Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heretics Helping the Poor

Catholic charities have often struggled with the question of how much of the Catholic faith does one have to believe in order to be active in ministry. Should the answer be different for teaching and sacramental ministries than it is for caring and sharing ministries? Does it matter if you are pro-choice if you are delivering food hampers to poor families for St Vincent de Paul? There is a chance they will grow in their faith and become more orthodox as they see the faith in action. That is one theory. In many places it works the opposite way. The caring and sharing ministries become bastions of liberal theology. Pope Benedict has said this is a problem. We need to bring the fullness of truth to the poor and not just material help. Only that can affirm their human dignity in a deep enough way to produce a real change of heart.

What we are seeing now is the inverse if this. Secularists are demanding doctrinal purity of anyone involved in secular ministry. That is why Catholic charities are being denied the right to do adoptions or to get government money to help the poor. We don't subscribe to the secular doctrine of being pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. It turns out that they are more zealous about being secular than we are about being Catholic. So if you are not a member of the secularist faith then you cannot be involved in implementing any government programs.

That would be fair except for two things. One is they don't say pro-life and pro-traditional marriage people are immoral. If Obama would get on national TV and declare ex cathedra that the 54% of Americans that identify as pro-life are immoral people and therefore unfit for government service then that would make sense. We could debate and vote on such a notion. But they don't do that. It is easy to see why. Here is some of what he said about abortion at Notre Dame:
Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.
If you demand doctrinal purity among government agents you need to be able to say clearly what you are doing and why. Otherwise you might end up saying one thing and doing another.

The second issue I have is that it is not limited to government programs. Especially in health care it seems to include everyone regardless of whether they are taking government money or not. That amounts to the establishment of a state religion. I know they deny secularism is a religion but if it pushes out other religions that contradict it then what is the difference. Could the US become officially atheist and say it is OK under the non-establishment clause because atheism isn't a religion? How is secularism different? In many ways it is just repackaged atheism. So saying you have to be a secularist to run a hospital or to offer health insurance or to practice obstetrics that is state-sponsored religion. 

In the short term many of these things will benefit the church. Catholic institutions will need to ask whether they really care about their Catholicism. Many are already saying No. For example the Catholic adoption agency in Illinois re-created itself as a secular adoption agency and solved the problem. I think that is good for the church. Agencies that are bastions of liberal theology should probably just admit they don't believe in anything close to Catholicism. Some will go the other way and re-affirm their Catholic identity and rediscover what that means. I see that all as positive.

The other positive is that many Catholics will wake up and discover where secularism is going. It is out to destroy Christianity. Many Christians don't grasp that. The Catholic bishops understand that a lot better now than they did just a few years ago. As we go down this road the conflict will become harder and harder to ignore. This is good. The spiritual danger is not in fighting and losing. It is in not fighting.

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