It’s outrageous and heartbreaking that George Zimmerman was not held accountable for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin at point-blank range. This injustice affected Americans so deeply because it emblemized numerous intersecting pathologies of our society: a rampant culture of gun violence, inexcusable gun laws, deeply ingrained racism, and the devaluation of young black men’s lives.
At times like this it can be difficult to picture the day when tragedies like Trayvon’s killing no longer occur. But abolition and integration were once considered pipe dreams too, and the largely peaceful nationwide outpouring of grief after Zimmerman’s acquittal is a testament to faith leaders’ power to channel outrage into peaceful action, as Rev. William Barber II did at Moral Monday in North Carolina. While our hearts are troubled, our spirits must remain strong.
Catholic colleges call a path to citizenship ‘moral, urgent, practical’
A new group of influential leaders from the faith community weighed in on the immigration debate today. A press teleconference call this morning organized by Faith in Public Life unveiled a letter signed by 93 Catholic college presidents calling on Catholic members of the House of Representatives – including House Speaker John Boehner – to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship. The letter also ran as an ad in today’s print edition of Politico, as well as in targeted online ads. It said in part:
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible.
We hope that as you face intense political pressure from powerful interest groups, you will draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition. Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.
The letter is signed by nationally prominent Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and the Catholic University of America, as well as many colleges in districts represented by strategically important Republican lawmakers. As House Members weigh whether to support, obstruct or dilute reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship, the chorus of voices calling for a path to citizenship is growing louder.
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Prominent Catholic university presidents urged Catholics in the House of Representatives today to stop delaying and pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The high-profile push from the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown, The Catholic University of America and more than 90 other university leaders signals a major ratcheting up of Catholic pressure on Congress at a time when the number of Catholics on Capitol Hill has reached a historic high. The leaders of more than a third of the nation’s 244 Catholic colleges and universities were represented on the letter, which also ran as a full-page ad in Politico newspaper.
Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, would be wise to tune out those Tea Party ideologues now backing him into a corner and meet with these university leaders who speak so persuasively about the moral and practical case for reform. While we’re at it, Rep. Paul Ryan could also benefit from some pressure given reports today that he is getting weak knees on a path to citizenship. In contrast, these university leaders are resolute:
Together we represent universities that educate more than 290,000 students. Leaders on Catholic campuses advocated for the DREAM Act, and we stand with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship.
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows, and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible…As Catholics engaged in public service, you have a serious responsibility to consider the moral dimensions of policy decisions. Our immigration system is so deeply flawed, and in such urgent need of repair, that inaction is unacceptable.
Along with Catholic college presidents, the letter also includes signatories from 60 Catholic theologians and academics, as well as a retired U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican who worked in the first Bush administration and endorsed Mitt Romney for president.
The effort, spearheaded by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and Faith in Public Life, is part of a broader advocacy push by Catholics on immigration reform. Faith in Public Life will be working to bring Catholic university presidents to Capitol Hill in the fall to urge members to pass a path to citizenship. The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops will circulate the presidents’ letter as part of its robust advocacy efforts.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, touted the Catholic presidents’ push in a statement today:
I welcome the support of the Catholic presidents for immigration reform. They are a welcome voice in this debate, as they see the potential and talent in newly arriving immigrants. Immigrants, especially youth, are important for our nation’s future and competitiveness. Educators understand the importance of investing in immigrant youth so they can become tomorrow’s leaders.
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John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, argued in yesterday’s USA Today that while the next pope may not radically change the Catholic Church, he will have an opportunity to actively encourage healthy dialogue in the pews:
The next pope, whether cheered by conservative Catholics or eyed warily by liberals in the flock, will not abruptly end the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the all-male priesthood and contraception even as many practicing Catholics and some clergy find these teachings flawed.
But a new pope — and no church rule requires the Vicar of Christ to be a cardinal or bishop — could send a powerful message by claiming less infallibility and listening more to ordinary Catholics, overburdened pastors and tireless nuns who live out the Gospel from blighted neighborhoods in Cincinnati to remote villages in Kenya. Instead of silencing theologians and stifling debate, a new pope could let it be known that discernment and discussion are signs of a healthy, flourishing faith.
Read the whole op-ed here.
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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.”
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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.
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