The Four Preeminent Political Issues Facing the United States

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Bishop Robert McElroy has a new article at America, in which he discusses faithful citizenship:

In Francis’ message he made clear that the core of the vocation of public service, and of all politics, is to promote the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole. It is a vocation that requires special and self-sacrificial concern for the poor, the unborn, the vulnerable and the marginalized. It is a commitment to pursue the common good over that of interest groups or parties or self-aggrandizement. It is a profoundly spiritual and moral undertaking.

This same spiritual and moral identity is also emblazoned upon the most foundational act of citizenship in our society, that of voting for candidates for office. Thus, ultimately it is to the citizens of our nation as a whole that the challenge of Pope Francis is directed. Catholic teaching proclaims that voting is inherently an act of discipleship for the believer. But American political life increasingly creates a distorted culture that frames voting choices in destructive categories that rob them of their spiritual character and content…..

The primary step of moral conversion to the common good requires an ever deeper affective understanding of how the commitment to the dignity of the human person radically embraces each of the issues that Pope Francis identified as constitutive of the common good of the United States at this moment in our history. It requires, in a very real sense, the development of “a Catholic political imagination” that sees the mutual linkages between poverty and the disintegration of families, war and the refugee crisis around the world, the economic burdens of the aging and our societal lurch toward euthanasia….

Bishop McElroy also outlined the “four pre-eminent political issues facing the United States that touch upon life as gift and responsibility in a decisive way”:

The first is abortion. The direct destruction of more than one million human lives every year constitutes a grievous wound upon our national soul and the common good….

The second is poverty. In a world of incredible wealth, more than five million children die every year from hunger, poor sanitation and the lack of potable water. Millions more die from a lack of the most elementary medical care….

A third pre-eminent issue centering upon life as gift and responsibility is care of the earth, our common home. The progressive degradation of the global environment has created increased poverty and death among many of the poorest peoples on earth….

The final pre-eminent question at stake in the political common good of the United States today is assisted suicide. For at its core, assisted suicide is the bridgehead of a movement to reject the foundational understanding of life as gift and responsibility when confronting end-of-life issues.

You can read the full article here.


What is the Whole Life Movement?

At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.

The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life. Read More


Building a Whole Life Culture: The Culture of Death Includes Poverty, Hunger, Oppression, Exploitation, and Abortion

Recently, the Center for Medical Progress has shed an interrogating light on the “culture of death” by exposing Planned Parenthood for what may very well be the sale of fetal tissue and body parts for research and other scientific purposes. There isn’t much I can add to the myriad of Catholic voices that have spoken on the issue. I believe, no matter what stance you take on the legality of their actions, the behavior in the videos is heinous and disturbing. Not just the ones of Planned Parenthood executives’ flippant attitudes when negotiating over compensation for these tissues and parts, but also the ones that document doctors sifting through aborted fetuses and picking out body parts from a large glass dish. I believe this is one situation that epitomizes what Pope Francis means when he talks about the throwaway culture in his encyclical Laudato Si.

While these videos were making the rounds, I read an article that reported an African-American senator from Ohio (Democrat Bill Patmon) had called out the #BlackLivesMatter movement for not protesting outside of Planned Parenthood because a high number of mothers who came in for abortions at Planned Parenthood in his district were African-American. His point is valid. Abortion takes away a life – since black lives matter, these black lives in the womb also matter. However, the Senator’s stance doesn’t address the bigger issue at hand. The question that sits with me is, “What in our society leads women in these circumstances to believe it’s necessary or desirable to terminate a pregnancy?”

I believe that “the culture of death” viciously permeates all aspects of our culture. Saint John Paul II used this term throughout his encyclical Evangelium Vitae in reference to a culture that values efficiency and the subjugation of the vulnerable of society through structures of sin created by the powerful (12). He uses this idea to focus on the plight of aborted children and euthanized elders, but it applies to other structures of sin that deprive human beings of a right to live happy and healthy and holy and free, such as poverty, hunger, and political oppression. Pope Francis also touches on this idea in Laudato Si by advocating a holistic understanding of ecology that not only protects the environment, but also unborn children, the poor, and the marginalized of our world. Francis writes, “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society” (91).

We must understand that the culture of death is a pervasive aspect of our society. The culture of death is found in a society that believes poor people who work multiple jobs need to “stop being lazy” and just work harder. The culture of death is found in a society where organizations believe that the best way to stop or prevent someone from perpetrating violence is inevitably through more violence. The culture of death is found in a society where black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. It is a gross misunderstanding of the “culture of death” to focus our efforts solely on defunding an organization like Planned Parenthood, while completely ignoring the judicial, economic, and social systems that also perpetuate this culture.

We must ensure that every action that disrespects human life, such as abortion, racism, poverty, and euthanasia, is addressed. It’s been great to see so many peers take a stance on social media and create awareness about abortion and Planned Parenthood. I stand with them, and I hope we can right this injustice. However, I’m writing to challenge everyone who is adamant on this issue not to stop there. Be just as vocal about poverty, total war, capital punishment, education issues, and the unequal distribution of wealth in this country and around the world. Post videos about the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, the recent murder of Sam Dubose, Foxconn Technology Group, Nike, human trafficking of children in the United States, and other situations where the culture of death manifests itself in the world. We will not bring about a “culture of life” if we do not work to change the underlying structures that lead to a culture of death.

Jeff Wallace is a campus minister at Merrimack College and regular contributor to God in All Things.



Indiana’s Bishops Tackle Poverty

The Bishops of Indiana have put together a very good letter on addressing poverty. Here are some highlights of Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana:

  • As bishops who serve the people of God, our concern is for everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, race, ethnic background, economic or social status. Christ came to save all humankind.
  • At the same time, we bishops have a particular obligation to care for the most vulnerable members of God’s family. That is why we pay special attention to the unborn, to the sick and the elderly, to prisoners, to those who suffer from various forms of addiction or mental illness, and to the education of people from many different backgrounds and circumstances. That is also why we care, in a very special way, for those brothers and sisters of ours who are poor.
  • The Gospels insist that God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that God himself has “become poor” (2 Cor. 8, 9).
  • Are we incapable – or worse – have we chosen not to see our sisters and brothers who are poor? Are we blind to the impact poverty has on families, neighborhoods and entire communities and unquestioning as to its causes?
  • Experience teaches us that the family is the only lasting, solid foundation on which healthy societies can be built.
  • Work is more than simply a way to make a living; it is a continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected; these include the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize, to private property, and to economic initiative.
  • The human person is what is most important, not economic theory or social structures.
  • Workers are co-creators with God in building the human community. Workers are not commodities. They are not instruments of production or tools in the hands of owners or managers, who are entitled to use them and then set them aside at the end of the day or the completion of a particular project.
  • A society that cares for the least of its citizens—including the unemployed, the underemployed and uninsured—is a society that will flourish in the sight of God and in its material and spiritual well-being.
  • The Catholic Church is strongly committed to education and, particularly, the education of the poor. More than two centuries of experience convince us about the powerful role that education plays in breaking the cycle of poverty and helping families, producing thriving citizens, workers and professionals.
  • For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been unswerving advocates for comprehensive reforms that will lead to health care for all, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. We believe that health care is fundamental to human life and dignity.
  • We believe that health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.
  • Do programs and policies place a primary emphasis on child welfare and enhance – not detract – from strong marriages and family life?
  • Poverty brings intolerable stress on the family’s ability to carry out its mission as the fundamental unit of society. Families are called to be stewards of all God’s gifts, and this requires an environment of stability and peace that can provide each family member with opportunities to exercise his or her responsibilities for the common good.

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza on Poverty, Structural Sin, Nuns, and a Broader Pro-Life Agenda

Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring recently interviewed Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Gehring asked a superb set of questions, and the Archbishop responded with equally excellent answers. Here are some of the highlights of the Archbishop’s responses:

  • The Pope seems to want a Church that is inclusive and out in the world, a Church going to the peripheries, a Church that is involved in the truly human problems that are affecting so many, especially the problems of poverty.
  • Bishops have a lot to learn from him, especially his lifestyle. He has made a deliberate effort to distance himself from the imperial court of Rome. Bishops have to take a close look at ourselves to see how we can live more simply.
  • The Pope’s very clear teaching condemning the “economy of exclusion” and the structures of sin that are involved strikes at the heart of some conservative Catholics who are so wedded to the unfettered free market that they think the Pope’s talk is naïve. Well, the Pope sees it as realistic. The poor of the world who suffer from that type of economic philosophy see it as realistic. The Pope is on a steady course. He is not naïve. He knows what he is doing.
  • The Pope is saying we have to oppose abortion but there must be a broader agenda. Some pro-life advocates don’t like to hear that and think if you take the focus off abortion you weaken your position. The Pope is saying you weaken your pro-life position when you don’t take a broader view of issues that attack human life.
  • Some people think there are only sins that are intrinsic evil, but the Pope is saying the economy has built in a structure that strongly impacts against the humanity of people and that is an evil too.
  • Hopefully, we will begin to see in Faithful Citizenship more emphasis on what Francis is saying about the poor. That will be a sign of how well Francis’ influence is taking root among the bishops of the United States.
  • I also think when young people see we are in the streets working with the poor I think that will make a difference.
  • The Church has grown and been strengthened in this country because of women religious. They have been doing what Pope Francis has been talking about in the streets of the world, in the prisons.  They have done that far more effectively than anyone else in the church.

Check out the full interview here.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Pope Francis’ Holy Land Triumph by Michael Sean Winters: “When he was introduced to six victims of the Shoah, he bent down and kissed their hands. We are accustomed to the negative of that image, of people great and small bending over to kiss the pope’s ring. Here, he reversed the image and the significance: It was they, the victims of the worst atrocity in history, who merited the veneration of a kiss.”

An Older Definition of the American Dream by Anna Sutherland: “Reviving civic involvement and widening access to good education may be more difficult tasks than improving the material situation of the poor, but they are just as crucial to the formation of an egalitarian, democratic society.”

Myanmar’s Appalling Apartheid by Nicholas Kristof: “Myanmar seeks American investment and approval. We must make clear that it will get neither unless it treats Rohingya as human beings.”

A Tidal Wave of Trauma by Lauren Wolfe: “Right now, there are about 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes, 2.7 million of whom have taken refuge in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. And, of course, there are millions of Syrians still suffering inside their country. Do the math, and it’s easy to see the enormity of the mental health crisis this war has created. But amid a litany of humanitarian needs that aren’t even remotely being met, can this crisis possibly be addressed? Can its long-term effects — illnesses that could tear apart families and reduce quality of life — be mitigated in a meaningful way?”

On the science of abortion, liberals are in serious denial by Michael Brendan Dougherty: “When anti-abortion activists say that human life begins at conception, they are not trying to confuse people about whether legal personhood and a viable conceptus are actually the same thing. They are trying to reinforce and build on the common intuition that society’s notions about human life should have some correspondence to observable reality, and that legal personhood should have a relationship to when we know a new individual of the species comes into existence.”

Too High a Cost to be Pro-Life? by Teaghan Grayson: “Helping Americans understand that unborn children are actually children and that we ought to secure their right to life is not sufficient to combat support for legal abortion. Instead, we must go further, to convince our country that the cost that comes with this population increase is a cost worth bearing.”

‘Allowed to Hope’? by Kevin Clarke: “It is hard to overestimate the need and the complexity of the problems challenging the Central African Republic.”

Paul Ryan’s letter to the poor by Kevin Clarke: “Like Rep. Ryan, the church has also worried about the soul-crushing potential of a suffocating social welfare bureaucracy. But in Catholic social teaching, our encyclicals’ authors probably had more the Soviet model of social suppression in mind than cheerful Swedish day care centers for working parents or programs that deliver daily bread to struggling families.”