Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"We Become What We Do"

As always, the church's engagement on the political scene is rife with opportunities for examination and reflection.

Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Denver kicked off the New Year with an appeal against a corrosive "bitterness" and "coarseness of spirit" in the public conversation in his weekly DCR column, citing the immigration question as an example :
Last month, shortly after the arrest of hundreds of unauthorized immigrant workers at Swift meatpacking plants across the country, I got the following e-mail:

“Sorry Bishop: No sympathy (from me) for the illegal alien criminals arrested by ICE. In fact, I hope their offspring starve to death. I do not pray for illegal aliens. I pray for their victims. I have no problem with God, and He has no problem with me. I hope their families starve to death, and it’s crap like this that drives Catholics away from the Church.”

The e-mail is real. So is the person who wrote it. So is the coarseness of spirit that inspired it. Something is deeply wrong with the heart and the head of any person who thinks like this. As we begin a new year, it’s worth asking ourselves what kind of a God we believe in — the kind that “has no problem” with a person who refuses to pray for others and hopes that families and children of arrested workers will “starve to death”? How can a person continue to consider himself a Christian with this kind of vindictive brutality on his lips?

How we treat the weak, the infirm, the elderly, the unborn child and the foreigner reflects on our own humanity. We become what we do, for good or for evil.

In this week's column, the Denver Post reports that Chaput will enter the fray over newly-elected Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's pledge last week "to restore the eligibility requirements for state funding for pregnancy-prevention and family planning programs," deeming the move "seriously flawed public policy."

Ritter, a Catholic who describes himself as "pro-life," wants to lift an order by his predecessor, Republican Bill Owens, also a Catholic. The order restricted groups that perform abortions from getting state money for family planning and pregnancy prevention.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer declined Monday to respond directly to Chaput's criticism but emphasized Ritter is opposed to funding abortions.

Only family-planning groups that show they can segregate state funds from money spent on abortions would be eligible, Dreyer said. An amendment to the state's constitution forbids the use of state dollars to subsidize abortion directly or indirectly....

Chaput praised Ritter's desire to improve health care and education and said his State of the State address brimmed with "good will, good sense and hope."

Much of Chaput's ire focused on Planned Parenthood, which lost nearly $400,000 in state funding under the Owens administration. Chaput highlighted a passage in Ritter's State of the State talk in which he talked about judging legislation's impact on future generations.

"It's hard to have a future 'for our children and our children's children' without children, and in practice, Planned Parenthood specializes in the business of preventing them," Chaput wrote.

"Even more troubling is Planned Parenthood's long involvement in abortion 'rights' and the lethal services associated with them."

A Catholic Democrat who served for two years as a lay missionary in Zambia and began his inaugural morning with a Mass that became a teapot tempest in itself, Ritter's path to the governorship saw his stance on abortion raising an equal outcry from both the church's most stringent exponents on the the issue and his party's equally-unequivocal pro-choice wing. The national party, however, has chosen to highlight him -- and its first dominance of Colorado's executive and legislative branches in half a century -- in its decision last week to award next year's Democratic National Convention to Denver.

To say that'll be a very interesting event is the height of understatement.

For a broader look at this pontificate's contrasting approach on questions of church teaching and public policy when viewed alongside its predecessor, the venerable Russ Shaw has a piece up at Catholic Exchange.
It hasn't received a lot of attention yet, but Pope Benedict XVI lately has been honing an approach to issues of personal morality notably different in certain respects from his predecessor's. The jury understandably is out on whether he will be more successful than John Paul II was in persuading secular society of the truth of Christian morality.

Note that the difference between the two popes is essentially tactical. The content of the message is fundamentally the same, but the way it's presented clearly is not....

Last November he went a long way to explaining his reason for that in a talk to a group of Swiss bishops. Visiting his native Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, he recalled, he invariably got questions from journalists about women's ordination, birth control, abortion, and "other such constantly recurring problems."

There's a danger in getting bogged down this way, he added. "The Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions.... Not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears."

Elaborating on this theme, Benedict noted the existence of two clusters of moral questions sometimes set in opposition to each other. On the one hand, there are global issues like peace, poverty, and the environment. Young people resonate to these in a special way. On the other hand, there are the issues of personal morality touching on the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.

The aim of persons with teaching responsibility in the Church must not be to discard one set of issues in favor of the other. Instead,
[w]e must commit ourselves to reconnecting these two parts of morality and to making it clear that they must be inseparably united. Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may non-violence be expressed in every direction, only then can we truly accept creation, and only then can we achieve true justice.
The task of "reconnecting these two parts of morality" presents a large challenge indeed, but Pope Benedict is right — it's something that urgently needs doing. Not, however, through some kind of half-baked moral equivalency that sees saving the polar bears threatened by global warming as a goal on a par with saving the unborn (or, quite possibly, more important — after all, the sacred principle of "choice" trumps everything else). This reconnecting calls for hard work and, especially, hard thinking.
Shaw will be headlining an April conference here in Philly on "Protecting and Promoting the Common Good" alongside Colorado's top prelate.

SVILUPPO: The aforementioned "Archbishop's Column" from tomorrow's DCR has been posted in full.