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Archbishop Fiorenza: “Bishops have a lot to learn from Pope Francis.”

June 17, 2014, 10:55 am | Posted by

Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of the 1.3 million-member Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (1998-2001). A leading social justice voice in the Church, Fiorenza spoke with Catholic Program Director John Gehring about the ways Pope Francis is setting a new tone and shaking up the Catholic conversation.

 

 In your opinion, what has been the most important change Pope Francis has brought to the Church and why are most people responding to him so positively?

The Pope seems to want a Church that is inclusive and out in the world, a Church going to the peripheries, a Church that is involved in the truly human problems that are affecting so many, especially the problems of poverty. He is also demonstrating a desire to enter into dialogue with an open spirit, not only among Catholics, but all people of goodwill who want the world to be more fair and just and peaceful. And even with those who may be our opponents he wants to find points where we can agree. Even when we don’t agree we should show respect and dignity. Bishops have a lot to learn from him, especially his lifestyle. He has made a deliberate effort to distance himself from the imperial court of Rome. Bishops have to take a close look at ourselves to see how we can live more simply.

 

Pope Francis has faced criticism from some Catholic conservatives. The editor of First Things wrote that the Pope’s “naïve” and “undisciplined” rhetoric has been “used to beat up on faithful Catholics.” Bishop Tobin of Providence, RI expressed reservations that the Pope was not talking more about abortion. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia acknowledged in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter that “the right wing of the church”…“generally have not been really happy about his (Francis’) election.” Why do you think he has faced this resistance?

The Pope’s very clear teaching condemning the “economy of exclusion” and the structures of sin that are involved strikes at the heart of some conservative Catholics who are so wedded to the unfettered free market that they think the Pope’s talk is naïve. Well, the Pope sees it as realistic. The poor of the world who suffer from that type of economic philosophy see it as realistic. The Pope is on a steady course. He is not naïve. He knows what he is doing.

Pope Francis makes it clear that he is opposed to abortion, but that can’t be the only thing we talk about. What he said early on in his papacy struck the heart of people who make abortion the whole agenda. The Pope is saying we have to oppose abortion but there must be a broader agenda. Some pro-life advocates don’t like to hear that and think if you take the focus off  abortion you weaken your position. The Pope is saying you weaken your pro-life position when you don’t take a broader view of issues that attack human life. Some people think there are only sins that are intrinsic evil, but the Pope is saying the economy has built in a structure that strongly impacts against the humanity of people and that is an evil too. Some pro-lifers don’t want to hear intrinsic evil entering into the conversation when it comes to the economy. By broadening the focus, he is strengthening our preaching against abortion.

 

As someone who is a leading voice in the Church on economic justice issues, do you think we will see a more robust emphasis on economic justice from the U.S. hierarchy because of Pope Francis?

If you take the “Gospel of Joy” (the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium) as guidance, I can’t help but think that will cause the bishops of this country to be more sensitive to the problems of the poor than they have been. That will take a while because there is an element in the church… some of the bishops of my time see these things more clearly than some of the new bishops who have come along in recent decades. But I’m hopeful that with Pope Francis they will broaden their views about the many ways human life are under attack.

 

Bishop McElroy of San Francisco has written in America magazine that the “substance and methodology of Pope Francis’ teachings on the rights of the poor have enormous implications for the culture and politics of the United States and for the church in this country…These teachings demand a transformation of the existing Catholic political conversation in our nation.”  Do you agree? Talk about what this “transformation” might look like? 

I agree completely with him. He is a young bishop but a bright light in the conference, and we would do well to listen more carefully to what he is saying. There has been discussion about some limited revision of Faithful Citizenship. (the U.S. bishops’ political responsibility statement.) The last time it didn’t include enough about what Pope Benedict said about economic justice in Caritas in Veritate. Hopefully, we will begin to see in Faithful Citizenship more emphasis on what Francis is saying about the poor. That will be a sign of how well Francis’ influence is taking root among the bishops of the United States.

  

Over the past several decades, the late Cardinal Bernardin’s vision of a Church that is known for “a consistent ethic of life” seems to have diminished some as U.S. church leaders put greater emphasis on fighting issues like civil same-sex marriage. Research from scholars like Robert Putnam of Harvard University and others shows that young Christians have left organized religion in part because of the perception that Church leaders are too cozy with a narrow conservative political agenda. Do you see this as a challenge for U.S. Catholic bishops?

I think there is truth in that perspective. A lot of young people are far more attracted when they see the Church opposing the death penalty, for example, where we have seen great progress and much more so than in my generation. I also think when young people see we are in the streets working with the poor I think that will make a difference.

 

How is Pope Francis different from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the late Pope John Paul II?

I think he has a broader view. He comes from Latin America and has seen first hand the effects of globalization on his own people.

 

There is a lot of anticipation for the October Synod at the Vatican. Do you think there will be changes regarding the availability of Sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics?

We should be guided by the spirit of the Gospel in a way that upholds the dignity or marriage. Hopefully, there will be a consideration of ways to have a path that includes these people (divorced and remarried) in the life of the Church but in a way that is not in conflict with the Church’s teachings on marriage.

 

Pope Francis has fully embraced the teachings of the Second Vatican Council for the laity to take an active role in Church life. What role do you see the laity playing in implementing the Francis agenda?

I hope they will be up front and strong about implementing that agenda in their parishes and dioceses. The “Gospel of Joy” can be their diocesan plan. If that becomes the starting point I think lay people will make a very positive contribution.

 

Some Catholics have expressed disappointment that Pope Francis has allowed the oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to continue. Are you hopeful for a positive resolution in that tense situation between Rome and women religious?

I think if Pope Francis had stopped the process it would have been perceived as him disagreeing with Benedict so I’m not really surprised the oversight (of LCWR) continued. But my hope is there is much more dialogue going on, and I hope they have a chance to meet with Pope Francis. Hopefully, there will be more voices coming forward among bishops who want to get this issue resolved. The Church has grown and been strengthened in this country because of women religious. They have been doing what Pope Francis has been talking about in the streets of the world, in the prisons.  They have done that far more effectively than anyone else in the church.

  

As someone who has been a Church leader for many years you can take the long view. Are you hopeful about the future of the Church?

I am hopeful as long as we continue to support what Pope Francis is doing and what he is trying to achieve. We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and lay people have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.

 

 

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Clergy leaders join fight against controversial Senate Bill 310 changes to clean, renewable energy law

May 22, 2014, 12:02 pm | Posted by

Faith in Public Life organized faith leaders to speak out against SB 310.

Leaders from several religious faiths say lawmakers should scrap pending legislation that would enact a two-year freeze on requirements for energy efficiency and renewable energy laws.

Their target, Senate Bill 310, now pending in the General Assembly, would be harmful to the environment, harmful to the economy and harmful to human life and well-being, they say.

A multi-denominational group on Wednesday appealed to Gov. John Kasich, who often talks about his faith, to sit down with religious leaders from around the state to discuss their concerns.

And they intend to make sure the governor knows many of their congregants — Ohio citizens — support their efforts.

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It’s Not Just Pope Francis — God Wants Wealth Redistributed, Too

May 16, 2014, 11:34 am | Posted by

John Gehring is the Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life.

Pope Francis has made economic justice, specifically the stark gap between rich and poor, a defining theme of his papacy. In his Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel, Francis writes that “trickle down” economic theories — a sacred ideology for many conservatives — express a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Framing economic dignity as a “pro-life” issue, the pope insists that we must reject an “economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” In a recent tweet to his more than 10 million Twitter followers, the pope called inequality “the root of social evil.” When Francis dared to utter the “R” word (redistribution) last week, he crossed into highly charged terrain in this country that brought to mind candidate Obama’s infamous 2008 run-in with “Joe the Plumber.”

But Pope Francis’ understanding of “redistribution” doesn’t come from liberal think tanks or display a knee-jerk aversion to capitalism. It grows from orthodox Catholic teaching that is rooted in biblical values about the shared gift of creation.

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Missouri clergy take to the airwaves calling for Medicaid expansion

May 8, 2014, 9:15 am | Posted by

Missouri is in the midst of a legislative fight to expand Medicaid in the state. On Tuesday, hundreds of activistsincluding clergy, packed the Missouri State Senate, demanding health care for all Missourians.

Now, Missouri’s faith leaders are calling on one specific member of that assembly in a new radio ad. State Senator Kurt Schaefer has been vocal in his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would bring health coverage to more than 300,000 Missourians. People of faith believe that Medicaid expansion is a moral issue, and know that thousands are living without access to life-saving treatment for preventable, chronic conditions. 700 people will die in the state this year without Medicaid expansion.

The radio ad, which began airing Monday, features Rev. Jim Bryan of Missouri Faith Voices. Rev. Bryan is a retired pastor with the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. You can listen to the ad here.

Faith in Public Life is proud to partner with PICO National Network and Communities Creating Opportunities on this life and death issue.

Click here to learn more about the radio ads.

 

Here’s the full text of the ad:

In Missouri, a hardworking single mother of three is diagnosed with breast cancer.

She can’t afford health insurance, but because of the size of her family and her income, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. Each day she prays to God that she won’t get sick.

I’m Reverend Jim Bryan, retired pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. Heartbreaking stories like this are sadly all too common – because Missouri makes it harder than almost any other state to qualify for Medicaid.

Have the politicians forgotten Jesus’s admonition that: “Whatever you did to the least of your sisters and brothers, you did to me”?

Call State Senator Kurt Schaefer at (573) 751-3931 and tell him to stop blocking Medicaid Expansion which could save 700 lives per year.

Tell him all God’s children should get the health care they so desperately need.

A message from the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance.

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Pope Francis, Economic Justice and the Catholic Challenge to Libertarianism

April 11, 2014, 10:19 am | Posted by

New guide helps university students bring the Catholic social tradition to political debates over minimum wages, inequality and role of government

As Pope Francis denounces “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Faith in Public Life is releasing a new guidebook and website that will help Catholic university students make the connection between the Church’s social tradition and current political debates over minimum wages, taxes, inequality, unions and the role of government.

In this Together: Catholic Teaching and a Moral Economy, a guide that references Church  teaching on labor, workers’ rights and a broad array of economic justice issues, will be distributed to more than 100 Catholic university campuses over the next year. It challenges the recent surge of libertarian, anti-government ideology as incompatible with a Catholic vision of the common good.

The guide includes facts about poverty and inequality with quotes and resources from Pope Francis, Catholic bishops, prominent Catholic theologians and the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. An accompanying web site, www.InThisTogether.org, provides more in-depth analysis and videos of prominent Catholics talking about the Church’s economic justice teachings on popular programs such as The Colbert Report.

The effort is endorsed by NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; The Conference of Mercy Higher Education; the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice; the Franciscan Action Network; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

“Catholics have a centuries-old tradition that offers a powerful antidote to the anti-government ideology and free-market fundamentalism that distort our political debates,” said John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. “Catholics should know that efforts to oppose living wages, attack unions and slash food aid to struggling families are an affront to Catholic values. This guide can help provoke reflection and encourage students to put their faith into action.”

In This Together has already been distributed to administrators, campus ministers, theologians and social justice directors at the University of San Diego, Creighton University, John Carroll University, the University of Dayton, Santa Clara University and Villanova University. Catholic students at Yale University, Stanford University and Michigan State University have also received the guide.

“I’m grateful for this important effort to stimulate more awareness of the Church’s economic justice teachings at a time when young Catholics are struggling to find their way through a culture that puts individualism and materialism before the common good,” said Moya K. Dittmeier, Executive Director of The Conference for Mercy Higher Education. “I hope this project will encourage Catholic students and others to become citizen-advocates who put our Catholic social tradition into practice by standing in solidarity with those on the margins, especially women and children.”

“Catholics can’t remain passive spectators when workers’ rights are under attack and inequality is soaring,” said Joseph J. Fahey, Chair of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice and a Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. “Catholics have always been at the forefront of struggles for economic justice. A new generation of Catholics must now take the lead in fighting for a moral economy.”

“This timely resource will help our university’s ongoing efforts to encourage students to engage with current moral and political debates by using the wisdom of Catholic social teaching as a foundation,” said Carmen M. Vazquez, Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of San Diego. “As Catholics, we have a responsibility to be faithful citizens who bring our commitment to human dignity and a preferential option for the poor to the public square.”

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www.InThisTogether.org

Follow In This Together on Twitter @CatholicEconomy

Visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CatholicEconomy

 

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