Posts by John Gehring

Home > John Gehring
John Gehring
John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Catholic Program Director, joined FPL after three years at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He blogs about Catholics in public life.

A Ceasefire in the “Wafer Wars?”

March 9, 2011, 4:45 pm | By John Gehring

bishop hubbard.jpgGiven that a sizable segment of the Catholic hierarchy has lurched right in recent years, it’s not always easy to find bishops showing prudent leadership on prickly political issues. Headline grabbing prelates such as Archbishops Charles Chaput and Raymond Burke politicize the communion rail and have publicly denounced pro-choice Catholic public officials during the heat of presidential campaigns. Many bishops blasted the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give a commencement address. It’s an understatement to say this is a group not always inclined toward finding common ground and embracing engagement over confrontation in the public square.

So it’s noteworthy that one of New York’s leading Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday that he disagreed with a Vatican consultant who called for denying communion to Gov. Andrew Cuomo because he lives with his girlfriend outside of marriage. This may seem like rather mundane news, but in Catholic political circles Bishop Howard Hubbard’s stance is significant because it demonstrates at least some healthy fatigue with communion politics or “wafer wars,” as headline writers dubbed it during the 2004 presidential election. Here are Bishop Hubbard’s comments as reported in the New York Times.

“There are norms for all Catholics about receiving communion and we have to be sensitive pastorally to every person in their own particular situation,” Bishop Hubbard said. “And when it comes to judging worthiness for communion, we do not comment on either public figures or private figures. That’s something between the communicant and his pastor personally. It’s not something we comment on.” Bishop Hubbard also distanced New York bishops from bishops in other states who have sparked controversy in recent years by calling publicly for communion to be denied to elected officials who disagree with church teachings on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. “Some bishops have done that but not all bishops have done that,” Bishop Hubbard said. “Quite frankly, there is a disagreement among bishops about using the communion line as a place for a confrontation. And I don’t think that the bishops of New York State feel that’s appropriate.”

I bolded those words because it’s not every day that bishops speak, to use Hubbard’s word, “frankly” about disagreements with other bishops on controversial issues. Moderates in the hierarchy who emphasize pastoral sensitivity and the full spectrum of Catholic teaching are often drowned out by those who prefer throwing sharp elbows over abortion. Perhaps Hubbard and other New York bishops can broker a ceasefire in the wafer wars. Let’s also hope that conservative Catholic bloggers, including Thomas Peters – whose father is the Vatican consultant who urged denying communion to Governor Cuomo – will take a cue from Bishop Hubbard the next time they consider playing Catholic orthodoxy police.

add a comment »

Union Busting in Wisconsin: A Page from the Old Communist Playbook?

February 25, 2011, 3:42 pm | By John Gehring

solidarity.jpgGerald Beyer, a professor of Christian social ethics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, gets my award for the most clever framing on the Wisconsin showdown. His comparison of Gov. Scott Walker’s tactics to those used by Polish communist bosses who fought the Solidarity movement in the 1980s is sure to irk conservatives. Here’s Beyer stirring the pot over at Politics Daily:

Mentioning the campaign against unions by a Republican governor in 2011 in the same breath as the anti-labor repression by Communist authorities in Poland in 1980 is sure to raise eyebrows. Yet as Mark Twain supposedly said, if history doesn’t repeat itself, it sometimes rhymes. And there are some striking similarities between that Communist-era episode and the ongoing standoff between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s public employees. For one thing, both Walker and the Communist leaders targeted unions. And in both cases, we see the Roman Catholic Church supporting organized labor. Led by the gutsy electrician Lech Walesa, workers of the Solidarity trade union movement went on strike in August 1980 to regain their freedom and their rights. Over 18 days, they negotiated with Communist party officials, who were actually more willing to make concessions than Walker has been to this point.

Prominent Catholic politicos like Newt Gingrich (who has made a documentary about Pope John Paul II’s role in sweeping the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history) should keep this legacy in mind as they cheerlead for Governor Walker’s assault on workers’ rights.

add a comment »

Defending the Global Common Good

February 22, 2011, 10:33 pm | By John Gehring

We’ve been tracking the myriad ways that federal budget proposals would eviscerate domestic programs that offer vital safety nets for the poor and make life harder for working families. Self-described deficit hawks are also positioning to make deep cuts to international humanitarian aid that are similarly cruel and misguided.

The Washington Post reports that House Republicans would reduce food aid programs by up to 50 percent, State Department funding for refugees by more than 40 percent and dramatically slash one of the main U.S. foreign food aid programs. Development officials predict these cuts would reduce or eliminate food for about 15 million people in places such as Ethiopia, Haiti and Sudan at a time when food prices are soaring. Catholic Relief Services warns lawmakers in a recent letter to Congress why this is a mistake:

Foreign assistance is not simply an optional commitment; it is a moral responsibility to assist “the least of these.” These priority programs support a wide range of life-saving and dignity-preserving activities, including: agricultural assistance to poor farmers; drugs for people living with HIV and tuberculosis; cost-effective vaccines for preventable diseases; assistance to orphans and vulnerable children; mosquito nets to prevent malaria; food aid for famines, emergencies, and development; emergency health care, shelter, and reconstruction in disaster-devastated places like Haiti; peacekeepers to protect innocent civilians such as in Sudan and the Congo; assistance to migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or persecution; and debt relief for poor nations. Cuts at the level being considered will result in the loss of innocent lives.

If you think that defending the global common good is only for bleeding heart liberals, conservative columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson makes a compelling case for why Republicans’ efforts to target international aid make little sense politically and substantively.

These reductions were intended to be symbolic, but what do they symbolize? Fiscal responsibility? Hardly. No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation. Claiming courage or credit for irrelevant cuts in foreign assistance is a net subtraction from public seriousness on the deficit. So, do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding.

Whither compassionate conservatism?

add a comment »

Newt Gingrich and the EPA

February 11, 2011, 4:56 pm | By John Gehring

Newt_Gingrich.jpgNewt Gingrich, a proud and very public convert to Catholicism, yesterday called for the Environmental Protection Agency to be abolished at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in Washington. This is a curious position for a Catholic politico to take given the clarity of Catholic social teaching on the environment and Pope Benedict XVI’s frequent statements about global climate change.

Nicknamed the “Green Pope” by some for his vocal concern about environmental justice issues, Pope Benedict has urged governments to do more in addressing climate change. The Vatican several years ago announced its plans to become the first carbon-neutral state in the world. And the pope blasted world leaders for failing to reach a climate change treaty in Copenhagen.

Gingrich, who is weighing a 2012 presidential run, frames his position against the EPA as a common-sense effort to rid us of big-government bureaucracy and nettlesome regulations. But in doing so he, along with many other influential Catholic political leaders like John Boehner, paints a caricature of government that is anathema to Catholic teaching. The Catholic social tradition recognizes the vital role government has in promoting the common good, which includes protecting the environment. Mr. Gingrich and fellow conservative Catholic politicians should remember that the next time they put essential government agencies on the chopping block.

add a comment »

Glimmers of Hope on Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

February 7, 2011, 4:49 pm | By John Gehring

As we’ve blogged about many times before, Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has led Arizona and other states to adopt punitive, enforcement-only measures that are both impractical and inhumane. Now that Republicans control the House and Tea Party rhetoric has driven the debate further right, prospects are still dim for a major breakthrough any time soon. But there are glimmers of hope that should inspire faith-based and secular advocates to keep the pressure on.

Politico reports today that Sen. Lindsey Graham (who still needs to make amends for voting against the DREAM Act) and Sen. Chuck Schumer have resumed conversations about building political will behind comprehensive reform. These influential leaders are essential to building bipartisan support and have again started outreach to a diverse coalition of faith, business and labor leaders:

Now, conservative evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, business organizations and immigrant advocacy groups say they have gotten word from Schumer’s office that a renewed effort is under way. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed that it is back in the mix, after a hasty exit last year when Schumer proposed a legislative framework with a temporary worker program that favored labor unions. And Schumer and his staff have quietly begun reaching out to some unlikely players in the Senate, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has professed a newfound freedom since winning reelection last year without the Republican Party’s help.

This is an important development, especially considering that defeat of the DREAM Act last December left many advocates skeptical about prospects for progress in the new Congress. It’s also a good sign that Graham and Schumer recognize the vital role religious leaders and faith communities will play in getting this done. The U.S. Conference of Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism and other high-profile religious groups have made comprehensive reform a priority for years. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which earned kudos from Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice for their on-the-ground organizing in Arizona, is also keeping the pressure on the Obama administration to end Immigration & Custom Enforcement (ICE) programs that tear families apart and contribute to racial profiling.

Along with new energy on Capitol Hill, it’s also good to see Arizona-inspired immigration bills losing momentum in other states. As the Washington Post reported recently, many of these bills are facing a tangle of challenges:

State budget deficits, coupled with the political backlash triggered by Arizona’s law and potentially expensive legal challenges from the federal government, have made passage of such statutes uncertain. In the nine months since the Arizona measure was signed into law, a number of similar bills have stalled or died or are being reworked. Some have faced resistance from law enforcement officials who question how states or communities could afford the added cost of enforcing the laws. And some state legislators have backed away from the most controversial parts of the Arizona law, which have been challenged in court by the federal government and others.

The faith community deserves credit for keeping comprehensive immigration reform alive. Expect a diverse array of religious leaders to continue playing a key role in making sure our nation’s broken immigration system is fixed in a way that’s fair, practical and humane.

add a comment »