In That Church with This Editorial?

As much as the world of Roman Catholicism remains mysterious, this excerpt from Commonweal seems like a case of changing the subject. At a time when many Roman Catholics are wailing and gnashing their teeth over the latest sex scandal (the case of Theodore McCarrick), the editors at Commonweal decide to keep the attention on President Trump:

The mesmerizing farce of the Trump administration —its scandals, lurid intrigues, and flagrant lies—can easily distract us from the many ways this president and his party are making life harder for vulnerable Americans. While we all attend to the latest antics of President Twitter, his appointees and congressional allies are quietly punching holes in the safety net that protects millions of people from destitution.

One way the GOP is trying to deprive the poor of public assistance is by imposing strict work requirements on the tenants of public housing and recipients of Medicaid. In January, Seema Verma, who runs the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced that the Trump administration would begin allowing states to require most non-disabled adults to work as a condition of Medicaid coverage. In late June, a few days before the first such work requirement was to take effect in Kentucky, a federal judge blocked it, ruling that the Trump administration had been “arbitrary and capricious” in approving Kentucky’s plan without making sure it was in keeping with Medicaid’s stated purpose of “furnish[ing] medical assistance” to the poor. “The record shows that 95,000 people would lose Medicaid coverage,” the judge wrote, “and yet the secretary [of Health and Human Services] paid no attention to that deprivation.” The judge was right, but he may yet be overruled by a Supreme Court too solicitous of states’ rights and too deferential to executive authority.

Now, it could be truly that the scandal of Trump is much more momentous than the allegations against a cardinal and former archbishop of The District. But if you believe in the world to come and that the church, unlike the United States, is the institution that is best equipped to get people into heaven (or purgatory for the righteousness-challenged), wouldn’t the story of one of the apostles’ successors be a bigger deal than a depraved POTUS’ welfare policy?

Again, I don’t know Commonweal as well as I might, though I have read and used many of its essays and columns about the Roman Catholic Church for my own writing and teaching. It is a readable magazine with thoughtful writers (I could do without E. J. Dionne) on a variety of subjects, from the arts to church life.

The other problem is one of jumping on the bandwagon. With all the kvetching about scandalous priests and lack of accountability for the bishops, do the editors at Commonweal have anything new to say?

At the same time, the allegations surrounding Theodore McGarrick and its implications for Rome’s oversight are so potentially toxic that one would think editors of a Roman Catholic publication would want to put some distance between themselves and their hierarchy.

Meanwhile, Bryan and the Jasons got zip, nada, zilch.

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Jaw-Tightener of the Day

So you wonder all moral theologized up about the Koch Brothers donating funds to a Roman Catholic university but your publication apparently takes a pass on the head of Planned Parenthood speaking at Georgetown University:

Can a Catholic university legitimately take money from the likes of the Koch Brothers? This is not a hypothetical question. Many Catholic universities are implicated. But none more so than Catholic University of America, which—in the face of much criticism—has just doubled down with another $10 million donation from the Koch Foundation.

The original partnership with the Kochs, and the subsequent criticism, predates Pope Francis and Laudato si’. If the university’s arguments were weak back then, they are paper-thin now.

Just consider how the philosophy and business practices of the Koch Brothers goes directly against the authoritative teaching of Pope Francis. I will make three points in this regard.

First, the Kochs are avid libertarians, defenders of the unconstrained free market as the best route to prosperity. This ideology is simply not compatible with Catholic social teaching. In full continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis condemns the notion of a “deified market” or a “magical conception of the market.” His point is that an economic system underpinned by self-interest and oriented toward profit maximization is simply incapable of delivering integral and sustainable development. It leads instead to an economy of exclusion, and is deaf to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Pope Francis stresses that working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is a moral obligation—and for Christians, a commandment. “It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right,” he says. In other words, the universal destination of goods is a reality prior to private property. I have a feeling the Kochs would strenuously disagree with this. And this is no mere prudential disagreement. It is foundational and anthropological.

Imagine using the same moral scrutiny on Georgetown and church teaching about abortion.

Reading the Results

Rod Dreher has a Roman Catholic friend who says, “There is nothing more depressing than people who say ‘things are great, couldn’t be better,’ when it’s so obvious that the opposite is true.” In that spirit and for the edification of non-Protestant Western Christians who hang around Old Life, I run down some of the pertinent reflections on Ireland’s approval of same-sex marriage.

Tim Stanley thinks (thanks to our southern correspondent) the church needs to reform herself — especially Irish Roman Catholicism — before tackling the world (maybe even the world’s climate):

And yet there certainly is confusion and muddle – and that’s the second, perhaps bigger thing that Catholics ought to worry about. The mission of Catholicism itself is obviously in need of renewal. Otherwise the Church wouldn’t have lost that referendum.

When I wrote that Ireland had rejected Catholicism, I got a lot of angry replies. Half said, “Good!” (which proved my point). The other half said, “But I’m Catholic and I voted for gay marriage.” This poses an interesting question. Is someone who calls themselves a Catholic yet who publicly rejects Catholic teaching still a Catholic? It’s not just lay Irish who were doing this but priests, too. And across the Western world there are clerics who are actively working to shift Church teaching in a new direction. One liberal Catholic wrote a strong rebuff of my piece for Time Magazine from which I infer the view that Catholicism is something more than just its doctrines – that 4 + 4 can equal 5 under certain special circumstances. What are the roots of this contrarian religious stance?

Ireland offers an interesting answer. There are two stories of the Irish Church. One is the powerful institution that became unhealthily entwined with the state – a state dominated by a single party that used populism, nationalism and corruption to stay in power. It was a Catholic consensus that was conservative in the worst sense: authoritarian, entrenched, out of touch with the real needs. Covering up paedophile abuse was the sickest manifestation of its fascism.

But the other story of the Church in Ireland is of an institution that disregarded a great deal of its teachings and majesty to lurch towards progressivism. A man raised in the Irish Church explained to me that congregants had been told since birth that Catholicism is all about equality, socialism, community, inclusiveness, family. Its liturgical style is represented in exaggerated form by the famous singing priest who broke with the formal Mass to give his rendition of a Leonard Cohen song at a wedding. This is the Church of motherhood: the Church that gives and gives and gives without asking anything of its congregants. It doesn’t really treat them as mature souls who can be spoken to honestly about the facts. It is a faith almost stripped of the less cosy aspects of its teachings.

Michael Sean Winters follows Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s line about the referendum functioning as a reality check and describes what that check should involve:

What does a reality check look like? The first thing the hierarchy – in Ireland and in the United States – should do is have some long listening sessions with young people. Ask them why they support same sex marriage. They are not trying to destroy Western civilization. Most of them are not gay or lesbian themselves. To them, society must be first and foremost about mutual respect and religion should learn to be more tolerant. They are not wrong to think that. It is good Catholic theology. Bishops and pastors and lay leaders should ask them how they seek to follow the Lord Jesus in their romantic and sexual lives. Do they keep religion and sex separate? Do they think God has something to say about the subject? Before preaching to the next generation of Catholics, Church leaders are well advised to listen to them first, and not just to the choir a la Mrs. Clinton, but a real listening session with people who are not hand-picked for their docility.

The second thing the leaders of the Church must do is stop using phrases like “intrinsically disordered” which have been a disaster pastorally and misunderstood theologically. They should have the courage to admit in public what many will admit in private, that the Church’s theology on homosexuality is woefully inadequate. They must stop acting as if knowing this one discrete fact about a person, the fact that he or she is gay, is enough to form a judgment about the whole person. We don’t think our society is justified in sentencing Dzohkar Tsarnaev to death on account of his one, truly terrible act; We should not justify societal exclusion based on one characteristic. The Church at Her best never ceases proclaiming the integrity and dignity of the human person, the whole human person, no matter their choices and their preferences, still less something over which they have no choice whatsoever.

Frank Bruni at the New York Times connects the dots between Ireland and the rest of the Roman Catholic West:

Take a look at this list of countries: Belgium, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, France, Uruguay, Luxembourg and Ireland. Name two things that they have in common.

They don’t share a continent, obviously. Or a language.

But in all of them, the Roman Catholic Church has more adherents, at least nominally, than any other religious denomination does.

And all of them belong to the vanguard of 20 nations that have decided to make same-sex marriage legal.

In fact, countries with a Catholic majority or plurality make up half of those where two men or two women can now wed or will soon be able to.

Ireland, obviously, is the freshest addition to the list. It’s also, in some ways, the most remarkable one. It’s the first country to approve same-sex marriage by a popular referendum. The margin wasn’t even close. About 62 percent of voters embraced marriage equality.

And they did so despite a past of great fealty to the Catholic Church’s official teachings on, for example, contraception, which was outlawed in Ireland until 1980, and abortion, which remains illegal in most circumstances.

Irish voters nonetheless rejected the church’s formal opposition to same-sex marriage. This act of defiance was described, accurately, as an illustration of church leaders’ loosening grip on the country.

Finally, the folks at Commonweal explain gay-friendly Roman Catholicism in the wake of Ireland’s referendum and the recent Pew report:

So what other answers might there be to the question of why American Catholics are so supportive? I have three suggestions and I hope that readers will add more. First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions, is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned? In Ireland or here or elsewhere, the actual principal difference between leaders and people, on same-sex issues or birth control or religious freedom or perhaps many other issues, is that the leadership thinks deductively while the rank and file think inductively. Experience trumps ideology, which—strangely enough—is Pope Francis’s consistent message!

Meanwhile, the one with the power to interpret has not spoken, as Stanley notes, “Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address.” Bryan and the Jasons are in good company. Perhaps Pope Francis’ silence owes to his residence in Vatican City which is encircled by Italy:

Many people were taken aback this week when Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, called Ireland’s referendum to allow gay marriage “not only a defeat for Christian principles, but also somewhat a defeat for humanity.”­ The reason for the surprise is because the 60-year-old cardinal has been portrayed as being more open-minded than the stereotypical Vatican bureaucrat or the average Church conservative.

“I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Parolin told the press. “Certainly, as the Archbishop of Dublin said, the Church needs to do a reality check, but in my opinion it must do so in the sense that it has to actually strengthen its entire commitment (to marriage) and also make an effort to evangelize our culture,” he said.

The cardinal’s comments turned the heads of those that believed (perhaps a bit too naively) that Pope Francis had led the Church to adopt a more conciliatory tone in dealing with the so-called culture wars. But it is precisely culture—and Italian culture in particular—that is the key to understanding Cardinal Parolin’s strong reaction.

Italy has remained the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs. At least up to now. It does not allow stem-cell research and has some of the most restrictive legislation concerning other bioethical issues. It does not even recognize so-called “living wills” that allow individuals to refuse life support in cases when they are left comatose.