Current Comment

Chilly Relations

Even before Pope Benedict XVI arrived for his visit in Israel, the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated it has little, if any, desire to show good will to the church. In a gesture of welcome for the pope, Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who is head of state but not of government, had asked the government to end property disputes with the church over several holy places. Among these are the Cenacle in Jerusalem, Mount Tabor in Galilee and Tabgha, a site on the Sea of Galilee associated with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Repudiating the president’s request, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said ceding the properties would harm Israeli national security. Then the Great Council of the Chief Rabbinate issued a binding edict forbidding the ceding of sovereignty, though sovereignty was never a question, just the return of confiscated land.

While the pope’s pilgrimage continued, the Interior Ministry refused to make provision for multiple entry visas for clergy and church workers, threatening the pastoral work of the local church; and in a ruling on a challenge suit, a court refused to relax rules on Jerusalem residency to permit spouses from the West Bank to live in Jerusalem, threatening the future of Christian family life in the holy city. The decline of the church’s good relations with Israel began with the first Netanyahu government in 1996. With ultra-religious and nationalist coalition partners holding key ministries in the current government, the Holy See, international church institutions and especially local Christians may be facing still harder times under Netanyahu II.


Full Disclosure

The governor of Vermont is expected to sign into law in June a new physicians disclosure bill. It would prohibit doctors from accepting the free meals that pharmaceutical companies and the makers of medical devices routinely offer as part of their aggressive marketing campaigns. Even more important is a requirement that, while allowing medical practitioners to accept direct payments from such companies, calls for every payment they accept to be posted on the Web in an annual accounting record available to the public. The record would show how much each doctor has received and from which company.

Courting doctors with meals and payments is expensive, but marketers use such gifts and payments to build loyalty for their brand. They hope loyalty will prompt a doctor to recommend their product to patients—this stent instead of that one; this pill, not that—especially when other alternatives of comparable quality compete for sales. In Vermont (pop. 621,270) pharmaceutical and medical device firms spent $2.9 million in 2008 in payments to nearly half of the state’s licensed health practitioners; specialists received the most, more than $100,000 each in some instances. Such marketing significantly ratchets up the cost of health care in our country, increasing the cost of products to consumers without adding value.

The disclosure law could convince health care companies that they have little to gain and much to lose by turning doctors into brokers. Doctors might note how their accepting payment erodes trust between them and patients. And patients have a right to know what is behind a prescription, device or treatment—whether their doctor has been paid to boost sales. The new law would promote the health of the body politic by exposing such payoffs and conflicts of interest to the light of day.

Bishops and Politics

One thing is likely to be on the minds of U.S. bishops when they gather in San Antonio on June 17 to 19. The topic will be discussed over coffee, in private meetings and in executive session, but probably not in the televised general sessions. That topic is the conduct of the conference and of individual bishops in public policy advocacy.

“Public policy advocacy” is a term of art. Advocates are neither lobbyists nor politicians. They make a principled case in public debate but hold back from the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics. The recent controversy over President Barack Obama’s participation in the commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame has cast doubt on whether bishops are now entering the public square as partisan activists rather than as advocates, “pastors and teachers.”

Unhappily, all the bishops have been tainted by the extremist rhetoric of Notre Dame’s most vociferous critics. A few bishops even seem to relish the thrust and parry of the culture wars. A bishop’s style of advocacy is not just a matter of decorum; it is a question of pastoral responsibility. How are bishops to be pastors of a diverse flock when they over-identify with one party and demonize another? How are they to model Christian witness in the public square when they personalize disagreements and withhold respect from their adversary?

It will be a hard discussion and a long one, not likely to conclude in San Antonio. On its outcome will depend not only the church’s public witness but also the internal cohesion of the U.S. church and the conference of bishops.

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Paul Louisell
9 years 7 months ago
If only our policiticans were forced to do the same as the doctors in Vermont. ..... I hope this doesn't mean Bishops - the teachers of the Church - can no longer express their views on immoral, sinful, evil government policies.
Stephen Wilson
9 years 7 months ago
A reactionary fundamentalist wing of Catholicism has emerged and is fracturing the Church. The condemnations issued by many groups, under the name of the church and frequently with tacit approval or active support of the bishops, is spreading intolerance and hatred to new levels. First President Obama at Notre Dame. Then the Vatican's own newspaper (L’Osservatore Romano) is criticized for its semi-supportive views on the appearance. Then Sonia Sotomayor's commitment to the faith is questioned. Now Miguel Diaz is not Catholic enough to serve as ambassador to the Vatican. Self-appointed guardians of the orthodoxy, these critics have become the face of Catholicism in the mainstream media. This unchecked ranting fosters the kind of environment that results in the murder of Dr. George Tiller in his own church. The conference at San Antonio provides an opportunity for the American bishops to step forward, accept their role in permitting this ill-behaved evangelism, and then provide an even-tempered guidance out of this mess.
Bruce Snowden
9 years 7 months ago
"Bishops and Politics" part of "Current Comments" strikes me as an incorrect assessment of a difficult contemporary reality, one that's imposible to adequately address with hands over eyes, ears, and mouth, as if everything is morally fine and dandy, blind, deaf, and mute, like the well-known monkey-image, regarding theological confusion affecting the judgment of many Catholics today, including those in high place, like Holy Cross priest-president of Notre Dame University, John I. Jenkins, along with other approvers who lead astray intentionally, or unintentionally as it were, even the elect! I do not agree that when Bishops involve themselves definitively in challenging the morally corrupt "culture wars" whatever they may be, but always "with charity towards all and with malice towards none" that by doing so they "have become tainted" as AMERICA asserts. Do you think for a moment that the Blessed Virgin Mary in whose honor Notre Dame University is named, would consider the 80 Bishops who spoke out against the University honoring President Obama the way it did, as "tainted?" On the contrary "Our Lady" must have applauded as did all of heaven! The 23rd Psalm says, shepherds (bishops) carry a "staff and a rod" and with purpose. The rod used by shepherds to keep the flock in line, used to coax wandering sheep back into the fold. The staff used to steady the shepherd as he walked up hill, or on rocy terrain. But when the sheep are in danger the shepherds (bihops) use the prodding-rod and their staff as protective weapons, driving away "wolves in sheep clothing" who having infiltrated the flock try to scatter the sheep in confusion! Yes, within that frame Bishops become "partisans and activists" to protect the sheep because first and foremost Bishops are "pastors and teachers!" When Jesus said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" he placed Bishops (the whole Church) in the middle of every political milieu humanly possible. Jesus, thus, proclaimed himself as the prime, Divine and evrlasting partisan/activist in combat againt evil in all its disguised and slippery forms! Bishops are ever called to make holy the unholy mess politicians often espouse, fed by the toxic spew of secular huimanism and the tyranny of relativism. Everyone should remember that "truth is not truth because we believe it. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not!"
9 years 7 months ago
Having read all the published letters of the Bishops who spoke up against the bestowal of an honorary degree on President Obama, I found no evidence of "unchecked ranting", but rather intelligent, thoughtful comments deeply routed in the Catholic faith and identity, a faith and identity that is sadly not present in so many who call themselves Catholic, yet who live openly, often defiantly, in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Our bishops are the teachers, the authority, to which the salvation of our souls are entrusted. It is their word, not the words of the likes of Professor Kmiec and other theologians, that is the authority to which we should yield in faith. Discussion is always good, but disobedience and disrespect, not so much.
Lawrence DeBlois
9 years 7 months ago
We don't need the bishops anywhere near the ballot box. In fact, we stand to lose our non profit status if bishops continue to have parishioners fill out cards to urge legislators to vote against same sex marriage (this happened here in Maine) or otherwise involve themselves actively in politics. They have the obligation to explain moral viewpoints to us (I hope they can avoid references to natural law, the weakest of all possible arguments) in mailings, but they would be well advised not to use the pulpit to promote any political issues.
9 years 7 months ago
Notice, U.S. bishops do not take an oath to uphold the constitution of the U.S. and its laws when appointed by the pope to their office. Their loyalties and obligations are subject to another power as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CC)clearly documents in CC 881, 882, & 883. Secular governance in the U.S. by leaders whose power is derived from the electorate commands obedience from its citizens. Religious governance in the Roman Catholic Church by the Pope, its head, and the Episcopal college whose power, it is taught, is derived from Christ its founder, commands obedience from its members (who do not participate in the election of their leaders i.e., the pope, bishops and priests). With the exception of Cardinals who are empowered to elect a pope, all the remaining members are not granted electorate powers to select their leaders. Here is an opportunity for the bishops to examine and develop church policy for charitable interfacing of two radically different governmental methods of holding and administering power in the U.S. When U.S. secular law and public policy development and implementation are at variance with Church policy (to include religious doctrine) as interpreted by the pope, bishops and priests, what is the role of the U.S. church hierarchy in “public (secular) policy advocacy” to change the policy and to do so in a respectful manner? As U.S. citizens, bishops and priests have the same rights as any member of the U.S. electorate to advocate for their policy positions based on church teaching or any other authority they select. However, once policy has been determined by the secular leader(s), they (the bishops) have a corresponding obligation to obey and follow that policy as loyal U.S. citizens or declare themselves as “conscientious objectors” to the particular policy in question. The other members of the church, who are also U.S. citizens, have the same options. However, it cannot be morally inferred that objecting in conscience to one or another secular policy implemented by a secular leader(s) requires the leader (or by extension her/his party) be held in anathema by ecclesiastical authority since there are many other polices, good governmental practices, leadership skills, etc. that promote the common good of all citizens. Such moral single mindedness and lack of apparent charity by individual bishops or the conference of bishops can present a grave impediment to the effective governance of our nation by duly elected leaders and for that matter effective governance of the church in the U.S.. Because of the bishop’s influence over church members, their attitudes of personal denunciation of duly elected leaders as completely and totally accursed over a single issue policy or policies poisons the minds of many in their flock towards their secular leaders. The bishops themselves risk a loss of respect due to this behavior in our nation at large. Better for the bishops to seek common ground with secular leaders where they are able and to extend their respect and cooperation with their efforts to govern our nation. A particularly good example of a church leader showing respect to a U.S. leader even though essential moral policy differences exist between them was when Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan recently presented Gov. Richardson of New Mexico to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome as a U.S. governor who recently signed a bill into law prohibiting capital punishment. Both the Pope and Archbishop Sheehan knew that Gov. Richardson (who is catholic) is “pro-choice” and holds other policy positions not in accord with church teaching. When asked by a reporter about how he and the Pope could receive and honor the Governor in light of his “pro-choice” position in such a collegial manner the Archbishop reportedly responded, one thing at a time. The presence of President Obama at Notre Dame to address the student body at their commencement and reception of an honorary law degree is another example of Christian and Catholic respect of a great American leader even though there are policy differences between Church teaching and a leader upholding the U.S. constitution and law as he is by oath required to uphold. The Editors in the June 8th “Current Comment, Bishops and Politics” have called appropriate attention to the Catholic world of the very seriousness of the U.S. bishop’s obligation to get their Christian charity in order (as a policy to promote church/state relations and cooperation) during their San Antonio meeting this month.
9 years 7 months ago
Sadly, this magazine's editors translate the Bishops' objections to Obama's honors at ND as favoring one party and demonizing the other. Just like ND, this magazine is all about the Democrat party rather than about the Church's principled position on abortion.
9 years 7 months ago
Are we really equating the USCCB and 70-80 US Bishops who spoke out publically about the Obama/Notre Dame affar to the murderer of George Tiller? Of "spreading intolerance and hatred to new levels"? I think this kind of rhetoric sheds some light on just how torn American Catholicsim has become. We're no longer talking about the prudence (or lack there of) of a particular bishop's public stance on a particular policy issue. The fault line seems more and more drawn along ecclesioloigcal lines: this is becoming a disagreement about what the Church is. That there is disagreement on this most fundamental of issues reveals a terrifying state of affairs. The question "who is Catholic" or rather "what is the Church" isn't fundamentally about "policy" or even moral theology. It is far more fundamental, more essential than that. What Catholics believe about the Church flows directly from what they believe about Christ Himself. Catholics divided over "what the Church is" are Catholics divided about "who Christ is." That is a sorry state of affairs to be sure, and one that should not be handled onthe shallow level of political diatribe, or policy-speak. The Notre Dame debacle was NOT about "partisan politics." At its deepest level, it wasn't even about abortion or complicity in moral evil. It was about the Church: what it is and how we are realted to it.
9 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Steve white, for your astute commentary. I couldn't agree more. I hope the editors take note of your analysis and publish it in the magazine amd that you continue to contribute to this critical discussion.
9 years 7 months ago
Thank God that the Jesuits in America magazine are kept far from the culture wars by their twice daily examen and so are kept as pure vessels of Gods grace and are free to focus on supernatural objectives.If it were otherwise it would leave them open to the charge of hypocrisy for accusing the Bishops of the same.
9 years 6 months ago

With regard to "Full Disclosure".  The disclosure law is a great idea.  Let me give you another one which also may help with this problem.  Let's make all such expenses of such corporations non-deductible for company tax purposes.  Let's see how important such expenses are deemed to be by the board of directors when they know the expense can't be covered as a tax write-off and will detract from the profits that will go to shareholders.

9 years 6 months ago

I do not believe MANY bishops care if the flock thinks them as advocates or not.  It seems to me to have their own agendas and its you take it or leave it, especially as to abortion.  I can count the times our parish receives a letter from our bishop.  When we are shown a film short during  mass for Our Catholic Appeal(formerly Our Bishop's Appeal)amd just before election day, especially,in a presidently election.  A letter in affect telling you to vote your conscience, with a not to subtle hint as to who that SHOULD be. I would be prolife on ethical grounds, prochoice  is illogical if only one party is making the choice over life or death. 


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