Death by a Thousand Cuts – Pondering Painful Divsions in the Church

011413There is, to me, a certain sad division in the Church that has set up in recent decades that is rooted in what I think is ultimately a false dichotomy. It makes me particularly sad because I respect and esteem people in both camps. And though I hold them both in my heart, they barely speak to one another and hold one another in deep suspicion and sometimes outright contempt.

I speak specifically of the division in the Church between those who focus especially on the moral issues related to Life, sexuality and family and those who focus on the moral issues related to the social teachings of the Church such as poverty, immigration, housing, healthcare, wages and so forth.

The issue recently resurfaced on the comment thread of this blog on Saturday. The blog post featured a video (re-posted below) that speak to the problem of being Catholic in name only.

Certain commentors opined that the video was unbalanced because it ends by highlighting the corporal works of mercy as essential to being a good Catholic. To be fair, the video also deals with issues of mass attendance, modesty, chastity, and respect for authority and is aimed at teenagers.

Despite this, some readers saw the video as only emphasizing the corporal works of mercy and were troubled that no mention was made about abortion, redefining marriage, and other issues often termed non-negotiables. Here is a sample of some of the comments:

  1. I think there is the danger that the “take away” here is that as long as I am freely volunteering to help the poor that is all that is needed to be a good Catholic. I know many students at the nearby Jesuit high school who have gone New Age or totally lapsed into religious non-observance and yet are service oriented.
  2. Strangely, there is not a single criterion mentioned in this video that would help identify this young lady as a Catholic. Generic Christian, yes, but not Catholic. The defense lawyer should have asked her whether she completely upheld the truth of the Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium; whether she unreservedly believed in the doctrine of transubstantiation; and whether the Pope was for her the visible head of the one true holy and apostolic Church (to name just a few pertinent issues). One can be an atheist and still follow Jesus’ call for charitable behavior.
  3. I’ll echo some of the other comments by saying the video, while clever, runs the risk of reducing Catholicism to social service work. Jenny Smith could well have claimed to be Catholic and worked in a soup kitchen and still not have been Catholic. It would have been nice to have seen the defense attorney ask her if she believed abortion to be evil (with her being pro-choice) or if she could explain transubstantiation (with her holding the Eucharist to be just a symbol) or have her recite the new translation of the Nicene Creed (which of course she wouldn’t be able to do from heart) or even ask her when the last time she went to confession was (years, no doubt).
  4. Interesting. The Gospel of Matthew is clear about the corporal works of mercy. But, the movie would be good for discussion with youth if there were clear Catholic teachings that were in question.

Well OK, you get the point. The comments above all think the focus was either wrong or incomplete. Though, as I point out, the movie does reference things other than the corporal works of mercy.

To be sure, there is a special priority to be had on the life issues especially today. As some have rightly observed, it is necessary to be alive in order to enjoy other things such as decent housing, healthcare, just immigration laws etc.

That said, I think the sorts of comments highlighted above do call for some concern, and show forth the need for some distinctions.  I would like to highlight some of the following concerns distinctions:

I.  The comment expressed concern about balance. But the comments themselves show some lack of balance. For, critical and foundational as they are, focusing in the life/sex/marriage  issues cannot eclipse the fact that there are a wide range of other moral issues as well.

Both Scripture and tradition set forth a wide range of issues, certain issues ranking higher importance  than others. But that some issues are more foundational and critical than others  should not artificially truncate the wholistic presentation of Biblical and Catholic moral teaching tradition.

For example, the necessary discussion and emphasis on mortal sin, should not preclude any discussion of venial sin. Indeed, venial sins often contribute to mortal sin and lay the foundation for it.

So the discussion on being an authentic Catholic is not a zero-sum game, as if discussing and focusing on certain critical issues, means we cannot thereby engage other issues as well. Certain areas may need special attention, but it is not healthy to completely forsake one thing for another. The priority the urgent should not wholly eclipse the priority of the important,  and the whole is often in service of the particular and the urgent.

Thus, the Catholic teachings on the sacredness of life are part of a wider teaching that respects the dignity of the human person at many levels. Demonstrating the Catholic concern for the individual involves wide and diverse issues, fosters credibility in terms of our concerns for issues of life and family.

II. The comments seem to presume an animus against certain issues or intentionally omission of them where it may not be. While it is true, but the video does not mention abortion, the marriage issue or euthanasia,  it is also true it does not mention divorce, or theft. This does not thereby mean video either supports divorce or theft, or is indifferent to these issues. It may simply mean that not everything could be covered in the span of a short video.

Jesus does not cover every moral topic in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) either. In fact, some very critical issues are left out from that sermon. Many gay activists love to emphasize that Jesus never explicitly mentioned homosexuality. (Never mind that the Apostles He commissioned to speak in his name did speak to the issue very clearly and excluded it entirely). Never mind all that,  they say Jesus never mentioned it!

But an argument from silence, is one of the weakest inductive arguments. To argue a position from someone based on something they did not say is at best chancy, and at worst unjust. The video’s silence on abortion and other important moral issues does not constitute an argument or just accusation that the video makers intend thereby a selective reading of Catholic teaching, or a setting aside of pro-life priorities.

III. Many things help make the whole. The Church today faces a world and a culture that is in increasing and widespread disrepair. There are many things that need attention and it is good that we have some in the Church who specialize in many different ways.

I am mindful of a recent experience when, after I tripped over a loose pavement stone and had a bad fall, I was knocked unconscious. The rescue squad was summoned and I was taken to a nearby shock-trauma unit.  As I was wheeled in, now conscious, no less than six people went immediately to work, and each had a very specific job. One took my blood pressure, another got other vitals such as EKG. Yet another had a job to remove my outside clothing, and another interviewed me in order to test my mental state. Still another collected information on my medical history from a brother priest who accompanied me to the hospital. Someone else drew true blood, and so forth. Eventually I was handed to others and got a brain scan and an x-ray of my sprained ankle. Each one had an important job to do, some things were more critical than others, but all were necessary and important.

As a pastor, and priest who walks in the wide Church, I am grateful that there is not only a diversity of gifts, but also the diversity of specialties and interests. I have parishioners who are  passionate pro-life activists, and others who are wonderfully dedicated to the cause of affordable housing and youth programs in the community. I am glad that I have people passionate and concerned and committed in all these areas and more besides.  Some issues are more critical than others, but all are important, all affect human beings, their dignity, and how we best and justly treat one another.

I live for the day when we will all appreciate and respect that there is some need for a division of labor, and come to appreciate that it is good thing that some work for affordable housing, so that others are free to work for pro-life, that’s some volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers run by the Church, so that others can reach out to immigrants, or provide clothing for the poor.

IV. I am aware, and share the concern that, in recent decades to some extent, the Church drifted too strongly in the direction of social action, and away from the sacramental life, prayer, and the study of the faith.

But that said, it does not follow that we should over-correct and or be suspicious of every reference to the social Gospel. The fact is, there are corporal works of mercy, as well as spiritual works of mercy.

And, the fact is, God is passionately concerned about how we treat the poor. A significant amount of Scripture is devoted to matters of justice for the poor, the widow, the resident alien, and other socially vulnerable individuals. Some of God’s greatest anger is directed toward those who would neglect obligations to the poor and needy.

Nowhere does scripture require or even envision that this should be a large role for big government. But God does speak to Israel both individually and collectively. That is to say, we all have individual obligations, and also communal obligations.

The Church cannot be the Church, and cannot credibly claim lay hold of faith without consistently and strongly advocating for the poor. And thus, whatever correction we need to do to add back the spiritual and personal moral conversion we have sometimes neglected, neither can we neglect to mention the very things which this video well articulates, namely the corporal works of mercy.

We ought to avoid either-or scenarios. It is not the spiritual works of mercy or the corporal works of mercy, it is not the moral issues or the social issues, it is all of these things in proper balance. This is necessary both for catholicity and credibility.

Let me again be clear that I am not hereby advocating large government programs, or expansive federal management of problems related to the poor.

And to be fair, neither is the video. The video speaks directly to the young lady named Jenny and to what she has or has not done. Reasonable Catholics will disagree on how best to help the poor, but we cannot disagree that we must help the poor, and that God expects, even demands it of us.  Poverty is complicated, many social ills are very complicated, but this does not exempt us from entering into vigorous discussion and action regarding solutions.

I have written more on my concerns in this matter on the Blog of the US Bishops (to read CLICK HERE). In the article there I argue that the Church needs two wings and one heart to fly. Thank God for the diverse passions and actions of many in the Church on many and different fronts. In the end it is one battle to usher in the full kingdom of God and insist on the whole counsel of God. The “justice wing” is not in competition with the “life wing”. Both wings are needed and necessary. And both wings are and must be united in one Heart, the heart of the Church, the heart of Christ.

I’ll tell you what, perhaps the most discouraging thing about being a blogger and being out there is not the scorn of the secular. It is the death by a thousand cuts executed by some (thank God not most) fellow believers who nit-pick, and object that something I say is not said just they way they want it said. This is very painful and part of the cost of being out there. But think about it now, how many give way under such scorn, and fear to be “out there.”

It is very unfortunate by my estimation that some have seen fit to criticize this video for what it does not (even) say. To my mind it is an excellent video, well produced and thought-provoking. Brevity cannot permit every issue to be addressed.

If you think you can do better or add to it, raise your own money and do your own project. More is better. But the kind of particularism and the narrow-casting attitudes that set up in the blogosphere can be very discouraging and even harmful. It is a big Church and a lot issues need addressing in this dysfunctional culture of the West. Lets thank God for each other and learn to appreciate the diverse efforts that are needed today.

In case you missed it, here is the video in question.

98 Replies to “Death by a Thousand Cuts – Pondering Painful Divsions in the Church”

  1. It’s not just a problem with the Church, I think. The culture here in the USA is hostile to ideas of social justice. If you ever have troubles in your life, you’re told to just suck it up. And God forbid you ever need help in your life, because people will just label you as an entitled, whiny leech. This is another example of the national culture infecting the ideas of the Church.

    1. I disagree. I think many Americans (and I think studies confirm this) are very generous in donating time, talent and treasure. If there is hostility, it is toward the idea of Caesar being the primary (and gradually sole) source of social justice and charity.

  2. Msgr, you sure you’re not over reacting to those criticisms? In this “free thinking” 21st century there are so many opinions, notions and propositions about everything – both inside and outside the Church – the average individual (sans firm spiritual formation or marked discernment) can be so easily blown hither and thither by the winds of change and confusion. It’s quite likely that many of those who felt that the “justice” angle was overemphasized in this video will, on another given day, conclude from some other input that we do fail to do enough (individually, at least) for the poor and the disadvantaged. Such are the times!

    I’m in Australia. I read your blog daily, “lift” your articles most days 🙂 and email them to a bunch of friends around the world. And every now and then I get an appreciative response, with people telling me how glad they were to have learned something ot other, from one or other of your articles. So please, don’t get downhearted if all your ponderings don’t meet with equal appreciation. (Indeed, all too often, the appreciative ones are actually the silent ones!) So you just keep on keeping on. God bless you and thank you for your excellent ministry.

  3. The answer is for the Church to once again become the source for social justice and stop giving HER duty over to the governments. Why can’t She ( along with the laypeople), be our insurance carrier, our bank, our farms, our pharmacies, our clothing makers, our landlords or home builders. It sounds crazy but so did Jesus when He told us to give all our possession away and follow Him.

    1. Well, I am not sure if the Church should do all the things you mention. There was a time when the Church and the government merged and the temporal power of the Church was maximized, especially in the vacuum left in the West in the wake of the Roman empire. Too much temporal power led ultimately to corruption. But all that said, I get and agree with your basic point which is we cannot just talk subsidiarity. We have to model and and achieve it.

      1. My concern with ‘social justice’ (and I apologize for the quotes, but…) is that the political left wing acts like it’s their rightful domain. If I advocate for justice in a manner not supporting big government, then I’m against the poor in their minds (and mouths). It irks me no end.

        I question why the Church thinks she is fulfilling her role of social justice advocate when she lobbies the government for more programs. I’ve been considering the rise of the belief that the government should be doing things, and it appears that it really started in the 18th century. Now please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that when religious liberty became a hot topic (in the negative sense)? That a Catholic government shouldn’t allow that which is not true to be propagated?

        This is all very early stage thinking, so I’m having problems even stating it. Let me re-try:

        One of the concerns of SSPX was that the notion of religious liberty proclaimed by V2 was invalid/incorrect. The main counterpoint to this was that we no longer had Catholic governments, thus the statements that religious error had no rights was no longer valid. In a society with a secular government, error had the freedom/right to be taught. (Or is it better to say that a secular government had no right to dictate what religious error is?)

        How is that different from the ideas of government sponsored ‘social justice’? The older encyclicals endorsed such things as a responsibility of the (Catholic) government. But wouldn’t the same religious liberty counterpoint also apply? That in a society with a secular government, Catholics should not expect the government to do the same things it should have done if it were a Catholic government?

        These thoughts have been knocking around in my head for a year or two, and I’d appreciate any feedback.

  4. One of the most helpful things I have ever heard on this subject was from a lady Pentecostal minister one day when I was surfing the radio spectrum as I drove.

    She said that many of the divisions in the body of Christ arise from the various charisms that we have. If we have the gift of prophecy, then issues of right vs wrong will loom largest in our minds. If the gift of teaching, then issues of truth vs falsehood. If the gift of leadership, then issues of unity vs division. If gifts of mercy, then the social justice issues will loom largest. Christians tend to view the world through their particular lens, and to think that others are very short-sighted and deeply mistaken. This naturally leads to a great deal of animated discussion, to say the least.

    Simply seeing and understanding this dynamic leads to a sense of proportion and to seriously considering the possibility that perhaps there is some merit in the strongly held views of a brother or sister who sees the world in a different way. They also have their God-given gift which we ignore to our own loss.

  5. Father,

    I get your response but st the same time think people are understandably sceptical of a presentation that emphasizes social reaching and leaves out crucial doctrinal teaching. It’s been the tack of countless programs in the Church which leave the impression that all that matters to being Catholic is helping out at social programs. I don’t know if this video is one of these, but given the track record of the recent past, it’s hard to blame the commenters for being suspicious.

    1. Why do you say it leaves it out? You have failed to mention every issue in comment here. But I do not presume that (for example) you support theft because you did not mention it in this post. So for me the question is, why be so skeptical? You say its hard to blame colks for being skeptical. Well, I am not so sure that the easy road is the right road here. I guess I AM asking Catholics to do the hard work of preserving unity in diversity. Why not embrace and praise a fellow Catholic who has done something creative? If one were to have a conversation of greater depth one might discover some lack of balance. But support and encouragement and conversation rooted in mutual respect and appreciation would be a better way to handle it than to retreat to corners and pull out swords. Nit picking is easy, growing in mutal appreciation is hard. So yes, I am asking Catholics to do the hard work. In this focal instance do you really KNOW that the video maker is “leaving out crucial doctrinal teaching?” Is that the intent? Or is brevity,so necessary in internet videography more the point? I don’t know. We don’t have to be skeptical, some folks just choose to be. Being skeptical is easy, as you suggest. Working for unity is hard, but it is what the Lord expects.

      1. I like what you’ve said, Msgr. – ‘Why not embrace and praise a fellow Catholic who has done something creative?’

        As the sacred scriptures said:

        “For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ; and every one members one of another: 6 And having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us, either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of faith; 7 or ministry, in ministering; or he that teaches, in doctrine.”- Romans 12:4-7

        For those who like to criticize others why don’t you become CREATIVE and put out a video that teaches faith and moral to BALANCE out the social justice issues.

          1. Good point, well said, thank you. Let’s be grateful for the variety of gifts that God gave us.

      2. I didn’t say I agreed with those who panned the video, just that they should be given some slack.

    2. Perhaps the reason that social justice is emphasized is that it is much easier to show lack of action that it is to show lack of belief. The purpose was to present evidence that Jenny is not a Catholic. Does she BELIEVE what the Church teaches? Ask her and she’ll say yes. Does she DO what the Church teaches should be done? Ask her and she may say yes, but proving her claims false is easy. Another way for her attorney to end his arguments: “Faith without works is dead. She can’t be a Catholic as it is shown that she has no works.”

    3. Perhaps the reason that social justice is emphasized is that it is much easier to show lack of action than it is to show lack of belief. The purpose was to present evidence that Jenny is not a Catholic. Does she BELIEVE what the Church teaches? Ask her and she’ll say yes. Does she DO what the Church teaches should be done? Ask her and she may say yes, but proving her claims false is easy. Another way for her attorney to end his arguments: “Faith without works is dead. She can’t be a Catholic as it is shown that she has no works.”

  6. I don’t know any Catholics who are faithful on the unpopular teachings (such as the sinfulness of abortion and homosexual activity) who are not also concerned about the poor and suffering. At this point, though, I think it is you who have a special hang-up. This is starting to remind me of the kind of person who would listen to someone who advocates BOTH the care of the poor, the sick, and the needy AND adherence to the politically unpopular Church teachings — the “two wings” you like to talk about — and reply, “All that is well and good, but why do you neglect the liturgical crisis in your list? When are we going to start using Gregorian chant like the Church says? And when are we going to start seeing meaningful opportunities to participate in the extraordinary form?” It’s not that this person is wrong in wanting a better liturgy; he is only wrong in thinking that just because someone else is talking about priorities that they are not the whole, complete Catholic he is.

    1. Your personal descriptions of me Howard are off the mark, plus you don’t me. But the central question I have raised here is what it means to be authentically Catholic. Your inclusion of liturgy at this time is a red herring and we have discussed the liturgy quite extensively. But since you’ve raised I celebrated a Solemn High TLM on Sunday and only 40 people attended. In this Archdiocese we have expanded from three to five sites where the TLM mass is celebrated every Sunday, but the numbers who attend the TLM overall in the diocese have not increased and have actually decreased a bit, according to the report we were asked to send to Ecclesia Dei.

      But as for you Howard, Why don’t you keep your powder dry for enemies outside the Church. And perhaps If I were to analyze you as you have tried to analyze and categorize me, perhaps I would say you are avoiding the question here Howard. As for me I am trying to be fully Catholic, and to embrace both wings, as I think a Catholic and a pastor should do. I walk in the wide Church, the Church that is diverse and has members with different gifts and interests and I am trying to serve them all. What grieves me is some (like you?) who sneer at others who do not see things merely in the way the do, who see fellow Catholics as enemies, not because those Catholics are proposing heresy, but simply because they do not articulate the application of the faith in the exact proportions and terminology that they want. Or to add your liturgical point, some who sneer at others who like musical forms or prefer liturgical experiences different from theirs. This is the death by a thousand cuts that wounds the body of Christ, Howard.

      1. My point is not about liturgy. My point is that Catholics who are faithful on Church teachings that the Washington Post does not like– the hot-button issues that of abortion and “gay marriage” — are, in my experience, almost always faithful on those teachings of which the Washington Post does approve — the care of the sick and the poor and the fair treatment of immigrants. With these Catholics there is no “painful division”. On the other hand, your diocese includes a number of Catholic politicians whose viewpoints line up much better with the Washington Post than with the Catechism. The two cases are not equal. In fact, I think if you pay attention to who actual gives tithes and who actually gives voluntary donations to charities and donates their time, you will find that those who are faithful to the non-Post-approved teachings do more.

        My point was not about liturgy. My point is the equivalence you attempt to draw is baloney.

        1. Then why did you bring it up. Also, a little friendly advice Howard: try not to designate your interlocutor’s point of view as “baloney” and also avoid personal attestations as to people’s motives or “issues.” Generalizations about people and even many groups are also less helpful, generalizations such as “these Catholics” and “your diocese” as if the groups you mention were monoliths. Moving too quickly as well from the specific to the General is also to be avoided. This sort of stuff harms the Body of Christ. As for my diocese, it might surprise you to know that some people who are not politicians go to Mass in this diocese at that the diocese is more center right than center left as you seem to suppose by your conclusion from the specific to the general. Also there are papers both published and read here other than the Wash Po. Finally there is nothing in my post about who donates more. The point is to be Catholic and to manifest the whole counsel of Christ in a way that is credible and which transcends worldly and political categories

  7. The division is not between those who practice the spiritual works of mercy and those who practice the corporal. When you look at Catholics who stand out for their servivce to the poor, when you look at figures like Katherine Drexel, Dorothy Day, Teresa of Calcutta, etc., you see people who attended Mass regularly, even daily, practiced Eucharistic Adoration, and defended the *entire* teaching of the Church in an increasingly secularized and hostile world. There is no either/or for the true Catholic.

    Do you see that among those who style themselves as champions of “social justice”? More often, they don’t even practice the corporal works of mercy themselves because they’re too busy lobbying Washington and demonizing those who advocate a different approach. Maybe they do believe abortion is wrong, even if they feel led to focus on other issues. Or maybe they’ve moved “beyond Jesus” and are happily escorting women to abortion clinics, and advocating to legalize gay marriage.

    1. Balt says, Do you see that among those who style themselves as champions of “social justice”? Yes, all the time. Many in my own parish, and many in the Archdiocese

  8. First, I didn’t have any real issues with the video. I thought it was fine and would not object to my own children seeing it.

    Here’s the thing, though. In my experience in being around and speaking with other Catholics who are vocally “in the justice wing” I have gotten the distinct impression that what matters to a good chunk of those folks that I personally know is politics and government. Justice issues are treated as solely belonging to the realm of government and government intervention, issues involving the sanctity of life are treated as if they have nothing to do with justice at all (when, of course, they are perhaps the biggest issues of justice of all), and expression of ideas contrary to those are not welcome.

    If you were forced to categorize me I would likely fall closer to the “life issues wing” and I will admit to frequently rolling my eyes whenever “social justice” comes up. Although I would point out that my reaction is directly linked to my experiences with the folks in those circles. That does not mean I am not concerned about other issues of justice outside of the sanctity of life (I am). I probably do, however, differ in my beliefs of how we should go about solving those issues (more Church and community and a whole heck of a lot less government) and those differences almost always get me the stink eye from the “justice wing” folks I know, regardless of the fact that the Church clearly teaches that solutions to issues most commonly associated with that “wing” are largely subject to prudential judgment in application, and so my ideas are not anathema nor do they somehow make me less Catholic. But that is not the way I have been treated, hence the eye rolling.

    Obviously that’s just coming from folks I know or have interacted with personally so it’s not every “justice wing” Catholic. But I suspect that occurs fairly often or else the video above wouldn’t have garnered the reaction you’ve described.

    1. Yes, the political template poisons the discussions Catholics need to have. The subsidiarity based discussion you mention is important but I also await some more vigorous plans and pathways to realize it from those of us who advocate it. Recently I moved our parish emergency assistance budget from 10K to 80K and hope to move it too 100 K SO perhaps that is one way. But the danger is that subsdiarity is just a slogan. Congressman Paul Ryan did make some attempts to move to a more local level even with govt assistance in a budget he proposed but as you know he lost and (and also congress has not passed a budget in over 1000 days – in total violation of law). I have tried to encourage Catholics who advocate subsidiarity to be more specific as to the “how” of that. It is going to require us to put our money where our mouth is.

      1. Two thoughts:

        The first is that I think that *any* plan that’s put forth to advance a shift towards more subsidiarity is going to fail unless we all begin doing exactly what you say: put our money where our mouths are. And I think that’s why it’s so hard to begin shifting back to begin with, because even though we all know having government as “daddy” is corrosive to societal cohesion, moving back requires us to have faith in the goodness of others. It requires us to believe that people will step up and fill in the gaps. That’s the first step but I think it is arguably the hardest part.

        And, just in my own experiences, it’s not encouraging when I go to volunteer at (for example) Catholic Charities and the first thing that happens when someone needy comes is is they are given government forms to fill out for various aid programs instead of someone looking into what we can do to help them at the local parish level (like sending them right next door to the food pantry or to the thrift store where they will flat out give folks clothes or furniture or whatnot if they can’t pay for them, or to the diocesan clinic down the road, etc and so on). The habit to just help someone sign up for federal programs x, y, and z and you’re done and it being seen as some kind of corporal work of mercy is just….. I don’t know if I have a charitable word here. That happens routinely in my parish. And look, I know that’s not necessarily happening everywhere. But I would classify my parish as fairly conservative, and I am a relatively new Catholic. I was confirmed in May of 2011, so I’ve been formally a Catholic a hair less than two years and if you include the time when I was attending mass and RCIA that makes three years I’ve been associated with Catholicism. And in that very short period of time these are the experiences I’ve had and the very strong impressions I’ve gotten on these issues. At this point I really have no idea what I can do to change those attitudes and practices, even at my own parish. And let’s just say that my (extremely polite, I promise!) suggestions to the various ministries in question were not taken too kindly. Is this something pastors need to take up? Bishops? The whole US conference?

        My second thought is along the lines of us really needing to expand our efforts at ecumenism is recent decades into genuine partnerships with other Christians so as to create tangible local safety nets for the needy. In just my little town there is one huge Catholic parish and so many other Christian churches that I would be willing to bet it closes in on 100 separate Christian communities just in my area (there is a church on close to every corner and that is not an exaggeration). And every one has at least one ministry for the needy. One down the street has a food pantry, another has a clothing ministry or a soup kitchen. Some have health services, etc and so on. But they are all small and all claim to be underfunded. Imagine if we all banded together in Christian unity and instead of 50 food pantries we have one that serves our area. Instead of ten separate clinics funded by individual, small congregations we pooled those resources. Not only would all these ministries have the force of the entire Christian community behind them, they would help to foster unity in the community as a whole as it shows people they can rely on their neighbors, instead of some nebulous entity hundreds of miles away, to give them a hand up when they truly need it. I think it would serve as a fantastic evangelization tool as well.

        I apologize if this is over-long. These are just some thoughts I wanted to get out there. It just seems that whenever a backing away from the government and the political is suggested it meets a lot of resistance from people who insist that it would never work without even trying it (I’m not sugessting that’s your position, this is just generalization from my own experience and from observing the larger national conversation on these issues). And it seems to me there are a lot of ideas that could be implemented to help us back away if only we would expend the effort to make it work. It’s all very frustrating and I think that frustration is a big part of what keep the two “sides” at odds.

        1. Some good points here. I think we are agreed that talking about subsidiarity is not per se a solution, it is a valid and good template that must then guide action to that end.

      2. ” The subsidiarity based discussion you mention is important but I also await some more vigorous plans and pathways to realize it from those of us who advocate it. ”

        Isn’t this backwards? My understanding of the teaching is that subsidiarity is supposed to be the starting point, and only if it is proven that a need is incapable of being met at a lower level can it be addressed at a higher level.

        “Waiting for more vigorous plans” before loosening the reins at the high–often national–level seems like the burden of proof has been entirely inverted so that the local level is held guilty until proven innocent (ie, incompetent until proven competent).

          1. I could give you parts of my plan. I have some ideas on the subject, though I suspect they’d be unpopular.

            But that isn’t my point. My point is I don’t have to give anybody my plan and try to show how it is better. According to social teaching from its earliest days of Taparelli, lower levels of authority *cannot* be justly usurped by higher ones. Not even if they are doing a bad job, not even if they are totally falling down on the job, and not even if someone at a higher level of power thinks they could do it better (especially if not…).

            If someone is abusing their power, I don’t have to show why my plan is better than theirs. They are abusing their power; they are in the wrong from square zero. The burden is on them, not me.

            Think of the family as an example of subsidiarity (since it is, in fact, the fundamental unit of subsidiarity). Should parents have to present and justify their plans on raising their kids to some panel of experts? If they do not, and later on a bunch of ‘experts’ start interfering with their family anyway, when the parents object do they need to show the experts their plan, step by step, and point out why it is so much better? Or do they need to say, “You have no business here, get out of my house!”

            So I guess I will say one part of my plan, and that is for us to say, “Stop!” and mean it.

          2. What about the poor. It may be easy for you to sit behind your screen and just say, pull the plug. So Im not asking for a plan based on those who have abused their power, I am asking on behalf of the poor. If it is true that the current system is harmful to them, and I agree it is, how do we improve it and make it more subsidarist. Subsidiarity is a principle, not a plan per se.

          3. The principle of first and second things (from which the journal gets its name) is that you can only get second things (actually helping the poor) by putting first things (justice and natural law) first. Put first things first and you get first things AND second things. Put second things first and you get neither.

            You seem to be suggesting it is OK to keep violating Church teaching until someone comes up with a better idea. Just prima facie, it does not work that way. The first thing to do when you are doing something wrong is to stop doing it, then you can do something else. First justice, then charity. We can’t do evil that good may come. And as JPII formulated it, “The negative form of a normative statement (a prohibition) has a greater deontic dynamization than does the positive form.” In plain speak, “thou shalt not” (moral prohibition) is the prerequisite to fulfulling “thou shalt” (moral exhortation). That is why the bishop refused to accept the money St. Francis had taken from his father, rather than turning to the father and asking, “Well, admittedly this is not ideal, but do you have a better plan to pay for the building?”

            But also, it is the wrong question. Comprehensive top down plans are not what subsidiarity is about. Subsidiarity is largely emergent and adaptive, not centrally planned. A neighbor’s fence is falling down, I grab some other neighbors, make a trip to Home Depot, and we fix it. Someone just got out of the hospital, some friends and Church members go and make their food and clean up their house till they can get around again. There is no grand central plan for that, and to demand one is utterly pessimistic as to the prospects that people will act charitably. The vast quantities of charitable associations , mutual aid societies, and the now nostalgic images of things like barn raisings before the rise of the welfare state to supplant (and in many cases, outlaw) them would argue the opposite. Look into the many hundreds of years history of Trinity House sometime as one great example.

          4. For others that might not be able to look it up, Trinity House was a private group that ran the lighthouses in England since the 1514’s, and from the money it collected in tolls, provided care for retired and disabled sailors and their widows and orphans.

            It was summarily taken over by British government in the early 1850’s to gain access to the revenues, who accused the existing managers of misfeasance for spending so much of the lighthouse income on charity to widows. The crown ordered all charitable giving stopped in 1853.

          5. I should add, that Trinity House (subsidiarity) charity was said to be unnecessary and irrelevant because it would be replaced by general social insurance at the national level (solidarity). Trinity House was more generous… it was also just one of thousands of similar organizations for all different walks of life.

            It is relevant, because in this context, if someone asked how will you replace X thing that is an example of solidarity, not many realize that before X ever came along there were thousands of groups doing it before, usually better and more charitably, without any central plan to force them to do it. In Trinity House’s case, they had been doing it for 340 years.

          6. No, just don’t want to harm the poor. Also we are dealing with prudential matters and the application of Social teaching here, not Church dogma. Hence your arguments do not apply. In fact, it would likely be a grave violation of charity (and hence a grave sin) simply to the pull the plug (even on a flawed system) since the poor would be gravely affected. We need a plan to walk this thing back. Finally, subsidiarity does not mean no government per se. It means doing things at the lowest reasonable level. It is clear we have centralized too many things but that does not mean nothing is properly done by the central (federal government). So again, we are dealing with the prudential application of a principle. Subsidiarity is a principle that must be applied prudentially. So, we need a plan to do so.

          7. Msgr. Pope, I’ll go point by point cause you raise some important issues.

            1) No one wants to harm the poor (I hope!).

            2) My arguments do apply. I am aware this is not dogma, but if the teaching says that higher levels should not usurp lower levels, and higher levels are in fact usurping lower levels, it is a violation of that teaching. This teaching is not dogmatic, but it is not correct to say that only dogmatic teachings can be violated. At the very least, if my arguments from the teaching *against* certain practices are irrelevant because the teaching is not dogmatic, than any and all arguments from the teaching *for* certain practices are equally irrelevant, because relevancy runs both ways. If that is the case, we may was well stop referencing social teaching at all, since it is totally irrelevant in practice.

            3) Harm is not the only test of the rightness of an action, nor is it proof of sin. If it is, you are into bare Utilitarianism, where the “greatest good for the greatest number” is the measure of an action, and Catholic Social Teaching is in fact just Rawlsianism. More over, it simple cannot be that the “solidaritist” institutions can be used to kill off all the “subsidiarist” institutions–often intentionally–and then the lack of surviving “subsidiarist” institutions be used as the justification for their ever continued primacy. Harm yes, but for how long? Will no one move to help those in need? Is that what you see when there is an emergency? Or do millions of people volunteer time and money where and as they know best?

            And are you certain that the solidaritist institutions truly do no harm at all? If causing harm is a grave sin, surely the harm they do is also a grave sin? Are you certain which grave sin is graver? And of course many of these solidaritist institutions are actively providing intrinsic evils such as free abortions and contraceptives, in addition to what other larger incentive effects can be in play (eg, making it financial prudent to divorce or to have children out of wedlock, or to remain unemployed or underemployed). Both body and soul are important, but souls more so.

            4) If you mean specifically government institutions, then I do not think it can *technically* even be a sin against charity, because the dispersement is not charitable, because the dispersement is not voluntary. For an act to be either virtuous or vicious the will has to be involved. Here, the taxpayers are simply compelled to participate by threat of violence or the confiscation of their property. If you disagree, you run into a problem, because this is the same principle which shields taxpayers from the moral responsibility for the *bad* things governments do, like unjust war, torture, abortion, and euthanasia. If the taxpayer gets the moral credit for charity because the government spends money on welfare, they get to have the moral credit for murder when the governments gives the money to an abortion clinic. This only applies to government institutions. I will admit it is at least imaginable that someone could want to cut off the dispersements out of spite and the desire to see people hurt or suffer, and that would be very uncharitable; but it is also unlikely (see #1).

            4) I never said it meant no government at all (though I did imply less), so you are arguing against something I never said, which is something you’ve been rather critical of other commentors doing as regards this video.

            It is hard to tell the tone in a comment, so I want you to be sure I am with you on trying to get to the right thing for the poor and justice.

            I think Josef Pieper puts it perfectly: “Many indispensable and important things, such as justice, are in themselves unprotected. The have to be defended by those in power, who in doing so fulfill not only their duty, but also find their own justification. The power of the mind, however, for good or evil, consists in argumentation.”

          8. Sounds like you’ve never been poor or even known anyone who is poor. Joseph Pieper would be horrified at your enlisting of him in your argument. Arguments are fine in the abstract, but real people are involved here. Time to repent ThomasL. I understand the problem of govt welfare but you are the other extreme. Don’t you ever use Thomas Pieper like this again. He was no Socialist (thank God…and neither am I) but he certainly wasn’t what you propose either. Avoid selective quoting.

          9. I was quoting Josef Pieper in defence of argumentation. He may, or may not, have agree with my arguments, but I am certain he would understand the value in using rational argument to find the truth, since that is what the quote is about.

            You’re right, I’ve never been poor. No one in this country is poor.

            By the standard of this country’s messed up standards, I suppose I was poor. I remember my dad selling his blood so we could buy meat on the weekends, while we lived on potatoes everyday during the week.

            I remember my mom taking apples from a tree in the yard to the church as offerings because she didn’t have anything else to give.

            I remember both of them using what little money they could get to take care of my grandmother–who was minister to the homeless on the street–instead, when the government cut off her military widow’s benefits when she turned 65.

            But honestly, I would say I’ve never been poor, and I don’t regret one moment of those times.

    2. “Stink eye” is a great phrase.–never heard that one before. I like “dagger eyes”, also.

  9. The blogosphere would be much the poorer without you, I know I would be. Please protect yourself from discouragement so that you may continue to be ‘out there’ for all the world to read!

    1. Well, thanks. Not too discouraged, but as I said, it grieves me that someone would put together a rather good video and then so many just pick away. I do worry, not just for myself, but for others who will hesitate to get out there or just get angry and go away. Almost everyday I meet people who have left the Church because someone hurt them in some parish. I doubt it was just one incident, but the cumulative effects of negativity does let the devil have his day.

  10. Social justice has been distorted by politicians and used to promote the welfare state. It’s still very important but acts of mercy must be done on a personal level by each of us directly rather than through the loveless state. I see this division all the time. Help out at soup kitchen: meet liberals, go to a prayer function: meet conservatives. Some cross over but the friction exists. I’ve had my own problems being balanced as well – thanks for the post.

    1. Yes, exactly. I think your comment here also points to something I did not address in the post, namely the tendency of many CAtholics to think in political categories rather than biblical and eccelesial categories. It is true that politics distorts this issue and the challenge for every Catholic is to come out of all that and be more simply, more purely Catholic.

  11. Is it true that if you are in mortal sin all your charitable acts,all your efforts for social justice come to naught in the attainment of graces that are essential in gaining heaven? If true,do we teach this in the pulpit so that our uncatechized Catholics understand proportion and priority in sin and charity. Relativism like one soup kitchen cancels out 0ne mortal sin rears it’s ugly head.(excuse a little hyperpole here)
    The comment posted here, ” I am aware, and share the concern that, in recent decades to some extent, the Church drifted too strongly in the direction of social action”,causes me to comment, “I am encouraged that you are “aware”but “aware’ just doesn’t seem to cut It.

    This “NEW” Church appears to excel in platitudes,we are so afraid to offend. It didn’t seem to bother Our Lord
    , when He said: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”. And he adds: “[H]enceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Lk 12: 51-53).
    Lets have more St. Avila, lets be a more masculine church,be as Fathers,who love,but teach what is hard.

    1. Your mortal = dead is correct. But it misses the point of my analogy, namely that although certain things in life are more critical than others, that does not permit us to simply be dismissive of lesser, but still important matters. And thus the Church does not simply teach against mortal sins and then say, “we have nothing to say about venial sins”

      You platitudes comment is merely dismissive and indicates an attitude problem on your part

  12. One point that is crucial to your argument, but not mentioned, is the concept of Christ the King. It is the Kingship of Christ over individuals and nations, not the other way around. He made us for no benefit to Him, gave us all we need to survive, saved us by sacrificing Himself on the Cross and even offered us the support of His Church as the means to eternal salvation with Him. Our existence on earth, our lives, should be focused only on loving and serving Him, Christ the King. Faith and good works are essential components of a God centered life. All in Christ the King includes the government we elect. It binds them to the same moral and ethical standards we apply to ourselves, including the Ten Commandments. So Trust only in Him, not in the empty “them”. He is my core, true Catholic belief.

    One of the biggest charitable organizations on earth is the Church. It has a history of social programs targeted to the people that need it. Interestingly enough, almost all of the money used for these social programs is raised not by forced taxes, but by personal charitable contributions. It is a decision of the individual person to give freely of time and money out of love of God, including his obligation to those less fortunate. At our judgement before God, it is I, the individual, that is charitable and accountable for his sins and actions during his life. No group think here.

    “All” in Christ the KIng resolves the dilemma you describe, Msgr. .

      1. Perfect, Msgr.

        One more criteria concerning the two wings, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:16).

  13. We would all do well to understand that philosophies opposed to Catholicism drive the far Right and the far Left. Whether Ayn Rand or Karl Marx, we need to reject all those philosophies that are not of Christ. I have heard Ayn Rand, not Christ, speaking through many Catholics on the Right, and I have heard Karl Marx, not Christ, speaking through many Catholics on the Left. KNOW CHRIST and the division will end. There is no division in Jesus Christ. Division comes from outside the Body of Christ, not from within. If we are divided, it is because we are not living up to what Christ has called us to, not because one “side” of the Church is correct and the other incorrect, and certainly not because one “side” of the Church is in “sin” and the other holy.

    Some are saying that now might be a good time to put politics on the back burner. I would say that it is always a good time to put politics on the back burner. Life in Christ is not a political battle. Once it becomes a political battle, we have lost sight of Him.


    1. Though it would seem you’re on the right.

      Further I think you understand “wings” simply as a political category. I speak of wings in the sense that Paul uses the analogy of the body and the diversity of gifts, as this is clear in my post.

      There is a pernicious capacity of secular politics to interrupt and distort truly Catholic thinking such that many Catholics think of matters of faith and Church teaching through the filter of politics and political categories, and do not advert to what the Church actually says or teaches, but focus on how those teachings might affect earthly balances of power and political camps, philosophies etc. Oh to be free of such pernicious influence and be truly Catholic.

  14. The film is well-done. It drives home an important point to young people in an attractive way. Could it have been better? Sure. It would have been better if some of the presently-more-unpopular marks of a Catholic identity had also been introduced along side the items mentioned–standing up for unborn life, for marriage, and, most fundamentally, being a vocal witness for Jesus Christ. (The prolife cause is certainly among the corporal works of mercy, broadly construed.) Many people in our secularized society, whatever they actually do or fail to do in their personal lives, applaud feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, etc. Many people in the Catholic establishment–especially in more theologically-liberal Catholic schools–are quite comfortable exhorting people to care for the poor, etc. They are less comfortable talking about abortion, marriage, and explicit evangelization. In that sense, there is less of a counter-cultural edge to the piece. It is unacceptable to tolerate a division between (say) care for the unborn and (say) concern for other kinds of poverty, even if this or that person may be called to serve in one area more than another. While there may be some Catholics on the political right who need to hear more about responding to certain kinds of poverty, plenty of other Catholics who need to be challenged regarding their attitudes (and practice) on abortion. For example, the current Vice President of the United States. I doubt he would find the video in its present form especially challenging, even if he agreed he could do better in the corporal works of mercy department. That’s a significant weakness, given his support for legalized abortion and same-sex marriage. But to say the film would have been better if thus and so had also been included is not to say what is there right now is bad. It points young people toward thinking about the old adage: if you were arrested for your faith would there be enough evidence to convict you. That’s a start. So long as teachers and others recognize it’s only a start, then it’s a fine video.

  15. Father, great post. I agree with your message completely. And I fully see your point; it is much too easy to turn two aspects of the same faith into enmity. And personally see no problem with the video.

    However, I would like to offer that perhaps the reason, the “conservative” camp can react hostily is because socially we have been shoved so far into the corner, often even within our own Church. Where I disagree with you is that they aren’t two symmetrical wings of faith. One is a subset of the other. Social justice needs to live and breathe INSIDE of a sound and comprehensive doctrinal understanding of the faith to really be of any value.

    You will find millions of atheists and heretics screaming for social justice, but few of them preaching conservative moral teachings. Contrarily, anyone who truly values the “life issues” morality will also champion social justice. I personally don’t see social justice as an end to itself, and the reaction come, I think, when we see our brothers and sisters trying to make it so.

    1. Yes, that is why I don’t just advance the two wings theory, but also the one heart that must unite them. The full image is that the Church needs two wings AND one heart to fly.

  16. Monsignor, thank you. I too have friends and loved ones in both “wings” of the church (as well as those outside) and it breaks my heart sometimes to see how they contend against each other (especially, sometimes, for my approval and loyalty to their vision). I love them all and value all the work they do, and I wish they could love each other as I do (and more, as Christ does).

  17. This really ties in well to one of my favorite passages of Scripture: I Corinthians 12, which is being read at the next two Sunday OF Masses. In that passage we’re reminded that each Christian is a part of the Body of Christ, but not all are the same part. All parts need the others, even though they may not recognize it. (I’m probably at best a pain in the neck or somewhere lower down the spinal column.) However it seems this problem has been around since the first generation of the Church. Doesn’t look like we’ve fixed it yet, but the Church has made it through and will continue to do so.

  18. I have been working in the church for 22 years. These are my observations. First, there is a segment of the ‘justice wing’ who has little respect for basic things in the church. For example, we started Eucharistic adoration and a catholic sister said to me “What is it with this love affair with the Eucharist anyway?” I find many in this wing to be anti-pope, anti-bishop and anti-priest. They are the ones who promote abortion, gay marriage and women priests. They have abdicated our personal responsibility to the poor to the federal government. They are more concerned with feeding the poor than getting the poor to heaven. The social programs contain no goals of evangelization. For example, our parish had a food pantry. No invitation in this ministry to join the church or anything about God. It wasn’t part of the purpose of the food pantry. My current parish has a transitional housing program. The volunteers are not allowed to talk about God nor even invite the clients to church. Second, the ‘pro-life’ wing. They are only concerned about abortion. They don’t want to talk about anything else including IVF which I believe is killing more babies and putting the rest in frozen storage. But, you do see any prayer vigils outside Fertility clinics? No! It has only been recently that any of them did anything for women after the birth. Many of the ‘pro-life’ wing are pro-death penalty. All in all the church needs the new evangelization more than ever for both ‘wings’. They are both off of their rockers and heading out of the reservation.

    1. Yes, agreed. I think this is another example of the pernicious effect of secular politics on the thinking of Catholics. Party loyalties and left/right political ideologies seem to hold more influence that Christ or the Church for many (not all) Catholics.

    2. Abortion is not simply killing someone that is young while the death penalty is killing someone that is old. The death penalty is that, a /penalty/ for a crime (usually murder). It is *essentially* than abortion, not accidentally different. The execution of the guilty can be “justified… by a just law that applies generally,” (St. Augustine); the killing of an innocent child, not so much.

    3. Mark,

      ” Second, the ‘pro-life’ wing. They are only concerned about abortion. They don’t want to talk about anything else including IVF which I believe is killing more babies and putting the rest in frozen storage. But, you do see any prayer vigils outside Fertility clinics? No! ”

      I think that our priests and bishops need to start informing the laity about IVF. I know many cradle Catholics (who are pro-choice, unfortunately, under the ‘conscience’ clause) that don’t even have a clue about IVF. So first, there needs to be some education, then action. I doubt it will “take off” in the next decade or two because ‘we’ need to start discussing things in society first before taking to the streets. There really is no public discussion on this topic.

      “It has only been recently that any of them did anything for women after the birth. ”

      Is that really a true statement? I’ve only been in the Church 6.5 years, and had heard this before I converted (former atheist). I never knew whether this was true, or just a means of smearing the pro-lifers since I mainly heard it from pro-choicers. Heck – I used to say it myself!

      “Many of the ‘pro-life’ wing are pro-death penalty. All in all the church needs the new evangelization more than ever for both ‘wings’. They are both off of their rockers and heading out of the reservation.”

      I am pro-life and “pro” (?) death penalty. I don’t want to argue about it since I doubt Father wants this post to go down a rabbit hole, but since His Awesomeness B16 said (when he was Pre-16) a Catholic can be in support of the death penalty. Since it is neither dogma nor doctrine, I can disagree with the Church’s modern teachings in this area. It’s something I’ve given significant thought to, so if you advocate evangelizing, I think that such evangelizing should focus more on dogma and doctrine rather that telling people that they aren’t allowed/shouldn’t have an opinion that we can actually have.

      1. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
        2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

        If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

        Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68

        Look at the last sentence. “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” This is Catholic doctrine.

        1. Mark, it is not infallible for one, but I am going to be bold and take it one step beyond not just “not infallible” and suggest it is not doctrine at all, despite being in the CCC.

          To be a doctrine, it has to make sense. By “sense”, I am not saying a doctrine cannot involve a divine mystery which exceeds complete understanding, only that the doctrine cannot be inherently contradictory or nonsensical.

          The statement “protect people’s safety from the aggressor” suggests that the death penalty is to prevent *future* harm. That is, it is not a penalty at all, but a preventative measure. The Church’s discussion of the death penalty looks like: “(A) We think this man is dangerous, (B) we have no way of containing him, so (C) we will kill him.” Then they say, (B) is very rarely the case**, so (C) does not follow. The problem is that (C) never followed. You cannot justly go around killing people for what they haven’t done. If you are going to kill the man or not kill the man, it has to be for what he has done, not for what he hasn’t. The argument that allows the death penalty (an argument the Church had articulated in various forms for Her first 1960 or so years, and is infallibly in Scripture) was always before based on *justice*. This argument in the CCC makes no reference to justice at all, and is actually based on Utilitarianism (kill him if that is the best for everyone else, keep him alive otherwise).

          ** The new capabilities of the State are never mentioned, which is strange considering they form the entire rationale for the shift in Church teaching vs. the Church Father’s and from Trent, but history would suggest that locking someone in a cell or a dungeon was well within the power of even the ancients.

          1. The CCC was sent to every bishop of the world. I was promulgated by the pope and signed off by the current pope in his role as head of the CDF. I don’t think that you have a ground to stand on. You only have to look at the church’s teaching on slavery to find a teaching that changed as our understanding of the issue changed over the centuries. Jails have changed. The capability to put someone away for life is different in the USA than in other parts of the world. We don’t chop people’s heads off anymore. We don’t see it as justice to draw and quarter them.

      2. I have been working in the church for over 20 years and active in the church my whole life. The Church has always been at the forefront of helping women in need through programs like Catholic Charities, religious orders etc. I am talking about many in the pro-life movement who were not part of these organizations. It was only in the last 5- 10 years or so that regular ‘pro-life’ people started to get more proactive on their own and start organizations like Women’s Choice Services or Project Gabriel which were getting into the lives of needy women and getting them the support one on one. The Church itself has always provided for unwed mothers.

  19. Monsignor, since you have quoted part of my comment in the blog above (quote no.2, beginning with the words “Strangely, there is not a single criterion mentioned in this video…), let me point out that my opinion was concerned SOLELY with the absolute lack of any distinctly CATHOLIC elements in the video under discussion. I did not mention abortion, homosexuality or euthanasia. I stated that this video’s message was applicable to any Christian, be it a Catholic, a Lutheran or a Baptist. I also pointed out that – contrary to your statement which you have repeated here – the video does not mention “Mass attendance”. To which you have replied “Sigh…”. Nuff said.

    1. Yeah, the sigh is due to your extreme particularism for terminology. So lighten-up a little, a little more of listening to the message and a little less of parsing words with suspicion. The whole context is being on trial for being a Catholic, hence the average, less suspicious and particular person can surely connect the dots that “church attendance” = “Mass attendance” Frankly your concern never even occurred to me, but I think the reason is that I brought a presumption of good-will and the presumption of good intentions to the game whereas I think you are bringing suspicion and looking for trouble. Sure enough you tend to find what you are looking for.

  20. I think it is good to discuss this problem. We have the the very same thing going on in our
    extended family with ‘the two wings ‘. Family gatherings can get volitile and I can see
    we have set up camps. I am in the life issues camp but I now I wonder if perhaps my attitude
    or my approach may be causing more harm than good. I think we have to pray harder before
    we open our mouths. Don’t be discouraged Father, the issue needed to be brought to light.

  21. “If you think you can do better or add to it, raise your own money and do your own project.”–Excellent point.

    “But since you’ve raised I celebrated a Solemn High TLM on Sunday and only 40 people attended. “–yep. High or Low, many people or few, Monsignor, please don’t give up on the Latin Mass.

    1. No, I certainly won’t but the point I make is that TLM Catholics are no more exempt from evangelizing that any other group and that simply putting more TLMs in place isn’t necessarily going to fill our parishes again. Thanks for the encouragement.

      1. Might not hurt. Potential converts like me are put off not merely by the lack of TLM, but what was a de facto repudiation of the TLM after Vatican II. It made it appear–and perhaps it was–a repudiation of the “Faith of Our Fathers”. Catholicism 2.0. The general impression to me at least was the since the form of the Mass was now understood to be meaningless, it could be changed to anything that better suited the latest fashion. Three cheers for tradition…

        I am being blunt because it is a blog comment and I don’t have the room for a ton of nuance. I am just saying that as someone who read the Church Father’s and was lead by that to consider converting, when I actually went to a Mass, it was nothing like what I expected in either form or content.

        I also want to be clear I am not saying I *like* the TLM better than the NO (though I do). I am saying that any Church that can chuck the TLM and all that went with it out out the window after 1400 years with hardly a glance backwards doesn’t seem to be a Church that knows what it believes, which doesn’t make it appealing to converts. Convert to what exactly? I kind of need to know. Are you going to change it all up again at the next Council (not only the Mass but cf. also the catechism from Trent vs the CCC)? Give me a call when you figure it out…

      2. Msgr.,

        There are weeknight TLMs in Virginia with comparable attendance. I really do think 90% of what you are seeing is the result of many new TLMs in Virginia. However, your point about evangelization is still perfectly valid. Please continue your support of the TLM.

  22. If someone in the Church would authoritatively define the term “social justice” so everybody would know what everybody else is talking about, we might find we have a lot more to agree on that we have to disagree on. Right now I cringe every time I hear the words because it seems that many people (not all) use the term not to promote living the Gospel but their own agendas.

    “Nowhere does scripture require or even envision that this should be a large role for big government.” Thank you, Father.

    I thought the video was provocative – a good starting point for discussion on what it really means to be Catholic. Part of our weakness as humans is to fool ourselves into believing that we are a lot more righteous than we really are. So now let us have the US bishops teach the faith with the graces of their office and let us laity assent, then roll up our sleeves and do the work the bishops are trying to take away from us and which is rightfully ours to do.

  23. I saw this video some months ago – and enjoyed it! I assumed that the creator made it in order to rouse a good many Catholics out of their present apathy and delusion. There are many of us who think just because we teach CCD or pray in front of abortion clinics, that we have a good shot at eternal life. The Church is full of people who perform all of these necessary “works”, and yet, our hearts are far from God. And our behavior shows it. Our society shows it.

    I watched a movie about St. Therese on EWTN the other night. This woman possessed a simple soul and her world was very small, and yet her desire for God was as large as the ocean! Out of her love for God, she denied herself – even her opinions! – to put others first. So inspiring!

    Monsignor, I sure hope I haven’t been nit-picking; your writing is invaluable to me, so thanks for putting yourself out there!!

  24. Msgr.,

    You raise this issue often but I think you continue to miss the big picture. In America, most of the poor are not really that poor (the residents of the nearby projects look rather well fed). Also, in America most poverty comes from single parenthood, dropping out of school, and other choices (the mentally ill being a major exception). Claiming that poverty in this country carries the same weight and deserves the same attention as the annual mass murder of millions of the unborn and similar issues is absurd. However, if I were living in a poor African country where people were not getting their basic needs met because of systemic poverty but that had strict abortion laws, I would argue that much more energy should be put into helping the poor. Your analysis is flawed because you are not addressing the disparity in the scope of the problems in America. All the succesful poverty alleviation in 1930s Germany didn’t compensate for the evils of Dachau…

  25. someone drew “true” blood during your visit to the ER? as opposed to fake blood?


  26. It took JESUS three years to proclaim the Good News and it has taken the Church almost 2,000 years to spread and explain with the help of the Holy Spirit His proclamation to 2,000 years to people of different times, cultures, etc. How do you condense this into a 7 minute video. The video was made to encourage us to do a reality check on whether calling oneself Catholic is an honest description of who we really are. Each one of us can only answer the question after a good examination of conscience otherwise we are like pots calling the kettle black.

  27. I describe myself as a practicing Catholic and some of my siblings call me a Conservative Catholic, as in I attend Mass at least once per week and take of the Body and Blood of Christ, I confess my sins to my parish priest at least once per month and on Holy days of obligation, i teach confirmation classes in my parish, I attend retreats for spiritual renewal, I help in our parish soup kitchen, collect food for our food shelf, help with the parish homeless shelter, help my fellow neighbor with my gift of home repair.

    I follow all of the Churches teachings on Life, whether it be Abortion, Euthanasia or Death the penalty, on same sex marriage, co-habitation, staying a Virgin until marriage, and so on. Yet I am a sinner.

    My siblings describe themselves as Liberal Catholic’s and I say they are not practicing their faith fully, as they attend Mass once in awhile but would never miss at Christmas and Easter so as to show all their fine new bobbles, They rarely partake in the full Eucharist of the Body and Blood of our Savior Christ Jesus as they fear contracting a deadly disease, what they ask am I doing going to confession are I not afraid of what my priest will think of me, you l know Fr. whats his name, no time for a retreat to much time for kids sports, confirmation teacher no way, I can hardly get my kids to attend, by the way I forgot where the soup kitchen is from last year, do we really have a homeless problem, I put a tent out by the waterfront for the people, I helped bag food items for the poor at the food shelf last Thanksgiving, why do I have to do it at Christmas, and so on.

    They follow the churches teachings as per their tastes, as life and the churches teachings are just a huge smorgasbord, just pick and choose the ones you like, fornicate before marriage to get it out of the system, they hate the death penalty, but are okay with someone else having an abortion, or euthanasia is okay if they really want it isn’t it, same sex marriage is okay, it is not like it would hurt the church, or cause some churches not be able to have adoption services and besides my son, or daughter needs legal protection for them and their same sex partner, they lived together before their marriage, or last three marriages in some cases, so why am I such a stick in the mud and not.

    No their is no divide in the church, as those that follow the faith are the church, but their are many that call themselves Catholic however they want to follow their own drum beat and I see this first hand. We in Minnesota tried to get an amendment to our constitution passed so as to state, one man and one woman, to define marriage as such. We had Catholics that did great works of Mercy leave because they did not know the teachings of the church on same sex marriage and could not stand with such a stiff bigoted Church, so in their words they joined a HIPPER church that includes homosexuals, as we Catholics hate homosexuals for not allowing them to get married.

    Who is with the church and who stands against her?

    Yes I am a practicing Catholic and yes a Conservative Catholic in their words as their description of me is just.

    So even though it angers me that they are lax in their faith, or that they embrace secular ideas and want the church to incorporate those ideas and change with the times, I must remember that I to have been lax in my faith, embraced secular ideas before and I must remember that I am a sinner, I am a Catholic and I must evangelize to them, take them in when they are without shelter, help open their eyes so they can see, help them open their ears so they may hear.

    We have all failed those that see our church as a smorgasbord, when was the last time you sat and conversed with the fallen, spoken the Gospels in public. Embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ so they may see the light, embrace them with love and patience, fore we so easily forget our own shortcomings and are to eager to cast the first stone.

    I remain a Conservative Catholic.

    1. “And he put in his thumb and pulled out a plumb and said ‘ what a good boy am I.'”
      Discipleship is not about self-congratulations or surface comparisons. Live your faith deeply as called by Christ and allow him to work deeply in others as he chooses.

      1. You have missed the point entirely, I am not patting myself on the back I merely point out some actually follow the faith and others like to think they follow the faith. Oh yeah I went to church last century so I am a Catholic, come on give me a break, name alone is not enough, one must actually practice their faith to be called Catholic, and I find those that practice the least spew the most venom and condemnation at those that try to practice the Ctholic Faith.

        1. Perhaps we all need to consider that it is Christ who calls, gifts, and judges. Externals and faith markers do matter, especially at early stages of the Christian walk. Children, teens, and young adults need the firm foundation of a strong Catholic identity to make their way, especially in our current culture. But our hope is that our knowing of God grows and, like an old married couple, fewer words and gestures are needed to convey and receive love. That is my hope, at least! I do agree strongly that we can all do without the venom.

  28. Msgr. Pope – Thou dost protest too much, methinks! Francis has it just about right, in that you seem to have fallen prey to the typical blogger disease of taking yourself (and your opinion) a bit too seriously, and overreacting to criticism. When you permit comments, you should value those that offer a reasoned critique as much as those from the Amen Chorus. I read your blog on a weekly basis and almost always find it both intellectually stimulating and stylistically entertaining. However, on this issue your bruised ego is obvious to all. When a blogger finds it necessary to descend into the comments section to “correct” and argue points with various readers, while simultaneously preaching tolerance and diversity of opinion, we might wonder whether the blogger has missed the point. Mark Shea is notorious for this “chip on the shoulder” attitude regarding those who have the audacity to provide reasoned rebuttal, and it detracts from some otherwise fine writing. I have learned in my own business career to never fall too much in love with my own creations, designs and even opinions, as there is always something to be learned from another perspective. That’s not relativism…it’s reality.

  29. Msgr,

    You are suppose to teach the faith. Period. So teach it and stop moaning about how hard it is or how sad you are. Grow up, stand up and proclaim the very clear words of our Faith. There is too much dissent in your whining and obsfuscations.

    1. Are you a Catholic, Jim? I am not moaning nor do I need to grow up. Please avoid irrelevant arguments, by the way I am 51, hence growing up has been done. I am hosting a conversation here and your unhelpful and irrelevant remarks do not move the ball. The “words of our faith” include a much wider range than your remarks seem to imply. I think Jim your own remarks speak poorly of your own maturity and catholicity. medice, cura te ipsum further, crudelem medicum intemperans æger facit

  30. First, let me say, in all truth, I’m flattered to have my comment quoted, even if for criticism, by one of my favorite bloggers!

    My critique of the video and its heavy emphasis on the social justice issues was based more on how widely accepted and uncontroversial those ideas are in our society. Few, if any, Americans, even the most hardcore atheist, would really argue against serving in a soup kitchen or visiting a shut in or other social justice actions. In other societies these may be distinctive of Catholics, say in a culture that has strict interpretation of karma at its heart and feels the poor are poor as a matter of cosmic justice, in such a society helping the poor might be enough to convict a young lady of being Catholic, but this is not the case in our culture. Most people would scoff at a Catholic spending an hour kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but would commend said Catholic (as doing something “useful”) for spending the same hour at a nursing home. I certainly would never argue against the corporal works of mercy, which are essential for the life of the Church, but – as of commenters had pointed out – they are not what separates us as Catholics. In the end, the video could have used more of the very balance you argue so well for in this blog!

    1. Hi Nathan,

      I’m puzzled by your comment and many of the comments on this blog. Are you certain that this young woman does not spend time in prayer? Most often, it is deep, intimate prayer and dedicated time alone with God that prompts and fuels lives of sacrificial service.

  31. Msgr., in thinking further about this winged division, perhaps there is a different approach that unites your two wings to one Spirit (or Head) analogy. It is found in the work of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. The spiritual warfare between God and the Devil, as applied to our helpless soul here on earth, points to five weapons that are there for us to fight this battle. Generally speaking they are:
    1.) The Doctrines of Jesus Christ, including His Church (sorry – can not seem to escape Dr. Zhivago)
    2.) Prayer
    3.) Examination of Conscience
    5.) C

    1. Sorry, I hit the wrong button.

      4.) Mortification
      5.) Works of Charity

      This is a great array of weapons we can use to defend against the attacks of the devil and draw us closer to God. It is, so to speak, pulling the wings together under one common mission. . . the saving of souls. Those divisions among Catholics, like joining a team, utilizes all or each of these weapons, as needed, based on our capabilities in common cause.

      Just say’n.

  32. Don’t you wonder why the divide? Why is it that the mention of the obvious demands of alms for the poor has become something to generate suspicion?

    “Social justice” is a term that conjures up all sorts of images ( fairly or unfairly). One of these images is that those who are promoting it are promoting a political agenda that entails liberal policy solutions to the problems of poverty. This may not be entirely fair or accurate but there is no question that many folks have used the moral duty to help the poor as a reason to push for liberal political solutions. Sometimes we are forced to be at odds because the real life choices are for those who want liberal policies and are pro abortion and those who are pro-life but not favorites over in the office of social justice. Thus we oppose each other politically. Some of us cringe because we honestly believe a very strong case can be made that liberal policies very often worsen the problem. ( In fact Blessed John Paul II in Centesimus Annus alludes to this:

    “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients,…”

    But there is no question that we have a moral duty to the poor, the gospels are pretty clear on this. And politics are not everything ( though at times it seems it is ) So maybe the beginning of a way to bridge this divide is the following:

    As a conservative Catholic those in my camp realize that 1) we have a grave moral duty to the poor 2) there may even be some role of the state in this at times in limited ways, 3) and people who are focused on this issue are doing work commanded by God and are certainly not less Catholic for doing so. I get it…

    But in return I ask my liberal Catholics to accept that 1) As Mother Theresa noted the unborn are the poorest of the poor, ( John Paul II understood this, as they are mentioned even in Centesimus Annus, though this is an encyclical focused on social justice )Those of us trying to defend the unborn are not getting that warm pat on the back from the Bishop in most cases, and certainly not from society. If you say “I am in this anti-poverty group” you are roundly applauded, If you say your in the pro-life group even the pastor may shun you. 2) That a real concern for the poor does not specify the particular public policy needed to help them, the Gospel is primarily focused on personal alms giving, tending to the poor yourself. In some cases there may be a role for pushing public policies but even then with attention to the principle of subsidiarity, and local solutions. (Centesimus Annus again) In any case at least start to look at the evidence of the effectiveness of the policies you push.

    I will help you out at the St.Vincent De Paul society at least with funds… But can you warmly welcome the pro-life group.? When the pro-life group asks to speak at the Catholic school can you support them? Can you defend the pro-life group when they are told to take down their display at the Catholic HS because parents complained? ( Many times it is the “social justice Catholics” doing the complaining! Realize that we face scorn and opposition. The social justice folks get applause certainly within the Church and very often within the community at large. Is there anyone opposed to helping the poor? . This is fine, but should not the stronger brother come to the aid of the weaker? What social justice Catholics defend their fellow pro-lifer Catholics? The situation does not work in reverse since Social justice groups in general are lauded by the culture. No one is going to spit on you if you are holding a protest demanding more government aid for the poor, or working at the food bank, but down at the abortion clinic saying a rosary, you will get spit on and cursed at, regardless of if your 16 or 87. Its not so much that we are crying over this ( They hated the master we were promised they would not be crazy about us.. but it stings when you are pushed to the back of the bus within the Church, or when the social justice folks support our political foes. ) When I see the social justice groups hold a shared fund raiser with the pro-life groups and when social justice Catholics stop throwing the unborn under the bus with their votes for pro-choice candidates I will be reassured. I will be even more reassured when the social justice groups express outrage that money that thought was going to the poor in fact was going to organizations that are pro-abortion or pro- gay marriage via the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Money going in some cases to the same ACORN activist that was spitting on you at the abortion clinic.

    The divide will heal when those in the stronger position reach out their hand to those who are getting kicked around. The minute they do this, the conservatives will reach out and thank them. The rift that is of concern will start to heal. Ok I know those on the left maybe have a counter response, and I am willing to listen, but that I think is how those of us on the “right” see things.

    1. Interesting comment, it brings to mind the anointing of Jesus’ feet, Judas’ reaction and Jesus’ reply:

      [4] Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: [5] Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? [6] Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein. [7] Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you have always with you; but me you have not always. [John 12:4-8]

  33. I am always wrong. I have friends and relatives who wag their fingers at me and proclaim that I am a “communist” because I actively work to help immigrants and the downtrodden and “encourage” them to help out, and others, just as happy to dismiss me as a dinosaur and a traitor to women everywhere because I say out loud that I can’t see the advantage of the Church entering the 21st century and drowning by “going with the flow.” Truth be told, these are not the same people on different days. They are dyed in the wool Catholic partisans. The atheists and agnostics I know are sure I am simply delusional and are really much kinder to me. This hysterical propensity of Catholics to cast aspersions on one another as if it were a sporting event is not, I fear, an insignificant pastime. This is blood sport – and it is deeply wounding our Church. Sadly I believe it is currently grounding our beautiful bird from significant flight above the rest of the world.

    Just one other thing. For me, climbing up into the middle of the Church’s arms and holding on tight is the best way to assure I won’t easily fall out. And I don’t want to fall out.

    Just one more other thing. We know how the story ultimately ends. Praise God.

  34. It seems to me that while you speak some truth here, you lack the balance of orthodoxy and have significant need to read scripture and the magisterium in a fuller light. You are rather selective and have a diminished view of things about which God is far more passionate. I think you find too much comfort in things that ought to disturb. Also, avoid phrases like “The whole point…” especially when dealing with complicated things like poverty or what God intends in doing or not doing things. Finally, a lot of your logic is flawed. For example, the fact that atheists can give to the poor has no relevance to the discussion about what we do for the poor. Using such logic I might as well say that since a broken clock is right twice a day there is no need for me to keep my time piece more accurate. Further, your conclusion about the video affirming all the problems you cite is flawed and likely rooted in cynicism. In effect you propose an argument from silence, arguing from what the video does not say to what it advocates. Using that logic I should probably propose that you don’t care about Mass attendance, or theft, or liturgical norms because you didn’t mention them explicitly in your analysis.

    Bottom line, a little less either/or and a little more both/and.

  35. Msgr Pope,

    Thank you for this post. I believe this issue is one of the critical things we *must* start working on as a Church. It is imperative for the New Evangelization. No one wants to join a bickering Church. I wrote a blog post with some rules of thumb for commenters that was motivated by your post:

    Again, thanks for your inspired plea for civility and respect.

    In Jesus,

    Sr. Theresa

  36. Sadly, conservative (trads) have given up the social teachings of the Church. I know one Church that rightly promotes the beautiful (liturgy, arts, music) but neglects almost completley social teaching save abortion. Very little is done for the poor, forget about the immigrants and inmates (many parishoners, if not all, support capitol punishment). No one is visiting the imprisioned to be sure. And then there’s the vast majority of “Catholic” churches that might as well be Episcopal/Unitarian. They perform more works for the poor, immigrants, sick and couple for inmates but their liturgy is akin to a PowerPoint presentation. I don’t know why. I would have thought the Latin Mass devotions would brought out charity in the parishioners, but for most, if not all, the charity ended in their families albeit larger than normal ones. The poor were treated as they didn’t try hard enough ( that’s prosperity Gospel, not Catholicism) and the sick provided nothing but protests against Obamacare. The Tridentine Mass sustains me, but cynically I think all the incense is covering up the stink of hypocrisy. Dorothy Day was what would be called a liberal by Trads today, but she attended the Tridentine Mass and embodied all the social teachings of the Church. Something is very wrong- problem is, is that parishes represent/promote what the parishoners want/feel comfortable with rather than what they need to hear. At least that’s what I feel . As I have stopped sinning (as much) confessed more and eductaed myself to the best of my ability- I have become more charitable and more in love with traditional devotions.-that’s all I know.
    Great blog by the way. I heard you on radio interview and am so glad to find such interesting and engaging writing. God Bless

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