John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Writer and Catholic Outreach Coordinator, joined FPL after three years at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He blogs about Catholics in public life.
Catholic Democrats will be decisive in determining the fate of gun violence prevention measures now before Congress. Sens. Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich are reportedly still undecided on the bipartisan compromise deal put together by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Representing “red” states where gun ownership is a proud cultural maker, these on-the-fence Dems could use a moral wake up call as they navigate the shoals of gun policy and politics in the coming days. Their own faith tradition provides clarifying vision. Just last week, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development urged Senators to support a “culture of life by promoting policies that reduce gun violence and save people’s lives…” Catholic bishops have specifically endorsed “effective and enforceable background checks,” the central issue before Senators this week. (Bishops also supported an assault weapons ban and limits on access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. The gun lobby made sure these provisions were scuttled.)
Back in January, prominent Catholic leaders — including former U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See from the first Bush administration and the Obama administration — challenged Catholic members of Congress with favorable NRA ratings to show “greater moral leadership and political courage.”
Politicians have a tendency to worry about things like elections. In the case of Sens. Landrieu and Begich, midterms loom on the near horizon. The Hill reports that “Landrieu remains one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents heading into reelection next year.” But public service and real leadership is about putting aside political expedience and standing strong in the face of powerful special interests that hurt the common good. Let’s hope these wavering Catholic Democrats find inspiration from their own faith tradition, stand up to the NRA and do what’s right.
add a comment »
The announcement today from the Obama administration that it is granting a more robust accommodation for religious institutions who object to providing contraception coverage is a sensible move. The values of protecting women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers should not be in conflict.
The provision that nearly all employers must provide contraceptive services under the federal health care reform law has sparked a long, messy fight between the Obama administration, Catholic bishops and some conservative evangelicals. This fight is far from over. A dozen separate legal challenges to the administration’s mandate are now winding through the courts. Because judges have reached different conclusions, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely make the final call.
The most significant news from today’s announcement is that the administration’s “four-part test” of what constitutes a “religious employer” — a major sticking point for Catholic universities, charities and hospitals — has been scrapped for a simpler IRS definition. Under the original proposal, employers could be exempt from the contraception mandate only if their purpose was to inculcate religious values, they primarily employed those who shared their religious tenets, primarily served those who shared their religious beliefs and were a nonprofit under federal tax law. The first three parts of that definition were a big problem for religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities. For Catholics, medical institutions and charities are not tangential to a religious commitment, but central to putting faith into practice. Respected Catholic organizations like the Catholic Health Association, which supported the health care reform law and has distanced itself from the strident rhetoric of some bishops had been urging the administration to make this fix. At the same time, the administration’s proposals announced today, which are open to a 60-day public comment period, will still ensure women have access to contraception coverage without a co-pay. This is a victory for women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers.
It will take time for various religious organizations to digest the details of today’s announcement, and tensions won’t disappear overnight. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put out a brief initial statement saying bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
add a comment »
If many progressives are disappointed that President Obama and most political leaders have not done more to reign in the corruption and greed of Wall Street titans who sparked a global financial crisis, they have an unlikely ally in a theologian who leads a global church of more than a billion souls.
While Pope Benedict XVI is viewed as a staunch conservative for his opposition to same-sex marriage and frequent pronouncements on sexual ethics, his powerful voice on economic justice issues too often gets short shrift. But it’s hard to ignore the pope’s recent blistering critique of what he describes as “unregulated financial capitalism.” Pope Benedict, who has urged world leaders to pay more attention to the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor nations, used his recent World Day of Peace message to challenge “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset” that gives rise to economic models based on “maximum profit and consumption.”
It’s unlikely that Catholic Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan or House Speaker John Boehner, free-market fundamentalists with a soft spot for Ayn Rand-libertarianism, will be passing out copies of the pope’s address in the halls of Congress. You can also bet many lawmakers from both parties, dependent on corporate campaign contributions from the financial services industry, paid scant attention to the Vatican’s call in 2011 for more robust financial regulation and a financial transaction tax.
But as we navigate the shoals of post-fiscal cliff Washington, with Republicans hankering for a fight on the debt ceiling and insisting on deeper spending cuts, political leaders could do worse than reflect on the Catholic justice tradition’s prudent balance between acknowledging a vital role for government while advocating for a market system that is tempered – and made more humane – by reasonable safeguards that serve the common good. In fact, Catholic social teaching on taxes, the role of government, the importance of unions, strong social safety nets and the need for robust regulation of global financial markets offers a progressive blueprint for building a moral economy.
The next time you hear a Catholic politician or a “pro-life” leader who argues for gutting financial regulations and slashing vital programs that protect children and the elderly so the wealthiest few can get more tax breaks, tell them to take it up with the pope.
add a comment »
In the wake of the horrific violence unleashed last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School, religious leaders across the country have tried to provide spiritual healing and grappled with profound theological questions about the nature of evil. As the dead are buried and we mourn the loss of heroic teachers and innocent children, the work of faith communities is just beginning. Now is the time for pastors, rabbis and imams in every community to speak up boldly for saner gun control laws.
Pro-life Christians who are a major political force in this country should be leading this movement. If the sanctity of human life in the womb galvanizes evangelical Christians and Catholics to march on Washington, create sophisticated lobbying campaigns and hold members of Congress accountable, there is no excuse for pro-life timidity on this issue.
Sadly, if not unexpectedly, the loudest Christian voices have been from the usual chorus of culture warriors who are again blaming Democrats, President Obama and “godless” public schools for the tragedy. Mike Huckabee, pastor-in-chief at Fox News, thinks if we had a more God-fearing nation this tragedy could have been avoided. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, best known for his homophobic screeds, roared that “we’ve kicked God out of our public school system.” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, an evangelical who apparently believes the Prince of Peace would want us all packin’ heat, recently called for arming teachings and school administrators at a Tea Party event.
The National Association of Evangelicals, a pro-life lobbying force, has sent out press releases this week about how evangelicals are portrayed in the media and the attitudes of younger evangelicals toward abortion reduction, but nothing about the moral scandal of gun violence that kills more than 30,000 people a year. The Southern Baptist Convention has been mum. Back in 2002, Richard Land, the chief public policy spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, decried what he called a “long-term assault on your Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.”
This moral cowardice and Christian capitulation to NRA propaganda should turn our stomach.
Catholic bishops, who will help mobilize many thousands of pro-life activists next month for the annual March for Life in Washington, could also put more lobbying muscle behind gun control efforts considering the church’s past statements. As Carol Glatz reports for Catholic News Service:
The Catholic Church’s position on gun control is not easy to find; there are dozens of speeches and talks and a few documents that call for much tighter regulation of the global arms trade, but what about private gun ownership? The answer is resoundingly clear: Firearms in the hands of civilians should be strictly limited and eventually completely eliminated. But you won’t find that statement in a headline or a document subheading. It’s almost hidden in a footnote in a document on crime by the U.S. bishops’ conference and it’s mentioned in passing in dozens of official Vatican texts on the global arms trade. The most direct statement comes in the bishops’ “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” from November 2000.
“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer — especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner — and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.” That’s followed by a footnote that states: “However, we believe that in the long run and with few exceptions — i.e. police officers, military use — handguns should be eliminated from our society.” That in turn reiterates a line in the bishops’ 1990 pastoral statement on substance abuse, which called “for effective and courageous action to control handguns, leading to their eventual elimination from our society.”
Catholics in the pews are ripe for mobilization. Among U.S. religious groups, Catholics are the most likely to support gun control. More than 6 in 10 of Catholics — 62 percent — favor stricter firearms laws, compared to fewer than half of white evangelicals (35 percent) and white mainline Protestants (42 percent), according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll.
There is no easy fix for the epidemic of gun violence. Inadequate mental health services, rampant materialism, the glorification of violence and the spiritual alienation of young men and women who are disconnected from community all play a role. We live in a toxic culture. Laws can’t be the only answer for a crisis that is more deeply rooted. But the complexity of this urgent challenge can’t be an excuse for inaction or deferring to an unacceptable status quo.
The religious right will continue to blame the gays, contraception and abortion for the collapse of civilization. But there are far more empty churches in Europe and Canada than in our highly religious society, and mass shootings like the ones in Littleton, Aurora and Newton are a rarity because of reasonable gun laws and a culture that does not mythologize guns. If pro-life Christian leaders need some inspiration they should look to Rev. Gary Hall, the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, who on the first Sunday after the school shooting in Connecticut said the best way to mourn the Sandy Hook tragedy is “to mobilize the faith community for gun control.”
“The gun lobby,” said Hall, “is no match for the cross lobby.”
add a comment »
Ever since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, put the dignity of work and the importance of unions at the center of Catholic social teaching, the Catholic tradition has provided a moral bulwark against efforts to defang labor rights. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, goes so far as to describe unions as “an indispensable element of social life.” Pope Benedict XVI has pointed to economic globalization and the “downsizing of social security systems” as reasons why unions and worker solidarity are needed “even more than in the past.”
So when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a flurry of anti-union legislation yesterday Catholic bishops in the state surely protested?
Not so much.
The Michigan Catholic Conference did not send out even a cursory press release. In Detroit, where there are plenty of Catholic union families, the archdiocese has no statement up on its web site. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Snooze. This is a stunning level of silence from a church that for centuries has been at the forefront of worker and economic justice. It’s also emblematic of an increasingly conservative church leadership that has radically narrowed Catholic identity to fights against contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage. The old giants of social justice like Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Msgr. John Ryan or Bishop Walter Sullivan, who passed away just yesterday, have been replaced by a new generation of episcopal leaders like Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, WI., who gave religious cover to Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-government ideology during the campaign and is now cracking down on Catholic nuns at an interfaith retreat center. It was left to one of the great legends of the Catholic social justice movement, retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, to say what needed to be said at Sojourners blog today:
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims, “Woe to those who make unjust laws.” Indeed, woe to those in the Michigan state legislature who voted in favor of these laws. Woe to Governor Snyder whose pen is at the ready to sign these bills.
Sadly, we’ve seen this movie before. As I blogged about last fall, the Catholic Conference of Ohio also failed to stand up to a wave of anti-union legislation in that state despite a diverse coalition of religious opposition. The Catholic bishops in Ohio remained “neutral” on Issue 2, one of the most important fights over worker justice in the state’s history.
Catholic bishops have clearly demonstrated capacity to mobilize parishioners, pour millions into political lobbying and speak boldly in the media. They flexed their muscles during last summer’s Fortnight for Freedom campaign, largely aimed at the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure women have greater access to contraception, and doubled down on fights against civil same sex marriage during the election. As Michael Sean Winters, far from a lefty commentator, notes in the National Catholic Reporter today.
Lord knows, if Michigan had passed anything to do with contraception we would have heard about it quickly enough. If the bishops of Michigan are not going to stand up and defend 120 years of explicit papal social teaching on the importance of unions, shame on them. If they are not going to defend their own people in the pews from this corporate effort to drive down wages, shame on them. If the bishops of Michigan cannot see that one of the greatest achievements of the Catholic Church in the United States was that we did not lose the working classes in the late 19th and early 20th century as the Church in Europe did, and defend that achievement, shame on them.
It’s nice to see Catholic bishops pushing the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, but in failing to speak out for those workers and families she championed in her remarkable ministry, the church fails the test of its own proud tradition.
add a comment »