The Bishops are Not the Enemy

The Bishops are Not the Enemy June 17, 2012

American bishops have been getting plenty of flak from their flock these days.  Some of it is deserved.  In particular, their much-touted “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, which draws an audacious parallel between present-day American Catholics and first-century as well as sixteenth-century martyrs, appears to be mistaking a certain loss of privileged social standing (which the Church never should have claimed anyway) for outright persecution; besides which, its conflation of “American and Christian” values verges on the idolatry of civil religion (the culmination of the fortnight being scheduled for July 4 makes me especially nervous).  The USCCB’s inexplicable investigation of the Girl Scouts, especially in the wake of the kerfuffle over the CDF report on the LCWR, virtually begs for angry accusations of misogyny – which I’m not looking to make, but there are plenty who are, and they’ve been having a field day with this stuff.  These sorts of things only hand more ammunition to those who like to cast the bishops as Republican cronies – a charge that the more vocally partisan bishops are making it hard to defend against, even for an unrepentantly pro-institutional, determinedly centrist Catholic convert like myself.

That said, there are caricatures being thrown around of the episcopacy as a whole that are unfairly overgeneralized, if not patently untrue.  The ironic juxtaposition between stereotype and reality has been (apparently unwittingly) picked up in, of all places, this month’s issue of The Mennonite, which (on p. 11) contains this quote from Catholic author Gary Wills: “Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from bishops.  The bishops are interested in power.  The nuns are interested in the powerless.”  At the bottom of the same page is a news item from Sojourners, headed … wait for it … “Protect the poor, say Catholic bishops.”  Apparently nuns aren’t the only ones critiquing the moral failings of the Paul Ryan budget.

The bishops’ social consciousness doesn’t fit the paradigm of the culture wars, which are thus largely to blame for the relatively little attention that such things get.  With a Catholic right that thrives on touting its loyalty to and backing from ecclesial authorities (at least when it’s convenient to their position, which they’d like to think is all the time), and a Catholic left that simply loves to hate said authorities (and is similarly inconvenienced by anything that contradicts the caricatures), both have a vested interest in portraying the bishops as one-sidedly right-wing.  So it’s little wonder that the USCCB’s objection to the HHS mandate has been much more widely discussed than, say, its amicus curae brief filed jointly with Lutheran and Presbyterian leaders in the case against SB 1070, Arizona’s unjust immigration law – a brief that “argued that the federal government is in the best position to protect the well-established goals of family unity and human dignity in the nation’s immigration system” and portrayed the criminalization of the Church’s indiscriminate social services, no less than the HHS mandate, as a religious liberty issue.  And how many times in the past two days have you heard mention of the USCCB’s immediate praise for President Obama’s deferral of deportation for undocumented minors who would qualify for the DREAM act?  More generally, the USCCB’s official positions in areas such as human life and dignity, cultural diversity, and yes, marriage and family are admirably politically transcendent and noticeably informed by Catholic Social Teaching.  I will be eager to see the content of the message on poverty and the economy that the bishops recently voted to draft, which is intended “to communicate the bishops’ concern for people hurt by the economy” and to “seek to go beyond the ideological and partisan polarization on economic issues”.

It should be clear from the opening paragraph above that I am not trying to say that the bishops are or should be above critique, or that we should ignore anything they do or say that might be worthy of critique in favor of a pollyannish focus on only the positive.  Rather, there is an important distinction to be made between specific critiques and blanket stereotypes.  To suggest that the bishops may be mistaken or misguided on a particular point is sometimes justified, but to suggest that they are the enemy of social justice or of lay involvement or of women, or whatever other sweeping accusations are being thrown in their direction, is wildly inaccurate and divisive.

The bishops are not the enemy.  Partisan polarization is.

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  • brettsalkeld

    Amen!

  • When you have Bishop Bruskewitz offering concern at a recent USCCB meeting over Obamacare possibly including exclusions for Muslims and Muslim enterprises on the basis of kowtowing to sharia and Muslim sensibilities, I’m simply left incredulous at the suggestion that the bishops have anything intelligent to offer this debate, regardless of whether they are serving as a right wing puppets. The bishops simply have no interest in intelligent and honest debate. Their talking points in the whole health care debate have proven hyperbolic, overwraught, intelligectually dishonest, and generally wrong. I am more than willing to defend bishops, but in this case, the best defense of them is to tell that they are wrong and have failed to take good faith actions.

    • brettsalkeld

      I do hope that nothing said by Bishop Bruskewitz is enough to conclude that “The bishops [in toto] have no interest in intelligent and honest debate.”

    • Julia Smucker

      M.Z.,
      When you offer one example of one bishop as evidence that none of the bishops nor the USCCB as a body has anything worthwhile to contribute, I’m simply left incredulous at the suggestion that you are willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt. Your critique of Bruskewitz may well be justified, but the sweeping indictment you leap to from there misses the point completely.

      • I offered the whole heatlh care debate. It turns out that not only wasn’t there abortion funding, community health centers weren’t converted into abortion clinics. That analysis wasn’t from some rogue bishop, but was the counsel of the USCCB. They weren’t just a little wrong.

        As far Bruskewicz, he volunteers that he isn’t familiar with the legislation. If that is the case, his public statements and condemnations are grossly irresponsible. How many of his brother bishops are similarly situated? We know Bruskewicz’s opinions aren’t the result of careful consideration now, so why should we treat his or his brother bishops’ statements as if they were?

        • Julia Smucker

          Because their official, corporate statements actually are (for which I’ve provided ample evidence from their own website as well as the articles from Sojourners and the Washington Post).

        • Thales

          We know Bruskewicz’s opinions aren’t the result of careful consideration now, so why should we treat his or his brother bishops’ statements as if they were?

          Heh. Because Bruskewitz was asking a question during a q/a period, and that’s vastly different from a formal statement by one bishop (or a committee of bishops or the entire USCCB), the latter of which carries the presumption that it is the result of thought, study, and consideration.

          Julia said it well in the main post: “Rather, there is an important distinction to be made between specific critiques and blanket stereotypes.”

    • Thales

      For the record, the bishop asked this question during a q/a period about the HHS mandate:
      “I haven’t had a chance to read the Obamacare Protection Act, but somebody told me that there is a total exemption from Muslims in the back of that Act that all Muslims are exempt because insurance for Muslims is a type of gambling which is contrary to the Koran and therefore Muslims are not obliged in anyway to observe the insurance mandate which derives from the act. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I just want to know if any of you know anything about it.”

      To be sure, it’s an ignorant question and the originator of the rumor who talked to the bishop is unduly conspiratorial, but it doesn’t strike me as overly Muslim-bashing. But even if it was, I’m right with Julia. No reason to take this and dismiss the entire USCCB.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        The Affordable Care Act has an exemption for religious entities for whom purchasing insurance is against their beliefs. Quakers and Muslims would seemingly fall under this exemption. So perhaps the bishop was making the point that since there are specific exemptions to respect the conscience for other religious beliefs, then it would be fair to expect an exemption for Catholic religious beliefs. Or, on the other hand, perhaps none of the bishops have anything intelligent to offer in the debate.

        • Thales

          Interesting, Bruce. I haven’t read all 2000+ pages of the ACA (who has? 🙂 just kidding), but I had been thinking that people like the Amish are probably exempted, and I wonder how that exemption is phrased for them and why other religions don’t qualify.

        • Kurt

          I haven’t read all 2000+ pages of the ACA (who has? 🙂

          Present. And Dodd-Frank as well. Fortunately, I’m paid a salary to do so.

    • Jimmy Mac

      Being intelligent is not a criterion for ordination to the episcopacy. Servility and parroting the Vatican-approved things are. Bruskewitz parrots the lines so long as he knows what they are. When left on his own, well …….

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Julia,

    I agree with you in this sense. What is the enemy of people of goodwill today? Rampant nihilism and the massive destructive irrationality that goes along with it. It can take the form of terrorism, or of hyper-technical economic chicanery, but it is all the same. Look, I am not a fan of these people. but it is important to say that they are NOT an enemy of anyone in this sense. I think they are often deluded, and obsessed with just continuing their schtick. But even conceived in the worst possible light, what is their schtick? Human dignity. Well, comparatively speaking that is pretty fine. it’s the interpretation that is often hyperbolic. I sometimes read Catholics both hyper-right and hyper-left and their criticisms of their own Church. I would be lying if I didn’t ‘fess up to a certain entertainment quality to it all for me. Mostly because I am still waiting for one of their ardent defenders to come with one — even just one!!– example of where historically they were at the forefront of carving out human freedom from tyranny. There weren’t any, that’s why. Still, everything in life is “compared to what?”. Compared to the nihilism that has destroyed our culture, these guys with their mitres (gulp) are on the right side of the divide. If only they would stop talking about Dove Bars as if that made them seem avuncular and harmless.

  • Ronald King

    Fear is the source of our division and fear desires allies to fight the identified enemy. Who is the threat/enemy in all of this mess? This “Fortnight for Freedom” appears quite histrionic and a compensation for past sins.

  • Mark Gordon

    The bishops are not the enemy. Partisan polarization is.

    I second that “Amen.” It’s going to be a long, hot election season. Bishops will be in the cross-hairs, it’s true, but so will practically everyone else. Welcome to our quadrennial circular firing squad, sponsored by the Republican and Democratic Parties, partners in partisan bullshit since 1860, founders and joint promoters of the “filthy, rotten system” which claims the allegiance of most Catholics. Stay tuned to these electronic pages as partisans loyal to one or the other disfigure the teaching of the Church for the sake of electoral advantage.

  • Kurt

    Well, I’ve remained a Catholic even though aware of the behavior of the French bishops during the Dreyfus Affair and the Vichy regime, and the behavior of the Spanish bishops under Franco (and then the new revelations about stealing 300,000 babies from their natural parents who were union members or Leftists, telling their mothers they were dead and giving the infants to right-wing parents). Today’s American bishops are no worse.

    • Jimmy Mac

      “Today’s American bishops are no worse.”

      I was rasied to call that kind of a statement to be damning with faint praise.

      • Kurt

        You come from good stock

  • Thales

    It’s interesting to note that on Friday, Sr. Carol Keehan and the CHA announced disapproval with the proposed HHS mandate compromise, and basically adopted the bishops’ position in seeking a reversal of the HHS mandate because the compromise would be inadequate. It’s hard to accuse Sr. Keehan of making partisan political stunts, so I wonder whether this will give evidence that at least on this particular HHS mandate issue, the bishops’ opposition is not a partisan political stunt as some have accused.

    • John Henry

      I wonder whether this will give evidence that at least on this particular HHS mandate issue, the bishops’ opposition is not a partisan political stunt as some have accused.

      As if more evidence was needed. The mandate will almost certainly be struck down in court as a violation of RFRA. Additionally, the accommodation does nothing to address self-insured Catholic institutions, and adopts a radical and unacceptably narrow definition of what constitutes a “religious employer” that is anti-thetical Catholicism. Plus, even the ‘accommodation’ itself is only a promise that something will be done in the future; the Administration made the original proposed rule (the one that even Commonweal editors opposed) ‘final’ on the same day it announced the accommodation, meaning that it stands as the law of the land at this point. Are we to take the Administration’s word for it at this point?

      What were the bishops supposed to do? This was a clear, cynical, and deliberate attack on them and Catholic institutions, in what appeared to be an election year ploy to generate a “War on Women”. The Obama Administration’s conduct here has been a disgrace.

      • Kurt

        and adopts a radical and unacceptably narrow definition of what constitutes a “religious employer” that is anti-thetical Catholicism

        It mimics the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Was that anti-Catholic?

        • John Henry

          No need for trolling, Kurt. While I think the HHS mandate as a whole is “anti-Catholic,” defining “religious employer” narrowly is not. “Anti-thetical to” does not mean “anti”.

          An example even a committed Democratic partisan could understand: one could say “the Ryan plan is anti-thetical to Catholic Social Teaching” without in anyway implying that it was anti-Catholic.

        • Kurt

          I understand your point.

          It is not a radical or innovative or newly invented defintion of religious employer. Nor is the definition in itself anti-Catholic or anti-CST. You could say the application of this historic and standard defintion is inappropriate in this particular circumstance. But that would mean not the definition but it’s application in this case is inappropriate. I find that reasonable.

          Lastly, I’ll admit that maybe some of us have a hair-trigger defensiveness over the ’64 Civil Rights Act that mostly just shows our age.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Julia, one weakness in your argument is that it assumes that when the bishops speak on contraception, abortion, illegal immigration, the poor, etc. they speak with the same passion and energy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Admittedly, some of the difference is not in what they are saying but in how they are reported, but this is not all of it. From my own work on the death penalty, I can definitely say that the bishops (or at least the bishops I dealt with) were more passionate and engaged on some issues than others. Perhaps this is a sweeping generalization, but it really seems to me that when speaking corporately, the bishops are more excited and energized on issues appealing to conservatives than those appealing to liberals.

    • but it really seems to me that when speaking corporately, the bishops are more excited and energized on issues appealing to conservatives than those appealing to liberals.

      So what if they are?

      This is also a sweeping generalization, but it really seems to me that VN bloggers and commenters are more excited and energized in criticizing bishops and defending this Administration than witnessing on behalf of, for example, the unborn. Bishop Bruskewitz asks an ignorant question about ACA and Muslims, and it’s a firestorm. The Administration takes an act against the unborn, posters are racing to minimize it or say it’s no worse than something Bush did.

      So what? Does that mean that what commenters say and do here can be dismissed?

      And can we open our minds, just for a second, to the possibility that this passion and engagement reflects the truth of the situation rather than people’s desire to win favor with one political side or another? That perhaps, while the death penalty is wrong and must be opposed, that the judicial killing of a few dozen criminals is not as urgent an issue as the legal killing of thousands of innocent children? I’m not saying you have to agree with it — that the state carries out executions adds a layer of complicity to us and sets an example that violence is an acceptable solution to problems. But it is a view that I hope we can agree is within the realm of reasonableness.

      If you’re upset the bishops come down too hard on your political side’s issues, the solution is to get your side right, not to work the refs.

      • Kurt

        “If you’re upset the bishops come down too hard on your political side’s issues, the solution is to get your side right, not to work the refs.”

        My “side” includes the poor, workers, the unborn, the oppressed and the disenfranchised (the last of which I am one).

        My concern is that I think the bishops are not (responsible) refs. Take, as a random example, the abortion issue. Its not that the bishops talk too much, but that they talk too little. They turn strangely silent when defense of the unborn conflicts with conservative strategizing. A Democratic politican will be banned from speaking at a Catholic gathering if he supports abortion funding in health insurance. A Republican CEO who funds abortion in the company health care plan never has been banned. In fact, my google search engine can’t find a single episcopal criticism of the business sector for its abortion funding. We can add to that with examples of the same or similair acts unobjectional when done by President Bush but an offensive against life by President Obama.

        The bishops are not the enemy, but they are not the refs either.

    • Julia Smucker

      David, that’s the conclusion I keep trying to avoid, and you’re not making it any easier. Granted, some of the bishops that are more passionately outspoken on certain issues (I won’t grant your sweeping generalization) don’t make it easy either, but even so, my point still stands that the yet more sweeping generalizations that keep being made, to the effect that the bishops don’t care about anything but the stereotypically “conservative” issues, are false and unjustified.

      • Ronald King

        Julia, Isn’t the cry of the Bishops that religious liberty is being threatened a sweeping generalization? Isn’t it also natural that such an intense outcry creates an equal and opposite reaction from those who are identified as the threat?

        • Julia Smucker

          Yes, and that was one of the critiques I said was justified, partly because of its polemicizing tendencies. But we ought to be able to raise such a critique without giving the polemicists (I’m not referring to the USCCB itself but to those within and without it who would prefer that it be a polemical organization) the satisfaction of “an equal and opposite reaction”. This turn of phrase actually does a pretty good job of demonstrating the futility of the vicious cycle of partisan vitriol.

          On the other hand, we should also keep in mind that the bishops’ concerns about religious liberty include both the HHS mandate and state immigration laws. As I said, the pretentions of victimhood made by the “threat” language and comparisons to martyrs under persecution are overly inflammatory, but there is still some legitimacy to their concerns in both of these areas. In short, my critique would not be the content of these concerns so much as the manner in which they are raised.

        • Thales

          Isn’t the cry of the Bishops that religious liberty is being threatened a sweeping generalization?

          No, I don’t think so.

  • Jordan

    I am convinced that “Fortnight for Freedom” will be the final straw for the conservatively politicized wing of the USCCB. Already, clerical and lay conservative Catholics have voiced consistent disappointment that the three-decade-plus pact between Republicans, Catholics, and the pro-life movement has yielded modest progress in protecting unborn life. If the SCOTUS strikes down the individual mandate but affirms certain other provisions of the ACA, then both the American Catholic hierarchy and Catholic conservative lay activists will suddenly encounter an infinitely more complex legal and political situation than the “Republican = pro-life; Democrat = pro-abortion” facile dichotomy.

    Will politically active clergy and laity, even conservatives, stay to the Republican union if an incredibly complex healh law exponentially multiplies life morality issues? Instead, will politically active members of the Church begin to explicitly pressure both parties? I suspect this will happen, simply because ACA regulations cannot be politically dichotomized. Both parties, and every American, has a stake in the direction of health care. A pseudo-civil-disobedience campaign directed against one party might well fail. At that point a more bipartisan strategy might arrive at the fore.

  • Ronald King

    Why are the Bishops doing this “Fortnight for Freedom”? Why don’t they do 365 nights for single mothers if they want to promote life?

    • Julia Smucker

      Again, I’m not arguing with you here. I think the USCCB would do much better to run a campaign focusing on the people made vulnerable by the legislation they are protesting (single mothers, their children born and unborn, immigrant families) rather than one couched in overly defensive terms (as in “our freedom is under attack”). This would take away much of the basis for the caricatures, and more importantly, it would be a more holistic way to carry out the mission of the Gospel.

      • Ronald King

        Julia, Are they truly ignorant of healthy interpersonal dynamics?

        • Julia Smucker

          I don’t get what you’re trying to say here. If you mean to infer this about the bishops from my comment, I’d say that’s going a bit too far. As I said in the post, this kind of inference crosses the line between a specific critique and a blanket stereotype.

          • Ronald King

            I am basing my question on their strategy to influence people through the “Fortnight of Freedom”. What do they hope to accomplish? Their strategies in dealing with the sexual abuse and gay marriage indicate to me a very myopic vision influenced through a dominant left-brain perspective which is typical for males in their problem-solving styles. Whereas right -brain influence will exhibit more of a holistic perspective with a compassionate understanding of how words and behaviors will either harm or build relationships. Left-brain dominance tends to be linear and rigid with emphasis place on right and wrong or black and white. It tends to lack empathy and has very little tolerance for ambiguity.

          • Julia Smucker

            Hmm, now we’re getting into the kind of misoandry that makes me very uncomfortable since I often identify with the traits that get dismissed as typically “male”, which I recognize are somewhat rarer in women. I’m weary of having to defend linear thinking (it would be veering off topic anyway), so I’ll just say that as a woman who tends toward it, I’m feeling oddly pigeonholed.

          • Ronald King

            You would only feel pigeionholed if you misunderstand what I am saying. I do not see you as left-brain dominated due to the sensitivity and empathy you have expressed in your writing. You have a more holistic view. So it seems to me that you have a better balance of influence from both hemispheres. There is nothing wrong with linear-thinking when it integrated with a holistic influence through the left brain, then the perceptions we have are based on the observations of many different influences which can be seen as having a connection whereas with a dominant left brain we will only be aware of the obvious and miss the subltle connections which influence the observation of the obvious. For example, the left-brain dominant view of abortion is it is evil and immoral and the law must be changed to end it. With the influence of the holistic view of the right brain it can be added that abortion is the outcome of a culture of violence, greed, poverty, women as objects and a male-dominated view of problem-solving through the accumulation of power and control through violence or the threat of violence while sacrificing innocent lives in the process. All of this is a constant intrusion into the psyche of the woman who is powerless to change the dynamics of violence in human relationships.
            So I do not think it is off topic. It is the remaining topic of discussion which is unseen and not understood in its proper context. Human relationships have created these problems and if we do not understand the dynamics of human relationships then we continue to repeat the past. It is narcissistic to think that we can resolve human relationships without understanding the inter/intrapersonal dynamics of those relationships

        • Why don’t *you* do 365 nights for single mothers?

        • I think this also has to do with the role of the bishops versus the role of the laity.

          It is primarily the bishops’ job and office to say where the lines are and be rigid and lay out what is right and what is wrong. Criticizing the bishops for this tendency seems along the lines of criticizing the median line on the road for being too straight. Ideally, they can do this in a pastoral way that people can hear, but that is secondary to actually getting the message out.

          I think it is our job as the laity to fill in the gaps of compassionate understanding.

          That so many have already judged the Fortnight for Freedom and already chalked it up as a loss in the bishops’ ledger suggests to me the problem may be bad discipleship on our part rather than bad leadership by the bishops.

          I’m not sure of the prudence of it either, but I’m willing to actually see what happens and what results before declaring it a failure.

        • I also think this left-brain / right-brain criticism is out of step with your bringing up the sexual abuse crisis.

          There were obviously many sins in the sexual abuse crisis, but one of them was the failure of the bishops to effectively remove abusing priests from ministry. My understanding is that frequently this stemmed from over-emphasizing the relationships the bishops had with these priests over the objective wrongness of the acts in question. (One wishing to make the opposite case could say it was a failure to identify with the current and future victims, but they’re not going to have an active relationship with everybody).

          Perhaps it’s my male left-brained nature, but if I’m going to start rejecting the leadership of those the 2000 year old church has provided for me and go off on my own, I’d like the reasons for doing so to be internally coherent.

          • Ronald King

            John, It is about empathy for the victim and not loyalty to the perp.

        • Julia Smucker

          Well at this point, John, I think you’re oversimplifying the bishops’ roles somewhat, in that the pastoral dimension really can’t be separated from the message. One of the first and most lasting things I’ve learned in my theology studies has been the pastoral roots of doctrine.

          On the other hand, Ronald, thanks for the compliment but I still don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the bishops according to the “left-brained male” stereotype. It’s a trite dichotomy that is unfair to everyone: bishops and laypeople, men and women, the rational and the touchy-feely.

        • Regarding the question of facility with interpersonal dynamics, I wonder how often a Bishop hears the confession of a lay Catholic struggling with these issues? In my experience it seems that one thing which makes a good pastor so pastoral is that he at least vicariously experiences the struggles and conflicts the laity live with daily. One-on-one spiritual direction, where the rubber meets the road, is wildly different from pronouncements on ethics and morals.

  • Andrew

    This is slightly off-topic, but I am curious what people’s reservations are about the Fortnight For Freedom. I have a somewhat uneasy feeling about the whole initiative myself, but I find that I have a difficult time articulating why and so I would be interested in hearing what others had to say on this issue. I think Julia’s comments about conflating Catholic and American values make sense as a start to my understanding.

    • Kurt

      In my diocese, the bishop is holding a Fortnight rally by paying tens of thousands of dollars to a private secular university to hold the rally in their facilities, of which the tens of thousands of dollars of Church funds will be co-mingled with the funds the university uses to provide contraception and abortions to the students, faculty, and staff as well as the abortion’s provided to the general public at the university’s hospital.

      • Thales

        In my diocese, the bishop is holding a Fortnight rally by paying tens of thousands of dollars to a private secular university to hold the rally in their facilities,

        Really? Do you mind sharing what diocese that’s happening in? (I understand if you want to keep some level of anonymity and you don’t want to reveal — that’s fine.) Because nothing like that is happening in my diocese. And I just quickly ran through about a dozen diocesan pages, and didn’t see anything like that. It looks like everyone is basically just doing Masses, rosaries, talks, and prayer vigils at local churches and cathedrals. I don’t have any reason to doubt you, but it just sounds surprising. (You can get links to dozens of dioceses here:
        http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/fortnight-freedom-diocesan-activities.cfm )

        • Kurt

          The Archdiocese of Washington.

          Apart from the abortion connection of those large payments, there is also some notice by the faithful that they are spending scads more in high priced TV and radio ads and other expenses for Fortnight as they announce they are closing a parish that serves the working class and poor (though admittedly there you have the larger issue of the rapid abandonment of the Catholic faith by working class Americans)

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Kurt,

        That was great. As my husband always says: “Money is fungible.”

      • Do you really think there is not a difference between compensating a company or individual for a service, which the company may use as they see fit, including ways which are morally evil, and actually facilitating that evil purpose?

        Should the Church stop providing cash compensation for its employees, since they could use that for abortions and contraception?

        • Kurt

          John,

          Talk to me about a service the government puts out for bid, and then Planned Parenthood submits the low bid. My friend Thales indentified (stopping) this as a key pro-life issue.

        • Personally, I’m not sure about the PP example, though I do think PP’s position as a leading provider of abortions, and lobbying on behalf of abortions (remember where President Obama made his FOCA pledge) puts them in a different class than a secular university that has a hospital at which abortions are performed.

          But moving on from that…

          But I’m curious if you are genuinely advancing a standard or just being cheeky. The current subject of protest is the HHS mandate. Do you think it is truly incoherent to draw a line that excludes the HHS mandate but includes doing business with a university that has a hospital that performs abortions, and provides contraceptive services to its employees?

          It seems apparent to me that the former is a much more proximate cooperation with evil than the latter. Maybe as Catholics we shouldn’t participate in either, but I don’t think it’s hypocritical to object to being pressured to doing the former while doing the latter.

          Or one point I will concede is that there is more nuance to these issues than soundbites put out in opposition to the mandate acknowledge. Engagement with the world will involve some cooperation with evil, and we need to exercise prudence to determine which is and is not acceptable.

        • Kurt

          But I’m curious if you are genuinely advancing a standard or just being cheeky.

          I like to think I can do both at the same time.

          Do you think it is truly incoherent to draw a line that excludes the HHS mandate but includes doing business with a university that has a hospital that performs abortions, and provides contraceptive services to its employees?

          Some opponents of the HHS mandate on insurance companies have made coherent distinctions and some have used arguments that are incoherent. It can be done; it has not always been done in the current public discussion.

          one point I will concede is that there is more nuance to these issues than soundbites put out in opposition to the mandate acknowledge. Engagement with the world will involve some cooperation with evil, and we need to exercise prudence to determine which is and is not acceptable.

          I think we are of one mind, even if I have more cheek.

          I don’t find enough voices in opposition to the HHS mandate on insurance companies saying what you have wisely said – that we should exercise prudence. In prudential matters, it is not hypocritical that a measure isn’t always exactly applied. The harsher voices hurt their cause in that Catholics authorities have been inconsistent in applying the measure they are now using. PP is one example. Thales, a learned and pious commentator here, has suggested that banning PP from bidding on government contracts is an essential test of being pro-life. Someone opposed to abortion but who supports merit contracting is deemed not pro-life. This is an example of the lack of nuance that I find.

        • Thales

          I know Kurt is trolling for me to comment, but I’ll take his bait. Kurt, it’s probably not the place for a PP funding debate here, but I’ll just say there is a distinction between “merit contracting” (which I have no problem with in principle) and having public monies go to organizations which I happen to believe are contrary to the common good.

        • To defend Thales, I think there is a distinction between an organization that has publicly and strongly associated itself with an evil, as PP has done with abortion, and an organization that commits evil.

          I am of the opinion that government can exercise discretion that says we won’t support organizations deeply involved in some evil. We don’t have to let the KKK adopt a highway. Where to draw the line is a matter of prudence, but I don’t think it’s incoherent to draw one that leaves PP on the other side from a university that has a hospital that performs abortions.

        • Kurt

          there is a distinction between “merit contracting” (which I have no problem with in principle) and having public monies go to organizations which I happen to believe are contrary to the common good.

          In merit contracting, the contract goes to the bidder which can best carry out the contract at the lowest bid. Steering the contracts towards or away from an organization because of other factors is an interference with merit principles, be it steering it towards Lockheed Martin because they will advance the common good by building it in my congressional district or away from a religious group because one thinks religion is contrary to the common good.

          Having said that, and because I have no love for PP, I used to take the view that PP can fight its own battles, even when it might have a point. But unless my memory is very bad, we have Thales now saying “Where to draw the line is a matter of prudence” while at other times he has insisted that those whose prudence tells them to not cook contracts against PP are anti-life.

          I’m understanding of those who personally would like to see PP barred from bidding on government contracts. I’m less understanding of those who insist that others are “anti-life” when they, even while opposing abortion, use their prudence in support of merit contracting.

          And those who say they respect other’s prudence when trying to seem moderate but then on other occassions hurl the accusation of being “anti-life” to those using their prudence, slip down another notch in my opinion.

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          The dispute you’re touching on is not with the concept of merit contracting in the abstract; it’s with whether PP is an organization that should be allowed to participate in a particular government merit contracting or not. Legislators make judgments all the time about whether organization X is an appropriate contender for government funds, and thus whether it should participate in merit contracting — there’s nothing strange about that. We should want our legislators to be careful about where government funds should be going. And yes, I think giving government funds to PP is a travesty and violation of the common good.

        • Kurt

          Legislators make judgments all the time about whether organization X is an appropriate contender for government funds, and thus whether it should participate in merit contracting

          It is news to me that this is done by legislators “all of time” other than craven earmarking so a congressional committee chairman gets the work done in his congressional district or by a favored campaign contributor.

          Could you cite me a few examples of “common good” judgments beyond the group’s ability to carry out the work being contracted?

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          As part of their job description, legislators should be using public funds for the common good; and we as voters should expect and demand that of our representatives. That’s the premise from which I’m making my point. Now, if you’re cynically observing that this rarely happens and that cronyism occurs often, that’s fine — I might even agree with you — but that’s a different point quite irrelevant to what I’m saying.

        • Thales

          Could you cite me a few examples of “common good” judgments beyond the group’s ability to carry out the work being contracted?

          And to answer your question: Group A, besides being able to carry out contracted work X, also does 200,000 abortions/year. That presents a “common good” judgment.

        • Kurt

          Thales. you moved from “Legislators make judgments all the time… “ to legislators should….

          I take it you can’t actually cite any examples to defend the assertion legislators do this all of the time to, i.e. decide groups qualified for the task being funding are to be banned from bidding because these legislators have decided their activities that are not funded by the government do not serve the common good.

          That is all I was asking. If you can’t do it, I understand.

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          I must be entirely misunderstanding you, because if what you’re saying is what I what I think you’re saying, then what you’re saying is silly. At every level of government — local, state, and federal — politicians make judgments all the time about who gets government contract A or who gets public funding B. Contractor X gets disqualified from government contract A, (and contractor Y gets chosen) because X is crooked, or because he’s racist, or because he does abortions on the side, or because he’s related to Politician Smith and it would look improper, or because he doesn’t have a sufficient racial employee quota, or because he charges way too much and is a waste of taxpayer money, or whatever. Politicians make judgments about how public monies should be disbursed all the time, it’s what politicians do. (This is why I say I must be misunderstanding you, because this is so blindingly obvious.) Ideally, politicians should make these decisions in a way that serves the common good. Of course, politicians don’t always make these decisions in view of the common good — and that’s unfortunate–but that’s irrelevant to my point that we should expect and demand that politicians do so.

        • Kurt

          Thales,

          I’ve asked you to cite examples and so far you have been unable to. If this is so obvious, why not rattle off a bunch of examples?

          In general, Congress authorizes funding for a program (not a contractor) and then the civil service designs RFPs that detail what work is to be done, groups bid on the RFP and the contracts are awarded to the qualified low bidder.

          Does illegal bid-rigging, nepotism and sleazy interference in the process sometimes happen? No legally, but sure. And sometimes folks have rightfully gone to jail.

          But I’m still open to the citiation of some examples.

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          You want specific examples? Well, at the federal level, I can give you plenty from news headlines; Planned Parenthood, ACORN, Solyndra, GM, private banks, not the bishops and their fund for sex trafficking victims, the organizations that get funding for stem cell research. At the state and local level, every private organization, contractor, charity, that gets public funds for state initiatives, or roads, or new construction. This is why I feel like I must be talking past you, because it’s so blindingly obvious that public servants in the local, state, and federal levels of government make decisions all the time about how public funds should be used and what non-public entities should get these funds.

        • Kurt

          Thales,

          Yes, public servants in the local, state, and federal levels of government make decisions all the time about how public funds should be used and what non-public entities should get these funds. They make the decisions based on the ability of bidders to fulfill the terms of the contract, not on some public servant’s judgment as to their contributions to the public good outside of the contracted work. If I am wrong, please cite examples (and not of illegal and corrupt steering of contracts, but as a government policy).

          I understand your point that maybe government should look at what bidders do outside of the government contract and deny them contracts based on factors you don’t think are in the common good.

          There is no line item in the federal budget giving money to PP, Solyndra, ACORN, etc. There are line items for projects the government wants done, not for entities to carry out the project. These groups then have to bid on these contracts and make the case they can better fill out the terms of the contract than other bidders.

          Last week, a Senate committee considered a bill entitled “End Trafficking in Government Contracting”. It is a good bill that requires those who bid on government contracts of $1 million or more to document that they are not using government funds in human trafficking. It seems some overseas military contractors have confiscated passports of their workers, used labor brokers with high fees, withheld pay from their workers, and not given workers promised vacations.

          You may feel this bill does not go far enough. You may feel that bidders who do these things outside their government funded work should be disbarred from bidding on contracts. You won’t find many Republicans (or Mitt Romney) agreeing with you, but I understand that point of view.

          But my point is that the current practice of government is that companies are not debarred for outside activities. And you’ve failed to cite any evidence that it does, however much you wish it did.

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          I think we’re talking past each other because you’re not understanding my point. You say: “They make the decisions based on the ability of bidders to fulfill the terms of the contract, not on some public servant’s judgment as to their contributions to the public good outside of the contracted work.” I think part of our confusion is a result of the fact that the distinction you describe is non-existent in the government funding situations I’m thinking of. Consider: the executive is authorized with the discretion to give funds for some generic purpose like “family planning” or “fighting sex trafficking.” There is a lot of discretion there, and someone in the relevant executive department thinks that PP is an appropriate organization that properly supports “family planning” and that the Catholic bishops is not an appropriate organization that properly fights sex trafficking, and so they make their funding decision appropriately. I can understand that this person in the executive might think that their judgment in making these funding decisions is sound — but I’m saying that their judgment is not sound: PP is not an organization that properly and prudently uses public funds meant for “family planning”; and the bishops are an organization that properly uses public funds for fighting sex trafficking. There is nothing wrong with me as a citizen arguing that this public executive’s decision about funding is not sound, and there is nothing wrong with the legislative branch giving additional direction as to what public funding is sound or not in order to best accomplish the goals of the law.

        • Kurt

          Thales,

          Actually I think we are beginning to approach some common ground or at least narrow our different understanding.

          Congress appropriates money for Title X Family Planning (established by President Nixon) or delivering Meals on Wheels (established by LBJ). The Executive Branch is charged with issuing detailed Request for Proposals, which generally go on for pages and pages, not indicating what group gets the contract but the criteria for the contract. Groups respond with a bid and the Executive Branch awards the bid.

          Now, PP is an organization whose work outside their government funded programs I find objectionable, as do you I believe. But I’m interested in your statement that “PP is not an organization that properly and prudently uses public funds meant for ‘family planning’”. How does PP not properly and prudently use the public funds it receives under Title X contracts?

          I think you are right that if they don’t, they should not be awarded the Title X contract and it should go to another bidder. The objections I have heard from others have to do with what PP does outside its Title X contracts, so I am interested in the complaints about their administration of Title X. In fact, if convincing, I would join with you in objecting to further contracts.

        • Thales

          Because money is fungible and PP is an organization that does abortions.

        • Kurt

          Dear Lord, Thales, all of that and we are right back to where I started. Which was:

          In my diocese, the bishop is holding a Fortnight rally by paying tens of thousands of dollars to a private secular university to hold the rally in their facilities, of which the tens of thousands of dollars of Church funds will be co-mingled with the funds the university uses to provide contraception and abortions to the students, faculty, and staff as well as the abortion’s provided to the general public at the university’s hospital.

          Like you say, money is fungible. And GWU is an organization that does abortions. You could have save a lot of time and just agreed at the begining.

        • Thales

          Really, GWU is as guilty as PP when it comes to the evils of the abortion culture? I doubt it.

          Look, I’m not naive. Because money is fungible, we are always connected to some evil— there always is some distant material cooperation with evil. That’s just the way it is. But that doesn’t mean all organizations are equal and all cooperation with evil is the same. We can use our reason and make prudential judgments about to what extent an organization is supportive to the common good, or neutral, or detrimental to the common good. And I happen to think that PP is horrible for the common good and shouldn’t get public funds.

        • Kurt

          Really, GWU is as guilty as PP when it comes to the evils of the abortion culture? I doubt it.

          As guilty? We might be close to some common ground here. You seem to concede GWU’s guilt, just note a difference in degree. I can accept that. I guess the next question is does a Catholic Archdiocese have a higher obligation to avoid giving money to groups promoting the evil of abortion than the secular state?

          Because money is fungible…

          Well, that is your theory. It is certainly not a doctrine of the Catholic Church binding on all of the faithful. I’ve watched Congress debate scads of issues where this was raised and never found anyone (Democrat or Republican) consistently applying the principle. I’ve watched people turn on a dime. Secularists will claim all money is fungible so that any grants or contracts to the Catholic Church mean tax dollars are going to proslytization.

          We can use our reason and make prudential judgments about to what extent an organization is supportive to the common good, or neutral, or detrimental to the common good. And I happen to think that PP is horrible for the common good and shouldn’t get public funds.

          I find that an understandable view. But what makes it understandable to me is that it allows that another person might use their prudential judgment another way without being “anti-life” or “pro-abortion.” That is the core of my complaint. If you happen to think what you stated above, fine. But then you have no basis to call others anti-life who think differently.

        • Thales

          Re: GWU and PP. Yes, we could have a discussion about how and to what extent GWU and PP are different in supporting abortion, and whether it’s appropriate to give money to one and not the other. But that’s a debate for another time.

          Re: money is fungible. You said Well, that is your theory. It is certainly not a doctrine of the Catholic Church binding on all of the faithful

          Never said it was a doctrine and don’t know why this is relevant.

          I find that an understandable view. But what makes it understandable to me is that it allows that another person might use their prudential judgment another way without being “anti-life” or “pro-abortion.” That is the core of my complaint. If you happen to think what you stated above, fine. But then you have no basis to call others anti-life who think differently.

          I’m not sure that I’ve ever called someone “anti-life”, but set that aside. You seem to be saying that I have no basis to criticize someone else’s position on PP. That’s preposterous. I think PP is anti-life (if I can use that phrase) and shouldn’t get public funds, and I recognize that others can disagree with me and think that PP is not anti-life and should get public funds. But I don’t have to meekly accept the fact that someone else has a different position than I have. I can criticize the opposing position, argue against it, and loudly proclaim that it is wrong, misguided, and detrimental to the common good.

        • Kurt

          Re: GWU and PP. Yes, we could have a discussion about how and to what extent GWU and PP are different in supporting abortion, and whether it’s appropriate to give money to one and not the other. But that’s a debate for another time.

          Yes, for another time. It is a pretty serious matter now that we have concluded that the Archdiocese of Washington is financially supporting a pro-abortion organization, with an unresolved question not of their involvement in abortion but the degree of involvement.

          Never said it was a doctrine and don’t know why this is relevant.

          I appreciate that. It is only relevant that with the understanding people in good faith can believe that all monies are not necessarily fungible, and therefore government contracts can be awarded under merit principles.

          I think PP is anti-life (if I can use that phrase) and shouldn’t get public funds, and I recognize that others can disagree with me and think that PP is not anti-life and should get public funds.

          I’m referring to those who may think some of PP’s privately funded activities are anti-life but that public contracts should be awarded based on merit principles.

          My only point is that some (many) people believe in the policy currently in law of awarding government contracts based on merit principles as they are defined in law (i.e. the ability of bidder to carry out the terms of the contract at the lowest cost). And that those who believe in merit contracting as defined by law feel that to open that up to ban organizations from bidding on contracts based on outside activities will lead to all sorts of manipulation of government contracts. And I would offer as further evidence that while many have their favorite whipping boy to ban from contracting (pro-lifers to PP, secularists to the churches, unions to non-union firms, etc) it is hard to find anyone who universally rather than selectively applies the fungibility theory.

          • Julia Smucker

            You guys have been arguing in tight circles, which ceased having any relevance to the original post awhile ago. Can you please wrap up this conversation?

        • Thales

          Yes, Julia, I’m done! Thanks for indulging us as long as you have.

  • Wei

    I wonder. Is there a way for us to know the truth of what is good or bad without deferring to authority (Bible, Pope, Bishops, religious leaders/writers)? I ask because if we don’t then what measuring stick to we have to hold against what the authority says is good or bad? For example, how do we really know that contraception is ALWAYS bad? Mostly I hear people say something like because the Magisterium says so.

    If I were trying to convince someone outside of the Catholic church about the veracity of the teachings, I could not appeal to authority because that person does not necessarily accept the same religious leaders as also having the authority to set the rules.

    Or even the nuns or others within the church? How can we determine what is right, especially when our lived experiences seem to suggest that the stances of the religious leaders may be partially wrong. How do we live our lives as Catholics in that circumstance if we’re not supposed to follow our own conscience?

    • Thales

      Is there a way for us to know the truth of what is good or bad without deferring to authority (Bible, Pope, Bishops, religious leaders/writers)?

      Yes. We can use our reason to get to moral truths, from an understanding of nature and the natural law.

      • Wei

        So if I use my reason to deduce moral truths and I come to a different conclusion than the Pope, I would still be moral if I live by my own conclusions?

        • Thales

          Wei,

          if you honestly seek out and deduce a moral truth, and you happen to come to a different conclusion than the Pope, then yes, it would be moral if you live by your own conclusion. In fact, you are morally required to live by your own conclusion — that’s called following your conscience. You have a duty to always follow your conscience.

          But you also have a duty to continually form your conscience. So while you need to follow your conscience, if you notice that your conscience is different from a moral authority that you take seriously (like your church/pastor/religious leader/…../Pope, if you’re Catholic), you have a duty to continue intellectually wrestling with moral truths, such as thinking about the reasons why you hold moral truth A and the reasons why the leader you respect holds moral truth B, and what is the difference and why the difference between the two views.

        • Wei

          Thank you for the explanation. Your answer brings me peace because I now have a way to deal with disagreements in an honest and spiritual way.

        • Julia Smucker

          Wow, Thales – I just reread your response to Wei more attentively and suddenly noticed what a solid and finely tuned response it is. Nicely done.

        • Thales

          Thanks!

  • Julia Smucker

    If this litany, which was prayed immediately before the Mass I attended this morning, is any indication, the Fortnight for Freedom may turn out to be more theologically rich than I dared to hope.

  • Ronald King

    “On the other hand, Ronald, thanks for the compliment but I still don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the bishops according to the “left-brained male” stereotype. It’s a trite dichotomy that is unfair to everyone: bishops and laypeople, men and women, the rational and the touchy-feely”. Julia, you wrote this statement 6/20 and I must disagree with your use of “stereotype” and “trite dichotomy” as an evaluation of what I posted. I can understand why you wrote what you did based on the info I presented which was brief and lacked the necessary information for you to know what I have been blessed to learn over the last 30+ years of experience and education in interpersonal neurobiology and psychotherapy. What is unfair to everyone is to dismiss the critical importance of these dynamics rather than explore in depth the identification of these dynamics and the influence they have on our history and current struggles. If we do not know how the “machine” works we cannot fix it and “free will” is just an illusion created by a false understanding and a limited understanding of what it means to be human. 1Cor13 and The Beatitudes resonate with the knowledge I have been blessed to receive. What I need to strengthen is my ability to write in a more clear and concise manner with the hope that it will not be considered trite and stereotypical.
    You see, I am not against the Bishops, I am for increasing our understanding of being human and what impedes us from loving each other as we are created to love.
    Here are my 4 stages of my life of being a psychotherapist. 1) Obtain the advanced degree and with an overwhelming awareness of imperfection and fear. Get a job. Pretend to know what I am doing and hope to do no harm. Client cancellations are seen as personal failures.
    2) Through trial and error and continuing ed gain more knowledge and awareness of techniques which are of proven success. A gradual intrusion of the others’ suffering begins to break down the barriers of myself and the other, thus creating within me a feeling of compassion which is different from the detached observational and clinical style learned in graduate school. Client cancellations are experienced as resistance, but resistance to what? 3) I realize I am being taught by those who seek help from me that their resistance is based on my limited ability to have empathy thus recreating their history of not being loved and not being validated as human beings who have worth. I begin to feel the weight of their suffering, especially after God opens me to Love. I begin to pray for cancellations.
    4) There is a spiritual renewal and it is time to write a book and start a blog:) or go on a cross-country Rosary Run/Walk to raise money and help for single mothers and their children with others from every walk of life until we make this world safe enough for women to love without fear.
    Sorry about the rant.