The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed new national standards for toxic air pollution from power plants. The new standards, which will limit emissions such as mercury and arsenic, are strong health protections that will further the work of the 1990 Clean Air Act.
As the Catholic News Service reports, several Catholic groups are coming out in public support of the EPA proposal based on principles from Catholic teaching. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change have all praised the proposed standards for helping care for human life and preserve God’s creation.
Sister Carol Keehan, Catholic Health Association’s president and CEO, expressed her support of the EPA’s proposal in a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson:
“Our position on controlling pollution from power plants is rooted in the Catholic Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life — especially in regards to the poor and vulnerable who disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation. We encourage the EPA to adopt strong air quality policies in order to protect the health and welfare of both people and the planet, and we oppose industry and congressional pressure to weaken the proposed rules.”
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also wrote a letter of support to Jackson:
“While we are not experts on air pollution, our general support for a national standard to reduce hazardous air pollution from power plants is guided by Catholic teaching, which calls us to care for God’s creation and protect the common good and the life and dignity of human persons, especially the poor and vulnerable, from conception until natural death.”
It’s encouraging to see people of faith standing up for environmental issues from a creation care perspective. As presidential candidates jump over each other to try to delay and dismantle environmental protections, it’s even more important that the faith community makes its voice heard. Hopefully they will stand together to oppose critics of the EPA.
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Over at Commonweal, J. Peter Nixon has a thoughtful post that raises important questions for Catholic Church leaders engaged in high-profile campaigns against same-sex marriage. It’s a timely topic as Archbishop Timothy Dolan devotes considerable attention on his archdiocesan blog to taking sharp jabs at New York legislators pushing to legalize gay marriage.
Unlike some commentators who lash out against Catholic bishops, Nixon’s tempered warnings echo the sentiments of many Catholics who love their Church but worry that a hierarchy consumed with opposing something most Americans (including a majority of Catholics) now support and view as an historical inevitability weakens the Church’s ability to find a receptive audience for its social justice agenda. “The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture,” he writes. Nixon continues:
While the bishops have not only the right but the responsibility to bring Catholic teaching into the public square, they need to do so in ways that do not seem uniquely obsessed with the sins of gays and lesbians. It might have been helpful, for example, if the bishops’ willingness to take on same-sex marriage has been coupled with an equally enthusiastic effort to reform no-fault divorce laws. Given contemporary mores, such an effort would have had almost zero chance of success. But coupling the issues would at least make it clear that the bishops understood that the most serious threats to marriage arise from the behavior of heterosexuals. More fundamentally, I suspect that many young people who grow up within the Church sense that the ways that heterosexuals fall short of Church teaching–fornication, cohabitation, contraception, remarriage after divorce–are, in pastoral practice at least, taken less seriously than the sexual sins of gays and lesbians. While I have no illusions that a more consistent application of the Church’s teaching would be “appealing,” it would at least immunize the Church against the charge of hypocrisy. The emerging generation of young people may not be inclined to adhere to the Church’s sexual ethics, but it would be a measure of progress if they could at least respect them.
Last fall, I urged Catholic leaders to read American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Harvard professor Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political science professor David Campbell. The authors’ research, examining the intersection of religion and politics over the last half century, offers critical findings about why a growing percentage of Americans – particularly twentysomethings – now identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Putnam and Campbell specifically identify vigorous opposition to same-sex marriage as a position driving younger Christians away from churches.
Very few of these new “nones” actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics…Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives.
Catholic bishops and other Church leaders play a vital role in advocating for a moral economy that serves the common good, defending workers’ rights, lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform and urging political leaders to address climate change. Maintaining this moral witness and relevancy in the public square will only grow harder if Catholics who value their faith’s commitment to justice and the common good perceive the Church as becoming primarily a culture-war institution fixated on sexuality.
For another thoughtful read on this issue, check out David Gibson’s post: The Church’s real marriage crisis?
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You have to wonder if those Catholic right bloggers in Boston who pressured the archdiocese to cancel a welcome Mass for the LGBT community would have given Jesus a hard time back in the day. The radical from Nazareth broke bread with prostitutes, spoke to women as equals, angered authorities by curing the sick on the Sabbath and put compassion and justice before the religious establishment’s long list of rigid rules. I bet the Catholic orthodoxy police who make it a full-time job to sniff out supposed scandal in dioceses around the country would have been hot on the trail of Jesus from day one.
If you missed the story, here’s some background. The Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecilia’s Parish recently posted a notice in the church bulletin about a Mass that would “honor Christ’s message of hope and salvation to all people” during Boston’s Pride Month. This was not controversial news until the city’s vociferous Catholic right, specifically the blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed,” (Fr. Hehir is a former president of Catholic Charities USA and a professor at Harvard University) urged Catholics to flood Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s office with protest calls. The blog described plans for the Mass as an “atrocious scandal” and demanded that the pastor be put on leave. The Mass was canceled by the archdiocese a few days later.
The St. Cecilia parish community is showing a level of grace and dignity that the Catholic right gotcha squad rarely does. The Boston Globe reports:
During the first Mass since the Archdiocese of Boston canceled one planned for next weekend in support of St. Cecilia’s gay and lesbian churchgoers, the Rev. John J. Unni preached a fiery message of unconditional love and what he called “acceptance of all.” “You are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white,” Unni said as he paced up and down the center aisle… At one point, he called the conservative bloggers who criticized the Mass “unbelievably hurtful” and said he was trying to “not just succumb to being told what to do.” “We are not this renegade, crazy, liberal church,” Unni said, to smiles and nods from the pews. “We’re just Christians trying to live the gospel.”
St. Cecilia was not engaging in controversial political advocacy or staging a protest. The parish was simply affirming the inherent dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians. A welcome Mass should not be a cause for scandal. Meanwhile, the Catholic right in Boston refuses to back down, pointing out that a diocesan spokesperson told the Globe that the diocese has no problem with a planned sidewalk prayer service the church has planned with a similar purpose.
For a more inspiring take on how the Catholic Church is trying to reach out to the LGBT community, read this op-ed in the Buffalo News from retired Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn. Bishop Sullivan writes:
Across the country there are increasing numbers of parishes that welcome LGBT parishioners and their families to active participation in the church. Catholic colleges and universities are in dialogue with their LGBT students, and Catholic retreat houses provide retreats specifically for LGBT Catholics. Catholics and other religious people who support LGBT rights do so because of their experience of engagement with members of the LGBT community. They are not rebels in their churches, but people who have taken spiritual messages of inclusiveness and welcoming to heart. They are taking the church’s teaching on social justice and applying it to pastoral practice in engaging the LGBT community.
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…They all agree Herman Cain has gone off the deep end. The GOP Presidential candidate’s anti-Islam extremism continues to grow, with him now telling Glenn Beck he would make Muslims swear a special loyalty oath before serving in his cabinet — a requirement he wouldn’t make other religious appointees swear.
When even Glenn Beck is surprised at your extremism, you may want to take a look in the mirror. Scott Keyes at Think Progress puts it in context:
Cain’s requirement that Muslim nominees take a loyalty oath while Catholics and Mormons would be exempted is not only bigoted, it’s also ironic considering that the same suspicion was once levied at Catholics. During the 1960 presidential election, anti-Catholic sentiment held that if then-Sen. John F. Kennedy were elected president, his Catholic faith would make him beholden to the Pope rather than the United States. Such views were abhorrent when directed at Catholics 50 years ago, and they are abhorrent when directed at Muslims today.
In a sign of how this issue transcends traditional ideological divisions, conservative Catholic scholar Robert George similarly excoriated Cain for his extremism:
If his words are being reported accurately, what he said is wrong, foolish, and unacceptable. It is disrespectful of Muslims, the vast majority of whom in our country are, as Cain himself seems to acknowledge, loyal, honorable citizens; and it is incompatible with a sound understanding of religious freedom (and with the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution’s no-religious-tests clause).
Good on George for being willing to call out the growing trend of Islamophobia in his own movement. Hopefully more conservatives will join him and help push anti-Muslim bigotry out of legitimate political discourse.
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Adding on to John’s post earlier today, here are a few more Catholic responses for those following the debate.
In addition to Morning’s Minion great piece on the principle of subsidiarty John mentioned, Steve Schneck has a similarly helpful explanation up at his blog.
And while John focused on George Weigel, the same response could and should be sent to Catholic right spokesmen Stephen P. White and Rev. Robert A. Sirico who > also have a way of distorting Catholic social teaching to echo Republican talking points.
For a more nuanced opinion on the recent Catholic news, see Vince Miller’s take at America last week, and Eduardo Penalver’s response at dotCommonweal.
And Catholics for the Common Good features an essay by Professor Charles Clark of St. John’s University this week exercising his economic prudential judgment:
Prudential judgment is based on practical reasoning, which Aristotle tells us is based on particulars that can be otherwise, in contrast to theoretical reasoning, which is based on invariants that do not change (like gravity). The Ryan/Republican economic agenda of small government, low tax rates and privatization is all grounded in an 18th Century view of the economy, assuming that our economy is essentially the same (the laws of economics are invariant), with the hope that if we just removed state interference we would return to Adam Smith’s “society of perfect liberty” (minimal government, laissez-faire capitalism). But, in fact, a 21st Century economy is fundamentally different from its 18th Century ancestor. The same rules do not apply.
And finally, Bishops Hubbard and Blaire, authors of the letters to House and Senate members warning of Catholic concerns about the budget, have penned another epistle to the House Appropriation Committee about the Agriculture Appropriations bill decrying cuts to nutrition and food security programs at home and abroad.
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