A new report from the University of Notre Dame offers an optimistic look at an often-overlooked Catholic demographic: African-Americans. Commissioned by the National Black Catholic Congress, the first national Black Catholic Survey found that African-Americans are more engaged in their parishes than their white counterparts. Not only do many black Catholics attend Mass regularly, they also take part in other parish-sponsored events. What’s more, many young black Catholics are also committed to their faith. “This is a bright spot for the church,” said Bishop John H. Ricard, president of the National Black Catholic Congress.
In their analysis of the report, the authors conclude that “African-American Catholics behave and look like African-American Protestants,” who have a long tradition of religious commitment. Here, then, is an example of a Catholic community that has flourished in America’s ecumenical society. The Catholic Church’s historical treatment of African-Americans has been mixed, but the majority of those surveyed felt that the church is meeting their needs today: 78 percent said that parishes served their spiritual needs “well or very well,” compared with 67 percent of their white counterparts. Still, there are areas for improvement. Fewer respondents (62 percent) felt that the church met their social needs. And a majority felt that the church could do more to promote black saints and recruit black priests. It is disturbing, too, that a quarter of respondents “encountered people avoiding them or refusing to shake hands.”
The example of African-American Catholics, who place less emphasis on “the individual and more on the communitarian aspects of a church,” according to Bishop Ricard, should be held up as a model for all Catholics to emulate.Hooked on Drug Profits
Even as health care costs consume a greater share of the U.S. gross domestic product, some pharmaceutical companies are aggressively working to extend their patent protections on blockbuster drugs. Pfizer’s cholesterol-reducing drug Lipitor, for example, has been hugely profitable; it accounts for a quarter of the company’s revenues over the last 10 years. But the patent for Lipitor expired in November and generic drugs to lower cholesterol, like atorvastatin, are entering the market. Since after the first six months or year of start-up expenses generic versions tend to cost much less than brand-name drugs, the generics benefit consumers, insurers and the government, which subsidizes millions of prescription drug purchases through Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To hold on to its market share as long as possible, however, Pfizer has made deals with insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and patients to sell its brand rather than a generic. The company has also promised discounts on co-pays, temporarily lowering its prices to keep the generic-drug makers from gaining a foothold.
If Pfizer’s efforts succeed, the profits will serve shareholders at the expense of society at large, for the price of Lipitor will go back up. And if other pharmaceutical companies follow Pfizer’s lead, the delay in transition to generic drugs could become costlier still. One pharmaceutical consultant reportedly said that more than $80 billion in brand-name drugs are poised to go generic over the next two years. If the price falls to $10 billion, he said, that would mean saving $70 billion in health care costs. Whatever the actual price difference, federal regulators ought to scrutinize such deals now, lest the big pharmaceutical firms hooked on drug profits divert desperately needed savings in U.S. health care.A Long Goodbye
The Vatican’s dogged pursuit of the Society of St. Pius X was rebuffed yet again in November when the society objected to the wording of a still mysterious “Doctrinal Preamble.” That document is intended to begin the canonical reconciliation of the recalcitrant Lefebvrists with the church. Unfortunately, they seem to be holding out for a renegotiation of the Second Vatican Council.
What amazes is the Curia’s patient attention to this grumpy micro-minority of schismatic Catholics. The enduring reconciliation campaign is disconcerting when throngs of nonschismatic Catholics—outraged parents, for example, and exasperated young women (including former altar servers)—drift away in search of greener pastures. Yet these ongoing losses have not provoked comparable intervention. Can anyone imagine Rome maintaining such forbearance in negotiation with, say, Call to Action or Voice of the Faithful? Unity is always welcome, but how much does the church gain from restoring these 19th-century romantics?
Surely the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep remains a standard of pastoral care. No one can deny the moral beauty of the shepherd’s calculated risk-taking. But when the shepherd surveys his flock and spots one sheep straying over a hillside to the right while a third or more of the flock is disappearing into a forest on the left, can there be any doubt about which way he should go?