Pope Francis: All People Have a Right to Religious Freedom, Not Just Christians

Highlights from Pope Francis in chapter 8 of Fratelli Tutti:

  • The different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society. (271)
  • We are convinced that “when, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from a society, that society ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated….” (274)
  • It is true that religious ministers must not engage in the party politics that are the proper domain of the laity, but neither can they renounce the political dimension of life itself, which involves a constant attention to the common good and a concern for integral human development. (276)
  • For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (277)
  • We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority. One fundamental human right must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace. It is religious freedom for believers of all religions. (279)

Sister Helen Prejean on Trump’s Execution Spree

Sister Helen Prejean writes:

The Trump administration is engaged in a full-court press to execute as many people on federal death row as possible before Jan. 20. Attorney General William P. Barr has already overseen eight executions since July. Five more are scheduled before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to end the federal death penalty. This killing spree by a lame-duck president is unmatched in modern U.S. history….

Like Montgomery’s, the crimes of the four others scheduled to be executed in December and January are horrifying, yet their paths to the death chamber exemplify a federal death-penalty system that is beyond repair. Two of the men are said to have intellectual disabilities that should have made them ineligible for the death penalty. Another, Brandon Bernard, was 18 when he was involved in the murders of two youth ministers — a husband and wife — in 1999. Bernard would be the youngest person executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years. Still another was convicted in the shooting deaths of three women, but he didn’t fire the shots; the gunman received a sentence of life in prison without parole. Do these men deserve mercy? If they had been tried before a different judge or jury, would they have received life sentences instead?…

Since 1973, 172 wrongfully convicted death-row prisoners have been lucky enough to be exonerated. Our track record of mistakes is so abysmal that, for every 10 people executed since 1977, one wrongfully sentenced-to-death person has been set free. And, even as the federal government sets out to execute 10 people in the last six months of 2020, only seven state executions have taken place, the lowest number since 1983…

The recent spate of government-sponsored killings at the Trump administration’s direction reveals what is most flawed in our nation’s practice of the death penalty: No matter how terrible the crime, God-like decisions of life or death at the hands of government officials are too weighty and unwieldy for humans to handle.

It’s time for us, awake to the inviolable dignity of all human beings, even those who have committed terrible crimes, to remove that power from the hands of those who should never have been entrusted with it in the first place.



Pope Francis: Inequality and Injustice Make Peace Impossible

Highlights from Pope Francis in chapter 7 of Fratelli Tutti:

  • Those who work for tranquil social coexistence should never forget that inequality and lack of integral human development make peace impossible. (235)
  • Nor does this mean calling for forgiveness when it involves renouncing our own rights, confronting corrupt officials, criminals or those who would debase our dignity. We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others. Forgiveness does not entail allowing oppressors to keep trampling on their own dignity and that of others, or letting criminals continue their wrongdoing. Those who suffer injustice have to defend strenuously their own rights and those of their family, precisely because they must preserve the dignity they have received as a loving gift from God. If a criminal has harmed me or a loved one, no one can forbid me from demanding justice and ensuring that this person – or anyone else – will not harm me, or others, again. This is entirely just; forgiveness does not forbid it but actually demands it. (241)
  • The important thing is not to fuel anger, which is unhealthy for our own soul and the soul of our people, or to become obsessed with taking revenge and destroying the other. No one achieves inner peace or returns to a normal life in that way. (242)
  • When conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden or buried in the past, silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds and sins. Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest and patient negotiation. (244)
  • The Shoah must not be forgotten. It is “the enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink when, spurred by false ideologies, it fails to recognize the fundamental dignity of each person, which merits unconditional respect regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief”. As I think of it, I cannot help but repeat this prayer: “Lord, remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!”. (247)
  • Nor must we forget the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki….Neither must we forget the persecutions, the slave trade and the ethnic killings that continue in various countries, as well as the many other historical events that make us ashamed of our humanity. They need to be remembered, always and ever anew. We must never grow accustomed or inured to them. (248)
  • For this reason, I think not only of the need to remember the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness and fraternity. To remember goodness is also a healthy thing. (249)
  • In the face of an action that can never be tolerated, justified or excused, we can still forgive. In the face of something that cannot be forgotten for any reason, we can still forgive. Free and heartfelt forgiveness is something noble, a reflection of God’s own infinite ability to forgive. If forgiveness is gratuitous, then it can be shown even to someone who resists repentance and is unable to beg pardon. (250)
  • Those who truly forgive do not forget. Instead, they choose not to yield to the same destructive force that caused them so much suffering. They break the vicious circle; they halt the advance of the forces of destruction. They choose not to spread in society the spirit of revenge that will sooner or later return to take its toll. Revenge never truly satisfies victims. Some crimes are so horrendous and cruel that the punishment of those who perpetrated them does not serve to repair the harm done. Even killing the criminal would not be enough, nor could any form of torture prove commensurate with the sufferings inflicted on the victim. Revenge resolves nothing. (251)
  • This does not mean impunity. Justice is properly sought solely out of love of justice itself, out of respect for the victims, as a means of preventing new crimes and protecting the common good, not as an alleged outlet for personal anger. Forgiveness is precisely what enables us to pursue justice without falling into a spiral of revenge or the injustice of forgetting. (252)
  • Today we state clearly that “the death penalty is inadmissible” and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide. (263)
  • The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe. If I do not deny that dignity to the worst of criminals, I will not deny it to anyone. (269)

Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zones Can Open Us Up to Fuller, Richer Lives

Photo by mark chaves on Unsplash

In Commonweal, Charles Taylor writes:

Our relationships, if healthy and authentic, open us to others who expand and enrich us. Nowadays, our noblest social instincts can easily be thwarted by self-centered chats that give the impression of being deep relationships. On the contrary, authentic and mature love and true friendship can only take root in hearts open to growth through relationships with others. As couples or friends, we find that our hearts expand as we step out of ourselves and embrace others. Closed groups and self-absorbed couples that define themselves in opposition to others tend to be expressions of selfishness and mere self-preservation (89).

There is a lot of (good) moral advice in Francis’s encyclical, but there is also another dimension: a philosophical anthropology that sees us as realizing more fully our humanity through contact and exchange with people and cultures beyond our original comfort zone. Through these exchanges, new creative human possibilities are disclosed and human life is enriched. This is how I understand Francis’s “law of ekstasis.”

Francis is not just telling us that we have not lived up to our moral responsibilities, that we have fallen short of the (moral) demands of the Gospel; beyond these moral demands the Gospel also calls on us to grow, to emerge from our cramped, fear-driven lives. Our new global predicament, where different cultures and faiths are brought into ever closer contact, is not just an occasion for discriminations and exclusions that we must avoid (though we certainly should fight against these), but also a crucial site for realizing the fuller lives that we are called to live.


The Pro-Life, Pro-Family Case for Economic Justice

Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle

Gracy Olmstead writes:

This struggle is the focus of two recently published books: Alissa Quart’s Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, which came out in 2018, and Eichner’s The Free-Market Family: How the Market Crushed the American Dream (and How It Can Be Restored), published in January of this year. Both books painstakingly document the plight of U.S. mothers and fathers from many economic backgrounds, career fields, and geographic regions. The picture they paint is bleak, and often maddening: as Eichner puts it, “A range of harsh market forces are undercutting American families today. … Markets, rather than supporting sound family lives, are strangling the life out of them.”

Fixing what’s broken, both authors argue, will require far more than a few tweaks to the tax code. It will demand a complete reevaluation of our economic system and governmental safety net. It will require us to consider who our economy is actually meant to serve—and whether conservatives, in particular, are willing to back their pro-life, pro-family rhetoric with actual economic policy. We have to start asking ourselves what we believe the telos, or “chief end,” of our economy is meant to be.

Both American parents and children have alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety. Deaths of despair and the opioid crisis are both often tied to familial and economic instability. Two-earner parent households in the U.S. work longer hours than their peers in any other developed country, Eichner reports, with a total paid and unpaid workload of about 135 hours a week or more. Zero percent of mothers and just five percent of fathers say they have time to spare.

Yet despite all this work, a large share of American parents still struggle to put food on the table, to afford safe daycare for their young children, to pay their bills, and to stay on top of debt. They are, as Quart puts it, “running furiously and breathlessly just to find themselves staying in place.”

Why is this true of so many Americans? Both Quart and Eichner assemble a long list. Many U.S. jobs are less stable and permanent than in the past, with highly unpredictable work hours and stagnant wages. The job market itself is uncertain, and any semblance of work-life balance has become increasingly difficult. Yet “middle-class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was twenty years ago,” Quart notes. The costs of education, health care, day care, housing have all “exploded” in recent decades, and Quart cites a Washington Post/Miller Center poll which found that 65 percent of all Americans worry about paying their bills….

We have centered the norms of the workforce around the assumption that most workers are untethered and autonomous—and employers and politicians often get irked and annoyed when they realize that most workers, in fact, are neither of these things. Dealing with parents-as-workers requires us to deal with embodied humans: humans who age, who have babies, who need a place to breast pump, or who require more than a week of unpaid maternity leave in order to heal from the strain of childbirth….

Through our policies and cultural expectations, we purposefully separate the poorest mothers from their children, and often pressure them to put their children in high-risk environments. All out of our own utilitarian designation of human worth, tied to work productivity rather than the intrinsic dignity and the imago Dei inherent in every human life….

Beyond the perils of our consumer culture, there are evils in our corporate culture here which the government is not solely responsible for fighting (not because it cannot or should not, but because we as consumers could also be holding U.S. companies to account). Quart argues in her book for a universal child allowance, better-subsidized daycare, universal public pre-K, and even a universal basic income in order to better address familial instability and anxiety. But she also acknowledges that such massive changes could be hard to achieve. And so she argues that we ought to begin exerting moral pressure on companies as soon as possible, through—as one example—“ratings of ‘corporate culture compliance’” that would applaud the best companies and “shame the worst” in regards to their treatment of employees.

You can read the full article here.


Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Challenge of Black Patriotism by Theodore R. Johnson: “Black patriotism does not hold that America is irredeemably racist — it asks if America is interested in redemption. It is forward-looking and informed by history, meshing optimism about the nation’s prospects with a realism about its struggles with racial equality.”

Oregon African American Catholics’ legacy of joy amid injustice by Katie Scott: “In Oregon, as in cities nationwide, African American Catholics know this joy of parish life as well as the injustice Hardy and her mother encountered as they prayed. Many, the 20-year-old included, believe the persistent calls for racial equality this summer have the potential to strip away some of the racism present both in society and the Catholic Church.”

Black Christians have lived out their faith by fighting for voting access by Esau McCaulley: “I have made it my practice to vote regularly. I voted even when I knew that my preferred candidate had little chance of carrying the day. I did so because my vote mattered to my ancestors. I owed them my vote, my voice and my advocacy. Many Black Christians paid the price in blood, gave their very lives, for the privilege.”

Why women’s suffrage matters for Black people by Angela P. Dodson: “While our collective memory of the suffrage movement is often a vision of a small band of white women — fighting the establishment alone, marching and picketing in their flowy white dresses — the story of the women’s movement was more complicated and nuanced than that. It involved many women, but also men, of different races who had to find their voice, identify allies and build coalitions.”

Racism Is Not a Historical Footnote by Bill Russell: “In order to eradicate racism, we must provide our children with an education that includes all American history and that examines how that history continues to shape our institutions, beliefs and culture.”

The New Reconstruction by Adam Serwer: “History teaches that awakenings such as this one are rare. If a new president, and a new Congress, do not act before the American people’s demand for justice gives way to complacency or is eclipsed by backlash, the next opportunity will be long in coming. But in these moments, great strides toward the unfulfilled promises of the founding are possible. It would be unexpected if a demagogue wielding the power of the presidency in the name of white man’s government inspired Americans to recommit to defending the inalienable rights of their countrymen. But it would not be the first time.”

Neglecting Black Catholic history by Efran Menny: “Black Catholic history, with all its greatness and luster, is still something fighting for the proper respect it deserves amongst the broader American Catholic scope.”