In some sense, there is something refreshing about Ken Cuccinelli. This might seem strange since Cuccinelli is most often known (so far as he is known) for his ideological extremism and his partisan vitriol and hatred. However, unlike some Republican leaders who suddenly found out within the last few years that Catholic social teaching exists and subsequently tried to repackage their plutocratic agenda as a new spin on Church teaching, Cuccinelli at least has the decency to explicitly say that he rejects 120 years of Catholic social teaching.
For Cuccinelli, a Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, the Catholic Church has “helped create a culture of dependency on government, not God.” He lets this “special interest group” for the poor know that they are “soft and weak.” He mocks the Church for supporting universal healthcare. He has actively worked against the Church’s efforts to address climate change. On immigration, he has taken positions sharply at odds with the Bishops and even supported “measures to change the 14th Amendment’s birthright-citizenship clause.”
In Cuccinelli’s mind, the Church is trying to evade its responsibilities, including providing assistance to the poor, by pawning them off on the government. Is the Church really not doing its fair share?
Reality looks a little different than Cuccinelli’s fantasy world:
Through Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Church supports a wide array of programs aimed at reducing poverty in America. These include programs providing housing for the homeless, helping formerly homeless people rebuild their lives, and distributing food to the hungry. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney praised their vital work in serving the nation’s poor. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development also gives millions of dollars in grants annually to programs that work to address the root causes of poverty in America.
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told ThinkProgress that in 2010, Catholic Charities USA provided food services to more than 7 million people, housing services to almost 500,000, and emergency services including assistance with clothing and prescription drug purchases to nearly 2 million.
Cuccinelli does wonder however whether the type of assistance they do provide should be done at all in society. He does not seem to see any connection between charity and justice, and he is more inclined to preach the economic libertarian gospel of liberty than mention either. Overall, it seems like Cuccinelli’s biggest problem might not be Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, or the US Bishops, but the originator of handouts and coddling the poor and vulnerable, Jesus Christ himself.
I thought I wanted right-wing Catholics like Cuccinelli to admit that they actually despise Catholic social teaching. I wanted to them to admit that their worldview revolves an understanding of liberty that is entirely at odds with the Catholic understanding of the human person and the meaning and purpose of authentic freedom. I thought it would be better if they used the rhetoric of “liberty” and “federalism” rather than distorting the meaning of social justice and subsidiarity.
While Paul Ryan’s treatment shows the utility of lying, Cuccinelli’s frontal attack on the Church shows that it is ultimately unnecessary. With the Church on healthcare, housing, education, foreign aid, immigration, and the rest of the social safety, but in favor of keeping abortion legal? Unacceptable, and you better get ready to face serious consequences. Oppose the Church on all of these, but also oppose same sex marriage and Roe v. Wade? Enjoy a get out of jail free card. Please proceed to the front pew.
A part of me wishes I could say, “Bring on the tools of coercion! Deny this man communion!” But I simply do not think that this is in line with following in the footsteps of Christ, nor do I think it will change hearts and minds and save souls.
Most of the Bishops that Cuccinelli is attacking seem to agree. And this is creating a problem. Despite the Church’s support for the poor, the segregation of abortion and same sex marriage from the rest of Church teaching on human dignity and social justice and the separate reactions to dissent on these matters (at least by some bishops) is fostering a sense among many American Catholics, particularly Millennial Catholics, that the Church is unjustly favoring right-wing dissenters. And this is fostering alienation and pushing too many young Catholics away from the Church.
I am not sure precisely what should be done in the face of such outright dissent, but the status quo is simply untenable. A more coherent, consistent policy is necessary. And this change needs to come now.