle and masked, still festers within our Church as within our society. It is this racism that in our minds remains the major impediment to evangelization within our community. Some little progress has been made , but success is not yet attained. The stain of racism on the American Church continues to be a source of pain and disappointment to all, both black and white . . . This stain of racism, which is so alien to the Spirit of Christ, is a scandal to many, but for us it must be the opportunity to work for the Church’s renewal as part of our task of evangelization.

The Black Bishops highlight the fact that racism is alien "to the Spirit of Christ" and can have no place in the Church’s life. Thus if the Church is to be faithful to its spirit and mission it must actively seek to address and eradicate the "stain of racism" from its midst. These Bishops argued that racism remains an obstacle to evangelization, thus crippling the heart of Christian mission. The Black Bishops concluded with an appeal to the U.S. Catholic Church, especially the Black Catholics, to not allow racism to deprive the Church "of the rich gifts that God has granted us."

In 2000 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on African American Catholics published a document entitled, Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself: U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism. This document is a compilation of articles and homilies written by the Bishops on racism. In this publication the Bishops discuss Catholic social teaching and its inextricable commitment to abolishing racism in the hearts of human beings and in societal structures. Also, in this publication, the Bishops address hate crimes in society and in the Catholic Church, healing and forgiveness, and concrete suggestions for fighting racism. A poignant remark in this volume is made by Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD to his fellow Bishops:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of the Church call upon as teachers and as believers to go beyond tolerance. Tolerance might be the beginning but it is not the end. Tolerance of another means accommodation, existing at a comfortable distance, or co-existing with the other. Tolerance calls one to deal with another of a different ethnic or racial background as required by the law. However, as you well know, the law does not change hearts. The Church today is being called upon to change hearts with the Word of God, the social teachings of the Church and programs geared towards understanding and respect for the privilege of difference. In Galatians (3:28) "Since everyone of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ, there can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave or free man, there can be neither male nor female–for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul calls us to go beyond tolerance. He calls us to dialogue, to engage in conversation, in extended interaction. He calls us to be reconciled about the past, embrace the reconciled past and be strengthened to face the future.

The phrase Christ used in the Gospel's "Physcian heal thyself," applies to us a Church today. The outward mission of the Church remains undermined and crippled by the failures of the Church within its own ranks. It is simply is not possible to be effective in our outreach if we remain mired in racism.

Part 1: Lumen Gentium and the Essential Social Justice Mission of the Church

Part 2: Brothers and Sisters to Us, The U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism

May 20, 2005

What's the big deal?

There has been a lot in the news lately about a certain story Newsweek magazine published. It was just a little 200 word blurb in their "Periscope" section about allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay. Among other things, someone reported that at one point a Qur'an had been flushed down the toilet during an interrogation session. Within the week, Muslims throughout the world were rioting, leaving 17 people dead and many more injured. After a great deal of pressure, Newsweek finally apologized and then retracted the part that said there had been an internal investigation of the incident involving the Qur'an.

But they did not retract the original story. In this week's Newsweek, they talk about how the story came about and the various other allegations regarding treatment by U.S. military personnel. At one point when Newsweek tried to stand up to Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita's bullying by saying that their source was only backing down from saying that the allegation would be in the upcoming report, not that it wasn't true, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"

So, only if the truth is palatable is it believed?

Needless to say, the Muslim world hasn't been too convinced by Newsweek's apology. One mullah is quoted in the Guardian story linked above as saying

"'We will not be deceived by this. This is a decision by America to save itself. It comes because of American pressure. Even an ordinary illiterate peasant understands this and won't accept it,'" and said the call for a jihad, or holy war, still stood."

Many Americans -- including those at the Pentagon who didn't object to the story when they were given pre-publication drafts to review -- are probably rather confused about what the big deal is. It's just a book, right? Granted, an important one. And we understand that burning the flag or a Bible is extremely distasteful. But it's certainly not something that seems worth 17 lives.

The problem is that we make the following analogies: the Qur'an is like the Bible and Muhammad is like Christ. But actually it's the opposite. Muhammad is like the Bible -- the means of receiving the Word of God -- and the Qur'an is like Christ -- the Word itself. While there are translations of the Qur'an, most good Muslims will learn Arabic, or at least prayers from the Qur'an in Arabic, because that is the language of God, a way of being closer to the Word. Indeed, some Muslims even believe it is a sacrilege to have translations.

And considering our own Church history associated with killing Jews after passion plays because they are the ones who killed Christ, you start to understand how this got so deadly so fast.

Obviously, just as was the case with anti-Semitism related to passion plays, this was fanned by many different bellows: poverty, war, anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism which has either directly or indirectly led to poverty and war.

Yet, what this whole affair has demonstrated is the devaluation of human dignity -- we don't even allow those at Guantanamo Bay the basic human rights accorded to any other human being under the Geneva Conventions -- and the short leap it is to disregarding their most cherished spiritual beliefs. Catholics should be outraged about what is going on at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq and Afghanistan because we as a nation have decided that some lives are more important than others. That human dignity is conditional. That it's no big deal to dump the Word of God in the toilet.

May 19, 2005

Is this the Culture of Life? Pregnant Alabama Teen Denied Graduation Ceremony

An earlier version of this essay appeared on my blog, Faith-Based Politics. But I’d like this story to reach a broader audience and maybe create a little mini-buzz. And, I feel strongly that this about justice. Justice for unwed mothers and justice for unborn children.

In Alabama yesterday, a pregnant teenager who had been barred from graduation defied the ban, walked through the line and announced her own name. Alysha Cosby was met with applause from her fellow students. Then she, her mother and her Aunt were escorted out by police.

Alabama right? Hypocritical backwater fundamentalists who don’t understand that we need to encourage women facing crisis pregnancies. Not like we enlightened Catholics with our “Choose Life” bumper stickers and our “Life: What a beautiful choice” commercials.

Except that the school that banned her from the ceremony was a Catholic school: The St. Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery Alabama.I’m not the kind of liberal who accuses opponents of racism and sexism at every opportunity. But the girl is African-American AND the father of the baby was allowed to participate in the ceremony.

Is it any wonder that so many people don’t take pro-life activists seriously? When the pro-life movement is so identified with the Catholic Church and Catholic institutions create situations that can only aggravate the circumstances that lead people to choose abortion rather than choosing life?There are powerful forces at work in our society that want not only to keep abortion legal, but to make it as easy and free of costs and consequences as possible. While we may oppose them, we also need to recognize that success will be partial and gradual. That means we need to support women who choose life by doing what we can to lower the emotional and financial burdens associated with that choice.

Single-mothers who decide for life need to be encouraged and assisted, not vilified. Perhaps school leadership was embrassed by the visible sign of sexual sin and didn’t want to be seen as rewarding it. But anybody who committs to a lifetime of parenthood, or who makes the difficult choice to give their child for adoption has more than done their penance. And, umm, their is this line in the Bible about sin and casting stones? But somewhow sexual sin always gets special treatment.

The Catholic Church has a lot of work to do if it wants to convince skeptics that pro-life activism really is about the sanctity of life and not about genital politics.You might want to visit the St. Jude homepage and click on the e-mail button on the bottom right to share your thoughts.

May 15, 2005

Part 2: Racism and The Catholic Church

Brothers and Sisters to Us, The U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism

In 1979 the U.S. Catholic Bishops approved the publication of a document to address the evils of racism, Brothers and Sisters To Us: U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism in our Day. The U.S. Catholic Bishops had addressed racism as a moral evil to be eradicated from society in two prior documents, Discrimination and Christian Conscience and National Race Crisis.

Brothers and Sisters to Us begins with the observation that "Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church." The Bishops are careful to show that they understand that even though there have been considerable changes for the better and that the external features of racism in large part have been eliminated, that "In large part it is only the external appearances that have changed . . .often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change." For this reason the Bishops declare that it is their Christian duty to address the injustices of racism in society:

Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and in its own structures. Our concern over racism follows as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization. Pope John Paul II has defined evangelization as bringing consciences, both individual and social, into conformity with the Gospel. We should betray our commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel. Therefore, as the Bishops of the United States, we once again address our pastoral reflections on racism to our brothers and sisters of all races.

The U.S. Bishops make the point that "the Church cannot remain silent" about the injustices of racism. Here the Bishops make it clear that it is an essential part of the Church’s mission to address itself to the problems of social injustices and that the Church’s attention to racial injustices is not ancillary to its mission but very much at the heart of it. However, this concern for racial injustice is very much directed within the Church’s own structures as well as without.

The Bishops call racism a sin and an evil. They offer a theological foundation for their condemnation of racism, thus locating the issue as a theological problem of concern to the Church.

Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: "Treat others the way you would have them treat you." Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.

The Bishops address racism as a sin that undercut the fundamental claim to human dignity, the fact that we all are made in the image of God. Racism places artificial barriers between segments of the human family and violates human dignity by denying its victims the dignity required all human beings by virtue of the image of God in each human person.

The Bishops note that we must first address ourselves theologically to the evil of racism to overcome it. The strength to overcome racism, that is racism embedded in misguided human hearts, will not be found in the government programs, social movements, public relations campaigns and the like, rather one must look to Christ for the strength and the grace to overcome the evil of racism.

The U.S. Bishops also point out that not only must racism be dealt with on a personal level, it must also be dealt with at a societal level by eradicating the sinful structures that perpetuate racism. Structural racism is described as "subtle," "anonymous," and yet very "real." This sin is social because, in varying degrees, all are responsible for it. Reticence in regard to social injustices is condemned by the Bishops in favor of vigorous action to rectify injustices.

The U.S. Bishops theological reflections on racism echo the response of the universal Catholic Church to the problem of racism. The fact that is a moral evil that must be eradicated from Church and society. And despite changes in the external features of racist societies, the Church is aware of the shift to less apparent forms of racism which often reveal themselves in the sinful racist structures in society.

Next Part 3: Black Catholic Bishops Speak Out

Part 1: Lumen Gentium and the Essential Social Justice Mission of the Church

May 14, 2005

Is it really all that bad?

"Liberals and conservatives disagree on most everything, but they both agree at least on one thing: America is going to hell in a hand-basket" - so says an article in this week’s Economist magazine (subscription required). I agree – about how both extremes of the political spectrum think America is in such a bad state. What I don’t agree with is that America is going to hell in a hand-basket.

The article goes on to state some positive social indicators – the proportion of black (‘black’ is the word they used; I don’t know what’s politically correct these days) children living with married parents is increasing; the number of stay-at-home moms is increasing; teenage pregnancy rates and abortion rates have decreased by a third in the past 15 years; child poverty has decreased; juvenile crime, drug use and alcohol use are down; and 73% of teenagers say they are hopefully optimistic about their future. The author didn’t cite references for these indicators, but the magazine is reputable and I don’t have a reason to doubt it.

So are we going to hell in a hand-basket? I don’t think so, but I am an Upbeat person, so maybe that’s just due to my nature. Do we have things to work on? Sure, and we need to keep a good focus on justice and compassion. But I’m not convinced it is as bad as the far-left and the far-right make it out to be. Good news doesn’t make the headlines and doesn’t circulate in the blog-world at the same pace as bad news. Crisis-mongers get disproportionate amounts of attention.

So what does this have to do with Catholicism and Catholic social teaching? In a word: Hope.

Hope is an integral part of Catholicism, it pervades our liturgy and worship. And ideally, hope is a driving force behind our persistent efforts to affect positively the dignity of the human person in society. A hopeful person recognizes the good that does exist while working to resolve the injustice that remains, and envisioning the positive future that is possible. Hopeful people, I think, are uniters, not dividers. They press forward and make the world better while the crisis-mongers are busy feeling sorry for themselves.

May 13, 2005

Open Letter to Ohio Senators

Note: The following is an open letter sent to Ohio senators George Voinovich and Mike DeWine in response to the news that William Pryor, President Bush's recess appointee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been moved from the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate. This letter does not necessarily express the views of the other contributing editors and writers.

- - -

Dear Senators DeWine and Voinovich:

I am writing to you regarding a matter of great importance to our nation's future; I am writing to you regarding the confirmation of President Bush's recess appointee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge William Pryor. As an American citizen, as an Ohio voter, and as a Catholic person of faith, I feel that I must speak out in opposition to the confirmation of William Pryor and the religious rhetoric that has been adopted by some members of your political party in an attempt to push his confirmation through.

Some members of the Republican Party have said or implied that President Bush's few remaining judicial nominees are being blocked because they are people of faith, and in Judge Pryor's case it has been strongly implied by your colleagues in the Senate and blatantly stated by some Catholic lobbyists that William Pryor has been filibustered by the Democratic Party because he is a Catholic Christian. I am writing to you to discuss Judge Pryor's views in comparison with Catholic social teaching -- which, as Catholics, you probably know very well -- and to assert my opinion as a fellow Catholic that Judge Pryor's views are not consistent with his Catholic faith, and that, therefore, he and his supporters cannot possibly point to his faith as a reason for the opposition to his confirmation.

When speaking of Judge Pryor's views and their consistency with Catholic social teaching, one must first of all look at his views regarding capital punishment. Judge Pryor is on record as being strongly in favor of the death penalty, and he is known for opposing any restriction of capital punishment whatsoever. For instance, Judge Pryor objected to the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia, in which the court ruled that the mentally retarded and those who are brain damaged cannot be executed. Pryor also objected to Ring v. Arizona, in which the court decided that only juries could impose the death penalty. Even Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices on our Supreme Court, stood with the majority in Ring v. Arizona. It must also be noted that the state of Alabama, where Judge Pryor formerly served as attorney general, has sentenced more juveniles to death per capita than any other state in the nation. This strongly implies that Judge Pryor would have disagreed with the Supreme Court's ruling in Roper v. Simmons, which declared the execution of juveniles unconstitutional.

Are Judge Pryor's views on capital punishment consistent with his Catholic faith? In a word: No. While Catholic social teaching does allow some wiggle room when it comes to the issue of the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has laid out a very clear teaching on capital punishment. The Catechism acknowledges that Catholic tradition does not exclude recourse to capital punishment, provided that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully established, and provided that the death penalty is the only way of defending society against the aggressor. As a consequence of modern crime prevention methods, "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent" (CCC, #2267). While the teaching of the Catholic Church does allow some wiggle room here, Judge Pryor has moved far beyond that wiggle room and has moved toward full support for the death penalty, which is not permitted for Catholic people of faith.

Another instance of Judge Pryor's straying from the realm of Catholic moral and social teaching is Hope v. Pelzer, in which Pryor argued as the attorney general of Alabama for the practice known as "the hitching post." Essentially, this practice consisted of handcuffing prison inmates to hitching posts in the hot sun if they refused to work on chain gangs or otherwise disrupted them. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Pryor and the state of Alabama in Hope v. Pelzer, but that does not change the fact that Pryor fought as attorney general of Alabama for a practice that is without question opposed to Catholic teaching. The Catechism unambiguously teaches that "torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity" (CCC, #2297). There can be no doubt that the practice of "the hitching post" was a form of torture used to punish those who would not do what the prison authorities wanted them to do, and to frighten those who might be thinking of doing the same.

There are other elements of Judge Pryor's record which, while being debatable within the context of Catholic social teaching, nevertheless disturb me as a Catholic person of faith.

For instance, Judge Pryor is on record as expressing displeasure with the Voting Rights Act, and calling for either the amendment or repeal of Section 5 of that act. The Voting Rights Act is widely regarded as the most important piece of civil rights legislation in American history; amending or repealing it could significantly affect the civil rights of African Americans and many other Americans.

Another example is the amicus curiae brief that Pryor filed with the Supreme Court as attorney general of Alabama, asking the justices to uphold the Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law." Given that the "Homosexual Conduct Law" provided for the imprisonment of gays and lesbians for private sexual conduct in their own homes, this leads me to wonder if Judge Pryor believes that there is a legitimate reason to imprison American citizens for the private sexual conduct they engage in within their own homes.

Judge Pryor is also on record as opposing United States v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women could be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute. This leads me to believe that Judge Pryor is an advocate for gender discrimination in our military and in education. Judge Pryor also filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Alabama opposing the Violence Against Women Act. Alabama was the only state to file a brief in opposition to the act, with 36 states filing briefs in support of the act. All of this leads me to wonder if Judge Pryor has some sort of problem with equal rights for women in our society; if he does, then he is unfit to be a federal appellate judge.

Perhaps the most imperative question, which must be explored by the Senate before Judge Pryor is given a lifetime appointment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, is whether or not Judge Pryor ruled against the Schindler family in their legal battle to keep their daughter, Terri Schiavo, alive. According to numerous news sources, the original ruling made by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was a 10-2 ruling, although such information does not seem to be available from the text of the ruling itself. What we do know, however, is that Judge Pryor did not participate in the dissenting opinion which favored reinserting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, which strongly implies that he ruled with the majority if he ruled at all. I think that it is imperative for the Senate to ascertain exactly how he ruled in this case, and I do not believe that he should be confirmed for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals if he ruled against the Schindlers.

Senators DeWine and Voinovich, I have grave concerns regarding Judge Pryor's appointment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and these concerns are largely based upon my Catholic faith. On at least two questions, Judge Pryor's views are inconsistent with the principles of our faith; on several others, his views are at the very least somewhat controversial. Perhaps more importantly, since we are dealing with a government that is guided by the U.S. Constitution and not the Catholic magisterium, Judge Pryor's views are terribly inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of our Constitution. In many cases, he advocates for violations of various Americans' civil and human rights.

As a Catholic Christian, and as an American citizen, I do not find such a nominee acceptable for our federal appellate courts. Furthermore, I was glad that the Democratic Party filibustered his confirmation. As a citizen of the state of Ohio, I urge you not to change the rules of the Senate in order to confirm this man and President Bush's other few contentious judicial nominees. If such a rules change does come about, then I urge you to vote against William Pryor's confirmation. He is a danger to America and to the world; he must not become a lifetime appointee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. I hope you will remember what I've written in this letter on the Senate floor; I will remember it in the voting booth.

God Bless America,
Nathan Nelson

Contributing Editor
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

May 12, 2005

The Faithful Filibuster

The battle over President Bush's few remaining contentious judicial nominees has been brewing since February, when President Bush -- the great "uniter, not a divider" -- resubmitted some of his previously filibustered nominees to the Senate in an attempt to get them confirmed, again. Since then, evangelical Christian leaders have teamed up with a few conservative Catholic leaders and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to make this a religious issue when, in fact, it is entirely political. According to these conservative religious leaders, Democrats have acted against people of faith by filibustering these few nominees. They point to these nominees' resistance to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and other hot button social issues as reasons for the Democrats to oppose their appointments to the federal appellate courts.

It is true that these nominees are opposed to all of the issues I cited, but it is not true that the Democrats are opposing their appointments solely on these grounds. After looking at these nominees' records, one wonders which people of faith the Democrats are opposing, because these nominees certainly do not represent the views of any recognizable religion -- least of all the Catholic Church.

Priscilla Owen

For instance, Priscilla Owen is one of those "activist judges" that Republicans are so fond of talking about, and she has been legislating from the bench for quite some time.

- Owen has been criticized by her colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for trying to "judicially amend" Texas law and she was criticized harshly for "an unconscionable act of judicial activism";

- While serving on the Texas Supreme Court, Owen received campaign contributions from Enron and Halliburton and then issued rulings in their favor;

- Owen has a record of preferential treatment for retailers and corporations over consumers and the average citizen. For example: When a man suffered serious injury as he was leaving his truck, she believed that the insurance company didn't have to pay. Another example: In a dissenting opinion, Owen wrote that corporations should be able to opt out of municipal water quality and other environmental ordinances, citing the precedence of private property rights.

Even though President Bush claims to favor strict constructionism, in many cases Priscilla Owen would have rewritten Texas law from the bench, and she was publicly reprimanded for her judicial activism by her colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court, most notably Alberto Gonzales, who is himself a conservative and a successful Bush appointee to the position of U.S. Attorney General. Not only is her judicial activism unethical, but her acceptance of campaign contributions from corporations like Enron and Halliburton and her subsequent refusal to recuse herself from cases involving these corporations is a blatant violation of ethics which should be found reprehensible by people of faith and secular people alike.

It must also be noted that, besides the fact that Owen's environmental rulings were inconsistent with Texas law, they were also inconsistent with Catholic social teaching which calls for responsible stewardship of God's creation. Given her unethical actions, her judicial activism, and her environmental rulings which are inconsistent with responsible stewardship, there is no reason why Catholics should support Justice Priscilla Owen.

Janice Rogers Brown

If you thought Priscilla Owen was an activist judge, then you're going to love Janice Rogers Brown, the queen of judicial activism.

- In a race discrimination lawsuit, Brown ruled in a dissenting opinion that racial slurs in the workplace are protected under the First Amendment, even when they reach the level of illegal race discrimination, and even though the U.S. Supreme Court has set an opposite precedent;

- Brown has suggested that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, could be unconstitutional under the First Amendment;

- Brown dissented from a ruling that upheld a San Francisco ordinance requiring residential hotel owners seeking permission to eliminate residential units and replace them with tourist hotels to help replace the lost rental units;

- In a dissenting opinion, Brown sought to relax legal mechanisms that would hold corporations accountable for false or misleading statements;

- In another case, she ruled that a corporation should be granted an injunction against a former employee who was sending e-mails critical of the company's employment practices to his former colleagues.

Catholics must stand up and proclaim that Brown's opposition to abortion is not enough for her to gain our support. Her rulings on racial discrimination, general employment discrimination, the rights of corporations vs. the rights of the poor, and her relaxation of speech limitations for corporations while simultaneously restricting freedom of speech for private citizens are all inconsistent with Catholic social teaching and with the U.S. Constitution.

William Pryor

I have already written at length about Judge Pryor's record as attorney general of Alabama in my entry: "Should Pryor Be Confirmed?" Nevertheless, we'll have a brief review, because Bill Pryor is the example so often held up as anti-Catholic discrimination on the part of the Democratic Party.

- Pryor's views on the death penalty are, without question, disturbing: for instance, he objected to Atkins v. Virginia, which prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded and people with brain damage;

- Pryor has voiced his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, particularly Section 5, which he says should be amended or completely repealed;

- Pryor filed a brief in support of the Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law," which allowed for the imprisonment of homosexual men and women for private sexual conduct in their own homes;

- Pryor endorsed sex discrimination in education by opposing United States v. Virginia, which ruled that women could be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute;

- In Hope v. Pelzer, Pryor defended Alabama's practice of handcuffing prison inmates to hitching posts in the hot sun if they refused to work on chain gangs or otherwise disrupted them;

- Pryor opposed the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it violated states' rights. Pryor was the only attorney general to file an amicus curiae brief in opposition to the act, with 36 states filing briefs supporting it;

- There is strong circumstantial evidence that Pryor may have ruled against the Schindlers in the sad case of Terri Schiavo, meaning that he may have ruled not to reinsert Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube.

Pryor's questionable views on the death penalty, voting discrimination, educational discrimination, and domestic violence are all inconsistent with Catholic social teaching. His support for the cruel and unusual punishment of "the hitching post" is a direct violation of Catholic moral and social teaching. If in fact he did rule against the Schindlers and did not rule to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, then he directly violated a well-known teaching of Pope John Paul II's ordinary papal magisterium. There is no reason why Catholics should support Judge Pryor, and opposition to his appointment cannot possibly be misconstrued as anti-Catholic discrimination since he does not, in fact, follow the teachings of his church.

- - -

The conclusion that one comes to is that the nomination of these men and women, and the support they've found in Congress and among American citizens, is politically motivated. It is shameful that proponents of these nominees' confirmation have resorted to falsely accusing the opposition of religious discrimination, and it is shameful that they are abusing their own religious affiliation and the religious affiliation of these nominees in an attempt to change the rules of Congress so that President Bush and the Republican Party can get their way on a few contentious nominees.

Unfortunately, Republican senators are trudging on in their determination to get Bush's nominees confirmed -- or else. Sen. Bill First (R-TN), the Senate Majority Leader, has said that there could be a vote to change the Senate's filibuster rules as early as next week. As people of faith who do not want to see these nominees confirmed, and who do not want to see the rules of the Senate changed in order to do it, we have a moral obligation to speak out against this "nuclear option" at critical moments.

In their efforts to preserve an independent judiciary, People for the American Way has developed a "Nuclear Option" Mass Immediate Response. Here's how it works: By giving PFAW your cell phone number, you allow them to send you a text message as soon as Senate Republicans trigger the "nuclear option." This text message will have an embedded link to the Senate switchboard, which will send your call to your senators with the push of a couple of buttons. You can then let your senators know that you oppose the use of the "nuclear option," and that you oppose President Bush's remaining judicial nominees. If you're interested in signing up for this immediate response, click here.

As committed Catholics who are unwilling to allow our faith to become a political tool for the far right, we must stand in opposition to this extremism in the U.S. Senate and let our senators know that we are people of faith, and that we do not want extremists to sit on the bench of our federal appellate courts.

Democrats of Faith

I've been thinking a lot lately about the proper role of faith in politics, and politics in faith. I took an excellent class last semester offered by an Orthodox Jewish woman entitled "Liberalism, Religion & Democracy." By now everyone has heard of Sen. Frist saying those who oppose W's judicial nominees are against people of faith. Then, most recently, the pastor of a Baptist Church expelled several members because they supported John Kerry.

Jim Wallis, the president of Sojouners and author of God's Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn't Get It, offered the following perspective, which I thought was worth sharing:

It is the assumption that Christians must accept one partisan political position on issues, or be accused of not being Christian. This is an assumption we must reject.
And, perhaps even more to the point,

The Republican Party is not God's own party, as the Religious Right and some Republican leaders seem to be suggesting. And, of course, neither is the Democratic Party. We must say it again and again until it is heard and understood: God is not partisan; God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for its political agenda, it makes a terrible mistake. God's politics challenge all our politics. Our faith must not be narrowed to the agenda of one political party.
The latter is a point well made in God's Politics, which I highly recommend everyone read. Now, because I believe strongly in the social justice teachings of the Church, I usually vote Democrat. I am on my local Town Democratic Committee and I am even a delegate to the State Convention this weekend. I don't simply vote the party line, but, as my history teach explained in the 10th grade: "I always vote for the best candidate, never for the party. It just always works out that the best candidate is a Democrat."

I am a pro-life Democrat. Many believe this isn't possible to do, but when Democrats For Life of America comes out with something like the 95-10 Initiative, its pretty easy to be one. Still, the party's platform supports abortion on demand and taxpayer supported abortions. How can I still vote Democrat then?

To get a glimpse of my reasoning, you can check out an op-ed I wrote last fall during the presidential campaign. It ran in the Cape Cod Times and challenged the pro-life credentials of President Bush. Its no longer on the CCT site, but fortunately Google has cashed it. There I noted that many issues in addition to abortion were important to Catholics.

If George Bush wants the votes of Catholics, he needs to fight a lot harder on the social justice front. He is going to have to do a lot more to help our children get the education they deserve and still make sure our senior citizens can afford their prescription drugs. He will have to stand up and say "It is morally unacceptable that 3.8 million Americans have lost their health insurance since I took office." Protecting human life in the womb is a noble and important goal, but so is protecting at-risk children and seniors.
On top of that, my State Rep, State Senator and Congressman are all pro-life Democrats as well, so that makes is pretty easy. What about for president then? Well, since I live in a non-swing state, I voted for Average Joe Shriner. If I lived in Florida or Ohio, I probably would have swallowed hard and voted for Kerry. Still, I'm glad I did get to vote for Joe. He was easily the candidate most in line with my views: pro-family, pro-life and pro-poor.

The long and the short of it is, I absolutely think your faith should inform your conscience, and thus your vote. I consider myself to be fairly conservative when it comes to my Catholicism but this is what makes me left of center and a registered and active Democrat. The truth of the matter though is

Neither party - nor any candidate - shares all my values. I voted as a Catholic citizen in 2000, and Bush didn't get my vote. He won't get it 2004, either.

May 11, 2005

Raising taxes is wrong?

The governor of Missouri, described as a devout Christian, says that raising taxes is wrong, so he is forced to cut 90,000 people from Medicaid. Now, this is just plain wacky, upside-down thinking. The tail wagging the dog. Disordered priorities. Raising taxes is wrong, but taking away basic support for disabled and low-income folks is OK?

I am all for reasonable, progressive taxation, and I believe there are probably some people being covered by Medicaid who don't really need that benefit. Like most folks, I don't want to be taxed any more than is needed for the common good. And no government program is going to be perfect, particularly one as broad as Medicaid. But it seems the governor is effectively saying that money is worth more than peoples' health and welfare. Or perhaps, the political lobby against tax increases has more clout than the lobby for human dignity and the common good.

As a Catholic Republican, this 'money over people' priority irks me. Tax revenues should not be wasted, and government does have a role of stewardship over its programs. I'm sure Medicaid needs some reforms and improvements, but that can be worked in better, more reasonable ways.

We've swung too far to the right, people, to the point of justifying tax cuts as a moral responsibility that takes priority over people's basic human needs.

May 08, 2005

Dignity of the Human Person

The dignity of the human person is foundational to Catholic social teaching. Every other aspect of the church’s social thought comes back to this in one way or another. But what does it really mean, and how can we put this principle into action in our everyday lives?

Dignity is a ‘quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect’, or ‘inherent nobility and worth.’ It is not something one earns or achieves, but is inherent in each and every person’s existence. When I think about the dignity of the human person I am drawn to Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his image” and various New Testament scriptures describing how the Spirit dwells in each of us. If we really believe this, how can it not affect how we see others?

Maybe some people get dignity confused with approval. I may not approve of certain lifestyles, attitudes, actions and such but that doesn’t give me license to disrespect the dignity of these people. Likewise, by acknowledging the dignity of a murderer, dictator, terrorist, liberal or conservative that doesn’t mean I have to approve of what they do and what they represent. Catholic social teaching calls us to a higher standard – respect for the dignity of all people. I don’t believe we get to pick and choose here.

It gets complicated sometimes, when a politician endorses views that promote the dignity of some while ignoring others. Hardly any American politician these days has a perfect track record on this issue, so as participants in the democratic process we have to make choices. We have to make choices that we feel maximize, or do the most to advance our society’s respect for the dignity of all people. We will come to different conclusions and reach different decisions, but if we are all working to advance the overall society’s stance on dignity then dignity will advance. It may not be in a straight and fast line, but how much of life and society is like that anyway? We all – individuals and society – move forward in crooked lines with stumbles and sprints along the way.

In practical terms, if we feel led to vote for a politician who is against the war in Iraq but is pro-abortion, then perhaps we could offset that a bit by donating to or volunteering at a pro-life pregnancy center? Or if we vote for the anti-abortion, pro-death penalty politician maybe we could lend some support to Sr Helen Prejean and her Sisters of St Joesph of Medaille?

As Catholics, we must ask ourselves a simple question: how are we promoting, or not, the dignity of the human person?

Racism and the Catholic Church

[Contributor's note: The following series is a 4-part series on racism and the Church.]

Part 1: Lumen Gentium and the Essential Social Justice Mission of the Church

Christ is the light of humanity . . . Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament–a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among men–she here proposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission. The condition of the modern world lends greater urgency to this duty of the Church; for, while men of the present day are drawn ever more closely together by social, technical and cultural bonds, it still remains for them to achieve full unity in Christ. (Lumen Gentium)

With these words the Catholic Bishops at The Second Vatican Council (1962-1966) initiated their discussion on the nature of the Church and its essential mission. The document begins with a focus on Christ, "the light of humanity," signifying the Bishop’s desire to locate the nature and mission of the Church in light of the redemptive work of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This desire is brought out clearly in the description of the Church as a "sacrament."

Simply stated a sacrament is a sign that effects, or brings about, that which it signifies. We encounter signs everywhere in our daily lives, in walking to the store, at airports, in reading and when we go shopping. One thing we note about the signs we encounter in our daily lives is that they indicate things to us but they do not necessarily bring about what they signify. For instance, when we drive in cities, we encounter stop signs. These stops signs do not actually in a any way contribute the stopping action of our vehicles, they simply signal that a stopping action is required. A sacrament would take this idea further. Instead of the stop sign simply indicating to us that our vehicle is required to make a full stop, a stop sign considered in this sacramental sense, would actually provide our vehicles with the necessary ability to stop. Moving from this speculative example to actual examples of Catholic sacraments, let us consider baptism. Baptism is a sacrament which signifies, through its nature and the pouring action, a cleansing, washing, and the creation of new life. But, as a sacrament, baptism does not only signify washing, cleansing, and rebirth, it actually causes it to happen. Thus, this is what is meant by sacrament, a sign that effects or brings about what it signifies.

The Catholic bishops at Vatican II described the Church as a sacrament. This means then they understand the Church as a sign of something but further still it brings about that something that it signifies. What is this something? We find it in the passage quoted above. The Church is "a sign and instrument . . . of communion with God and of unity among all men." The Church is a sign of communion with God and it provides the grace for that communion to happen and the Church is a sign of unity among all men and it also provides the grace for that unity to occur. This tells us that the desire and achievement of full unity among all human beings is not ancillary to the nature and mission of the Church, rather, it constitutes its very nature. This unity among all peoples is further clarified in the passage quoted. The Bishops note that our world is quickly becoming a global village, we are "we are drawn ever more closely together by social, technical and cultural bonds." By means of the telephone or the internet, I am in meaningful contact with a friend in Mongolia, I can now speak with ease and frequency to a relative in Africa, I find little if any meaningful separation with friends from Mexico. With our modern means of transportation I am able, in hours, to complete a journey to distant places which in years past would have taken months or years. Cultures are now interacting, economic systems are now interdependent and no one can attempt international isolation without risk of internal collapse. Our world has been brought together by technology and we are now forced to deal with each other, leading to the experience of a certain kind of unity spurred by technological advances. Yet the bishops note that the unity propelled by technological proximity is incomplete and lacking. A true and full unity that can only be achieved in Christ.

What we see here then is that the mission to bring peoples together and strengthen the familial bonds between different cultures, races, nations, and ethnic groups is an essential aspect of the Church’s mission. The following quote from the Vatican in its contribution to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia And Related Intolerance, re-establishes and highlights what Lumen Gentium noted:

Globalization . . . is accelerating at an even-greater pace; countries, economies, cultures and ways of life are drawing closer together and becoming more universal and intermingled. The phenomenon of interdependence is evident in every area: political, economic, financial, social and cultural. Scientific discoveries and the development of communications technology have "shrunk" the planet considerably. The globalization now emerging manifests itself in various ways; for example , the impact of a political or financial incident occurring unexpectedly in one country is felt by other countries as well, and the great problems or questions of our time are global in scale (immigration, the environment, food resources, etc.).

Paradoxically, at the same time disagreements are growing sharper, ethnic violence is increasing, the quest for group, ethnic, or national identity is becoming more relentless as the stranger and those who are different are rejected, to such a degree that at times barbarous acts are committed against them. Thus the last ten years have been marked by ethnic or nationalistic wars which give rise to growing unease about the future. The paradox is well known and explained in part by fear of a loss of identity in a world becoming planetary too rapidly, at the very time when inequalities are also increasing. But the paradox actually has many causes. It is clear that the fall of the Berlin Wall aroused resentments and nationalism which had been kept under a tight lid for years, that borders inherited from colonial times had too often failed to respect history and the identity of peoples, or that, in societies where the social fabric is disintegrating, solidarity is cruelly lacking.

The Catholic Bishops still echo in the new millennium a concern they harbored in the 1960s, that we are being thrust together by technology yet paradoxically this we militate against true unity by means of racism and racial discrimination. For racism and racial discrimination to be overcome, for a full and true unity to be achieved among all humans, humanity must reach into the fountain of grace provided by the Church and the corollary is that Church must lead the way in racial and ethnic reconciliation.

Part 2: Brothers and Sisters to Us, The U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism

May 07, 2005

...we call government.

Rick has asked for help in ending his maiden entry. So, for my initial foray into the SRS world, I will try to offer a commentary, if not a conclusion. It may be very possible that such an entry can never be completed - after all, I don't see an end to poverty, sin and suffering anytime soon.

How best should we assist the poor? Should it come from generous hearts through private giving, or from the cold hand of the state? In a perfect world, I'd say that it would best come from private organizations. Then again, in a perfect world what need would there be for a government? Still, 'we' are called to assist those less fortunate. As Rick points out,
I thought that, in a democracy, “us” is the “government”.

He's right. What we choose to do together we call government.

Are there more efficient ways distributing aid to the needy? Possibly. A volunteer based organization like the Knights of Columbus has a lot lower overhead. One hundred percent of every dollar they raise for charity (at the local level - they do have a Supreme headquarters with paid staff) can go directly to the needy. With volunteers they don't need to pay salaries or provide health insurance, or pay for expensive office buildings like the government does.

Then again, private organizations don't have nearly the amount of money that the government does. They depend on voluntary contributions and do not have the option of assessing taxes. The Knights donated $130,000,000 to charity in 2003. Now, compare that with the $170,000,000,000 the United States has spent in Iraq alone so far. The United States government has the means and the ability to provide far more in aid to needy individuals than all private philanthropic organizations combined.

Perhaps the answer is to take the money we spend on government programs like food stamps and Aid for Families with Dependant Children and give it to private charitable organizations in the form of grants. Let them use their volunteers instead of our paid government employees. If the ultimate goal is to assist the poor then our money should be spent so that as much as possible gets to them. If a private group can do that better than the government, they should. If for whatever reason no private charitable group is able to take on that task (healthcare comes to mind), then perhaps the government is the best way to distribute it.

The fact remains that we need the government to at least raise the money needed for distribution to the poor. Maybe it would be better if we just gave directly to the poor, or directly to charitable organizations. Then again, I have to pay my taxes. I don't have to give to charity.

If our tax dollars are being spent prudently and wisely, there is no reason using the democratic process can't be an act of genuine Christian caritas. Its not a cheap substitute. It is choosing to collectively help the poor and calling it government.

May 06, 2005

Charity or the Common Good?

Before I start my inaugural post, I just want to say that I’ve been following all of the blogs by the editors of SRS, and SRS itself, and I’m honored to be invited to join this group of very talented and compassionate bloggers.


I’m somewhat obsessed with the culture wars -- more of an observer than a participant these last few years. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s family, but I don’t get as fired up as I used to. And maybe that puts me in more of a position to step back and observe a bit. With that in mind, here’s what I’ve been observing in recent months about the so-called “moral values” debate.

Because of a (badly designed) exit-poll question, there was a tremendous amount of media saturation about how Republicans had captured the “morality” vote, and that this was what led to their decisive victory in the 2004 elections.

Shortly thereafter, certain liberal segments of society came back with their own “morality” arguments. Isn’t poverty a moral issue? Isn’t taking care of society’s most vulnerable a moral issue? Leaders of mainline Protestant denominations used
biblical imagery to denounce the recent Bush budget.

The response from conservatives was swift and, quite honestly, somewhat compelling: What exactly is moral about coerced charity? How can more money to government bureaucracy take the place of genuine Christian charity?

I’m not saying that I buy these arguments. But they have a point. I’ve read that even Dorothy Day had no use for government programs (she referred to the government as “Holy Mother state”.)

Amy White, a local conservative columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, wrote exactly this sentiment in her
column yesterday. It was titled “It’s up to us to help the needy”, the print version carried the subtitle “The government can’t afford to protect everybody” [Funny, I thought that, in a democracy, “us” is the “government”]. It is, of course, an argument for individual acts of magnanimity and private charity. She concludes, “It will be harder than a tax increase. But perhaps it will do more good”.

Forgive my skepticism that the motivation behind opposition to tax increases to fund programs like Medicaid is that they are “too easy”. Not to mention the fact that government aid and charity are not mutually exclusive.

But I don’t believe these programs were conceived as charity. The New Deal that launched or set the stage for most of the components of our social safety net was initiated after the Great Depression. The memory of the Depression persisted for a long time. The memory was one that saw the faces of the poor and said, “It could be me”. Now we live in a more prosperous society and middle class people are less likely to think that “It could be me”. Maybe we’re deluding ourselves, or maybe not, but self-interest is no longer a sufficient motivation for support of a social safety net.

Of course, the gospels say that we should see not only ourselves in the faces of the poor, but that we should see Christ in the faces of the poor. Unfortunately, the gospel is too radical to be legislated. You can’t coerce people into laying down their lives for their friends.

So how do we convince the electorate that the care of the most vulnerable among us is a moral priority? Or, at the very least, that utilizing the democratic process to work toward a more just society is not a cheap substitute for genuine Christian Caritas?


It’s now been 24 hours since I started this essay; the reason for that is that I don’t know how to end it. Maybe you can help write the ending. Because I think we need to reframe the debate, and I don’t know how to do that.

We need convince people that meeting people’s basic needs, as a society, is not the same as coerced charity. In my view, there is no such thing as independent “free markets” with minds of our own. We create markets. And when people are victimized by markets, we have a responsibility to prevent, or at least try to undo the damage. This is as basic as asking the owner of the tanker to clean up the oil slick.

In any event, government will never obviate the need for genuine charity. But that’s a lame excuse for failing to take care of the vulnerable.

May 05, 2005

Evangelization and Political Action

Is there a correlation between the way a particular religious denomination evangelizes and how they approach political action? Could it be that we all see our approaches to political action as ‘the way to go’ because those approaches are driven by our personal beliefs on how to advance the kingdom of God?

Much has been made of the religious-right’s visible and forceful entry into political action. It makes many of us uncomfortable, uneasy and even angry at times. But I wonder what will really change until we truly understand the driving force behind that movement, from their perspective.

May 04, 2005

New Contributing Writers!

We'd like to welcome our new contributing writers: Brian Keaney from Zoon Politikon, Rick Grucza from Faith-Based Politics, Ed Deluzain from IronKnee, Michelle Strausbaugh from Behind the Surface, Tim Huegerich from Catholics for Democracy, and Ono Ekeh from Ono's Thoughts.

Welcome, guys!