Monday, November 22, 2010

Disappointed, but not surprised

At Mass yesterday the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection was taken up. Once again we heard that our bishop, Bishop Kevin W. Vann, "strongly" supported the effort.


I guess Bishop Vann doesn't really care that the CCHD has a terrible history, a spotty track record, and a present reality of still giving to grant recipients who give out contraception and/or refer for abortions. No, I don't honestly think he doesn't care; I think he doesn't know, and hasn't made any effort to find out. And I think that the default position of bishops is: we can't suddenly stop supporting something we've supported for years, just because some disgruntled lay people have exposed the hideous underbelly of the thing we've been supporting! Why, if we stopped supporting it now, we might appear to lack credibility!

Double sigh.

I'm going to be honest about something a little personal. As a small-"0"-orthodox, Cold War/Spirit of VII Era, pro-life conservative Catholic (how's that for a plethora of labels?), I have sometimes believed that the biggest obstacle for me to be able to understand and accept the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church has been--the United States Catholic bishops. Sure, there's been the exception here or there, but so often the US bishops as a whole appear to support such leftist and socialist ideas (which is not what Church social justice teaching is, not by a long shot) that they appear to be slightly to the left of Nancy Pelosi in their pronouncements and support of left-wing initiatives. And since I don't think the Church in America is, or ought to be, the Democratic Party at prayer, I have been impeded in my understanding and acceptance, on occasion, of important Church teachings by this odd reality.

Church teaching against torture is the obvious example. Back when I wrestled with the idea, I won't say that there was ever a time when I actually thought, "But the US bishops oppose torture--so there must be something good about it!" However, I wouldn't be surprised if I came pretty close to framing the issue in that way (and I've certainly encountered torture defenders since then who think about the issue in that way, and I can't help but sympathize even as I firmly oppose any pro-torture conclusions).

As wrong as that was of me, I can't help but look at certain things the US bishops have done or continue to do as--not justifications, but explanations for why some Catholics of a certain age and experience tend to roll their eyes when the bishops talk about things like health care access, or immigration reform, or just wages. Because, frankly, we still are tempted to think that by "health care" they mean socialized medicine, and by "immigration reform" they mean open borders, and by "just wages" they mean redistribution of wealth. And it's not entirely our fault that we tend to be tempted to think those things.

Which is why, when I heard again that Bishop Vann was "strongly supporting" the collection for the dodgy CCHD with its tendency to give grant money to organizations with all sorts of dubious ties to leftist, pro-abortion, and ultimately anti-Catholic activities, I was only disappointed, not surprised. The only time, I'm afraid, I'm ever surprised by any of the United States bishops is when they do something that is clearly orthodox and Catholic.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

In many ways it is none of my business, but I don't understand how a conservative Roman Catholic who sincerely believes in obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, who takes seriously the oath that Susan Peterson recited here not too many weeks ago, who asserts that it really is THE church established by Christ and his apostles, could flout the judgement of an entire conference of Catholic bishops.

Either the church is always right, or its not. Granted, if a high official is in violation of the principles on which the organization is built, they have invalidated their own authority. But, if that can happen, then any other church authority could be wrong in any number of other ways. Maybe those who believe the church lacks authority to ordain women are wrong. (Or maybe not, but if a devout home-schooling Catholic mother can criticize the bishops, then why can't an Augustinian monk post a critique of corruption in the church on the doors of a cathedral?

Red Cardigan said...

Siarlys, it is simple: the bishops are infallible when they are teaching, in concert with the pope, what the Church has always taught. So if a bishop says, "Abortion is always wrong," he is teaching infallibly. If, however, he says, "I wonder if abortion might not be wrong in circumstance X," he is no longer teaching infallibly.

When the bishops teach that we must consider seriously the demands of charity as regards illegal immigrants, I listen carefully and try to inform my conscience.

However, if the bishops say, "Give to the CCHD so they can give to this grant recipient which works with immigrants!" and fails to mention that the recipient in question is part of a coalition of groups some of which take busloads of immigrant women to Planned Parenthood for contraceptives and/or abortions, I'm not bound by the same duty--in fact, I'm still obligated to consider such a donation in light of the demands of prudence, justice, and clear Church opposition to abortion and contraception.

A final thought: The heretic Arius influenced no small number of bishops, who taught his heresy as if it were Christian truth. Those ordinary Catholics who opposed this heresy were not guilty of disobedience to their bishops, but were instead being obedient to the Church. I do not personally know whether any of the bishops of America presently hold heretical views, but given the history of the Church, I would be vastly surprised to learn that none of them do--and if they do, those views should be opposed.

Geoff G. said...

The problem here is an artifact of the two-party, left-right, with-us-or-agin-us divide in the US.

Do you care that migrant farm workers are being paid a pittance (or not paid at all)? Surely that is something that ought to be of concern to Catholics from across the political spectrum.

But in order to actually do something about it, you end up having to make some alliances and work with people who will oppose your efforts in other areas.

Let me make an analogy: when we became the ally of the USSR in WWII, under circumstances precipitated not by Stalin (who was perfectly content to let his previous deal with Germany stand), did that mean that we endorsed the whole communist program?

Absolutely not. We cooperated with the USSR as the lesser of two evils. And it was exactly the right choice.

So too here.

If you cannot cooperate on areas of mutual interest with anyone who doesn't toe the line on your entire agenda, then you might as well go ahead and change your name to Dan Savage.

Absolutely, CCHD itself should conduct itself in a manner that accords with orthodox Catholic teaching. But that should not preclude cooperation where possible in areas where it can work with outside agencies to achieve its goals.

Tobins said...

There is a difference between cooperating on areas of mutual interest with and giving material support (money) to people and/or organizations that oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm glad to see Geoff G making an appearance here. He, in a sense, exemplifies exactly what he is trying to say. I agree with Erin that there is no constitutional right to a marriage license for same-sex couples, and disagree with Geoff. I disagree with Erin on what is the constitutional status or should be the legal status of abortion, but Geoff firmly agrees with Erin. Geoff is sufficiently principled about those matters on which he differs with the church authorities to state that if he is not acceptable, as he is, then he will not be a cafeteria Catholic.

Tobins's point is undeniable. But I think what Geoff said was, it may be necessary to give money to groups which aid farm workers, irrespective of the fact that those groups also have alliances with groups which do provide family planning and/or abortion services. I think we're all agreed that Roman Catholic money should not be spent providing either one.

There certainly is no comprehensive political platform on which a majority of Americans agrees 100%. There is, on any given clearly defined issue, a majority and minority view. One problem with the latest health care reform act is precisely that it tried to put everything into one omnibus bill. If each salient issue were submitted for a separate vote, no deals trading votes on this for votes on that, we would have a result that had overwhelming public support. As it is, we have a bill almost everyone has SOME objection to.

Erin, you logic in response to my original question is impeccable. But if you are saying, a prince of the church is infallible when teaching the cannons of the church, and not infallible when he strays from those canons, then there is nothing discretionary, even to the Holy Father. If a question arises that is not directly answered by existing canons, or there are two claims as to what those cannons mean, or how they are to be applied, then who is orthodox, and who is heterodox?

I have no loyalty to Athanasian doctrine, but I find nothing more compelling about Arian doctrine either, nor the Sabellian doctrine. I suspect that when Paul condemned "heresy," he was referencing the tendency of Christians to line up in factions over such arcane issues, rather than one faction having a monopoly on the truth.

Haven't you left the door open for each individual Catholic to judge for themselves WHEN a bishop is teaching "what the Church has always taught" and when he is not, and on that judgement, to choose when, whom, and whether to obey?

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I don't trust the USCCB as a whole. They don't generally get my support on issues. (Except obviously when they're teaching in union with the Pope)

No money will be given to CCHD by me (but then again, I'm a seminarian with no money anyway)