As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) met earlier this week to elect a new president, Vincent Miller, writing for America, had a message for them: Preach the fullness of the Catholic doctrine, not just those hot-button issues (namely, abortion and same-sex marriage) that grab media attention. “Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage,” Miller writes. “The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching.”
Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.
Miller argues that the U.S.C.C.B.’s response to the recent U.S. midterm elections—a response that said the Bishops’ agenda was “unchanged”—is insufficient, pointing out that it has not historically been Democrats that have been against programs the assist the poor. Indeed those on the far right, such as Glen Beck, put Catholic teaching “under fire”:
Taking an “even-handed” tone is possible only if the U.S.C.C.B. washes its hands of what has actually happened.
And it has happened with their cooperation. Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.
Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.
Unfortunately it seems that Miller’s memo wasn’t delivered to the U.S.C.C.B., which has elected Timothy M. Dolan as its new president. By all accounts Dolan will be a leader in the culture wars, focusing on same-sex marriage and abortion. The election left one observer criticizing it as “evidence of a rising ‘Catholic Tea Party’ among conservative church leaders.”
Here’s hoping that Miller’s message gets through to the U.S.C.C.B., because as he concludes, “The American public and the next generation of the church desperately needs to hear the fullness of the church’s social doctrine.” Better late than never.
And to those who will undoubtedly argue that the church’s teachings should simply be left out of politics, well, that argument ignores the place and time we are currently living in—one needs look no further than the recent healthcare debate to see the influence the U.S.C.C.B. has on public policy. If that influence is going to be there, we can only hope that it takes into account Miller’s version of the Catholic doctrine, rather than a version that focuses solely on one issue.