As noted by MZ, we have attracted attention from a rather dubious group. Young Thomas Peters named Vox Nova as one member of the “progressive Catholic blogosphere” who remained silent over videos made by a pro-life group at Planned Parenthood. Apparently, he did not think my post about Mike Huckabee supporting wholesale population transfers to make living space for Israeli settlers on Palestinian land was an important topic! At least he was (relatively) polite. His co-conspirator, Matthew Bowman, was less inhibited – we are all “not-so-cryptic abortion supporters” who “pick and choose magisterial authority”. Given the history Catholic Vote’s positions, this allegation strikes me as chutzpah on an epic scale.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Bowman seems stuck in the battles of the late 1960s and 1970s (I don’t know how old he is), but I find these old battles both tedious and irrelevant. The teachings of Humanae Vitae are an important part of Catholic social teaching, as are the economic teachings of Pius XI and John XXIII, which Catholic Vote doesn’t seem to worry about too much. Bowman should listen more to the current pope, who has stressed time and again that there is no dichotomy between life and social justice, between sexual teachings and economic teachings.
To the issue at hand: The allegation is that Planned Parenthood is engaging in nefarious activity. I have no problem believing that. I have no respect for Planned Parenthood whatsoever. I would to happy to see them defunded. But I also know that the group that planned this alleged “sting” operation is associated with people like Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keeffe, hard-core activists who have taken Alinsky’s teachings on social action and turned them to the dark side. These activists have shown complete and utter disdain for truth. I recall it was O’Keeffe who used lies and doctored videos to smear ACORN, an organization that (in accord with true subsidiarity) seeks to empower people at the local level. And yet, thanks to these lies, it has been practically destroyed – all because the forces of the right declared it the “enemy” during the 2008 election. So, the current videos might be true, but I’m reserving judgment. That seems to be the prudent thing to do.
If Peters believes this is the most important topic in Catholicism today, let him believe it. I think it’s an incredibly blinkered view. I could turn it around and ask why he is not talking about the topics of my blogs! This is already too great a tendency to focus on Americans concerns that are ultimately trivial in the global Catholic context.
Peters invokes crickets. OK then, let’s do this.
When faced with the teaching that the Church regards access to affordable health as a basic right, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets. (OK, they said something about it not being the right of government to provide – correct, the Affordable Care Act operates mainly through the private sector).
When evidence showed that lack of health insurance would kill nearly half a million over the next decade, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
When Arizona started implementing real life “death panels” to ration care, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
When the Affordable Care Act mandated maternity care as part of a basic insurance package, thus never forcing a woman to choose between $20,000 in maternity costs and a $450 abortion, where was Catholic Vote? Actually, no crickets here – they were endorsing candidates like Sharan Angle, who made a point of opposing and mocking this maternity coverage.
When the Affordable Care Act allowed states to ban any insurance plan that offers abortion from state exchanges, even for people with no federal subsidies, and thus represents the first attempt at the federal level to regulate the ability of private insurance to offer abortion, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
With the inability of the average person in employer-based insurance to choose an option that does not fund abortion, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
With federal subsidization of private abortion coverage through huge tax credits, Medicare Advantage, FSA FEDS, and the COBRA extension in the stimulus, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
When faced with evidence that the Republican health care plans (tax credits, competition across state lines), would lead to a huge tilt toward funding abortion? Crickets.
When faced it overwhelming evidence that abortion is related to underlying economic circumstances, and that poverty and uninsurance rose dramatically under Bush, even before the financial crisis? Crickets.
When faced with commentators on EWTN defending torture and displaying a Pelosi-esque understanding of Catholic morality, where was Catholic Vote? Crickets.
I focus mainly on health care because Catholic Vote has spearheaded opposition to the Affordable Care Act. They did so by focusing on its supposed abortion funding, while intertwining their opposition with a somewhat less-Catholic opposition to the regulatory overhauls on grounds of economic liberty. Remember, the notion that this reform amounted to a “government take-over of health care” has been named as the “lie of the year” – pretty impressive in the current culture of political slime. I would assume that “bearing false witness” is something that a purported Catholic group takes seriously. Catholic Vote also joined in the shameless attacks on the pro-life Democrats who supported the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that they were supporting “taxpayer-funded” abortion (see the many crickets above). They led even more shameless and vindictive attacks on Sr. Carol Keehan, accusing her of wounding Catholic unity when that is exactly what they themselves were doing through their tone.
Of course, this is broader than health care. Catholic Vote has never displayed any interest in other key areas of Catholic social teaching – the preferential option for the poor, the absolute prohibition on torture, the need for gun control, the call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the importance of labor unions, the call to support and welcome immigrants, the need to mitigate the effects of climate change, the importance of social safety nets etc. Indeed, it has mocked many of these concerns in the past, and has certainly not lived up to the pope’s call for unity among the many strands of Catholic social teaching. In Mr. Bowman’s words, this seems an exercise in “picking and choosing magisterial authority”. Of course, there is always the “prudential fall back”, such as Mr. Peters’ Cartesian mental contortions about how he is free to oppose the Affordable Care Act simply because he doesn’t think it will help anybody. Peters, of course, does double-duty with the American Principles Project, an outfit devoted to undiluted laissez-faire liberalism.
Indeed, one of the greatest distortions to come from Catholic Vote is its identification of the very Catholic principle of subsidiarity with the not-very-Catholic laissez-faire principles of the tea-party movement. Fundamentally, subsidiarity is all about letting human dignity flourish by creating the space for social relations to take place at the most personal level. Properly understood, it provides a bulwark against both the centralizing tendencies of socialist collectivism and the decentralizing tendencies of the free market. It is also meaningless when stripped away from solidarity. Remember, 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 enabling conditions for the common good to flourish (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus). It is far removed from the laissez-faire liberal calls for low taxes and small government, based on the supremacy of individual freedom or liberty. As Pius XI put it, the “economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces” – this is the “poisoned spring” of the “evil individualistic spirit”. This is a spirit that Catholic Vote seems to support.
I could go on endlessly, but I’ll stop here. Before I conclude, I want to address the topic of civility. I debated whether I should even write this post. I knew that I would be tempted to ramp up the snark, and lash out against Peters and Bowman. In this kind of tit-for-tat, you always tend to score more by sinning more. In criticizing these guys for ripping Catholic unity asunder, I knew I would open myself to the same allegations. So be it. In the end, though, I decided to write it, as this kind of response needs to be written. These allegations cannot go unanswered. But despite the snark, and the despite the title (a piece of fun I simply could not resist!), and despite my belief that these people are gravely mistaken in their interpretation of Catholic social teaching, I will draw the line – I will not call them “dissident” Catholics or dare to tell them that they are less qualified to receive the Eucharist than those on my side. I have no right to make that call. And neither have they. I look forward to a time when we can have these debates without the threat of a mini-magisterium dangling over our collective heads.