Listening to the Flock

There is both bad and good news to report on church affairs this week. The bad news might have been avoided if the examples in the good news were followed.

First we have the rebuke from Rome of America’s religious women, which has been chronicled here by John Coleman, Francis Clooney and others. In contrast with male clergy, who continue to battle sex abuse charges that should have been resolved years ago, women religious may be the most respected members of the church. Then a bishop in Peoria seems to have lost his common sense in a homily addressing current political controversies. 


There is some good news to cite, however, in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter (April 14-26), our own America (April 30), and the London Tablet (April 14). Wise prelates are listening to their flock, thinking about the issues, then speaking out.

On the nuns, the Newark Star Ledger editorial page declared: “It’s not about faith. It’s about dogma and it’s about politics. Problem is, American nuns have become too educated. They now lead their schools, hospitals and charities. They minister to people on the margins of society, those who are discriminated against. And they recognize the church hierarchy for what it is: woefully out of touch . . .”

“Freedom of religion” was not supposed to be a partisan issue. But the Republican candidates, two of whom were Catholic, accused the Obama administration of waging a “war against religion.” The insinuation was clear: to disagree with prominent members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy was to be against religion itself.

On April 14, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria, in a call to Catholic men,” in St. Catherine’s Cathedral, presented most of Western history as one continual persecution of the church — from the apostles in prison, through Roman emperors, revolutions, French prime minister George Clemenceau and Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf,” to Hitler and Stalin, climaxing in Barack Obama with his “radical pro-abortion agenda.”

Nevertheless, Bishop Jenky said, the church would “survive the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media” and the “wickedness of the abortion industry.” Catholic politicians who decline to vote as the bishops say are all “Judas Iscariots.”

The Peoria chancery says the bishop’s remarks are taken out of context. But the full text and online audio make clear that the text climaxes in what appears to be a call for Catholics to vote against Obama. If they don’t, “all our public ministries except our church buildings could be shut down.”

At the University of Notre Dame, almost 50 faculty members have called upon Jenky to “loudly and publicly” retract his remarks or resign from the university’s board of trustees. His comments, they said, demonstrate an ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide and absence of judgment.

One might ask, should not also some of his fellow bishops, if they disagree with Jenky’s statement, say so?

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Trenton, where I grew up and my family was active in public life, including my father who was the editorial writer years ago for the Trenton Times and also for the Monitor, the newly established diocesan paper, has shown creativity and courage by appointing William Byron, S.J., a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University, to do a survey of those in Trenton who have left the church and to tell us why. America readers know the results of the survey, including: remoteness and arrogance of clergy, alienation of women, broken marriages, etc. But Trenton, which is struggling to stay alive as a city, at least has a bishop, David O’Connell, like Byron a former president of Catholic University, who is willing to listen.

In Vienna, according to the Tablet editorial, Cardinal Schonborn is dealing gently with the Austrian Priests Initiative, a movement calling for change on birth control and on refusing communion to divorced people. The NCR reports that when a young homosexual man Florian Stangle, 26, in a publicly registered domestic partnership, was overwhelmingly elected to the parish council, the pastor asked him to quit the council and stop receiving the Eucharist. Cardinal Shonborn asked himself, “What would Jesus do?” and invited Florian and his partner to lunch and listened, listened. The young men’s “witness taken as a whole” demonstrated their commitment to the faith, he said, and “the church rejoices in their efforts.”

Would the condemnation of the nuns and the unfortunate sermon in Peoria have happened if these men blessed with authority believed that the Spirit works in the whole church, not just in Rome or chanceries, and had listened? Really listened.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

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Vince Killoran
6 years 11 months ago
I love the Michael Sandel's work-few scholars can find public intellectuals as diverse as George Will, E.J. Dionne, and Eric Foner endorsing their work. But, please-your post was not about Sandel, Christopher Lasch, or communitarian/republican alternatives (his notions of public virtue make your "multi-polar society"-whatever that is-problemmatic).

Your initition post was about two things:a charge that Obama et al. were carrying us towards totalitarianism, and a plea for religious liberty (talk about drinking at the font of liberalism!). My point about taxpayer dollars went to your lament regarding vouchers and the CRS losing their grant.  As for the HHS, well, we continue to round & round about that. 

p.s. The CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION had an interesting profile of Sandel a couple of years ago:
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago
Blessed John Paul II wrote this in Centessimus Annus:
“The root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate—no individual, group, class, nation, or State… 
“The culture and praxis of totalitarianism also involve a rejection of the Church.  The State or the party which claims to be able to lead history towards perfect goodness, and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion, in given circumstances, could be used to judge their actions.  This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus” 
Partisan?  Intemperate?
Finally, in light of Pres. Obama's disappointing history on issues of religious liberty (in addition to the HHS Mandate, I would note the losing argument in Hosanna-Tabor (which he lost at the Supreme Court 9-0), his stripping funding for the DC School voucher program (over the protest of Card. Wuerl and many low-income beneficiaries of the program), his denial of the application for the grant renewal to Catholic Relief Services), I'd have a bit more respect for a letter from academics at Notre Dame if they "loudly and publicly" call for the President to express more awareness of those issues.  But since these academics only bother to criticize Republicans or those they associate with Republicans, I'm left asking myself who the real partisans are?
Vince Killoran
6 years 11 months ago
Josh write that " I'd have a bit more respect for a letter from academics at Notre Dame if they "loudly and publicly" call for the President to express more awareness of those issues."

But not everyone sees things your way. 

In fact, I don't see how the quote from P. JP II proves that Obama is edging us towards totalitarianism. This country, in fact, is more pluralistic and multicultural than ever before in its history. But with this comes a responsibility to engage in tolerance and a careful balancing of competing claims to rights. Ad a citizen I don't want my taxpayer dollars going to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  How is that totalitarianism?
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago

THe vision sketched by John Paul is Centessimus Annus, I would submit, is a multi-polar society with varying levels of civic engagement through a variety of organizations: some political, others religious, still others purely social.  I think in particular of Michael Sandel's account of "communitarianism" in Democracy's Discontent. 

Contrary to this vision, liberals like the President want to police (for lack of a better word) this shared public square by requiring agreement with the President's politics in order to participate in our public life.  It's curious to me that you object to my comment on the grounds of "pluarism" and "diversity".  How is it diverse to prevent certain social organizations from providing services merely because of their own deeply held commitments. 

Finally, you allege that as a taxpayer you don't want your taxes doing to organiztions which discriminate; I have two responses.  First, the application of many of the government policies, such as the HHS Mandate, are NOT premised no the receipt of federal funds.  For example, you will not find that the HHS mandate released last week requires the religious institution to receive federal funds.  Second, I would think you would be more concerned with whether or not the federal government that collects and distributes tax money be non-discriminatory rather than whether the ultimate recipients do.  After all, in a "pluralistic and multicultural society" there ought to be a host of social institutions working towards the common good;  i would think we would support funding all such good works, provided they do not violate the tenets of the First Amendment.
Jim McCrea
6 years 11 months ago
"One might ask, should not also some of his fellow bishops, if they disagree with Jenky’s statement, say so?"

"Fraternal correction" in public?  Even in private?   Oh, dream on.  These guys didn't get to where they are today by being independent pastoral men.
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago

The quote from CA is EXACLTY connected to communitarianism.  If you prefer, it's the same charge made by Ross Douthat in this column from earlier this year: "Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely."

That is precisely what JP II is saying, it is precisely what Jenky is trying to say.

Do I believe Obama is leading us to "totalitarianism", no; do I believe the critique on the basis of Sandel of anti-diverse actions is legitimate, yes I do.

Jenky's comments were idiotic; feel better?  The critique still remains.

You would find people perhaps more receptive to dialogue with you if you were a little less condescending towards those with whom you disagree.
Vince Killoran
6 years 11 months ago
"[A]lternative forms of common effort" ?! What does that mean?

"Pay by our rules"? Everytime Congress passes legislation or a president issues an executive order or the Supreme Court issues a decision, is that a case of "play by our rules"? I'm concerned by the gross inequalities of poltical and economic power in this country. But your complaint seems quite different. We live in a democratic republic-I believe you need to take issue with the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.

Condescending, me?  Why I never. . .  

Seriously.  Josh, you post at great length on IAT.  Much of it is didactic in nature; you usually strive for the last word.You drop author's names on a regular basis.  I didn't call you a name, question your intelligence or your faith, or slap a political label on you.  Why do you read my post as condescending?
Jeanne Linconnue
6 years 11 months ago
#5 - ''My point about taxpayer dollars went to your lament regarding vouchers and the CRS losing their grant.''

The federal government has awarded grants of more than $1.5 billion to programs and organizations run by the Catholic church or affiliates in the last two years, an increase over the amounts received during the Bush administration.  This does not indicate that the Obama administration has a bias against the Roman Catholic church.

However, Catholic organizations that compete to be contractors to receive federal funds must operate under the same rules as any other organization that operates as a contractor to the government using tax payer funds.  If the bishops do not want to follow the same requirements as other organizations who serve as government contractors, they have the right to not compete for, nor accept, taxpayer monies. They may exercise their religious freedom without forcing the taxpayers of the United States or state and local governments to fund the imposition of the church's beliefs on those who participate in the taxpayer funded programs.

This also applies to Catholichealth organizations. If they accept taxpayer money for their organizations, they must operate as religiously neutral contractors, rather than impose Catholic beliefs on all who are affiliated with or who are served by their hospitals etc. 

I understand that many local Catholic Charities organizations do not seek taxpayer money for this reason. They raise money on their own and thus are free to use it without government strings. The bishops want to have their cake and eat it too - use taxpayer money and also impose their own religious beliefs on all those who are in government sponsored programs. They need to cease their false accusations and simply give up using taxpayer money and rely on their own resources. 

Carlo Lancellotti
6 years 11 months ago

I have been told a million times that the HHS mandate applies regardless of federal funding. Do youhave any info to the contrary?
Jeanne Linconnue
6 years 11 months ago
Carlo, I was addressing some of the other points, not the specific HHS mandate. I am not an expert on the details and fine print of the HHS mandate and doubt that I know anymore than you do.  However, from reading the general news stories, it seems that those organizations which employ primarily Catholics to serve primarily Catholics (parishes, parochial schools etc) are not required to follow the mandate. There is an exemption. However, other Catholic-affiliated organizations - NGOs, non-profits such as Catholic Charities,  hospitals and other Catholic health care organizations etc, which employ people for their skills and education and knowledge rather than because of religion and which serve the general population without religious distinction rather than an exclusively Catholic population, are required to follow the mandate.

In many of these cases, the church sponsored organizations are acting as government contractors and so automatically must follow the rules for contractors specified in the contract. Most - perhaps all- of those organizations (often including colleges and universities which receive research grants, etc) generally accept tax payer funds to support their work.  If they accept grants and other funding from the government they must also accept the rules that apply to all other NGOs, non-profits, hospitals, universities, etc who operate using taxpayer monies.  If they are unwilling to be treated equally - to accept the requirements that all contractors and grant recipients must accept - then they should remove themselves from competing for government funded projects and grants and refuse government money for research or  whatever and only run programs that they can fund from private sources, without tax money. There may be a few Catholic organizations that operate programs or organizations not specifically tied to Catholicism and without specific religious purpose for a general population without using tax payer money. Some of the local Catholic Charities groups, for example. It is possible that they would be expected to follow the laws that apply to all similar organizations - the same rules that the Jewish charities or Methodist charities follow when operating similar organizations even if not using taxpayer money, because the organization is not reserving its services exclusively for religious purposes nor requiring that employees be of their religion. In that case, it seems they would not be exempt from the mandate because they are not operating a religious program.

Religious organizations whose workforce and population served are of their own religion, are exempt from the mandate - which respects their freedom of religion. Organizations affiliated with a religious group but which is operating a program employing people from outside the religion and serving people from outside the religion are not exempt.  This reduces the chances for manipulation and evasion of the laws on grounds of ''religious freedom'' by any employer who chooses not to offer coverage for any medical purpose at all - some might refuse to cover blood transfusions, some might refuse to cover childhood vaccinations, etc, etc - all on ''religious'' grounds. It would open the door to enormous abuse.

The exemptions for genuine religious purposes provides balance - the mandate protects the taxpayers, as well as the employees of not-specifially religious programs/organizatons that are affiliated with a religious group, while protecting the right of specific religious groups to withhold coverage as far as their own purely religious organizations go. So, Christian Scientists would not be forced to offer non-Christian Science-practicioner health care benefits to their exclusively Christian Scientist employees who are working within the constraints of their own religious group. However, if one of their organizations - say the Christian Science Monitor - is operating as a public newspaper (rather than a religious one), employing non-Christian Scientist journalists and editors and technical people because of their skills rather than because of their religion, serving a general population rather than their own co-religionists, the employees of the Christian Science Monitor would be protected by the health insurance mandates.  The same would go for Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Jews, and all the other religious groups out there who have specific teachings related to health care.  They aren't forced to do something within the confines of their own group, but when going outside of it for purposes that are not specific to their religion, they would be required to meet the same requirements as others (for example, the Christian Science Monitor would meet the same standards as the New York Times but the Los Angeles Tidings (the diocesan newspaper) would not have to offer birth control coverage).
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago
"Why do you read my post as condescending?"

I've generally find it condescending when someone responds in a manner that suggests "I know what you're really saying better than you do".  When that assertion is followed up by a string of gratuitous name-dropping to suggest "I know more than you", I generally consider that condescending.

I generally think that there are more than one or two ways to see an issue beyond the "Bishops bad/stupid/immoral" or "Bishops can't be questioned" dichotomies that paralyze our church; the same goes for many of the political posts here.  I try to raise alternative ways of seeing things that avoids assuming the worst about the other.  If that's "didactic" so be it.

Michael Appleton
6 years 11 months ago
Thank you, Jeanne Linconnue, for accurately and succinctly explaining how religious accommodation works. Reading many of the posts on this issue is an extremely frustrating process because too many people simply refuse to accept the distinction between religion participating in public life and religion feeding at the public trough.
Vince Killoran
6 years 11 months ago
"I've generally find it condescending when someone responds in a manner that suggests "I know what you're really saying better than you do".  When that assertion is followed up by a string of gratuitous name-dropping to suggest "I know more than you", I generally consider that condescending."

Just to be clear Josh, you dropped Michael Sandel's name and book title into the exchange. I responded that it seemed not at all on point. How on earth is that condescending?!

I do agree that the large question of how we view the actions of the bishops-both individually and collectively-is an important one.  My reading of this website is that the AMERICA do a fine job of presenting multiple viewpoints but many bloggers shut down discussion with a totalizing endorsement of sheer, one-dimensional "obedience" (usually this is accompanied with a wish that detractors would just leave the Church). To be sure, there's a lot of anger out there. 

BTW, Jeanne Linconnue's contribution was excellent since it provided some needed, basic reminders about how public policy & religion work in the USA. 
Mister Heche
6 years 11 months ago
Notre Dame history professor, Rev. William Miscamble, CSC, argues his colleagues have taken Bishop Jenky's words out of context and distorted what he was saying.  Fr. Miscamble also stands by the historical accuracy of the bishop's words.

An interesting read:
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Please tell us there is more to Fr. Miscamble's letter somewhere. Fr. Miscamble-idenitified as ND's president of "Faculty for Life" (and a signatory to the letter criticizing the Obama visit a couple of years ago)-doesn't actually address the contents of the letter.  He mostly comments about what a great guy the bishop is and "the rather predictable and ideological bias of the signatories than it does about Bishop Jenky’s courageous homily." There's no historical analysis or scholarly engagement at all. 


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