Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pray for our Bishops

Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org has a thorough list of bishops who have spoken out recently against the (unconstitutional, illegal) mandate of the HHS about insurance policies. Please acquaint yourselves with what they are saying. They need our support in this - most especially our constant and fervent prayers, but also some positive encouragement to keep up the zeal they need to lead and defend us.

There is still a good possibility for a legislative solution, that is, that Congress could legislate the defense of First Amendment rights into the HHS policy, which it currently lacks. To that end, the bishops through the USCCB advocate writing to your Congress members:

"To correct the threats to religious liberty and rights of conscience posed by PPACA, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467). This measure will ensure that those who participate in the health care system “retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.” It is more important than ever that Members of Congress be urged to co-sponsor this measure. For co-sponsors, please check H.R. 1179 and S. 1467 at: thomas.loc.gov."

Another possibility is the judicial one, overturning the mandate on First Amendment and/or other grounds. It's hard to imagine how this mandate could survive in court, but stranger things have happened; we can't take it for granted that it would be overturned. And it would take time to go through the process, probably all the way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, we'd still be on the hook to compromise our faith.

The third possibility I can imagine is the civil disobedience one. With a sufficiently high measure of unity and commitment among faithful Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Evangelicals, and other affected groups, this strategy could well be successful. Most likely it would work best in combination with a judicial or legislative (more permanent) solution.

There's a lot at stake in this. It's not just a moral issue that affects a small number of us anachronisms who "cling to our guns and religion." The fundamental issue here is about the Constitution and the nature of the government our children and grandchildren will deal with. Will we keep to the essential vision of the Founding Fathers (i.e., limited (more or less) government, separation of powers, checks and balances, civil law still within hailing distance of the natural law, and the sovereignty of the people), or will we become what we have been drifting slowly toward: subjects beholden to a government wielding unchecked and arbitrary power behind a facade of electoral pseudo-consent? This coercion, if it succeeds, is a big step toward the latter.

Therefore, brothers, pray.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Archbishop Chaput nails it

Archbishop Chaput gave this address to a pro-life conference in Philadelphia on Sunday. Do read the whole thing, it's outstanding. Here's a taste of his zeal:

Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in – not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now – is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV. And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.” But even more importantly, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.(6)

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.

Therefore we need the martyrs' zeal, to live our faith and our hope publicly and fearlessly and consistently.

Friday, January 20, 2012

With friends like these...

Here is the text of today’s truly horrible policy decision and implementation by HHS Sec. K. Sebelius, regarding mandatory inclusion of contraceptive services in employer provided health insurance policies. It deserves a good flensing; my emphases and comments:

In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an interim final rule that will require most health insurance plans to cover preventive services [pregnancy is not a disease; defining these drugs and surgeries this way is logically and scientifically indefensible] for women including recommended contraceptive [again, their ideological definition that pregnancy begins at implantation therefore includes abortifacients among these contraceptives] services without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible [!! because clearly it’s more just to make other people pay for these immoral actions]. The rule allows certain non-profit religious employers [must meet all three criteria for exemption: employ mostly same denomination, serve mostly same denomination, explicitly inculcate denomination’s religious values; these exclude all religious hospitals, nursing homes, and social charity organizations, and many schools, grammar to university; parishes properly speaking probably do meet the exemption, but that’s a tiny fraction of the people employed by the churches’ institutions] that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraceptive services. Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA -approved forms of contraception. Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles, or because an insurance plan doesn’t include contraceptive services. This rule is consistent with the laws in a majority of states which already require contraception coverage in health plans, and includes the exemption in the interim final rule allowing certain religious organizations not to provide contraception coverage. Beginning August 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover these services without cost sharing for women across the country.

After evaluating comments, we have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support [So, even when HHS can’t force churches to pay for immoral procedures for others, they’ll still try to force the churches to support them by means of mandated public speech. This is supposed to be a choice that protects conscience??]. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns [“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”].

Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families [If you don’t count the increased risk of breast cancer, or the mental health problems caused by abortion, or the millions of babies’ deaths as health concerns…], it is documented to significantly reduce health costs [The same self-serving and unscientific definitions at play here, of course.], and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing [Admirably Orwellian: forcing other people to pay for it, at no cost to oneself, is somehow not “cost sharing.”].

This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services [!! NB: “Pay and/or promote for your employees” is their idea of religious freedom.]. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations [churches and institutions willing to compromise elements of faith give government policies like this moral cover; someone please remind me what they give the churches, again?], which promote healthy communities and serve the common good. And this final rule will have no impact on the protections that existing conscience laws [Apart from making us violate our conscience by paying for and/or promoting by mandated public speech these same immoral contraceptives and abortifacients] and regulations give to health care providers.

This is exactly what Pope Benedict was talking about in yesterday's address...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Evangelization and Cultural Stability

This winter and spring, the bishops of the US are making their quinquennial "ad limina" visits to the Holy See. Pope Benedict is greeting them in groups, although it appears he's not giving formal addresses to every group. So far he's given two formal addresses (November and January), both of which are just outstanding. He's really pushing the "new evangelization" in both these talks.

I looked at his first address a few weeks ago. His second one, today, is even more clear and direct.

At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.

That "consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good," and that "commitment to certain ethical principles," on which our country was founded, are broadly Christian and Biblical, in the sense that they permeate most branches of Christianity, and don't depend on a certain doctrinal framework or tradition of biblical interpretation. But they're also, in quite another sense, specifically Catholic - namely, in the sense in which the Catholic intellectual tradition (especially, e.g., Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Bernard, Bonaventure, Thomas, Scotus) unpacked and articulated that consensus and that commitment. Catholic tradition ties that content to the liturgy, partly in how we think about the Eucharist and the sacraments, partly in our art, architecture, and music. This helps protect that consensus and commitment from cultural drift, at least to an extent: lex orandi, lex credendi. So, surprising though it may be, the Catholic Church has retained a more generous grounding of that cultural base for the right understanding of our own country: For her part, the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10).

He immediately shifts, then, to the obvious double threat. What harms the liberty of the Church, harms this consensus, and therefore harms the liberty of our country and everything built upon it.

To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God. When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth... The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

The "life, liberty, and happiness" prized by the secular world still rests on something outside of itself. Without a vertical view of reality, in which all the creatures made by God have a hierarchy of inherent dignity and moral value, there can be no real consensus about the nature of things, nor any effective shared commitment to right morality. Therefore the Church must be free to speak about these two things (nature of reality, and morality) in public. She has a unique point of view, a unique gift of understanding to offer.

As the early history of our country shows, this is not a doctrinal gift; non-Catholics can appreciate it too, and build the secular world in a godly way, alongside us. The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.

So how shall we work for the liberty of the Church? First, by knowing the nature of the problem and its stakes. In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.

Second, by catechizing and evangelizing with authentic faith and tradition: Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.

And third, refusing to let pass by in silence the counter-witness of compromised faith: In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights. The bishops have to lead on this point, of course, but all of us need to be supportive, in three ways. First, we need to make sure we're not offering that kind of counter-witness locally. Second, we need to cheer on the bishops for all their good leadership, so that they know they're not isolated or overreacting when they have to correct false witness publicly. And third, we can call out those examples of counter-witness among our own communities. All of this must be done with charity, of course, which is difficult because politics doesn't reward charity, which it sees as weakness. But that's a weakness in which we can glory with Christ.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith

The CDF has released its "Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith". Some highlights from its introductory comments and forty specific recommendations:

This year will be a propitious occasion for the faithful to understand more profoundly that the foundation of Christian faith is “the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[Deus Caritas Est, 1] Founded on the encounter with the Risen Christ, faith can be rediscovered in its wholeness and all its splendor.

The next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in October 2012, will have as its theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

The Year of Faith is intended to contribute to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the Church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the Risen Lord in the world of today.... “Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith.”[Porta Fidei, 7]

Recommendations - for the Universal Church:

3. During this Year, it will be helpful to invite the faithful to turn with particular devotion to Mary, model of the Church... To this end it would be proper to organize pilgrimages, celebrations and gatherings at the major Marian shrines.

6. The Year of Faith will offer a special opportunity for all believers to deepen their knowledge of the primary documents of the Second Vatican Council and their study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is especially true for candidates for priesthood... [and diaconate, one should add].

7. This Year will provide an auspicious time for a more attentive reception of the homilies, catechesis, addresses and other speeches and documents of the Holy Father.

10. At the conclusion of this Year, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, there will be a Eucharist celebrated by the Holy Father, in which a solemn renewal of the profession of faith will take place.

Recommendations for episcopal conferences:

4. Pastors should work to promote television and radio transmissions, films and publications focusing on the faith, its principles and content, as well as on the ecclesial significance of the Second Vatican Council. This should be done using the new styles of communication, especially on the popular level, making these things available to a wider public.

5. The Saints and the Blessed are the authentic witnesses of the faith. It is, therefore, opportune that Episcopal Conferences work toward the dissemination of a knowledge of the local Saints of their territory, also by modern means of social communication.

6. The contemporary world is sensitive to the relationship between faith and art. It is, therefore, recommended that Episcopal Conferences maximize the catechetical potential – possibly with ecumenical cooperation – of the artistic patrimony of the region entrusted to their pastoral care.

Recommendations for Dioceses:

2. It would be desirable that each Diocese in the world organize a study day on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, particularly for its priests, consecrated persons and catechists.

7. Bishops are invited to organize penitential celebrations, particularly during Lent, in which all can ask for God’s forgiveness, especially for sins against faith. This Year also provides an appropriate occasion in which all can approach the Sacrament of Penance with greater faith and more frequently.

Recommendations for parishes and communities:

2. The Year of Faith “will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist.” [Porta fidei, 9]

3. Priests [and deacon] should devote greater attention to the study of the documents of Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, drawing from them resources for the pastoral care of their parishes – catechesis, preaching, Sacramental preparation. They should also offer cycles of homilies on the faith or on certain specific aspects such as, for example, “the encounter with Christ”, “the fundamental contents of the Creed”, and “faith and the Church.”[Verbum Domini, 59-60, 74]

4. Catechists should hold more firmly to the doctrinal richness of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, under the direction of their pastors, offer guidance in reading this precious document to groups of faithful...

6. The promotion of missions and other popular programs in parishes and in the workplace can help the faithful to rediscover the gift of Baptismal faith and the task of giving witness...

Friday, January 6, 2012

"For the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church" - updated

Is any kind of cooperation between Church and State possible in the current political climate? If yes, what kinds, with what limits? If no, what does that imply about the apostolic ministry, and our share in it as deacons?

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has an excellent post, summarizing the "real and subtle" attacks on the Church in the US. In addition to the obvious coercions of court-imposed rules in the abortion issue and so-called same-sex marriage, etc., he notes items such as the (still pending) HHS regulations about health insurance requirements, denials of grants solely on the basis of Catholic pro-life doctrine, increasing government intrusion in Church affairs (e.g. as attempted in Connecticut in 2009), and so forth. He doesn't mention the Obama administration's arguments before the Supreme Court earlier this year, in the case of a Lutheran teacher who was fired from her position, which were blatantly contrary to the First Amendment. Nor does he mention the current suits and counter-suits at Belmont Abbey College, nor the ruling against California's Catholic Charities a few years ago, which also have to do with health insurance regulation. The list could be extended quite a bit further.

He concludes his article this way:

"At the beginning of a New Year, please take these threats seriously. The extreme secularists presume they can simply wear us down by their repeated and numerous legal maneuverings. And, frankly, they may be right, unless people like you and me are vigilant and unflinching in supporting the Church as she battles these attacks.

And don’t be too sanguine about how we should be willing to endure persecution. We should, but that does not mean we simply surrender our Constitutional rights at the door and let secularists, and proponents of the cultural revolution isolate us. We have every Constitutional right that any American does and we cannot simply let the Church be silenced by either ignoring the problem or minimizing it."

Msgr. Pope is proposing an engagement of culture by the Church. The first goal is to resist the false claim that the Church has no role in public life, which has been dubbed the "naked public square." The second goal is to win certain "natural frontiers" (namely, faith and morals, and their intersection with public policy) within which the Church can act publicly, without having to defend that role repeatedly and minutely. The third (and unspoken in this article) goal is, of course, the conversion of culture.

In the same vein as this engagement, we have something like Archbishop Neinstedt's leadership on the proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota in defense of marriage. This is a good particular instance of the USCCB's priority for the defense of marriage and the building up of a pro-family culture, which has been so badly eroded over the past three to four generations. Clearly, public policy about marriage and family is not immediately subject to the Church's Magisterium, the divine authority to teach on all matters of faith and morals. But equally clearly, public policy about marriage and family has profound, long-lasting, and far-reaching implications for just about every other area of public life, from education to the social welfare net to economy and taxation. The Church does not dictate public policy, but we should absolutely want to influence and shape public policy. Therefore, one would be correct to conclude that this sort of engagement is crucial to the Church's role in public life, and therefore worth fighting for the right to do so (clearly a right in both the natural law and the Constitution, but as Msgr. Pope has shown, one which is denied by the current administration and its secular ideology).

But engagement is not the whole of our Tradition. We also have the tradition of what might be called isolation: Catholic institutions separate from the public ones, self-funded and therefore autonomous to a far greater degree. At one time this was true of all our Catholic schools and hospitals, though it isn't universally true in these areas today. At one time, this logic was so clear and accepted in the Church that we organized all kinds of separate Catholic groups in public life: even things as apparently insular as Catholic actors' guilds, for example. (Given the debauchery of "Hollywood culture," maybe this separatism shouldn't be deemed anachronistic!) The Catholic Charities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is holding to this logic. In light of what has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois, this is perhaps not a bad idea at all. But is it an engagement of the culture; and if so, how does it engage?

I would argue that this sort of separatism is a necessary component of the engagement of culture. Engagement requires clarity about our goals. This means Catholic identity, and Catholicity in general, must be clearly upheld in practice. Separate Catholic institutions do that. So too does the "separateness," the consecration, of clergy, of religious, and of families. From that clarity of identity comes clarity of mission. Without that clarity of identity, mission is inevitably compromised by ideologies.

O God, our refuge and our strength, look down in mercy on Thy people who cry to Thee, and by the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of St. Joseph her Spouse, of Thy blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in mercy and goodness hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of our holy Mother the Church. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Update: Two more views on this same topic: Pope Benedict XVI's address to the diplomats credentialed to the Vatican, and Bishop Jenky (Peoria, IL) in his annual Festival Letter.