The other day I went to an Ash Wednesday service at one of those big suburban mega-churches on my lunch hour. I've been to Mass at big churches and Cathedrals around the world but there is something a little odd about a church that looks like a Rocky Mountain Hunting Lodge. I understand that there is more to the church than the building and if I was a member of their parish I would probably feel differently. Especially because a woman led the service which is unprecedented in a Catholic church and frankly centuries overdue. Nonetheless, I think I'll stick to my little basement church with the school on top. Its not perfect but its home.
The same day I got an E-mail about a group of Catholics in Congress who released a Statement of Principles explaining the relationship between their faith and their public commitments. The basic premise is this:
"As Catholic Democrats in Congress we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition -- a tradition that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are most in need. As legislators, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose."
Their goal is to rescue political debate in the Catholic church from those who have tried to use it as a weapon to advance one issue and one issue only, abortion. It is interesting to note that this group is NOT pro-choice but rather includes people on all sides of the debate. The idea is to return to an emphasis on Catholic Social Teaching including economic justice, dignity of the human person, preferential option for the poor, stewardship of the land, and the promotion of peace. This statement came on the heals of a platform released by the Ohio Democratic Catholic Caucus called the 95-10 Initiative which would provide real, meaningful solutions to abortion including fully funding WIC, ensuring access to affordable prenatal health care for ALL woman, increasing domestic violence funding and prohibiting insurance companies from labeling pregnancy as a pre-existing condition.
Not surprisingly the confederacy of dunces are out in force. Shortly after the statement was released, Tom McKlusky of the Family Research Council attempted to shift the debate back to abortion by stating that,
"What is at the core of being Catholic is the life issue, and that's something the pope has never strayed from," he said. "While other issues are important -- such as helping the poor, the death penalty, views on war -- these are things that aren't tenets of the Catholic Church".
This is a gross miscarachterization of Catholic principles and is in direct conflict with Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten Message which reflects on our responsibility towards the poor. It is this responsibility that leaders in our government and those claiming to represent "Christian" faithful have summarily abandoned.
One particularly interesting aspect of this debate is raised by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne who contrasts the difference between the way John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith was perceived as he ran for President in 1960 with that of 2004 Presidential candidate John F. Kerry. President Kennedy made very public statements regarding the separation of church and state and iterated clearly that "no Catholic prelate would tell the President how to act." In 2004, several bishops forbid Catholics from voting for Senator Kerry because of his political views. In Senator Kerry's case the opposition was due solely to his belief that federal policy should ensure that abortions are safe, legal and rare.
It seems that discourse within the Catholic faith has been hijacked by those who are unable to see beyond one issue and have lost site of the common good for ALL. The unfortunate effect of this narrow focus is that we have lost site of true Catholic social teaching. This is not only detrimental to our country but contrary to the development of faith.
This Lent we focus on the Gospel of Luke, who underscores the compassion Jesus showed for the sick, the poor, and those on the margins of society. His is the only gospel to include the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Perhaps people of faith, both in and out of politics, can take a lesson from Luke and move toward a truly compassionate government.
Here ends the lesson. Now back to your regularly scheduled silliness.