Catholic Lie of the Year

December 23, 2010, 12:16 pm | Posted by

We noted last week that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com gave its Lie of the Year award to the myth that health care reform legislation represented a “government takeover” of the health care system. This has me musing over what the biggest Catholic lie of the year was in 2010. I’m picking the laughable effort that Deal Hudson, the CatholicVote.org crowd and other conservative Catholics made to brand Tea Party ideology as all nice and cozy with Catholic social teaching. This effort was so transparently partisan and willfully ignorant of centuries of Catholic social teaching that it runs away with the award like Cam Newton and the Heisman.

The idea that the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” fits lockstep with anti-government rhetoric, free-market fundamentalism and lower taxes for millionaires and billionaires is a stunning distortion of papal encyclicals and Catholic social teaching through the ages. The always insightful Vox Nova blog says it well.

Fundamentally, subsidiarity is all about letting human dignity flourish by creating the space for social relations to take place at the most personal level. It is meaningless when stripped away from solidarity. It has nothing to do with low taxes, minimal regulation, or low spending. In the economic sphere, solidarity calls for government intervention in certain core areas (such as determining working conditions and support for the unemployed), while subsidiarity calls for the government to create favorable conditions for the common good to flourish. That, by the way, means correcting the problems that come with the free market. This was patently clear to Pius XI, the intellectual architect of subsidiarity, when he railed against the injustice created by unregulated large corporations, especially in the financial sector. Properly understood, subsidiarity provides a bulwark against both the centralizing tendencies of socialist collectivism, and the decentralizing tendencies of the free market.

Deal Hudson and Thomas Peters might want to put down those Republican talking points and dust off their Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004, the Compendium describes the “common good” as “the reason that political authority exists.” In Catholic teaching, government has an essential role in helping to create the conditions of a just society where human dignity can flourish. The Catholic Church is not a spiritual subsidiary of the Cato Institute. The Church’s call to reject excessive individualism and warnings about the dangers of unregulated markets don’t sound anything like the Tea Partiers.

Even on the prickly political issues of taxes, Catholic teaching is not shy about urging a more just distribution of wealth (see Church teaching on the “universal destination of goods”). Church advocates for “a reasonable and fair application of taxes,” according to the Compendium, “in which burdens are “proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” As Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, writes in a recent Washington Post “On Faith” commentary “the late Pope John Paul II, that resolute opponent of communism, nonetheless repeatedly insisted that private wealth was subject to a ‘social mortgage’ to be used for the common good.”

Catholic conservatives have every right to support the Republican Party, embrace Tea Party libertarianism and believe in less regulation of business. These are political arguments I find lacking, but they are longstanding views subject to debate in the robust marketplace of ideas. But anointing them with the imprimatur of Catholic Church teaching is wrong.

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Episcopal Bullying Wins in Phoenix

December 21, 2010, 5:03 pm | Posted by

UPDATE: Last week, I blogged about Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, who threatened to strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status after earlier this year the hospital determined that a surgical procedure resulting in the termination of a pregnancy of a young mother close to death was medically necessary to save her life. The decision was made by doctors in consultation with Sister Margaret Mary McBride, the hospital’s vice president, who sits on St. Joseph’s ethics committee.

Bishop Olmsted called a news conference today and said this, according to breaking news from the National Catholic Reporter.

It is my duty to decree that, in the Diocese of Phoenix, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, CHW [Catholic Healthcare West] is not committed to following the teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic. The Catholic faithful are free to seek care or to offer care at St. Joseph’s Hospital but I cannot guarantee that the care provided will be in full accord with the teachings of the Church. In addition, other measures will be taken to avoid the impression that the hospital is authentically Catholic, such as the prohibition of celebrating Mass at the hospital and the prohibition of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.

This is episcopal bullying, and a truly sad development. The hospital is standing firm. In a statement posted on its web site, hospital president Linda Hunt said the hospital will remain “steadfast” in fulfilling its mission.

Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case. We continue to stand by the decision, which was made in collaboration with the patient, her family, her caregivers, and our Ethics Committee. Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.

Bishop Olmsted’s stunning decision to also end celebration of Mass at the hospital adds another element of outrage to this story. Executing his “duty to decree” (Olmsted’s imperial language) and proving his power in the diocese apparently takes precedence over ensuring that patients and the families of the sick and the dying have spiritual refuge during times of crisis. As Michael Sean Winters notes on his NCR blog, Distinctively Catholic, this case is a failure of episcopal leadership on multiple fronts.

During this holy week of Christmas, my thoughts and prayers are with Sr. McBride and the dedicated staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital, a proud Catholic institution.

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Conservatives for Keeping Christ Out of Christmas

December 17, 2010, 12:11 pm | Posted by

On the heels of the “Filibuster that Stole Christmas” fiasco, Stephen Colbert chimes in with a brilliant commentary (some might say sermon) on the real challenge of Jesus’ message of unconditional love and charity.

Of course, all parties fall short of the radical teachings of the Bible. But, I must say it’s pretty amusing to see conservatives like Bill O’Reilly, who often toot their own piety horns, tie themselves into rhetorical knots to avoid dealing with those hard passages.

At least Bernie Goldberg had the guts to come out and tell the truth, during his glorification of the super-rich:

“I don’t care what the bible says on matter!

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USCCB President Archbishop Dolan Praises Controversial Bill Donohue

December 17, 2010, 10:02 am | Posted by

bill-donohue.jpgTaking to his blog yesterday, newly elected President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, wrote a piece entitled “Why we need the Catholic League, praising the right-wing Catholic group’s figurehead Bill Donohue for his most recent efforts to stir conservative outrage over a manufactured controversy.

Dolan frames Donohue as a noble defender of the Church from anti-Catholic attacks, but ignores Donohue’s controversial history–only acknowledging that “some may take occasional issue with his style.” But the criticism of Bill Donohue isn’t just about style, it’s about substance too. Specifically, his track record of offensive, untrue and stridently partisan statements raise many questions as to whether the top American bishop should be endorsing him.

Donohue’s problematic past includes promoting discredited links between pedophilia and homosexuality to scapegoat gays for the Church sex abuse crisis, blaming sex abuse victims for their abuse, calling Catholics he disagrees with “termites” and accusing them of disloyalty, and stoking anti-Muslim bigotry.

Donohue also has a troubling history of anti-Semitic comments. During an appearance on Scarborough Country in 2004 he claimed:

“Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it.”

And given the chance to explain or retract his remarks, he chose to defend them instead.

Donohue’s pattern of bombastic bullying and fear-mongering to stoke the culture wars represents the type of behavior that undermines the Church’s credibility in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Is this really the type of Catholicism Archbishop Dolan wants to endorse?

H/T Our Daily Thread

UPDATE: Catholics United has started a petition asking Archbishop Dolan to disassociate from Donohue.

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Pastors or Generals?

December 16, 2010, 12:06 pm | Posted by

The Arizona Republic reports that the Catholic bishop of Phoenix is threatening to strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status tomorrow after earlier this year the hospital decided that terminating the pregnancy of a young mother close to death from pulmonary hypertension – a condition that limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function – was medically necessary to save her life. The decision was made by doctors in consultation with Sister Margaret McBride, the hospital’s vice president, who sits on St. Joseph’s ethics committee.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted condemned the surgery as an abortion and announced this spring that McBride, a Sister of Mercy, had excommunicated herself. In a recent letter to Catholic Healthcare West, which oversees the hospital, Bishop Olmsted fumed with indignation from his episcopal perch like a disgruntled general. “There cannot be a tie in this debate,” Olmsted writes. “Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question.”

In order to retain its Catholic status, St. Joseph’s must now acknowledge that Bishop Olmsted was right in his criticism of the decision, submit to a diocesan review and certification to ensure full compliance with Catholic moral teaching and agree to give its medical staff ongoing training on the Ethical and Religious Directives, a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This is a classic example of why some Catholic bishops have lost the respect of even faithful Catholics, including those who view abortion as a tragedy that undermines the sanctity of life. An imperial style and dogmatic certitude in the face of the messy complexities of ministering to the sick and dying leaves little room for prudential judgment or nuanced analysis. One can believe abortion is wrong and at the same time recognize that in grave situations moral absolutes often collide with the real world, where life-and-death medical decisions are made in the most ethical way possible against a daily backdrop of ambiguity and imperfection. Unlike most bishops who have spent little or no time serving in hospitals, Sister McBride and other Catholic health-care providers have lived experience and practical expertise that should be respected.

Bishop Olmsted’s black-and-white determination also offers a telling contrast with Pope Benedict XVI’s recent statements about condoms, where the pope acknowledged that while the Church teaches condom use is wrong, “in certain cases” contraceptives can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” This is not situational ethics that violates Church teaching, but practical and humane theology that responds to the world as it is even as we strive to build a world that lives up to our highest ideals. The tragic pandemic of AIDS in Africa, the pope teaches, must have some bearing on the proper application of Church teaching. If it doesn’t, our religious leaders are taking a path radically different from the example of Jesus, who walked among the brokenness and sin of the world not as a moral bureaucrat offering edicts from on high, but as a real person who experienced the human condition in all its frailty.

Bishops are teachers of the Catholic faith. Bishop Olmsted, I’m sure, takes that role seriously. Jesus of Nazareth was also a teacher. But his most pointed words were saved for the Pharisees and Sadducees, those high priests and religious authorities of his time, whose fixation on the letter of the law left them blind to the spirit of the law.

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