The National Catholic Review
Vincent J. Miller
A call to preach the fullness of Catholic doctrine
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As the bishops meet in Baltimore this week, the political climate and economic crisis demand they consider the effectiveness of their teaching the full range of Catholic social doctrine.

Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching. This has consequences for both American public life and for the church.

Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.

These Catholic teachings are under fire: Glen Beck warns millions of faithful listeners to run from any church that preaches social justice. Anti-immigrant extremists like Sherriff Joseph Arpaio are folk heroes (a textbook case of the Catholic definition of causing “scandal”). Tea Party denunciations of socialism and tyranny form public opinion on the legitimacy and scope of government. A new Republican majority in the house, led by a Catholic Speaker, plans to respond to the economic crisis by extending tax cuts for the rich and defunding health care reform—which means those portions that subsidize insurance for the working poor. These profound rejections of Catholic teaching and corrosion of the common good demand an effective episcopal response, yet too often, no response at all is given.

Two recent church statements are striking by their juxtaposition. On Nov. 3, Pope Benedict called for a committed mobilization of the laity “to study, spread and carry out the social doctrine of the Church” so that they may dedicate “themselves to the common good, especially in the more complex realms such as the world of politics.” On Nov. 8, panelists from the U.S.C.C.B. announced that that the Bishops policy agenda was “unchanged” by the election results.

The panel comments display the U.S.C.C.B.’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the partisan complexity of the American political context. The comments of John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, are exemplary. “Nobody talked about [the poor and vulnerable]—Democrat or Republican.” Carr’s perennial “pox on both of your houses” rings a bit false after the massive conservative media machine and Tea Party serving Republican candidates have been howling “socialism” against any government attempt to serve the common good for the past 18 months. It is not the Democratic Party that is demonizing those who support programs for the poor. Taking an “even-handed” tone is possible only if the U.S.C.C.B. washes its hands of what has actually happened.

And it has happened with their cooperation. Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.

Yet precious few bishops are willing to be as forceful on the rest of the church’s social doctrine. Callous lack of concern for the poor and unemployed; dismissals of the positive role of government in serving the common good; inflammatory scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, or the poor—none of these elicit a high-profile ecclesial challenge. Yes, of course the U.S.C.C.B. secretariats issue press releases and testify before congress on a broad range of issues. Bishops and staff repeat the mantra that the church’s teaching does not conform to either party. But, absent a serious media strategy to have them be heard, these have almost no effect on public life or the faith of Catholics. The bishops are unwilling to directly confront policies and Catholic partisans who dissent on other points of social teaching.

The reality is that these aspects of Catholic teaching have been systematically sidelined by neoconservatives seeking to subordinate the church to their own program and by a mainstream media all too willing to accept conservative framing of religion. To break through this frame, to teach the Catholic fullness of the faith with effect, the bishops must be willing to be forthright and specific in their defense of all Catholic social doctrines. Names and policies should be named here as well.

Problematically, the bishops have been painted into a corner through a reductionist use of the category of “intrinsic evil,” which is applied not to the full range of intrinsic evils, but only to abortion, embryonic cell research and same sex marriage—issues of profoundly different levels of moral gravity. On these matters they do not hesitate to wade fully into the weeds of policy language, no matter how hypothetical the connection. Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.

The bishops need not reduce abortion to one issue among many in order to subject other policies to scrutiny. Putting Catholic social teaching into practice is enormously complex. It demands both teaching and exhortation from the bishops and the hard work of lay experts and politicians. This is precisely the sort of grand “service to the truth which sets us free” that Benedict outlined as the church’s social mission in Caritas in Veritate. Truth demands attention to the dignity of the human person. It also demands honest and careful constructive policies to serve the common good in a time of crisis. The latter has withered under episcopal neglect.

Much more than politics is at stake. The bishops are failing to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith to the church as well. Both the 2007 Barna study and Robert Putnam and David Campbell's recently released American Grace find that young people who have come of age in the past two decades identify Christianity with the conservative side of the culture war and nothing more. A minority finds this appealing. The rest do not. This is one of the reasons that they are walking away from the church in numbers that exceed the declines of the sixties and seventies.

Our failure to communicate the fullness of the Catholic faith to this generation deprives many of the church heritage that resonates with their deepest moral and political convictions. It also deprives them of the reasons to stay that could help them cross the bridge to other teachings they find more difficult. It deprives those who do stay of full demands of the Catholic faith.

The U.S. bishops are failing in their duty to teach the fullness of Catholic doctrine. Some attribute this to their ideological commitments, others to the difficulty of speaking effectively in the current media climate. Whatever the motivation, in a year when Sister Carol Keenan is singled out for censure and the torrent of toxic anti-government rhetoric receives no response, the perceived message is all too clear. The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine.

Vincent J. Miller is Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton.

Comments

bob sauerbrey | 12/9/2010 - 11:21am
The narrow focus of much official Catholic teaching has played into the hands of those who justify their exploitation of the people and of the Earth for their own aggrandizement.  Catholic youth, whom I've taught for more than 40 years, have a strong moral and ethical sense, which ignores some of the nonsense that has passed for morality, such as  the proliferation of intrinsically evil, usually sexual, acts-the logical conclusions of some of the teachings under the umbrella of 'natural law' would make masturbation less evil that rape.  That kind of silliness will not fly in any thinking world.  

I applaud the efforts of the USCCB to broaden the scope of teaching Catholic doctrine, but I sincerely doubt its courage to do so in the present political climate in the Church and in the country. 
JOSEPH SANNINO | 11/18/2010 - 9:16pm

I hope for more from our bishops but they are called to administration whch is dominately left brain. Compassioin, empathy, living in others shoes and feeling the pain is not a left brain activity. I can't expect from these men any body response of compassion  for the poor or for anyone.  They are called to administrate.  Teaching is a secondary activity which most times must be ordered to administration. They came to theology moved by a inner call but after five years the mindset of maintaining the institution is perfectly clear.
We can call to them as brothers to say something significant but once the vocabulary starts rolling, the majority get lost into left minded game playing. The eyes of Jesus, the heart of Jesus,no longer holds sway. It is very hard for them to cry.
But also follow through is very hard because administering an institution keeps one consumed. The celibate administrator is consumed with the instution but singing out loud to Jesus is very hard to do.  So we do not hear the rest of the story of Jesus for the rest of ourlives. So sad.

Chris NUNEZ | 11/18/2010 - 8:04pm
JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...today's release of the Pew Research on Marriage points out that people with relatively secure incomes are marrying, while those with lower 'income' (and likely few prospects) are choosing not to marry.

If our bishops were serious about families and marriage, they would have paid more attention to the economy and what was happening to those on the lower rungs of the econonomic ladder, rather than finding scapegoats to blame. Long before the housing meltdown, it was pretty clear to anyone who had to work or look for work in the economy of the past decade (or two) that we were headed for a great fall.

But attention to the situation is not the exclusive domain of our bishops. We, the laity, are also responsible for speaking out on these issues, both to our legislators, and to our pastors, and our bishops.
Helena Loflin | 11/18/2010 - 12:54pm
Two words: Republican bishops.
DR DAVID OBRIEN | 11/18/2010 - 10:44am
I have just read this excellent appeal, after the Bishops meeting. The bishops, on our behalf, have taken strong stands on important issues of life, justice and peace, but the y ?h?a?v?????e? ?n?e?v?e?r? ?f?o???????u????????????n?d? ?a?n? ?a?p?p?r?o?p?r?i?a?t?e? ?p?a?s?t?o?r?a?l? ?s?t?r?a?t?e?g?y? ?f?o?r? ????????????????????????????u?n????????i?????????t?i?n?g? ?t?h?e? ?c?o?m?m?u?n?i?t?y?
??b?e?h?ind? the prinmciples that support those positions. ??Unfortunately they have stumbled into poliitcal positions that assist one party's most conservative wing, divide the Church, alienate many younger Catholics, and damage the basic pastoral min?istries for which they are directly responsible.?  All of us have to help them do better.?
E.Patrick Mosman | 11/18/2010 - 10:27am
Mr. Miller's attempt to smear Sheriff Joseph Arpaio as "Anti-immigrant extremists like Sherriff(N.B. the misspelling) Joseph Arpaio are folk heroes a textbook case of the Catholic definition of causing “scandal." is a deliberate and futile attempt to smear Sheriff Joseph Arpaio as the Sheriff is anti illegal immigrants and making every effort to enforce the laws of the United States which Mr.Miller's beloved Federal government has in the past and continues to ignore. However by bringing up the subject of scandal Mr. Miller is issuing a waking call for the US  bishops to openly and publicly warn all Catholic politicians that calling attention to their Catholic faith and in the same breath voicing support for abortion rights, euthanasia. gay marriage, et al., a public act of scandal, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6), is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to people in their position. It reads: “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals....”  Will the Bishops' act on the Mr. Miller's calling attention to those actually committing the sin of scandal?

Richard Briggs | 11/18/2010 - 9:11am

God calls us to aid the poor, the ill, the disadvantaged, prisoners,  and those in need.  We are NOT called to compel some one else to do what we should do ourselves.  Government compels. Therefore government largesse  is never caritat nor agape.

THE CHRISTOFFERSONS | 11/17/2010 - 10:14pm
     Excellent article.  Clear and direct assessment of the deficiencies of the USCCB political focus on life issues.
     The comments are also an interesting read.  We are a diverse People of God.
E.Patrick Mosman | 11/17/2010 - 8:23pm
The Memo to the Bishops contains "Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church's teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good;" which certainly not in keeping with Jesus Christ's teaching of who is responsible for dispensing charity.
'For you will have the poor always with you" Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted.
Jesus's words "I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me drink; naked and you clothed me; ill and in prison, and you visited me.   Whatever you did for these least ones, you did for me,"
was directed to each and very individual not to any civil government or at the time the religious leaders of the Temple.
How did our Church leaders manage to subvert the teachings of our Lord on individual responsibility for "government is necessary to serve the common good?"
Jesus Christ refused to negotiate with evil, the devil, three times and yet our Bishops, never really grasped the full extent of the absolute loss of Catholic moral teachings, on abortion, contraception, rationed care for the new born and the elderly, now called by Paul Krugman by its real name, death panels, resulting in euthanasia and no more conscience opt-out which were imbedded in and now are the law of the land.
The Bishops demand for a social program of government funded universal medical care made it possible for the one who paid the piper to call the tune. Now the government controls health care from conception to death.
There are many more Catholic moral beliefs, anti-Jesus teachings that have been ignored in Obamacare that the Bishops are remiss and derelict in their duties to uphold the Faith if they do not call for the repeal of this Obama abomination. 

Regarding the old canard about "regressive tax cuts for the wealthy'" the fact is only the wealthy pay income taxes,ie,the top 1% of income earners pay 39% of all federal income taxes, the top 25% of income earners pay 86% and the top 50% pay 97% of all federal income taxes. That means that the lowest 50% of income earners pay only 3% of federal income tax revenues while most actually receive checks from the government, welfare payments disguised as earned income tax credits, children's tax credits as well as a packages of federally funded programs for the poor too many to list here.
Instead of demanding bigger government involvement
The Bishops should be very concerned about the following;
-plans being put forward to eliminate the tax deduction for charitable contributions which would have a devastating effect on the financial well being of an already strapped Church.
-plans to control the teaching curriculum and diversity of what is taught through government accreditation of all higher education colleges and universities both public and private.
In every Communist country the first to fall was religion, followed by education. It appears that our Bishops need a history lesson and a detailed study of Obama's past.
The Bishops are headed for leading a Church which is subservient to the government as they meekly accept the idea "that government is necessary to serve the common good" even as it repudiates Catholic moral teachings.
KEN CHAISON | 11/17/2010 - 5:39pm
Re: "The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine."

Perhaps that is true, but it is too late to hear it from the bishops.  They have lost credibility.  Money is tight.  Churches are closing.  Aging priests are retiring.

There is an old saying, "If you build it, they will come."  Well, the opposite is true as well.... If you close it, they will leave.  As the wave of church closures rolls on, it will be difficult to sustain the institutional church in the U.S. as time passes.  It may take another generation, but these men are presiding over the beginning of the end.  It is their fault and history will record it as such.

Future generations, generation X and generation Y, either do not connect well with institutions or completely distrust them. When it comes to the Institutional Catholic Church, who can blame them?  The abuse scandal still rolls on, throughout the world, with reports of male and female clergy abusing children.  The bishops, most of them not held accountable for their actions, have been enablers of the abusers and continue to withhold information from the authorities and the people to protect themselves and the abusers.  And, as reported elsewhere recently, as many as 30 percent of Catholic priests around the world may be secretly having intimate relationships with women.

The photos in the NY Times today show Bishop Dolan and the others having a good time, congratulating each other and smiling broadly over his appointment - they appear as giddy as little school girls.  But while many of them live in palatial homes and prance around in expensive robes, their people are hurting.

In earlier times, bishops stayed in the diocese in which they were appointed to serve the people that they knew and who knew them.  But now we have ambitious bishops, going from job to job, all the while, climbing the coveted hierarchical ladder to Cardinal and willing to do most anything to get there.  They are willing to excommunicate individuals or groups of people instead of leading, teaching or ministering to them.  They are willing to publically admonish and deny communion to some people to show via the press that they are hard-line and willing to follow every edict from Rome.

We hear much from the bishops over and over again about the church's position on abortion and gay marriage, but little else.  They even lobbied against the health care bill in the U.S., because there might have been a hint of a possibility that a woman could have gotten an abortion under the health care law, even though hundreds of thousands of people (many Catholic) would have been helped by the law.  It has also been reported elsewhere that there are many gay priests.

We now know, for a fact, that the bishops ordained many pedophiles over the decades, so whatever the priest selection process, it is flawed.  By extention, the selection of bishops is flawed as well.  The question will probably forever remain unanswered about how many bishops have been abusive now, or in the past.  Their selections will forever be suspect until the process is transparent and until the laity has some input as the laity did in the early church.  This is so obvious that it is hard to believe that, with all their intelligence, the Pope and the bishops do not see it.  There is probably no thinking parent on earth that would now leave a child alone in the company of a priest or a bishop.  Trust is gone.

Regardless of one's stand on church issues, everyone can easily see that hundreds of years of the institutional church's version of the "good old boy" network has ultimately brought scandal and is leading to financial ruin.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result.  It is past time for a major change in the institutional church.  Without change, insanity will be forever embodied in the Catholic Church.
JOHN MESSINA | 11/17/2010 - 2:04pm
This is exactly why I cancelled my subscription to America.  This essay is so blatantly partisan-liberal is good, conservative is bad-that I could not stomach anything beyond the fourth paragraph.
Tom Gotschall | 11/17/2010 - 12:46pm

I suppose the first and last lines are OK.  As for the rest of it...

1   How could Mr. Miller believe that all Catholics and all American Citizens KNOW the Church's position on abortion and marriage when Catholics are aborting, sterilizing and divorcing in numbers similar to society in general?

2   I suggest that MORE THAN A FEW know and recognize that the Church recognizes and welcomes organized government and the order to society and economic safety net that government can and does perform.  What's curious to me is how much Mr. Miller wants to quash subsidiarity's suggested limitations on the higher forms of civil authority.  I'm wondering if he's at all concerned about the breath-taking over spending of the Federal Government over the last many years.  By the way, almost nobody knows what subsidiarity means...

3   Regarding social justice and Glen Beck; he's primarily referring to the wing of the social justice movement that promotes a politics of envy. We don't need to promote hate on any level (I'm too often guilty).

4   I'm stunned at Mr. Miller's accusations of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Here are Sheriff Arpaio's own words, "We are and always have been a generous country. By and large, we take care of people in need of medical care, education and a whole host of social services.  Few other nations are so generous to their non-citizens."  His actions to try to enforce ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION laws are being misrepresented as "extremist, anti-immigrant."  The Church teaches that people should reasonably be able to migrate from one place to another and that a state may protect its borders. We need better immigration laws to be sure.  But to suggest that Sheriff Arpaio is in a state of mortal sin (by "causing scandal")???  It's a cheap shot at best; the word "calumny" comes to mind.

5   What would Mr. Miller suggest that Speaker-designate Boehner do to control the run-a-way spending and promises of the last congresses?  We cannot afford it..even if we were to confiscate all the wealth of all the rich.

6   It's appalling that Mr. Miller would refer to absolutely non-negotiable issues of abortion, embryonic cell research and same sex marriage as issues of "profoundly different levels of moral gravity"! They are slightly differing issues but he is profoundly wrong.

I have time for only one more;

7  Does Mr. Miller suggest that Sister Carol Keenan should not have been singled out for censure?

God bless you.

JOHN NICHOLAS | 11/16/2010 - 7:28pm

I applaud this article and its aims but I wish you would add that the bishops need to be reminded that resolving the sex abuse crisis in the church has a high priority in the hearts of the faithful. I suggest the bishops expend greater effort to "confront policies and politicians (within their own ranks) at odds with the teaching of the Church" with regard to clerical sex abuse in the church and its victims.

C Walter Mattingly | 11/16/2010 - 5:30pm

The first issue for the bishops in particular and the catholic community in general to decide is precisely what constitutes effective aid for those needy requiring assistance. It is easy to toss money at a problem that results in making the problem worse. For example, America recently praised in its pages the originally much-vilified article by Pat Moynihan which issued a devastating criticism of the enormously expensive but largely failed attempt of President Johnson's great society, which chronicled how these programs led to broad destruction of the family in needy segments of the US. Do we wish to toss more money at the public school systems, or do we think vouchers and choice would be more effective? Do we wish to develop more dependency among the inner city communities by prescribing medical benefits from a remote bureaucracy, or do we want to involve patients in their own medical care by incorporating HSA's in their medical plans, with incentives to maintain a healthy lifestyle? In short, do we offer help in such a way as to develop self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-confidence in an adequate individual, or do we make them dependent again on the dole of welfare, repeating the same mistakes as Monihan excoriated in his assessment of the Great Society's failures?
What the Jesuits have done at Cristo Rey High School in New York is a blueprint for creative and practical actions for families in the solutions for their childrens' educational problems, resulting in a cost-effective, successful learning experience for the neighborhood children.

MARY ZIEGLER | 11/16/2010 - 3:50pm
Thank you to America and Vincent Miller for calling our bishops and all Catholics to live in and preach the fullness of Catholic social justice teaching,of Catholic doctrine, and of the Gospel.
Miguel Basilio | 11/16/2010 - 2:20pm
The whole point, I believe, in Prof. Miller's article is the failure of the American bishops to exercise their office as "teachers" and, if I may add, their "prophetic" office as well on Catholis Social Teaching. Have they not, to paraphrase what an American Cardinal has haughtily said recently, created the dangerous precedent of a parallel magisterium to the Popes and Vatican II? It's time for them to go out of their princely "palaces" and live among the poor!
Gerald Connolly | 11/16/2010 - 1:06pm
Having read this very necessary and thought provoking article and all of the very astute and intelligent comments, I wonder about only one thing. It is the one thing that we all should concern ourselves with as the future of our Catholicism lies in the balance! How would Christ have handled these issues?
Jeff Landry | 11/16/2010 - 12:47pm
"On these matters they do not hesitate to wade fully into the weeds of policy language, no matter how hypothetical the connection. Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored."

- Because the latter are matters of prudential concern.  This is clearly Church teaching.  Not all moral problems are equivalent, and even the framing of the issues reveals an inherently political bias in this author's argument.  Ergo "shifting the tax burden to the mddile class...dismantling government domestic policy"...I mean this is veiled Democratic politics!  The unjust taking of human life is not nearly on par with whether or not the US can sustain the current levels of federal spending as a percentage of GDP.  And perhaps most politicians aren't talking about some of these items because voters themsevles are worried about bigger things.  It would seem Mr. Miller & some Catholics on here have their collective head in teh sand when it comes to federal spending!  So in the meantime they urge the Bishops to keep re-arranging the deck chairs on the (Federal) Titanic.

I re-urge my earlier point: you're throwing brickabats at the wrong group!  Go after the politicians that have cowered behind the "social justice" agenda while voting for anti-life measures.  If you remove the abortion issue, there will no longer be a cover.  But you instead of trying to "move" the politicians, you'd rather throw the Bishops under the bus!
Alina Sedlander | 11/16/2010 - 12:22pm

The obsession with "sexual" sins and abortion given more prominence than any other sin seems hypocrital considering the abomination of sexual abuse perpretrated by priests and covered up by the hierarchy of the Church.  Pro-life narrowly defined as anti-abortion is not cogent with Jesus's teachings.  Abortions and homosexuality have been part of the human condition through the ages yet what did Jesus say would get us to be with him in heaven?  "Whatsover you do for the least of your brethen..." So should we be anti-abortion if we are pro-life? Of course, but to make it THE ONE and only issue and sin has no foundation in the Gospel. 
Let's look at sexual abuse and the pervasive, profound and destructive effect in people's life.  As a therapist I have seen that it is a spiritual and psychological cancer.  Let's talk of that and have the Church hierarchy atone, discuss and pray for forgiveness.

Eamon Aylward | 11/16/2010 - 11:15am
Reading your excellent article through non-american eyes,it strikes me that the issues you raise are issues for the whole Church and that they need to be addressed if the Good News of the Gospel is to be faithfully proclaimed throughout the whole world.
Jack Barry | 11/16/2010 - 10:32am
An underlying assumption throughout Vincent Miller's outline and most comments is that the Bishops believe the fulness of doctrine but are merely neglectful in not speaking out.  An equally plausible explanation for the observed situation is that, in fact, many Bishops do not hold all those beliefs.  They don't fight for what they don't believe.  Closer examination is required to clarify who believes what in the leadership.  Results might help explain the problem Miller identifies.   
Bruce Morrill | 11/16/2010 - 9:45am
To my mind, the basic issue that Vince Miller raises is leadership, leadership in the now pervasive telecommunications and new social media - the terrain of the national, public arena. Bishops conferences were a timely product of the Second Vatican Council, a council seeking to advance the church's mission in the modern world. One could elicit papal and other church documents on communications, the new evangelization, etc., to support the point that powerful social bodies, such as the USCCB, exercise significant influence on citizenry and officials (organs of government) through their public statements and communication strategies.Thus, I find comments about what people hear and experience in parishes to miss the mark when it comes to the matter of public leadership by the U.S. Catholic bishops that Miller is raising.

The call, which I endorse, is for the bishops to weigh in forcefully on the very issues that citizenry and candidates (now elected and heading to office) articulated as needing to be addressed: the tax system, immigration, etc. To dismiss those issues as subject to prudential judgement is to reject a major portion of the official church's stated mission (by papal leadership and ecumenical council). It is also merely to follow the sort of simplistic, single-issue politics that feed right into the hands of sound-bite and sensationalist media practices.

I am by no means denigrating or dismissing local-level work in parishes - including by such generous local servant-leaders as deacons (whose posts here have consoled me). However, the fact remains that ours is a society in which mass media produce stars and power figures whose influence affects people in all locales and on all levels - indeed, for better or worse. I join Miller's call for our bishops to adjust their agenda so as to provide much needed leadership to a nation in social decline (on *all* life-issues) and a church that is hemorrhaging membership.
John Sniegocki | 11/16/2010 - 8:43am

Thanks to America for publishing this important article! What the author says is unfortunately very true. As someone who teaches Catholic moral theology, I have had many, many students tell me, upon learning about Catholic Social Teaching, that they would still be Catholic if their parishes had actually taught and tried to live these principles. These students feel a deep sense of betrayal that only selected parts of the tradition were emphasized to them. Students hunger for the fullness of the Gospel/CST vision. including the Church's deep critique of modern war, its critique of economic inequality, its concern for the preservation of our endangered planet, its concern for immigrants, etc., along with its critique of abortion (which, it should be pointed out, these students generally affirm.) The Catholic Church is in danger of losing many of the most ethically sensitive members of a new generation due to its perceived failure to share and live out the fullness of its message. This is something that all Catholics, especially bishops, should be deeply concerned about and attentive to.

Bill Mazzella | 11/16/2010 - 7:32am
One has to admire America Magazine for showing maintaining its prophetic voice in the midst of a hierarchy which is still into Empire and rather than follow the moral imperatives of their own conscience are virtually Vatican choir boys. They have become the Scribes and Pharisees who are more into power than service. More into taking the top seat of privilege over the bottom seat of service and humility. They have hoodwinked many Catholics to play power politics while they ignore service. The loudest voice we hear from them is the annual Cardinal's Appeal which stresses money too much of which is used for power lobbying.
ARTHUR CHAGNON | 11/15/2010 - 10:21pm
If the bishops are failing to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith to Catholics, is there much hope of them getting Catholic social teaching translated into political action? Perhaps a foundational issue here is: are the bishops living the Gospel as Jesus lived it, with the emphasis on "live" not "preach"? The Jesus story as told by the evangelists was one of inclusivity. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church as well as some other religions have put up many exclusionary barriers and limits on the formation of a community of sinners whose members are to love and nourish each other.This hardly represents the  God who seeks us even now as He/She did when seeking out and calling Adam from hiding, and as HE/She did on the Cross, giving to all of us, without exception, a new creation.
 If nothing else, politicians can easily sniff out hypocrites;to be credible the truth must be lived out in consistant fashion, not just preached, especially when the truth is a "hard sell". For instance, to preach against the death penalty and at the same time to take true Life away from a member  of the community by excommunication seems inconsistent and blatantly contrary to the Gospel story. Jesus never distanced Himself from sinners, even at the final meal as He dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas.
 Perhaps more attention should be given to a Vatican II principle from Lumen Gentium 8: "The church-clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal". this may be hard to do if you see yourself more the perfect society with all the right answers than a pilgimage of sinners with the need to lift one another up in love.
Michael Barberi | 11/15/2010 - 9:55pm
Bravo. Finally an article demanding accountability in teaching the full truth about doctrine. I wrote an article for America recently on the contradiction in Church teaching on Humane Vitae (birth control). Unless, someone surprises me, this article went into the circular file despite its respectful tone.  While birth control is old-hat to most Catholic, consider the following that speaks volumes on the teaching subject.

1. Contraceptin is intrinsicall evil, but you never hear about sin and confession from the pulpit or in Church bulletins, much less about sacrilege.
2. Priests continue to counsel about conscience regarding the method of birth control, yet you will never hear this subject in any pre-Cana communications materials or in other forms of communications.
3. Silent dissent among many priests, bishops and theologians regarding contraceptin are significant today, yet John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) dismissed it and the Vatican did nothing for 40 yeas to correct it, except by soft condemnation which had no effect.
4. The Vatican has never defined with claiity if Humanae Vitae is an infallible doctrine, a non-infallible but definitve doctrine or simply non-infallible. Depending on the outcome, this demands certain degree of affirmation among priests and bishops and the laity, but the Vatican ignores it.

Why is anyone surprised that our Bishops say one thing and do another on other important Church teachings?  This is precisely one of the significant problems the Catholic Church faces, its own self-imposed cancer.  If I recall about 2000 years ago someone went to his death because he wanted everyone to know and live the truth, and by his death and faith in his gospel humanity was saved from eternal damnation. His disciples displayed similar love and courage. Where is such love and courage today?
JEAN HIESBERGER | 11/15/2010 - 9:05pm
As a religious educator, I think we need a renewed and major catechetical emphasis from "top" to "bottom" young and old on the "social doctrine of our Church" (to quote Pope Benedict.)  Obviously the fullness of our Catholic faith is in great need of being activated by knowledge, commitment and action at all levels. 
Richard Gies | 11/15/2010 - 8:51pm
I originally subscribed to America because I thought it was a publication that provided a balanced perspective on Catholic issues.  I now see it as liberal as many so-called Catholic Universities that continually try to question the judgement of the Catholic Church and its leaders in the name of academic freedom. 
I have been to many Catholic Churches and the message has always been clear about what is morally correct.  It seems that not a Sunday goes by that there is not a comment from the pulpit, prayers offered to prevent injustices, or collection for the poor and needy. Volunteer ministries address these as well.  The Bishops, our spirtual leaders, are pivotal in communicating to parishes.  They are truly holy men deserving of our respect and attention.
We are faithful because we believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church, which is infalliable in faith and morals.  The Bishops and priests emphasize the evil of abortion because it is the taking of an innocent human life.  We all recognize that there are social injustices that need to be addressed but to equate the taking of an innocent human life to any of them is just a rationalization for trying to justify abortion.  In our hearts and consciences, we all know it is the greatest injustice.
Edwin Eckel | 11/15/2010 - 8:48pm
From my sparse reading of some history in the past 125 years, the Church and its leaders have never really been positive actors and leaders for social justice.  The work of Dorothy Day was taken up and continued by a few individuals but not the leadership of any organization and certainly not by her Mother Church.  Martin Luther King ~ wrong color or wrong faith? ~ called for a catholic christianity, one of small actions to love one's neighbor.  Everyone got his picture taken with Mother Theresa; checks were written, collections requested, exhortations to "do unto others..." were made but few of those same speakers and opportunists actually joined in the work.      

Seems the time for a new way of thinking about Christianity is here, one of action and not words.  Did Jesus only speak about the the way of the Good Samaritan or did he actually eat and work with the poor, the sick, the criminal class?

Will it be counted as a sin to wait on the bishops and those above them to do what they haven't for the past 125 years?  
RICHARD STENBERG | 11/15/2010 - 8:14pm
As a visitor from St. Vincent de Paul to needy persons, we do not ask if a person is Catholic, Republican, Democrat or other.  We just try to help the person in need.  I have seen many men, women and children in need and have also witnessed social
injustice.  I do hear media reporting on catholic opposition to abortion but I have never heard Bishops speak out about the thousands of Iraqi men who were killed unjustly, the minority prisoners and poor who can not afford to pay high priced lawyers, and the immigrants who are denied equal justice in the United States.  The Bishops do not have to state a political party to defend social justice.  Yes, they can not take a political position but they can state what is right and wrong.

Paul Bradford | 11/15/2010 - 7:59pm
"Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching. This has consequences for both American public life and for the church."  This is completely true.  I was recently posting responses on a liberal website that featured an article that highlighted the connection between opposition to abortion, opposition to gun control, and support for the death penalty.  I find a lot of adversaries at that 'site because of my opposition to abortion (which they link to my Catholicism) but my support of gun control and opposition to the death penalty struck them as false.  Instead of being considered a good Catholic, I was considered a wishy washy conservative.
Mike Evans | 11/15/2010 - 7:30pm
The continuing silence of our bishops is discouraging. They do not even wish to bring up the question of Catholic social teachings in their meetings. A few individuals have made some public statements but the power of a united voice is missing. Those few who do make prophetic statements are most often left to slowly twist in the wind by their fellow clergy and become the prized targets of the disinformation and hate groups so opposed to any decent societal measures to alleviate suffering. Our church leadership, by their unwillingness to engage in the evaluation and discussion of these issues have now made themselves irrelevant on almost all issues.
sabine atwell | 11/15/2010 - 7:04pm
I joined the Catholic Church about a year ago precisely because I admire the social teachings that are part of its tradition. I see this in my parrish and with most of the priests that I know and deal with. I hardly ever hear  them talk in our rather liberal and tolerant community here in the desert about the obsession with abortion and gay marriage.
It appears the same cannot be said for the leadership of the church. When do they ever speak out against our useless and seemingly endless wars that kill millions of innocents both Americans and Middle Easterners or about the millions who are incarcerated for relatively minor offenses and mostly are people of color?

Get with it Church leaders? Most people want you out of their bedrooms and in other rooms where these issues are discussed that affect millions. You have been too silent on these issues for a long time. I pray that this will change.
Jeff Landry | 11/15/2010 - 6:40pm
If some of you are so concerned about the Bishops' "single-mindedness" blocking "progessive" legislation in other areas, it seems to me the easiest solution is to pressure more pro-choice Democrats to move toward the Church's teaching and thereby remove this "single issue" off the table.  Instead of trying to move the Bishops, try moving the people who most easily can be moved - the politicians cowering behind the myth that when it comes to certain issues they cannot "impose their private moral beliefs" on the rest of us.  Pelosi, Biden, Kennedy (Patrick), Landrieu, Durbin, etc.  Stop throwing bricks at the Bishops and start demanding more from your politicians & you'd do an end-run around the problem. 

Again, I think some of you are missing a key distinction: the political/legal framework of abortion versus other issues, particularly things like "sexism, racism, homophobia", etc.  Totally different situations.  Catholic moral teaching thrives on DISTINCTIONS; some of you are missing that.
Eileen Gould | 11/15/2010 - 6:29pm
I'm just happy to hear you stand up for the poor and call the Bishops on their nonresponsiveness to urgent problems within the American Catholic Church, especially to the disenchantment of young people.
ROBERT KILLOREN | 11/15/2010 - 6:29pm
Yes to what my fellow deacons have said, and I think the preaching and teaching of Catholic social doctrine is a particularly important role for the deacons. Living more "in the world" gives us a more practical vision of how this social doctrine is lived out. Deacons have also historically had the role of looking out for the concerns of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the immigrants and making sure that the Church's resources (time, talent, and treasure) are used to the benefit of those most in need of mercy and justice. But it isn't easy with congregations that have been indoctrinated with the warped vision of the world that the Glenn Becks spoon feed them every day on the radio and television. Emails and nasty comments are frequently shot at me after proclaiming the Gospel of social justice, the common good, etc. usually employing the same talking points they hear on talk radio. Many really believe that what I am preaching is socialism or in some way taking attention away from concern over abortion. Too many Catholics are using the transitive property from mathematics to come up with the following conclusion: If you are for social justice you must be a Democrat, Democrats are pro-abortion, therefore you must be pro-abortion if you talk about social justice. I like to point out to them that subsidiarity is also part of the Church's social teaching and that says that central governments should be limited and social welfare programs constructed in way that they do not give a disincentive to responsibility and work. The Church believes the State should stay out of people's lives and the workings of communities - which should please those who are for smaller, less intrusive government. Yet working for the common good is also a part of our social doctrine and it requires the State to step in when individuals or communities are hurting because subsidiarity isn't working for them. 
Cynthia Peabody | 11/15/2010 - 6:23pm
For those of us who remain in the church precisely because of her profound tradition of social justice the bishops are an ineffective group of men made irrelevant by their refusal to move beyond their obsessions with abortion and same sex marriage issues.

In fact, pro-life also means anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-sexism, anti-racism, and anti - whatever else detracts from our realizing God's active love in and for the world.  Many, many remarkable Catholics are doing the good work, teaching through action, but they have long since stopped looking to the bishops for leadership.


Robert Asselin | 11/15/2010 - 6:15pm
This call is probably necessary at this time, but seems too simplistic to me.  The bishops must take care not to be seen as speaking in a partisan way, and they know it.  No excuse not to speak out, but makes it necessary to do so with care, and in line with the Church's conviction that it must be active in influencing member and non-members' consciences and not as a political player itself. In this regard, the author's statement that the bishops should be teaching the "fullness of Catholic faith" to our youth, and others, is welcome.  But I think it is simplistic to say bishops should speak out in favor of governmental programs when they are questioned by politicians.  It would sound partisan now that so many citizens are objecting to what they see as overly ambitious governmental intervention.  The question of public sector effectiveness in meeting social (and moral) obligations is always relevant and must be faced; as well as the need for non-governmental responses to social needs. 
Jeff Landry | 11/15/2010 - 6:06pm
"Equally basic:  I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me drink; naked and you clothed me; ill and in prison, and you visited me.  Whatever you did for these least ones, you did for me."

Yes, but nothing about that basic tenent says you CAN or MAY only fulfill the beatitudes by supporting higher taxes, bigger government and ineffective programs in a time of dire fiscal instability on the federal level.  Yet you have a LEGAL situation wherein innocent life is being threatened and taken daily.  To imply that the Gospel requires an EQUAL political response to these totally different LEGAL or POLITICAL situations is irresponsible and misrepresents Catholic moral teaching.  The Popes have made clear that the abortion is a fundamental moral issue that threatens the very existence of the moral order.  No matter inconvenient that fact may be for Catholic liberals, it won't change.  Finally, if you're really concerned about the hungry, etc., then lets just keep raising the level of federal spending porportionate to the GDP and keep raising taxes and see how many hungry people that will create.  Many liberals seems to not understand that in order to have a sufficient safety net for the truly needy, you have to have a robust functioning economy.  The two are parasitical on each other.  Why do you think Pres. Obama's Debt Commission has proposed slashing discretionary spending so drastically?

And the idea that somehow the Bishops are committing "malfeasance" because they won't weigh in on the tax debate is laughable.
michael slajchert | 11/15/2010 - 5:49pm
The bishops have figured out what most of the successful political candidates used as campaign strategy: tell me what I want to hear and promise me you won't ask me to give up any of my "stuff." They'll continue to get away with it as long as our rich body of social teaching remains bottled up and never reaches a fraction of our pulpits. I hear no prophetic voices out there.
JERRY VIGNA | 11/15/2010 - 5:30pm
Happy to see Vince Miller write up what many of us have been thinking for a very long time. There is a very rich and comprehensive body of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) that seems to have fallen hostage to increasing partisan bitterness and, as he points out, the use of certain issues as trump. Moreover, CST has a foundation in Christian principles that appeal to non-Catholic Christians as well. The political foundation of CST, that government has a positive role to play in ensuring human dignity in the lives of all, is, again as Miller points out, muted when the times call for it to be clarion.   
2372668 | 11/15/2010 - 5:13pm
"Do not kill" is certainly "basic."  Do not kill unborn children, do not kill convicted criminals, do not kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Equally basic:  I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me drink; naked and you clothed me; ill and in prison, and you visited me.  Whatever you did for these least ones, you did for me.
Lucie Johnson | 11/15/2010 - 5:06pm
I agree... except: "do not kill" is SO BASIC... How can you do social justice when you do not let people live in the first place? When 1 in 4 pregnancies end in abortion. When infertile couples need to go abroad to adopt a child because we've aborted so many... When 14% of the pregnancies are "minority" ones, but 34% of the abortions are of "minority" babies. Whenit is mostly the poor we want to abort? When actually the niece of Martin Luther King as a result consider the right to life a civil rights issue?
The right to life and social justice are not separate issues... Abortion i also socially unjust... 
RICHARD STENBERG | 11/15/2010 - 5:01pm
The author's comments resonate with mine.  As a deacon in the Church, it seems i'm always defending a position that isn't totally "right wing".  When I vote in national elections, should I feel guilty because I don't vote based on one issue?  Abortion is not the only issue in this nation.  Unjust wars, capital punishment, preference for the rich are also issues.  I agree that the bishops need to address those issues as well.

Terrence Tilley | 11/15/2010 - 3:08pm
     While one might quibble over one or another of the political proposals Miller cites, his basic point that it is crucial for the bishops to support the whole of Catholic Social Teaching at this time is extremely important. Even to recall "Economic Justice for All" as their teaching and reaffirming or updating that pastoral letter would be helpful. Perhaps this year the conference will need to consider internal matters, but the bishops' neglect of the whole of the social teaching of the church approaches malfeasance.