Fr. Stanley Rother Recognized as First US-Born Martyr

via CNA:

Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who served in Guatemala, making him the first martyr to have been born in the United States….

When Stanley was still in seminary, St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the dioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life….

The beloved Padre Francisco was also known for his kindness, selflessness, joy and attentive presence among his parishioners. Dozens of pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, Scaperlanda said.

“It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labor with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, ‘he was our priest,’” she said.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people….

“The reality is that we are in danger. But we don’t know when or what form the government will use to further repress the Church…. Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet… But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it…. I don’t want to desert these people, and that is what will be said, even after all these years. There is still a lot of good that can be done under the circumstances.”

He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote:

“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”…

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother’s rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused. Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

You can also watch America editors Sam Sawyer, SJ and Ashley McKinless discuss the recognition of Fr. Stanley Rother’s martyrdom and the expanding definition of modern martyrdom here:



Nichole Flores Examines Injustices through a Catholic Lens

UVA Today has a new article on Millennial writer Nichole Flores:

An interest in government, a passion for social justice and a deeply rooted understanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church: these puzzle pieces eventually fit together to land assistant professor Nichole Flores at the University of Virginia.

“My work is concerned with religion and the common good and religion in public life,” Flores, who teaches courses in religious studies, said. “I felt it would be a really neat opportunity to speak about the contributions of Catholic thinking and Catholic social thought within the rigorous and exciting public context of UVA.”

Informed by the degrees she earned in political science, divinity and theological ethics, Flores’ teaching and research focuses on Catholic social thought as it pertains to issues such as human trafficking, racism and bioethics. But Flores also emphasizes that the teachings of the church can extend to every area of human life, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.

“A lot of people are hesitant to look at Catholic social thought because it sounds like something that only has to do with people who go to Catholic churches,” Flores said. “But, in fact, the way the Catholic tradition understands itself is having relevance beyond its own believers and that it has something to say about justice and goodness to the whole world.”

You can read the full article here.



The Wounded Church: Pro-Life and Social Justice Catholics Remain Divided

If there has been one overused line in the past few weeks, it’s the trope: “The election taught us…”

We didn’t need this election to teach us that our country is polarized or that there is no “Catholic vote.” As commentators have said for years, political polarization shapes the Catholic electorate as much as the general electorate: there is no “Catholic vote,” but rather a “conservative Catholic vote” and a “liberal Catholic vote.”

For decades, the US Church electorate has been divided between “pro-life” and “social justice” camps. For “pro-life” Catholics, abortion defines their political participation, because abortion touches upon the key issue of respect for life. “Social justice” Catholics are interested in a broad range of issues stemming from their commitment to protecting the human person against violations of their rights.

Stated thusly, the two camps seem to have a great deal in common. But pro-life and social justice Catholics tend to be distinguished not just by the policies they emphasize, but by their partisan preferences. Pro-life Catholics have found a home in the GOP, and social justice Catholics tend to be Democrats. The two groups, in other words, have allowed themselves to be defined by our two-party system.

There is no question that the two parties have divvied up the Catholic vote, as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego noted recently:

“The central issues of Catholic social teaching that our society faces at the present moment really bifurcate the partisan divide in our nation,” said McElroy. “The Democratic Party emphasizes certain of those teachings and embodies them more fully, and the Republican Party embodies others. Because political leaders are forced into those partisan molds, particularly during partisan campaigns, they often don’t reflect the spectrum of Catholic social teaching to a great degree.”

This division was starkly illustrated by the platforms of the vice-presidential candidates. While they were both strongly influenced by Catholicism, it seemed to be their political ideologies that determined which teachings of the Church they did – and did not – embrace.

A common argument for distinguishing the two sets of issues is to treat opposition to abortion as a non-negotiable principle, and to see most policy issues related to social justice as negotiable applications of principles.

The trouble is, such arguments tend to sharply divide principles from applications, as though principles were Platonic abstractions floating in the ether with no purchase on reality, and the applications mere observations with little theoretical foundation. It then becomes hard to see how our practice and theory mutually influence one another.

But it has always been the Catholic tradition that political reflection sits squarely between theory and practice. As the Jesuit Social Research Institute notes, Catholic Social Teaching has to be both “organic and systematic,” so as to take stock of “social realities, ethical principles, and application of those principles to current circumstances.”

So what do we gain from accepting the balkanization of the U.S. Church?

Pragmatically, pro-life and social justice interest groups deprive themselves of key allies when they don’t see their causes as mutually related.

Intellectually, both “sides” deprive themselves of the full significance of their own arguments when they treat their causes as isolated policy positions.

Most importantly, treating life and social justice issues as separate has wounded the US Church. Reconciliation between the life and social justice movements needs to be a high priority for the Church in the coming years. In the months to come, most Americans will likely go back to ignoring politics. Yet much rides on keeping citizens engaged beyond  “the tired quadrennial debate about whom we can vote for.” Catholics must hold a Trump presidency to its espoused pro-life values, and work towards long-term reconciliation, not short-term goals.

Taking the long view, the Catholic Church cannot depend upon the parties as a credible engine for turning our deepest faith commitments into policy. The parties have gotten us into this mess and are unlikely to get us out of it. Catholics and all people of good will must become better at articulating the basis for what we believe and how it can translate into a better life for all peoples. This will require pulling away from political modes of thought and recovering yet again what it means to be Christian in the first place.

Indeed, when I wrote about being Catholic and Democrat or Catholic and Republican this past summer, the ensuing debate between our readers revealed the misunderstanding, pain and sadly even hate between the two camps. Reconciliation between pro-life and social-justice Catholics will not be easy. It is a long process that requires building trust, becoming open to criticism, and even being willing to criticize ourselves in the pursuit of love-guided justice. That road will not be easy, but it is more necessary than ever to walk down it.

Yes, there are liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics. But at a time when politics is such a mess, we must pull away from ideological attachments and see ourselves as Catholics. And we must do this not to deny but to affirm the nobility and necessity of politics.

This article by Bill McCormick, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.


Should Religion Have a Place in Government?

Millennial writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig recently spoke at the Yale Political Union, arguing the negative position on the resolution: “religion has no place in government.” Here is a small segment of her speech:

I’ll now turn to the idea that religion ought to have a place in government….

There are several reasons why. The first is that law both expresses and enforces certain moral truths which cannot be divorced from broader moral systems, and for the religious — those sharing communities of some overwhelming concern — it’s disingenuous nigh impossible to deliberate on what truths the law should express without citing their religious priors.

And this, secondly, allows their co-religionists to hold them responsible for their claims. The tendency of liberal societies to bifurcate religion and politics into two separate spheres — one private, one public — encourages religious participants in political deliberation to equivocate somewhat about their motives and beliefs, as it’s not really possible in that political context to interrogate them. Yet it should be. As long as the religious are going to participate in governance, it’s going to be better, not worse, to argue out the legitimacy of their claims on their own grounds, rather than accounting for all religiously motivated argumentation as both void and unassailable on the grounds of its privacy. Politics are already religious, as I have argued, and are intrinsically so; in that case, it’s better that we be clear and direct about our convictions than cloak them in a flimsy veil of privacy.

Lastly, when religion is entirely privatized and politics dominates the public realm totally, there is little with sufficient moral weight to check political hegemony. There is a reason totalitarians seek to swiftly snuff out religious dissenters, and there is also a reason that religions nonetheless endure. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were able to resist hegemonic — and unjust — political exercise not out of reserves of private religious virtue, but because they produced religious objections to the evils of their respective states and pressed these cases politically, in public. From this perspective it is easy to imagine why the modern nation-state might insist that religion be privatized and ejected from the public sphere; it should be equally easy to imagine why we should resist that effort.

And this doesn’t apply only to fringe cases where extreme resistance measures (as against fascist regimes or racist violence) would otherwise be excused even by garden variety liberals. Indeed, destructive ideologies exert hegemonic control over our everyday, ordinary lives, and in many cases seek to exclude religious reasoning much to their benefit. Eugene McCarraher argues, for example, that in contemporary society religion has been displaced by a kind of Mammon-worship precisely to facilitate the dominance of global capitalism…

The full speech can be read here.