Last week, we highlighted the Pope’s stance on the right to health care, and noted how, if he’d been an advocate in America, conservative commentators would probably have labeled him a “socialist” or “communist” for his views, such as a “right to health,” an embrace of “health justice” and social justice, and the obligation of governments to ensure all their citizens receive needed care.
Anew roundup of quotes from these pundits just stark a contrast there is between Pope’s teachings and their rhetoric:
We have a right to health care? Really? God doesn’t give health care. Man provides health care. So how can it be a right? If you are endowed by your creator with certain inalienable rights, how can a God-given right be health care? Unless Jesus comes down and starts to open up a clinic and heal us himself, there cannot be a right to health care – because the rights come from God.
The far left is trying to create a huge federal apparatus that will promote income redistribution and ‘social justice.’ Also, the left sees a major opportunity to knock out Judeo-Christian traditions, replacing them with a secular philosophy.
All you need to know about government run health care was that Vladimir Lenin had the brainchild.
These pundits have not hesitated to lash out against faith leaders who defend key tenets like social justice, but it seems so far not one has stepped up to condemn the Pope, or even try to explain away his statements.
Excuse the cliche, but the silence is deafening. Particularly for Catholic pundits and politicians like Newt Gingrich who put their faith at the forefront of their public image. If they sincerely believe government involvement in healthcare is an evil on par with Stalinism and Nazism, don’t they have an obligation to speak up when the most prominent religious leader in the world full-throatedly endorses it?
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…or much worse if we were to apply the rhetoric of last year’s health care reform debate!
Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”
Via Think Progress
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In a surprise move the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elected New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan as their new president this morning.
After three ballots, Dolan edged out current Vice President Gerald Kicanas, whose reputation as a moderate sparked a last-minute campaign against him from right-wing Catholic bloggers and activists.
While Kicanas’ defeat is a blow to moderates and those who embrace the Catholic social justice tradition, Dolan’s election might not be cause for panic.
Dolan is firmly theologically conservative and a staunch defender of church leadership and Pope Benedict, but has not embraced the hard-line enforcer role (thus far he’s chosen not to deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians).
Here’s how the New York Times described his approach when he was first installed in New York:
The archbishop is no crusader. He speaks against abortion and the death penalty, and when some parishes pushed to form a health insurance cooperative, he gave his blessing and kept his distance. He seems wary that crusading could distract, not least from the fund-raising needed to keep the church afloat.
The same article said he gets high marks from church reformers on how open and transparently he’s handled church finances.
When Dolan does engage in the public square, he is in line with Rome and his brother Bishops. Dolan favors comprehensive immigration reform and criticized Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law.
Dolan also spoke out during the Park51 controversy, condemning prejudice and the rancorous debate, and offering to mediate talks.
Will Dolan’s pastoral and conciliatory instincts help bring together an increasingly polarized church? Or will an emboldened Catholic right succeed in pushing for an even harder line in political life? Only time will tell.
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I hope that at least a few Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders take the time to read a new book, 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 some especially critical findings about why a growing percentage of Americans – particularly twentysomethings – now identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Writing in an a recent Los Angles Times op-ed , Putnam and Campbell identify how many young people point to faith leaders embracing conservative politics as the source of their disillusionment:
So, why this sudden jump in youthful disaffection from organized religion? The surprising answer, according to a mounting body of evidence, is politics. 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.
It doesn’t seem that church leaders got the memo. Just yesterday, for example, we learned that Archbishop Raymond Burke, a formidable player in the 2004 presidential election after he publicly said Sen. John Kerry should be denied communion because of his position on abortion, was one of only two Americans named a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. As religion writer David Gibson notes over at Politics Daily, Burke has said that those who voted for Obama engaged in “a form of cooperation” with evil and declared that Sen. Ted Kennedy should not be given a Catholic funeral. It’s hard to see how the Catholic Church and other Christian leaders begin to stem the tide of young Americans turning away from organized religion without some serious soul searching about their style of engagement in the political process. In an important essay for Commonweal magazine, Peter Steinfels, a Catholic and widely respected former religion writer for the New York Times, invites Catholic bishops to grapple with tough questions about this issue at their national meeting next month.
Only a few Catholic bishops have publicly acknowledged the need for this kind of critical thinking. See Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco John Quinn’s America magazine commentary warning bishops not to become Republican partisans, and a candid National Catholic Reporter interview with Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe that makes the case for “building bridges, not burning them.” We need more church leaders confronting difficult questions and thinking more prudently about their political engagement. Reading Putnam and Campbell’s book is a good place to start.
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I admire people who have convictions and follow their conscience even when the consequences are difficult. Fr. Michael Tegeder, the pastor of St. Edward Parish in Bloomington, Minn., is clearly one of those people with a clear mind, a generous heart and an even stronger backbone. He recently went public with a disagreement he has with his boss: Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
First, some context by way of background. The archbishop is featured in a new DVD video message, developed by the state’s Catholic bishops, criticizing same- sex marriage and urging Minnesota voters to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Over 400,000 Catholics in the state have received the DVDs, mailed just a few weeks before Minnesotans go to the polls to vote for a new governor. Two candidates running support same-sex marriage and one doesn’t. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, the archbishop noted that this was the first time the diocese has used a mass DVD mailing to inform Catholics about specific church teachings. He referred to the DVD as a “teaching tool,” not a political statement, and said an “anonymous donor” funded the campaign.
Fr. Tegeder wrote a letter to the editor published in Minnesota’s largest newspaper, The Star Tribune, asking why this issue demanded such fervent advocacy from the diocese.
In every serious study, poverty is the top reason for marital breakdowns. It is very hard to make the case that a small percentage of the population who bond with members of their own sex and seek to live in a committed relationship could have anything but a positive effect on the general population’s appreciation of stable, faithful, life-giving unions…The bishops themselves are not united on how to approach this new reality of gays and lesbians claiming a right to have their own families publicly recognized with corresponding rights and responsibilities… Just recently the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph SchÃ¶nborn, the main author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and friend of the pope, publicly stated that the church needs to look differently at committed same-sex relationships. His fellow Austrian bishops concurred. These are thinking, serious church leaders. They listen. The constitutional amendment being promoted by the archbishop does not allow even for civil unions, and it would limit current rights enjoyed by our gay and lesbian citizens. We as Catholics can have our own beliefs about marriage. But we must recognize that people of other faiths and of no faith have conscientious beliefs as well. Most scandalous is that Archbishop Nienstedt has compromised his office with the use of anonymous money to fund this effort. The constitutional amendment is a very political issue. The impression is given that political funding is at work here.
It’s not clear what the consequences will be for Fr. Tegeder, but this archbishop toes a hard line. He recently denied communion to about 25 college students and community members at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., because they were wearing rainbow buttons and sashes in protest of the church’s stand on gay relationships. Tegeder is not alone in his public disagreement. The artist in residence at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis for the past 15 years was recently suspended from that position when she expressed her opposition to the DVD mailings. A group of Catholics in the diocese launched a Return the DVD campaign and to date has collected over 1,500 DVDs to be sent back to the diocese. Every time they receive a DVD, the group makes a donation to St. Stephen’s Human Services and Episcopal Community Services — non-profits working to help fight poverty and end homelessness in Minnesota.
Polls show that Catholics and other people of faith hold diverse views when it comes to LGBT issues. Your position on whether gays and lesbians should be able to marry probably has as much to do with your age as your political views. The Catholic Church has every right to articulate its position on marriage in the public square, regardless of the changing winds of popular opinion. But a campaign funded by an anonymous donor just weeks before an election hardly seems to be a simple “teaching tool.” Most Catholics know what the church teaches about marriage, but many rightly wonder why a pastoral approach is often replaced by an aggressive and politicized call to arms. At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed and the number of people living in poverty has reached its highest level in a half century, how about a few DVDs on hunger, homelessness, the dignity of work?
Maybe an anonymous donor could even pick up the tab.
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