Re-Election: What Does It Mean For Catholics?

We (and I use that word purposely) re-elected President Obama for four more years. I use the collective “we” here because we now need to unite behind the President and lobby him on issues that we disagree with him on as Catholics.

I’m a bit tired of all the gridlock that occurred in the President’s first term, especially on issues surrounding health care. There is a lot that is positive in this President’s Administration and a lot that we can be hopeful about because this is a President that is willing to listen to those who disagree.

Here’s some issues that I’d like to see the Catholic Church begin to speak out about and work with the President on.

1) The Environment: The Pope has spoken out on the need for Catholics to care for the environment. Perhaps it would be wise to ask all churches to become as green as possible with direct suggestions for parishes and other diocesan and religious order buildings to implement. We agree with the President on this issue and working with him on this would be a good first step towards building good will.

2) The Death Penalty: We also agree with the President on this issue. Why would the church not work extremely hard with the President to lobby governors and state legislatures on making the death penalty obsolete. We’re one of the few countries to have the death penalty and those other ones that do, are not ones we ought to emulate,

3) Support to Limit Abortions: Even if abortion were outlawed (and it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon, unfortunately), the law would just revert to the states. So we’re never getting rid of abortion just by repealing Roe v. Wade. We’re just siphoning it off to certain states to become abortion states. Even in states that have tried to outlaw Abortion, those initiatives were easily defeated. Would it not be more pragmatic to now admit that we might not be rid of the legality of abortion and instead work to develop a different strategy to defeat it. This might be very comprehensive in structure. For example, why wouldn’t we try to work with the President to support childcare for pregnant women? Why wouldn’t we lobby to make adoption processes easier? Why wouldn’t our Bishops call on Catholics to be foster parents or Big Brothers/Big Sisters? And why would we not work to support the disabled? There’s clearly a lot of room for us to work together on all of this without all of the gridlock.

4) HHS Mandate: This was handled horribly by all involved. Why not challenge the idea that health care even needs to be tied to employment? Why not take the lead and simply pay our workers more and not offer them health care in favor of allowing people to form their own collective and barter for their own health care. This might create a very healthy marketplace, bringing prices down because of the competition that they’d engender. I think that there was a lot of ill will on both sides of this debate. It’s time to admit that the President offered a compromise and even a loophole for Catholics, but that wasn’t good enough. Surely there’s more room for negotiation here.

5) Equal pay for Women: Clearly this is a justice issue that we can get behind as Catholics.

6) Gay Marriage: While the church will not bless a gay marriage, perhaps we can admit that these types of civil unions, are simply civil and not sacramental. Our job as Catholics would remain in protecting the human dignity of gays who are attacked because of their sexual preference despite our disagreement about the question of marriage. People need the full protection of some kind of force from those who would do them harm.

7) Peace and Justice: Restoring the world to peace once again will be a hallmark of this administration and upholding human rights and restoring justice to those who are oppressed is something that we all agree is central to our ideals as Catholics and as an American culture.

8) Economic Justice: How will we defeat poverty? Surely this is something that we have lots to say and we can be helpful with ideas and initiatives that the White House may just wish to support.

9) Slavery/Human-Trafficking: Clearly this is an area that we can push for more engagement from our churches along with the administration.

10) Eldercare: The majority of Catholics and the majority of clergy will soon be senior citizens. How will we care for them in the future? How can we make this affordable? We will need the government to help push an agenda for the dignity of the elderly.

All in all…a civil tone between our church and our government will be necessary in these four years and we cannot afford to be jettisoned off to the Catholic ghetto. It’s important to note that Catholics of good will on all sides of these questions, democrat and republican (independents too!), have much to contribute. We need to work on our own in-house civility in the Catholic blogosphere as well, so that despite our differences at times, they still will know that we are Christians by our love. And from there, we might together, work with those who do not share our faith in order to bring about a more perfect union.

As many know, I’m the co-convener of our UB Campus Ministry Association. We have started to unite together to do more charitable initiatives, along with initiatives to bring awareness and safety to the campus. We don’t always agree. But we are committed to finding common ground. In doing so, we show our campus that we can transcend disagreement and work together to bring peace and justice to our campus.

Tonight, let us pray that we can come together and that our President will be open to working with us on things that we can find common ground on, so that we might be able to protect the vulnerable in society and live once again, in peace.

Let the real work begin!

Republicans Should Ask Ann Coulter to Do Community Service

Ann Coulter tweeted out this venomous line in reference to President Obama.

Where do I begin?

Let me start with my sister, who introduced me to mentally handicapped children when I was a little kid. She worked at a Children’s Center as an aide and she loved every second of it. One little girl named Barbara was someone who captured her heart. My sister loved her dearly and kept in touch with her long after she had moved on to another job and Barbara was moved to live with a wonderful foster family. I learned about the dignity of human life from watching my sister interact with Barbara and she taught me that despite Barbara’s disabilities, she still was able to love us and in fact, she was able to do a whole lot more, but she loved us exceedingly well.

There’s the mentally handicapped adult, Johnny, who used to sit in the front pew at my childhood parish. Our pastor then, would grab him by the hand and the two would walk together down the aisle during the recessional hymn. It was glorious and a wonderful example set by our pastor to show us the dignity of this young man who indeed loved our church and our God.

Then there are the scores of children I’ve met on the 4 mission trips I’ve taken to Nicaragua who have had disabilities of all kinds but many of whom had Down’s Syndrome. Carlos is the one who is most memorable. He gave us the biggest hugs and could throw a baseball harder than most of us could. He was having a ball with us one year and then he started to cry. I asked him what was wrong:

“Hey Carlos, que tal?” (what’s up?)

“Hoy es una fiesta!” (Today is the party)

I looked at him strangely and then he said, (And I don’t remember the Spanish here)…”Every year you take us to the zoo, then to pizza hut, then to the amusement park. And when you’re here we play all day long. But then there’s a big party and that means that tomorrow you’ll be gone!”

Carlos was smart enough to know sadness and to figure out that our time together was limited. We too needed to realize that and it was with much sadness when we learned about Carlos’s death from cancer many years ago. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t recall how much he changed me.

And so when I hear Ms. Coulter, who should know better, call the President a derogatory name for the mentally disabled, I have only two things to say.

Ms. Coulter, you need to apologize….not to me but to the Carloses, Johnnies and Barbaras of the world. Because they should be an example for all of us of how we should treat one another. They give much more love than the tons of people who work for them in thankless occupations. How many times have those children heard the derisive name-calling from children who are mean-spirited or just bullying someone because they feel like it?

And for those of you who hire Ms. Coulter to do your dirty work, perhaps you should make her spend 100 hours with the mentally disabled and maybe that might soften her heart just a bit. Maybe she should spend some time reading the book Our Guys, about a teen who had the mental capacity of an 8 year old, who was brutally raped by a bunch of football players in Glen Ridge, New Jersey when all she wanted was to be friends with the guys who played football and was treated like an object to satisfy their own sexual deviancy.

And maybe THAT might erase that word from her vocabulary.

Lastly, Ms. Coulter, the person you referred to is the President of the United States. Whether you like him or not, you should always have respect for the Office of the President.

Maybe this is why so many people are just tired of the mean-spirited nature of our political system?

Today, let us pray for the mentally disabled, who are among the vulnerable in the world. Let us pray for civility and fairness in society and let us protect those who cannot protect themselves.

And let’s pray for Ms. Coulter, as well. Who I’m sure receives thousands of hateful letters and taunts. She deserves better as well.

UPDATE: Caitlin Czeh, the Campus Minister from Wilkes University and my esteemed colleague pointed me to this link from a 30 year old man with Down’s Syndrome. Well worth the read.

The Catholic King of Fairness

So people should know this up front…

I disagree with the President on abortion and the need to provide contraception. I believe the Bishops of our church have the right to press the administration on those issues to protect the rights of the unborn.

OK? I want that to be clearly understood.

Now here’s a quote from last night’s debate:

“Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” – Mitt Romney.

Now I’ve heard a lot from our Bishops and plenty of others say that the President is wrong about his position on life. But according to the teaching of our church, Governor Romney is as well.

Doesn’t this muddy the waters for Catholics who were voting for Gov. Romney solely because of his position on life? Makes the lesser of two evils a whole lot harder to discern in my mind. Gov. Romney also said that “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

Seems like pandering to me, but since his company benefited from abortions for years I’m inclined to think he’s far from pro-life. And we know the President’s stance on these issues, which isn’t good either.

But my main concern is after watching another bar fight last night where a Presidential Debate broke out is simply this: Is this really the best we can do for candidates? Isn’t there someone somewhere who can rise above all the hateful rhetoric?

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Landingham

72 year old actress Kathryn Joosten, who played the role of Presidential secretary, Mrs. Landingham, died this week. On the West Wing, her character was killed by a drunk driver after being persuaded by the President to go get a new car. It led to one of the greatest monologues in the history of television

For those wondering what the Latin means, a you tube user shared a translation:

Gratias tibi ago, domine
Thank you, Lord.

Haec credam a deo pio, a deo justo, a deo scito?
Am I to believe these things from a righteous God, a just God, a wise God?

Cruciatus in crucem
To Hell with your punishments

uus in terra servus, nuntius fui; officium perfeci
I was your servant, your messenger on the earth, I did my duty.

Cruciatus in crucem (with a dismissive wave of the hand) eas in crucem
The Hell with your punishments! And to Hell with you! (literally, “may you go to a cross”

Joosten began her acting career later in life in her 40s after a career in nursing. The Telegraph also has this interesting note about her dedication to lung cancer:

In 2001, however, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. After treatment she was declared free of the disease, only for it to recur, in her other lung, in 2009. Again she prevailed, but she recognised that “cancer will be with me for the rest of my life, be it as a nodule, tumor or cell someplace, or in my fears and anxieties”.

She became a fierce advocate for lung cancer awareness, speaking at events and raising funds. A long-time smoker herself, she said that lung cancer had “a stigma because of the relationship to smoking – ‘you did it to yourself’ – and therefore the belief that somehow it is something to be ashamed of”. But she argued that the cancer “is far more lethal, and a bigger killer of women than all the other cancers combined” and that she was “irritated and disappointed” by the “oceans of pink” that successfully raised awareness and money for “sexier” breast cancer.

To bid adieu to Ms. Joosten here is her final shining moment on the West Wing. As means of background, she was a mentor figure for the President when he was growing up in prep school and that led her to become his personal assistant at the White House. Ergo, she’s possibly his most trusted advisor and this scene is presumably a hallucination…or is it?

Voices of Hope and Doom

E.J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post and he rightly points out that the voices of doom seem to be all around us.

First he points to the voices of doom on the left.

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

He immediately grasps that the secular left doesn’t care much for Catholicism, or I suspect religion of any kind, preferring to lump all of us “religious-types” together.

But there’s another kind of progressive minded group. And it’s those of us who believe in much that liberal principles hold and that it reflects much of Catholic teaching.

We’re the ones who remind some narrow minded folks that it’s not OK to just be against abortion when you call yourself a pro-lifer but that the title also demanded that we support women who struggle to not just bring a child to term, but also to support that child and mother well long after the birth. Not to mention those of us who call for an end to war, violence and the death penalty. We hope to care for the poor who all-too-often are in harm’s way and for the environment which continually gets ignored too often as well.

And we do so by pointing people to the wisdom of our tradition as the reason why.

Dionne then takes up a second group of doomsayers. Those on the Catholic right.

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? ….has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question?

Indeed. While I certainly think that those who oppose abortion, for instance (I would count myself as being in that group), are doing their darnedest to try to change the law and to protect the innocent who so desperately need our assistance, what good has it really done? Our opposers are more firmly entrenched because of the vitriol of some and they liken the words coming forth from well-meaning and dedicated people (Laity and Bishops alike) to hate speech and at best, mean-spiritedness.

I don’t think that’s the message that people need or even want to hear. It doesn’t call us to change and it doesn’t produce results apparently.

What do people want? They want two things: action and results.

It seems to me that this is what the nuns were doing pretty darn well and their heroism seems to be brushed off because they didn’t spew venom often enough.

Even with a Republican President for 4 years recently and a congress that also shared those principles what were we able to do about abortion?


That’s not a good record. And we should be ashamed. All of us.

There’s an old adage that some in the church should carefully heed.

“It’s time to put up or shut up.”

Why, might I add, haven’t we heard much about a small organization called Malta House in the state of Connecticut –a state I might add, that just abolished the death penalty?

Just a sample of what Malta House does:

Malta House promotes the dignity of God given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services, and independent living skills to expectant mothers of all faiths, and to their babies.

Residents of Malta House participate in educational programs covering issues of Health, Nutrition, Parenting and Child Development. During their stay at Malta House, mothers also receive guidance designed to foster a positive self image for themselves and their children. Personal finance and budgeting advice is offered to promote self sufficiency as our young families assimilate back into the community.

In addition, each resident agrees to participate in an individualized educational component that may include GED preparation or certificate programs at a local community college. Tutoring is provided to support the rigors of each class.

Michael O’Rourke, Malta House’s founder, is a saint in my opinion. He put up and then he didn’t shut up–rather he went and spoke to thousands of people leaving no stone unturned in order to gain support for his cause. It was an easy sell. And he did it all with grace and a quiet voice of peace.

So why, might I ask, has nobody bothered to say…

“Y’know what might be a good idea? Let’s have one of these Malta Houses in every diocese! Heck, let’s have two! Get O’Rourke on the phone.”

It would provide jobs, care, and it’s clearly a pro-life message that can be seen and produces results.

Do we think that the secular left couldn’t get behind that? Despite the law, we Catholics need to find ways to support the cause of life ANYWAY.

And other causes that support and claim who we are–a people of action.

Or we can just keep crying foul as a voice of doom that claims that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are powerless to change that because of those pesky little laws.

Now c’mon folks, we’re smarter than this. A lot smarter.

Perhaps, as Dionne suggests, we should heed the words of John XXIII:

“Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed.”

And as Dionne rightfully notes: “The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.”


Oh! And if you’d like to help to Malta House click here—their gala event is Thursday!

Polish Catholic to Be Honored Posthumously by President Obama

On Monday this story slipped by me. President Obama made these remarks at the Holocaust Museum, which by the way, if you’ve never been there, it’s someplace you should visit.

I say this as a President, and I say it as a father. We must tell our children about a crime unique in human history. The one and only Holocaust — six million innocent people — men, women, children, babies — sent to their deaths just for being different, just for being Jewish. We tell them, our children, about the millions of Poles and Catholics and Roma (Gypsies) and gay people and so many others who also must never be forgotten. Let us tell our children not only how they died, but also how they lived — as fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who loved and hoped and dreamed, just like us.

We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent. Let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations. Among them was Jan Karski, a young Polish Catholic, who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself.

Jan Karski passed away more than a decade ago. But today, I’m proud to announce that this spring I will honor him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A bit more about Jan Karski, who deserves to have his story told when for years it was not. Karski was a Polish Catholic who was sent early by anti-nazi underground forces to provide undercover information to the Polish government in exile (in Paris and London) and to other governments including the United States. He even provided early information to the allied forces early about the hidden extermination of the Jews in Poland and especially the dismantling of the Warsaw ghetto. Despite his reports which he filed at great person risk of his own life, people still did not believe that this could have been possible and delayed sending help to end the war. His story reveals that the world knew about the extermination of the Jews and either chose not to act or found it too overwhelming to believe that this could actually be happening.

From this interview:

When I brought my report to London, and I was twice in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and saw what happened to Jews in World War I, such a thing never happened in the entire history of the world. There were pogroms, the Inquisition, expulsions, mass murders (Genghis Khan, in Turkey against the Armenians), but never such a phenomenon in a civilized country like Germany where there was conceived a plan by the highest government authority to destroy an entire population. I had this feeling from Eden, and Lord Cranborne (Conservative Party) a dignified man, a very rich man and Lord Selbourne who was very anti-Nazi — what I was telling them I had the feeling that they were thinking that I had exaggerated, they thought that it was anti-Nazi propaganda, they couldn’t believe what was actually happening.

When I came to the United States in 1943, I had a meeting with a Justice of the Supreme Court, Frankfurter, who was a Jew, and he told me at a meeting at the Polish Embassy, “Do you know who I am? Yes. Do you know I am a Jew? Yes. Please tell me what is happening.” After 20 minutes I told him all I saw. He was interested only in what happened to Jews. After 20-25 minutes, a moment of silence, I remember every word — “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you, I want to be totally frank — I am unable to believe you.” My ambassador said, “Felix, you don’t mean it. You cannot say such a thing. You cannot call him a liar.” “I did not say he is lying. I am just unable to believe what he told me.” Then he reached out to shake my hand, but I couldn’t.

So, it was difficult to believe for those who were far away. Why, when I now hear, today, when people use the term Holocaust, in many cases I feel offended — “abortion is a Holocaust” or the Armenians suffered a Holocaust — all this is blasphemy, there is no comparison.

Wiesel said it the best, “All nations had victims, but all Jews were victims. ” The word Holocaust cannot be used by any nation. It means the destruction of Jews.

Which is exactly why one should never make comparisons to the Holocaust on any situation that is actually not like the Holocaust and why so many Jews are angry with Bishop Jenky this week. Rightfully so.

Regardless, President Obama is honoring Karski with the highest award given to a civilian. It is only disappointing that Mr. Karski is no longer living to receive it. He went on to work as a Professor at Georgetown for more than 35 years.

I guess President Obama is really anti-life and really, really hates Catholics. He hates us so much that he’ll give a Catholic an award for standing up against the extermination of an entire race of people.

A race of people that he did not even belong to.

Bristol Palin is Right

Because I’m king of fairness, as I like to say and people remind me when I’m not, Bristol Palin makes a good point over at her new blog at Patheos.

When President Obama called Sandra Fluke and said he’d lead by example in calling for respect for women, he might want to start with calling out the loathsome Bill Maher for his awful comments towards Sarah Palin.

Now I’m not a fan of Palin’s politics, but her daughter points out some obvious bigotry.

But here’s why I’m a little surprised my phone hasn’t rung. Your $1,000,000 donor Bill Maher has said reprehensible things about my family. He’s made fun of my brother because of his Down’s Syndrome. He’s said I was “f—-d so hard a baby fell out.” (In a classy move, he did this while his producers put up the cover of my book, which tells about the forgiveness and redemption I’ve found in God after my past – very public — mistakes.)

If Maher talked about Malia and Sasha that way, you’d return his dirty money and the Secret Service would probably have to restrain you. After all, I’ve always felt you understood my plight more than most because your mom was a teenager. That’s why you stood up for me when you were campaigning against Sen. McCain and my mom — you said vicious attacks on me should be off limits.

Maher donated a million dollars to President Obama’s Super Pac. Perhaps President Obama should in turn take that money and return it until Maher apologizes or how about taking at million and donating it to a charity for children with Down’s in the Palin family’s name. That would be a way he could in fact, lead by example.

Attacking Bishops From an Unlikely Source

Often people on the far Catholic Left have little use for Bishops on the Catholic right–which they would claim are most Bishops. While I’m not sure that’s true (perhaps popular Bishops would be more accurate?) Michael Sean Winters reports that Bishops often get more flack from the right-wing of the church.

From Distinctly Catholic

Now, we have two new examples of far-right attacks on the bishops. The first is an article in the American Spectator that calls out Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of the Guarnizo case and argues that the cardinal has been derelict in his duty. The author notes the stance of Cardinal Raymond Burke on the issue of denying communion, conveniently ignoring the fact that many conservative canonists agree that Guarnizo went too far. The author is clearly unaware of the role of a bishop in his own diocese when he writes: “Cardinal Burke has spoken; the case is closed.” Perhaps someone should inform the Pope that Cardinal Burke disapproves of the way he, and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, dealt with the issue of denying communion – they didn’t do it.
But, what truly shocked was this sentence: “I’ve heard Church insiders call the cardinal ‘Wuerl the girl,’ a reference to his precious personality.” What does this have to do with anything? Isn’t this just a slur cast at Cardinal Wuerl? Why publish such a thing?
The other example comes from a group calling itself Concerned Roman Catholics of America (CRCOA) although I think Crazed Roman Catholics of America might be more appropriate. They are calling for protests at the upcoming Catholic Religious Education Conference, annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They think the event is a hotbed of dissent and want all good Catholics and all good bishops to stay away. Here is their throwdown to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles: “”Why does L.A.’s new, reputedly orthodox Archbishop José Gomez bring back the same dangerous speakers whom his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony brought in year after year?

Even the like minded can’t seem to get along. As Charlie Brown might say: “We’re doomed.”

We Can’t Even Drink Together Anymore

Vitriol has become a contact sport in American politics. Friends who have enjoyed the verbal sparring between democrats and republicans are beginning to grow weary of the hateful and spiteful rhetoric that comes from both sides but clearly more from the right than the left. The left, not to be excused, seem to be too “above it all” to even consider that arguments from the right wing might actually have some merit.

In particular, the hatred of our President amongst republicans is very nasty. I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse than when we had rants from Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh as they referred to “Slick Willie” when they talked about President Clinton. But it has. It’s much worse. I think I’d need to take a shower after producing a right-wing political show these days. Some on the left, lump religion into a type of anti-intellectualism and the rights of the unborn into a “you’ve got to be kidding me” eye-rolling non-consideration these days.

In short, both sides are saying “It’s my way or the highway.”

And frankly, I’m sick of it.

A republican friend of mine, whom I greatly respect and who I love to spar with says that he looks forward to my respectful banter when we converse. In actuality, I suspect that we both lean a bit more to the center than to the extreme right or left. We’re pragmatists at our best. And over a beer we can get quite passionate about our beliefs and convictions, but at the end of the day, neither one of us leaves angry or bitter about the other. In fact, we usually embrace and perhaps even apologize if one has unintentionally or even, intentionally, hurt the other.

But today, it seems people not of a like mind can’t even drink together anymore.

And the church is not far behind Washington.

Michael O’Loughlin has this piece in America Magazine today and it smacks true to me:

Over the past couple of months—it is difficult to pinpoint a date—I have struggled immensely with my own identification as a Catholic. Sure, there are still the usual squabbles about Latin versus English, altar girls versus altar boys, whether bishops x or y are too political or out of touch. But something else is going on; this is deeper. There was that short flash of time several weeks ago when Catholics across the various spectrums seemed united: we did not want our religiously affiliated institutions compelled to break their consciences by providing coverage for contraception. But that wholeness went away nearly as quickly as it arrived, and in its wake we are left with a sort of bitter smugness from the Catholic right whose taste I haven’t been able to wash away.

Some on the Catholic right make it clear that any viewpoints that diverge from their own are not welcome in their church. Speaking or writing about ideas that may challenge church teaching, however gently, removes one from their faith. There is seemingly no mercy on the right. The Catholic left is ailing and will surely continue to diminish as my generation grows into adulthood; the environment is so toxic that progressives find other ways to live their faith, away from the institutional church. Some wish, rightly, that there be no divide between right and left, conservative and liberal, but this is not the church in which we find ourselves today. And often, those who clamor for an end to the divide too often toe the line that often animates Catholic ecumenism: adjust your beliefs, join our tribe, and all will be well.

To those whose lives fit snugly within the constructs the church accepts, this ultimatum might be easy enough to embrace. But in a society where those constructs echo back to a quaint time that never actually existed, where individuals have more choices, where decisions have become mind-bogglingly complex, where women and men can live full lives without the strictures of religious faith, it’s not that simple.

And it’s not that simple when we talk about the left either. While I’ll admit that I don’t like the new liturgical changes some have acted as if the Nazis themselves have come to take over the Sunday mass ritual. For some, anything that strikes them as pious or traditional is referred to as “outdated” or simply stupid. One friend told me that on Ash Wednesday he was asked to give out ashes and got quite a glare from a co-worker when he preferred the older line “Remember that you are dust” instead of the more genteel “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” I know I’ve been called too liberal by conservatives and too conservative by the liberals. An atheist student that I’ve become friends with calls me a “reasonable theist” and I think that’s a nicer comment than I receive from those within the boundaries of my own faith some days.

And I know I too, am at fault from time to time. And I appreciate when others call me on the carpet for when I’m too angry or shortsighted or unfair.

O’Loughlin’s article rings true to me that indeed we are looking at a church where it is harder and harder for us to get along. We’ve become more polarized and whenever we look for places to unite someone will come along and find a way to divide us. If you love the fact that Mary was obedient to God’s call some liberal will claim that she was a rebel, who lived as a single mother in challenging times and more importantly, chide you for not thinking that too. If you love what the Pope or Bishops have written about a Catholic stance on caring for the environment the more conservative person will come along and point to scripture and say humans have dominion over the earth and then call you a dolt for not “getting in line.” The Catholic position on the death penalty? We’ll be told about the sacredness of life and then get reminded of a loophole that barely exists in the rarest of circumstances. Nobody wants to budge an inch and finding wisdom in a way that compromises and honors one another has made way for rudeness and one-upmanship.

It all strikes me of “the need to be right” over and against any kind of moral integrity.

My image of God has become one of a sad grandparent, who looks at a family that they started and watched it grow but now, divisions have split the family into factions that no longer speak, not even at Christmas or Easter. It takes someone to die for people to notice the hardness of their hearts and even then they sit on opposite sides of the funeral parlor.

Perhaps this indeed is why we need lent? Maybe we all have something that prevents us from listening to even those we consider friends, nay brothers and sisters, never mind our enemies? Lent indeed calls us beyond the factions of polarization into a newness of life where we can indeed live with each other in disharmonious situations and despite the differences of opinions, we are still church together.

Both governing and theologizing means choosing one good over another good. It’s compromising at times to accept the goodness of another’s intention, despite what we think may be a wrong approach. It vows to not quit but rather commits to working through to the end no matter what happens and leads us to trust each other especially on matters of importance.

And moreover they deserve our respect. It reminds me of this moment of on the West Wing where Republican Ainsley Hayes (no relation, hah!) is being asked to join the White House council despite her party’s affiliation. Listen to what she is met with from members of her party:

Amen. May our divisions cease to divide further than they need to and may we be able to see the good in one another and not let our passions move us into dangerous factions too far to return back to a more polite time where we long to live together not in total harmony but to at least civil discourse.

And may our church preach that kind of discourse. Where we stop blaming and name calling both others outside of our church and each other as well.

And where we can once again, drink heartily while disagreeing and still shake each other’s hand at the end of the night.

Gibson: Can Any of Us Avoid Cooperating with Evil?

David Gibson has an interesting take on the HHS debate which is tough to argue with. It’s similar to what I’ve been struggling with when I’ve said things like “Aren’t we already cooperating with evil just by dealing with the healthcare companies in general?”

It seems, in general, it would be hard not to.

A snip from Gibson’s article:

Some critics of the administration’s “accommodation” for faith-based employers argue that the distance between a Catholic (or other religious) employer is deceptive on two counts.

One, they say that the organization’s health insurance company will simply pass on the cost of the contraceptive coverage to the religious institution in the form of higher premiums, so the institution will in effect be paying for contraceptive coverage. But studies show that providing coverage for birth control actually saves insurers money (pregnancies and abortions cost more than contraceptives) and it is at least revenue neutral. So there are no costs to pass on.

The second objection is that the faith-based institution will be sending its money to an insurance company that provides objectionable coverage, and so the religious group’s dollars will still be subsidizing a sinful practice.

One response is that health care premiums do not “belong” to the institution but are actually part of an employee’s compensation, like their paycheck. Just as an employer deducts withholding for taxes, it is sending the employee’s money to a health insurance company for coverage. An employer has no control or culpability if an employee buys condoms with either her paycheck or her insurance plan.

In addition, insurance works by pooling risk and premium dollars, and anyone who buys a policy from an insurance company is indirectly paying for the birth control — or chemotherapy or Viagra or heart bypass surgery — of other clients of that company, just as those clients indirectly pay for treatments you will need.

As Boudway put it: “It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to avoid remote material cooperation with evil in a complex modern economy.

So in essence, we’re screwed any way you look at it.

A second point, different from Gibson’s brought up by my friend Alex in conversation recently:

Should there be a new standard that you dont have to put your tax dollars into government spending that doesnt fit your belief system? (For example, the Iraq War) Should Quakers have to pay for military expenditures?

I’d go a step further. Should Catholics in states that have the death penalty be able to remove themselves from paying taxes? States that have poor environmental practices–do they deserve my tax money?

Once we have universal health care does the same principle apply?

The larger question here, of course, is a federal vs a state issue. Does the Federal Government have the right to tell us what we have to buy? We know that the state government has the right to tell you that you must buy car insurance for instance (or of course, face the consequence when you get in a three car pile up). The question now, which will go to the Supreme Court eventually is does the federal government have the same right. I believe their answer will be to say no.

Regardless, is this what the Bishops and the church at large is also concerned with? That’s doubtful. They more don’t want their employees to have to purchase something that goes against their moral principles.

But leads to bigger questions. Should I have to pay for war, the death penalty, policies that we know keep people in poverty? The list could be endless. What about companies that make it difficult for us to buy their products because of their practices (Now even, girl scout cookies are bad to buy because they endanger gorillas!).

Just as we have socially aware investing, we may have to go down the road of socially aware health care or moreover, socially aware politics. I’ve tried to do this at the supermarket, buy local, avoid some of the morally questionable food companies, buy organic, etc. It’s difficult and I don’t always succeed in avoiding cooperating with evil but I at best have minimized it to some point.

The question here is how do we best minimize our cooperation in this area?

Perhaps it’s time for a health care company to get some phone calls and see if someone somewhere wants all the business that Catholic entities want to offer them? Then it will be up to them to lobby the administration to let them do exactly that instead of them being forced to offer health care that includes contraception, etc.

This is not going to end well for anyone I fear and frankly, I’m tired of hearing and talking about it.