Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On the Dignity of Women

Our children attend the local Catholic school.  Perhaps that is not surprising.

The school sponsors a Vocations Club to stir and explore interest in religious or priestly life.  Perhaps that also is not surprising.

But, in fact, there are two clubs: 'Father Kolbe' for boys, named for St. Maximillian Kolbe, and 'St. Cecilia,' for girls.

Our son belongs to Father Kolbe--in a ten-year-old's way, he likes to get out of class and enjoy the snacks.  (No number of snacks or amount of time out of class has aroused our daughter's interest in St. Cecilia.)

An interesting thing happened yesterday when I asked our son about his Father Kolbe meeting.  He said that a new girl in his class had tried to attend.  Being new, she didn't understand that there were two vocations clubs--one for boys, and one for girls.  Playfully, I asked my son whether his new classmate had managed to force her way into the Father Kolbe meeting.

He gave a satisfied, "Nope!"

I have been thinking a lot about his reply.  He is ten years old.  It is appropriate to his age for him to want to keep girls out of his treehouse.  His "Nope!" comes as no surprise in that light.  He will grow out of that attitude about girls.  Or, at least, he should grow out of it.  But I find myself wondering whether the way the Church talks about and enforces gender differences will help him do it.  I find myself worrying, might his Catholic education become an obstacle to growing out of it?

In fact--Why must there be separate vocations clubs for boys and girls?

It's not the first time I've found myself asking questions like these.

Consider these comments made earlier this year by Raymond Cardinal Burke about how letting girls be altar servers has 'feminized' the Church at the expense of priestly vocations:
“Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away [from priestly vocations] over time.”
At the time, I found Cardinal Burke's observations merely amusing.  Note how the fact that girls are "very good at altar service" is completely irrelevant to him.  Notice also that Cardinal Burke argues from nature.

Nature, of course, has its goodness.  Nature is created, and shares in the goodness of the Creator.  Yet nature does not have sufficient goodness, says St. Thomas Aquinas.  Since humanity first was separated by sin from its Creator, "human nature is left to itself, and deprived of original justice", and so we speak of a "defect in human nature."  Nature is perfected by the grace which we receive as a free gift from God.  What is "natural" never is enough from a theological perspective on sin.

As I say, initially I took Cardinal Burke's contradictions only to be amusing.  But now, in light of yesterday, I find myself thinking more seriously about this.

In 1988, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, in which he explained the proscription of the ordination of women:
Since Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, linked it in such an explicit way to the priestly service of the Apostles, it is legitimate to conclude that he thereby wished to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is "feminine" and what is "masculine." It is a relationship willed by God both in the mystery of creation and in the mystery of Redemption. It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride (§26).
In 1994, with his much shorter apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,  he more simply and pointedly concluded any debate:
I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful (§4).
But in the light of Cardinal Burke's comments and my son's reaction to his classmate, I wonder whether this should be the last word.  I wonder whether there is not such a potent contradiction here that we must expose it and discuss it.

With Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul affirmed unambiguously that, "both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God's image."  Further, Pope John Paul argued forcefully against historical circumstances in which
the male "dominated," without having proper regard for woman and for her dignity, which the "ethos" of creation made the basis of the mutual relationships of two people united in marriage....In all of Jesus' teaching, as well as in his behavior, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honor due to women. The woman with a stoop is called a "daughter of Abraham" (Lk 13:16), while in the whole Bible the title "son of Abraham" is used only of men. Walking the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus will say to the women: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me" (Lk 23:28). This way of speaking to and about women, as well as his manner of treating them, clearly constitutes an "innovation" with respect to the prevailing custom at that time (§§12, 13).
As we have noted here, it is only natural that a ten-year-old boy should not regard girls as equals.  There is nothing surprising about his delight that his classmate was thwarted.

But the more important question is: Should not his experience of the Church and Catholic schooling create an opportunity for the grace that would perfect his nature?

Put more plainly, we should wonder how many young boys have had their natural disdain for young girls ratified by separate clubs for vocations.  Or, by a power structure in the Church that excludes women from positions of genuine authority because they cannot be priests.  How many grown Catholic men carry gender bias because it was reinforced, at least in part, by their youthful contact with the Church?

To tie the bow over the knot--How many of the men who hold power in the Church, and who perpetuate its power structure, are molded not by grace but by the nature so uncritically accepted by Cardinal Burke?

I do not argue here for the ordination of women.  That is a separate question.  In this light, we could have an interesting discussion about it.

But there are other ways of being a decisionmaker in the Church, and they do not necessarily demand ordination.  I'm asking here, in these days while Pope Francis is opening membership in the curial Councils, Congregations, Tribunals, and Secretariats to women at an unprecedented pace, whether we only have barely begun to perceive the depth to which affirming gender difference has accommodated gender bias in the Church. .::UPDATE (5/15/15)--see also, "Most US dioceses have women in key posts, but some have none"::.

Until very recent times, the Church's reflexive reply to that question has been something like my son's "Nope!"  Look to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which, for all the good things Pope John Paul wrote about the equality of women, does not consider the possibility of structural bias built on an unchallenged, "natural" perception of inequality, which his own writings suggest would be a sin.

Is there structural bias in the Church?  A ten-year-old boy seems to know the answer.  So, I fear, does his sister.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

We Can't Be Silent--We Should Mind What We Say

I've said before that I've met Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M.Cap.  I have felt his kindness, seen his generosity, and admired his deep faith.

I said all that when I disagreed with him here about his 2008 book, Render Unto Caesar.  There, I said that the Archbishop's argument was terribly misguided, even if it proceeded from good motivations.  Not much has changed in seven years.

Earlier today, Archbishop Chaput published an essay on the First Things webpage titled, "We Can't Be Silent," and I can sum up the whole problem by quoting a couple of lines from the Archbishop's essay:
As a nation, the United States is built on a religious anthropology. It presumes a moral architecture shaped deeply by biblical thought and belief.
As a matter of history, this is unambiguously and positively correct. In the past, especially at the time of our constitutional founding, Americans identified themselves in much greater numbers and far more devotedly with a range of mostly Protestant Christianities.

As a matter of public policy in 2015, this is dangerous stuff.

The Archbishop begins his essay with a long paean to Benjamin Franklin:
In 1787, at the age of eighty-one, Benjamin Franklin addressed the Constitutional Convention: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and byword down to future ages.”
The Archbishop admits that, "Yes, Franklin was a Deist, and he’s better known for his romantic escapades than for his religious piety." But Archbishop Chaput adds that such claims about the importance of religion "were obvious to the founders, many of whom were Christian, and all of whom understood and respected the role of religious faith in sustaining a healthy republic."

But of course that was obvious to the men who wrote the Constitution.  In large number they were, as Archbishop Chaput observes, Christian.  More than that, they were men of the eighteenth century.  While the Enlightenment that secularized continental Europe already was underway while the Constitution was being ratified, Americans were insulated from its effects both by being an ocean away from the Continent and by their attachment to the much more moderate English political tradition.  All to say, from where they were in history it should shock no one that those eighteenth century Americans "respected the role of religious faith" and were comfortable with religious expressions in politics.

But that was 1787.  And it is a dangerous thing to fix a moment of history in amber, trying to keep it preserved forever.

In 2015, our moment of history, the fact is that the so-called "Nones" are nearing one-fifth of the American population.  Further, the United States today has far more religious and cultural diversity than it did in 1787.  In fact, forget about cultural and religious diversity just for a minute.  Look only at the Catholic Church.  The Archbishop, himself, acknowledges the existence of a "right wing of the church," which presumes at least a "left wing" and who knows how many other fragmentations of the Roman Catholic Church that "divide what shouldn't be divided."

Whether the Catholic Church should be divided or not, it is divided.  (And, not for the first time.)  Fragmentation is a fact of life, even more so in our globalized and pluralized time.  If that is true of the Church, "A milk-white hind immortal and unchanged," then American society hardly can be immune.  We cannot wish it away.  It is a fact of our fallen nature, a nature no more or less sinful in 2015 than it was in 1787 or during the construction of the Tower at Babel all those centuries ago.

Archbishop Chaput's consistent mistake is to think that observing these facts amounts to telling Catholics to be silent in political debates.  That is not so.  Acknowledging diversity does not silence Catholics at all.  Merely, it reminds Catholics to be so tactful as to remember other people see the world differently, and that the political conversation belongs to them as much as it belongs to Catholics.  

We Catholics should not be silent at all!  However, if we want anybody to listen to us, we would do well to mind what we say a little better.  

We might, just as one example, stop presuming to tell our fellow Americans that they misunderstand America and we believers understand it better.

The tragedy here is that Archbishop Chaput keeps committing his keen mind and deep faith to the wrong argument.  Archbishop Chaput wants to comment on politics, tell us about American political history, but he would do better thinking about about culture.  

Politics and culture are not unrelated, of course.  Culture begets politics.  And, history begets culture.  None of us can do anything to change history.  But there are other forces that shape culture, and Archbishop Chaput is a leader of a cultural force that, historically, has been very powerful.  

Do Catholics want the "good leaders," "good laws," and a "just society" that promotes the "common good" as Archbishop Chaput reminds us that our Christian witness demands we should?  Of course we do.  There are better ways to bring them about.

Rather than expending so much energy on Fortnights for Freedom or electioneering against presidential candidates, Archbishop Chaput would be a far more potent force in American social life if he would focus his attention on spreading the Gospel to win American women and men to the Catholic faith.

And, he doesn't need me to tell him how to do it.  He needs only to recall the words attributed to his Capuchin founder:
Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We Have No King But Caesar

Pro-life darling Dr. Ben Carson announced his bid for the presidency this week.

Carson, who never has held public office before, has very strong opinions about how he can make government better.  Said Dr. Carson, "As president, I will transform government into a well-run business."

Announcing a presidential run is an opportunity to announce your Big Idea, to tell Americans why somebody else shouldn't be president while you should.  But running government like a business isn't exactly a new idea.  Just to name a few--
Certainly, as we go farther down, the list poses Dr. Carson with some strange bedfellows.  Welcome to politics.  Maybe you were expecting something a little cozier?

I won't take up space here to rehearse all of the arguments against thinking about government in the same terms we think of business.  You can read good accounts of those arguments here, here, here, and here.

Instead, I'd like to focus on just one little idea.

Maybe it seems needless that I've referred to Dr. Carson above as a "darling" of the pro-life movement, or even that I've singled him out for this discussion about how different government is from a business.  But it's not needless.  It's necessary.

Dr. Carson says that "Human life begins at conception and innocent life must be protected."  We agree about that.

Dr. Carson says that, “It is important to try to understand the emotional state of young women seeking an abortion. Instead of judging and condemning them, we need to provide compassion and support. They need to be provided with easy access to adoption services and information about assistance available to them if they decide to keep the baby.”  This is a lovely sentiment.

Dr. Carson says that, “There is no war on [women], the war is on their babies.  Babies that cannot defend themselves."  That's a bit dodgier.

Still, no matter how heated and heedless his rhetoric becomes, I think Dr. Carson's heart is in the right place on abortion.  But he's lost his mind a bit about business.

Historically, businesses have not been the most stalwart defenders of human rights.  Think of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.  Or, the businesses that took advantage of the Bakeshop Act and won in Lochner v. New York.  Or, the slaughterhouses Upton Sinclair described in The Jungle.  Or, Nike.  Or, Apple.  Or, Amazon.

The only imperative of a business is profit.  Profit governs all.  And, where profit governs all, a human being is just a cost factor in production.  Business has a very poor track record protecting innocent life, defending those who cannot defend themselves.  Look around.  See for yourself.  The evidence is overwhelming.

Dr. Carson likes to compare abortion to slavery.  But his comparison tends to overlook how slavery existed only because it was in the business interests of those who sought to reduce the cost of labor in production.  More, he overlooks how a government ended slavery.  It took a government to do it because a government's most fundamental imperative is different.

Government--at least, in any constitutional republic like the United States--is the equal possession of every citizen.  Each citizen is equally valuable to the government.  There are no minority shareholders.  There is no distinction of labor and management.  Even our Chief Executive is not a CEO.  A CEO is a king who rules by fiat and decree.  A president has two other branches of government to contend with.

In every way, Ben Carson is dead wrong about the virtues of business.

But worst of all, he somehow cannot see that his pro-life convictions are served very poorly by his vision of government.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Vanishing Public Space



Yesterday, Indiana's five Catholic bishops released a statement on the unfolding controversy surrounding Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The statement says, in part:
We support efforts to uphold the God-given dignity of all the people of this state while safeguarding the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without undue burden from the government.
It sounds incredibly reasonable, balancing "the God-given dignity of all people" against "the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion."  But it's not reasonable at all.  It's dangerous nonsense. And, Catholic bishops should be the first to know better.

Religious freedom is important because it boils down to the protection of conscience.  The right to believe and to practice belief is inseparable, fundamentally, from the right to speak, to publish, to assemble, etc. because they all concern our deepest convictions.  These are the ways we express who we are.

But there are fair limits.  Justice Holmes famously observed that, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."  Public safety is one limitation we have recognized for those basic rights.  But it is not the only one.  

In 1973, Dade Christian School in Hialeah, Florida refused admission to two African American sisters, informing their parents that, "the policy of the school is one of non-integration and we would request that you respect this policy." In later court filings, Dade Christian asserted that, "its members sincerely held a religious belief that socialization of the races would lead to racial intermarriage, and that this belief, sanctioned by the Free Exercise Clause, should prevail against private interests created by Congress."  The court did not agree.  In Brown v. Dade Christian Schools, Inc. (1977), the Fifth Circuit held that, "Dade Christian's interests [in the free exercise of religion], while not minimal, do not rise to the level that has characterized numerous free exercise claims."  The school claimed a religious reason for discrimination, but the government's interest in a non-segregated society was a more compelling interest.  Historically, there is at least this precedent for seeing religious claims as insufficient next to claims against discrimination.

A federal statute signed by Bill Clinton in 1993 changed the picture.  The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) raised the standard that the government has to meet in order to overcome the claims of religious freedom.  Had the Dade County case been argued after 1993, very likely the court would have had a much more difficult time ruling against the school's non-integration policy.  To offer just one example of why we might think so, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012), citing to the RFRA, that a teacher engaged in a ministry (such as teaching religion) could be fired by a religious school for any reason, and without regard for the kinds of protections that usually prohibit discrimination.  During that case's oral argument, the justices contemplated that a church janitor might be called a minister, and that person theoretically could be fired for race or gender reasons despite civil rights protections that would apply in other cases, with a non-religious employer.

In many ways, this is the shape of the situation in which Indiana and the nation find ourselves today.  Since 1993, twenty states have passed their own versions of the RFRA, raising the standards that state governments must reach to overcome religious objections.  That is the sort of law that Indiana has passed, cultivating an extraordinary and immediate backlash.  Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and conservative groups have argued that Indiana's law is no different from the other state RFRA's.  But that is not true.

The Indiana law contains an entirely novel provision.  Other state RFRA's and the federal RFRA only limit the government's ability to enforce anti-discrimination claims, but Indiana's law empowers companies and corporations to claim religious protections in the course of conducting business.  This doesn't mean--as has been reported widely--that religious business owners have a license to discriminate against LGBT people.  The legal picture is murkier than that.  But it does mean that, should a person be discriminated against by an Indiana business owner because of being gay, and should that person sue in state court for relief, the business owner might be able to point to the Indiana RFRA for protection.  It's not a license to discriminate.  But it is a legal leg to stand on.

As upsetting as that prospect is, I am more troubled by something else entirely.

The Supreme Court set us in this direction last year with its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  In that case, the Court ruled that "closely-held corporations" could assert a religious objection against the Affordable Care Act.  That followed the Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC where free speech protections were recognized for corporations.  We have been drifting in this direction at least that long.  Our ideas about basic constitutional protections have been shifting, first with the federal RFRA and now with the idea that corporations enjoy the same rights as people.  The implications for our politics seem subtle for now, but it will not stay that way.

What is especially upsetting is that this protection of businesses and business owners within the context of the RFRA undermines the constitutional and legal foundations of civil rights, and all the presumptions about political and civil society that accompany them.

It is little appreciated that while the Fourteenth Amendment offers the guarantee of equal protection on which civil rights and anti-discrimination measures are built, the Fourteenth Amendment offers no mechanism with which government can enforce equality.  To enforce the demands of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had to look elsewhere and settled on the government's authority to regulate commerce.  Article I, section 8 of the Constitution gives the federal government authority to make rules for commerce, and the Civil Rights Act enforces legal equality, protects against discrimination, by making rules for businesses.  Restaurants, hotels, and all other places of business that are open to the public must be open to the whole public.

Commerce was a natural and fitting way in which to proceed against discrimination in public spaces.  The marketplace is, by definition, a public space where different sorts of people come together from different perspectives to encounter and engage one another.  To have discrimination in the marketplace, in a way unlike almost any other space we can imagine, is an intolerable assault on the idea of a shared public space for everyone.  If we cannot gather in the marketplace, disregarding our differences, there is no place where should expect to gather.

The Hobby Lobby decision began to erode that idea, and the Indiana law has eroded it further.

The idea that religious belief should not be contained within the four walls of a church, or some other place of worship, expresses an important idea, that religious belief should be socially and politically relevant.  This same idea motivates protesters to march against abortion and war, even as much as it was at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, itself.

But it is one thing for believers to commit themselves to living extraordinary lives of witness in public spaces such as the marketplace.  It is quite a different thing to let our private claims of conscience encroach on the public space of the marketplace, distort what happens there so that we confuse commercial transactions with our most essential convictions.

I heard this interview with an Indiana pastor.  This gentleman says that refusing to provide flowers for a gay couple's wedding is not discrimination, it is "exercise of religion."  But he is wrong.  It is a question of whether to sell flowers.

In addition to providing an exemplary definition of a public space, one of the other reasons why commerce is such an appealing field of activity in which to police for discrimination is because even though public establishments must be public, open to everyone if they are open to anyone, the market also is a venue of choices.  Consumers can choose where they do and do not what to shop, and they may choose any public establishment.  No merchant is obligated to own a flower shop or a restaurant.  That is a choice, too.  Neither are merchants obligated to open public establishments.  They can choose to restrict their business only to a small, private membership of, for example, only Christians whose souls have been saved.

This description of those choices tells us something.  The medium through which merchants and consumers meet in a public marketplace is not race, or religion, or sexuality.  It is on a common ground of commerce--buying and selling.  Commerce is not proselytization.  Selling flowers is neither a Christian nor an anti-Christian act.  Offering catering for a wedding is not saving souls.  No sale made by a Christian florist or caterer implies an endorsement for how the flowers or the food will be used.  It is a sale, simply.  I can imagine that decent Christian hardware store owners have sold many murder weapons.  Does anyone seriously believe those sales compromise religious belief or implicate the merchants in evil?

Where does it stop??  If someone can refuse service in a flower shop because a prospective customer is gay, why can't a Muslim taxi driver refuse to pick up a woman who is not wearing a hijab?  If Christian caterers can refuse service to gay weddings, can Jewish caterers refuse service to Christian weddings?

The real danger of the Indiana law, and the drift of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, is that public spaces--places where we must take one another as we find one another--are vanishing.

The civil rights tradition is important and great for many obvious reasons.  But a less obvious (arguably, more important) reason can be found in the way that it defines places in our diverse culture where we have to put our differences aside and talk to each other, deal with one another no matter how much we disagree.  If you're an American, there are some times and some places where it's all-in.  No holding back.

The Supreme Court, and the State of Indiana, have begun to shrink that space.  In an America where Fox News viewers and MSNBC viewers already have divided into disconnected worlds that never interact, that's not surprising.  But it's certainly not good.

Even worse-- shame on those five Catholic bishops of Indiana--and all the other Catholic bishops--who do not see that the Catholic commitment to communio demands something better, and who fail to see that the role of the Church in society is to point believers and non-believers toward something more than walled-off individualism.

In a social context, I cannot imagine anything less Christian than to claim a right not to have to engage with some people.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hardness of Our Hearts


Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:3-9
“As Christians, we follow Christ.  Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn't. And I’m sticking with him.”
George Cardinal Pell, October 8, 2014
I was exchanging e-mails with a friend recently.  I was making an argument about poverty, subsidiarity, and the social teachings of the Church regarding economics.  I wrote that some conservative Catholics take the Gospel's message about care for the least only as a suggestion, much as many of the same people have found ways to ignore the radical pacifism we also can find in the Gospel.  My friend pointed out, of course, that the Gospel hardly is unambiguous about violence, and the Catholic tradition for centuries has found ways to accommodate the ugly demands of worldly living.  That is why we have a theological tradition of just wars, after all.  Good point.

I was thinking about that e-mail exchange while I read Cardinal Pell's comments on the synod.  For, it seems, Cardinal Pell has found one passage of the Gospel that must be interpreted literally and unambiguously.  He appears to believe that the Gospel allows us no latitude to accommodate the worldly reality of divorced and re-married Catholics in the same way that, say, the just war tradition permits a cardinal to announce, full-throated, his support for the Afghanistan war.

For some people, there are casuistries we will permit, and there are casuistries we will not.

But I disagree with Cardinal Pell far enough to say that I think there is a lesson for us and for the Extraordinary Synod in the intersection of economic justice, warfare, and these questions affecting family life.  As Luther counseled the sinner to sin boldly, let us boldly and consistently apply our most Jesuitical casuistry to the problems facing Catholic families in the contemporary world.

It will profit us to look just a little further into Matthew 19:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus is astonished by the rich young man's question.  "Why do you ask me about the good?"  Isn't it obvious??  Keep the Commandments.  Everybody knows that.  But the young man is looking for something more.  He is asking about spiritual perfection, and Jesus is ready to help him find his way.  "If you wish to be perfect," Jesus tells him, sell all you have.  The young man cannot do it.  He went away sad.  He was not perfect.  But was he sinful?

I discern a persistent theme in Matthew 19.  There is a path of spiritual perfection for "those to whom that is granted"(Mt. 19:11).  For others, there is a path of mercy that acknowledges imperfection.  The young man can enter the Kingdom if he keeps his possessions as long as he also keeps the Commandments.  It would be preferable to sell all that he has.  But salvation is not only for the perfect.  It is for all who live as though they long for the Kingdom, even as they routinely fall short of deserving it.

Lost in all of our blustery shouts about traditional marriage is this little piece of Matthew 19:
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”  [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.  Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Where is the papal pronouncement or the catechetical teaching that "it is better not to marry?"  Why is that not a topic of discussion for the Extraordinary Synod?  After all, if we're 'sticking with Jesus' then we really should stick with Him, shouldn't we?

And, it's not only Jesus.  Here is Saint Paul:
Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman," but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband….Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do….
I Corinthians 7:1-3, 5-8
Paul also is rather clear.  Marriage is not preferable.  It is an accommodation to worldliness, a way to contain the sexual impulse and avoid "cases of immorality."

But the Church does not insist on universal celibacy.  In fact, Humanae Vitae teaches quite the opposite. Thank God the Church follows the path of mercy, sees the goodness in family life that Jesus and Paul never talked about.  Of course, it wouldn't have occurred to them.  They were unmarried.  They followed that path of perfection, as today so do clergy and vowed religious.

But Heaven is not only for unmarried men like Saint Paul and Cardinal Pell.  And, perhaps, now is a good time to remind the Carindal that the path of mercy leads to the same place as the path of perfection.

Just as Moses could permit divorce as an accommodation to worldly reality--"the hardness of your hearts"--so the Church can overlook the imperfections of divorced and remarried people who long for the Kingdom, whose lives have placed them in imperfect circumstances.

It is a short leap to say the same thing about homosexual relationships, too.

The answer is there if you want it.  You can reach that answer only by applying the same kind of reasoning that we apply routinely to war, the same kind of reasoning Jesus and Paul applied to marriage.  The world sometimes gives good people only imperfect choices, and we need not punish them for doing their best.

We should encourage Cardinal Pell, and others like him.  They're not bad people.  They just haven't thought it through.

And, after all, nobody's perfect.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

One Cardinal's Boycott Becomes Another Cardinal's Blarney

The saintliness of the late John Cardinal O’Connor’s unheralded ministry to AIDS patients should provide the light in which we discuss this.  It takes nothing away from Cardinal O’Connor’s memory or his merit as a Christian for us to remember things that happened, and to hold events next to one another for comparison.

But the fact is that the March 18, 1993 New York Times reported that, in Cardinal O’Connor’s words, political correctness is not worth "one comma in the Apostles' Creed.”  At issue was the desire voiced by  New York’s Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to join the 1993 St. Patrick’s Day parade.  (And, we should note that the Apostle’s Creed addresses neither homosexual acts nor parades.) 

The question had gone into the air after new-President Bill Clinton had placed gays in the military on the national agenda.  Before even a week of 1993 had gone by, Cardinal O’Connor was in the controversy and, already, he had compared letting gay and lesbian marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day parade to admitting “the PLO in the next Jewish parade.”  He went on further to say that the parade is a “religious celebration of a Catholic saint,” and to wonder what power the New York mayor should have to alter such a celebration.  And, that’s reasonable—if gay and lesbian Catholics can't be religious believers, or cannot have a devotion to St. Patrick, or if merely being gay or lesbian makes them sinners.  At least, those seemed to be logical implications of what the Cardinal was saying.

On February 16, 1993, the Times reported that the Cardinal pushed all his chips into the middle of the table—if gay marchers were admitted to the parade, he and organizations of the Archdiocese would boycott.  The Cardinal couldn’t order gay groups out of the parade, but he could control whether he or his Archdiocese would be there for it.

All of this is why, today, after announcing that the Archdiocese of New York would not oppose admitting gay groups and that he would honor his commitment to be Grand Marshal, Timothy Cardinal Dolan is mostly, technically correct that, "Neither my predecessors as archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade.” 

But that legalistic evasion is attempting to conceal something important from us.  The ground has shifted seismically.

If Cardinal Dolan is not breaking from his predecessors, he is doing something that looks a lot like it.  Gone are the thundering comparisons to the PLO, the claims that letting gays and lesbians march in a parade (that is soaked with beer) diminishes the event’s Catholicity, and gone also are the threats to “determin[e] who…would not march in this parade.”

In 1993, having gay people in the St. Patrick’s Day parade was a religious liberty issue.  Catholics asserted a right “to declare their beliefs publicly without governmental interference.”

In 2015, Cardinal Dolan--champion of the Church's religious freedom--will lead a St. Patrick’s Day parade with openly gay and lesbian marchers behind him.

Call it the Francis Effect.  Call it the Holy Spirit.  Call it whatever you want.

But, despite all of Cardinal Dolan’s there’s-nothing-to-see-here-move-along’s, the Church has changed.  It has changed its mind, and it has changed its public witness.  It takes little effort to see how, or how much.

And, Deo volente, it will keep changing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Claude Rains, Call your Agent


Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Freedom from Religion Foundation has mistaken the Roman Catholic Church for a political pressure group.

Oh, Cardinal Dolan hasn't said that they've mistaken the Church for a pressure group.  For him, the FFRF ad is Exhibit Z in a long history of American anti-Catholic bigotry.  But look closely.

(Disclaimer: I've been critical of the FFRF, myself, for another ad they placed in the Times.  I lend them no support with these observations.)

Read and re-read Cardinal Dolan's column.  Now read it again.  What is the anti-Catholic claim that the FFRF has made?  What text has he singled out as an attack on the Church?

You haven't found it?  Me, neither.

The closest he gets is characterizing the ad as "a whole-page sneer at 'dogma'" (which hardly is an attack exclusively on Catholics) and where he observes that the FFRF characterizes the Court's majority as "all male Roman Catholic," which is factually true.  He then attacks the Know-Nothings and the KKK, with whom he paints the FFRF guilty by association.

Now look further.  Here is the FFRF ad.  Read it closely.

In fact (contrary to the Cardinal's claims), I do find something like an argument here: "RFRA radically redefines 'religious freedom,' according believers extreme religious liberty, exempting them from laws they claim create substantial burdens on their free exercise of religion."  The ad even encourages us to read FFRF's amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case--certainly, there we find an argument.

The ad has a strong point-of-view.  We should expect that from an organization devoted to promoting atheism.  But is this an ad hominem attack?  Only, it seems to me, if you cannot intellectually disentangle being Catholic from partisan, political activism.

And that, I suspect, is the Cardinal's problem.  I've been documenting this problem for over two years.  Find my treatments of it here, here, here, here, and here.

The Church must engage the world.  That means that the Church must engage in social and political activism.  But that activism is dangerous and the danger should be recognized.  It is easy to become ensnared in the worldliness of the rough-and-tumble, to lose sight of the actual objectives and stop acting like the Kingdom of God on its earthly pilgrimage.  More than anything else, Cardinal Dolan gives testimony here to how that is what has happened.

Notice that neither Cardinal Dolan nor the FFRF has mentioned that one of the dissenting justices in the Hobby Lobby case--Justice Sotomayor--is Catholic.  They haven't mentioned it because it doesn't fit how they see that label, "Catholic."  The FFRF is using "Catholic" as a synonym for "conservative Republican," and Cardinal Dolan feels stung by an expression of political disagreement that he only can take as an attack on the Church.

What Cardinal Dolan and the FFRF have in common is an inability to disentangle the Church from its political activism.  But the greater culpability belongs to the Cardinal.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched its political campaign while Cardinal Dolan was its president.  FFRF simply has been getting the message that the USCCB has been transmitting.  This is what happens when bishops make themselves indistinguishable from lobbyists.

Here is Cardinal Dolan's summary assessment of the FFRF ad:
as the professors of logic, rhetoric, and speech taught us in college, arguments attacking a person—instead of an idea, viewpoint, or opinion—are the weakest and most vicious of arguments…although, sadly, rather effective in firing up a mob.
And that’s the tactic at work here. An ad soberly criticizing the decision would have been part of the discourse that makes us such a durable democracy…and there have been such ads. But the FFRF, perhaps knowing that their legal arguments fall flat, instead attacks the people on the court, and implies that their Catholic faith makes it impossible for them to protect the cherished Constitution they have sworn on a Bible to uphold.
Judge for yourself.  But it seems to this writer that the Cardinal doth protest too much.  Why else omit any reference to Justice Sotomayor, surely the best evidence available to muster against the FFRF's charges?  Why dwell for so long on the history of anti-Catholic bigotry if not to 'fire up a mob'??

This back-and-forth between the bishops on the Right and the secularists on the Left now is as illuminating as the dueling press conferences at the White House and the Capitol that we get during a government shutdown.  But the impoverishment of that debate has been the bishops' recent work.  Only they can elevate it.

Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Church looks like a pressure group to the outside world.  But I'm not.  No on else should be.