FRONT ROYAL, VA — The Catholic Church in the United States is witnessing one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. So when the nation's Catholic bishops meet in Baltimore during the second week in November, they will have a lot to talk about.
Three years ago, the bishops rejected the establishment candidate of the liberal faction that had controlled the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) for over forty years. Instead, they elected as their president Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who promptly admitted that the bishops had ignored teaching the basic principles of Catholic morality for nearly half a century.
After they relegated Catholic morality to the dustbin in the 1960s, bishops focused on pursuing a "social justice" campaign designed to give moral approval to the Democrats' welfare state agenda.
As Thomas Sowell has observed, all too often "social justice" is just rhetorical cover for institutionalized envy.
The conference's radical approach, often traveling under the cover of the "spirit" of Vatican II, alienated many among the faithful. Some thirty million Catholics have left the Church completely, as Cardinal Dolan has often lamented.
However, this failure to teach the people in the pews eventually backfired. Today, it helps to account for the bishops' weak hand as they confront the greatest threats that the Church has faced since the abuse and cover-up scandals.
The Council ended in 1965 as the "sexual revolution" was getting under way. To address that cultural eruption, Pope Paul VI carefully articulated the beauty of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in 1968.
Just as [the bishops] were unable to discuss the morality of contraception in opposing the HHS Contraceptive Mandate, they were also unable to address the Church's teaching regarding the immorality of homosexual acts when seeking to persuade the public to oppose homosexual "marriage."
But America's bishops ignored Humanae Vitae. They adopted instead a stance of silence (Cardinal Dolan called it "laryngitis") when it came to teaching the Church's increasingly unpopular call to moral virtue.
Soon the Church could no longer rely on an educated laity when it confronted the forces of what Blessed John Paul the Great called "the Culture of Death."
The Culture of Death Opens Fire
Early in his conference presidency, Cardinal Dolan was confronted with two attacks at once.
The first was Obamacare's "Contraceptive Mandate."
Had they taught two generations of Catholics basic moral principles, the bishops might have been able to rely on timeless truths to rouse public opposition to Obama's Orwellian Ministry of Health. Without that moral language, however, opponents were forced to appeal to Caesar – specifically, the federal courts – articulating their opposition in legal arguments based on the First Amendment.
The second attack came from what Pope Francis has called the "gay lobby" and its campaign for the legalization of homosexual "marriage."
Here the bishops faced similar problems. Just as they were unable to discuss the morality of contraception in opposing the HHS Contraceptive Mandate, they were also unable to address the Church's teaching regarding the immorality of homosexual acts when seeking to persuade the public to oppose homosexual "marriage."
Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) receives 64% of its funding from government — $4,600,193,411 in 2011, according to its website.
It's been eighteen months since Cardinal Dolan publicly acknowledged the bishops' long-standing, deleterious detour. Has the conference heeded his warning?
Instead, the bishops have spent their energies advocating political issues on which good Catholics disagree.
Those receiving the highest priority from the conference's burgeoning bureaucracy are passing amnesty for illegal aliens and opposing any reduction in the rate of growth in federal welfare spending.
Once more, the bishops are dividing the faithful when they need to unite them.
That's bad enough. But they have also incurred serious collateral damage.
Render Unto Caesar Those Things That Are God's?
One of Washington's best-paid, most vilified professions is that of the lobbyist. Both parties routinely denounce the "fat cats" who roam Capitol Hill, passing out generous campaign contributions to sweeten the pot for passage of their pet projects. Thee legislative favors and bountiful earmarks can make millions for the lobbyist and many millions more for his clients.
Now, as the Rubble has reported for years, Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) receives 64% of its funding from government -- $4,600,193,411 in 2011, according to its website.
CCUSA hires registered lobbyists to lobby for that funding. In fact, Washington's homosexual newspaper, The Blade, gloats that CCUSA paid "Gay Lobbyist" Tom Sheridan "$476,750 between April 2010 and April 2011 for lobbying services and advocacy work related to the Catholic organization's anti-poverty projects."
At the time, ironically, the bishops were combatting the gay lobby's "marriage" initiatives throughout the country.
Of course, CCUSA cannot lobby congress with taxpayer funds, so it must rely on voluntary contributions from the faithful to fund lobbyists like Mr. Sheridan.
Fundraising is admittedly a necessity for nonprofits. But James Piereson, President of the Manhattan Institute who has extensive philanthropic experience, wonders whether religious groups like CCUSA that receive massive government funding can truly be called "independent":
The conference's partisan activism often puts good bishops in the awkward position of parading arm in arm with pro-abortion politicians at political rallies — some even held in Catholic churches.
These are reputable institutions, and many of the programs they sponsor are important. Nevertheless, in view of their dependence upon government funds, no one can seriously maintain that these groups are "independent." Instead, they form one of the more powerful lobbying forces in Washington for increasing government spending, especially spending on tax-exempt groups. (Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2013)
But CCUSA requests more than funding of only its own programs. As if to affirm Mr. Piereson's worst fears, the agency campaigns for increased federal welfare spending across the board. Moreover, as my friend "Diogenes" points out, CCUSA's lobbyists are in effect asking Congress and the IRS to do their fundraising for them:
Catholic Charities isn't asking for money from you and me; the nationwide group is asking – "demanding" would be a more accurate term – money from Congress. Ultimately that money would come from you and me, of course. But it would come in the form of taxation, not charity.
Call it "mandatory charity": much more dependable than the voluntary kind, apparently.
I wonder: would Aquinas think that we gain merit in Heaven for paying our taxes, as we do for voluntary acts of charity?
In Through the Eye of a Needle, his masterful work on wealth in late Roman Empire, Princeton historian Peter Brown describes how each significant gift to the Roman citizenry "was instantly repaid by the countergift of honor and acclaim" to the giver.
Has Catholic Charities unwittingly conceded to Caesar the "instant" gratitude, honor, acclaim, and affection of the welfare recipient?
Not only does Big Government get the credit for such munificence, it can also sport an invaluable Catholic imprimatur, even as its bureaucracies harass and persecute the Church.
Wait a minute. Are the bishops selling the priceless Catholic "brand" to Caesar in exchange for a few billion dollars a year? Is Cardinal Dolan's "laryngitis" part of the price they pay?
Well, there is more to this mess than money. The conference's partisan activism often puts good bishops in the awkward position of parading arm in arm with pro-abortion politicians at political rallies – some even held in Catholic churches.
Ironically, these politicians come from the same party that, the bishops' lawyers argue in court, is trying to destroy marriage, religious freedom, and Catholic institutions across America.
Meanwhile, the silence continues. And it is deadly.
After Baltimore, will the conference's new leadership respond to Cardinal Dolan's challenge and resuscitate the Church's vital moral teachings, even if that revival risks alienating Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other powerful Catholic Democrats?
That risk is serious: demonstrating such fortitude might well threaten the loss of the billions of dollars that Congress passes out to the bishops every year.
The prospect of losing federal financial support might just tip the scale and persuade the conference to continue to play it safe, advocating the welfare-state agenda of congressional liberals while using our contributions to pay lobbyists like Mr. Sheridan to get more government funding for Church "charities."
In that case, the "laryngitis" on the Church's moral teaching will continue.
From Under the Rubble archives
From Under the Rubble is copyright © 2013
by Christopher Manion.
All rights reserved.
Christopher Manion is Director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum. He served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College. This column is sponsored by the Bellarmine
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