Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

USCCB Urges Senate to Ratify New START

December 2nd, 2010, Promulgated by b a

Question: Is it prudent for religious organizations to take stances on issues where one could legitimately argue the morality of both sides?

The American Catholic Church would seem to say, “Yes, loudly and frequently”

Rewind back a few months… even as orthodox Catholics rejoiced that many bishops decried the evils hidden w/in the recent health care bill, the more startling thing to me was that abortion issue was the sole focus. Although a few bishops did speak of subsidiarity as another reason to legitimately oppose the health care bill, the vast majority of our Catholic leaders seemed to presume the fact that a good Catholic must support universal government health care (assuming evils like abortion got worked out of the bill). Why this presumption? Is is not a legitimate position to say that citizens might actually get worse care if the government takes control? I’m not advocating one way or the other – I’m just saying it should be open for debate.

I had similar concerns when shortly after becoming Catholic our local parish had SCHIP petitions for parishioners to sign on their way out of mass. There was no debate about it. We were just told it was the right thing to do. I didn’t like being put on the spot like this, so I didn’t sign it. Was it really a moral obligation for me to sign this petition? I find it hard to believe that. And if it’s not morally obligatory, is presenting these petitions to parishioners as they leave mass a proper thing to do? In fact, one has to wonder whether this would endanger their 501(c) status.

This is the backdrop I’ve come to expect from the America Catholic church. It seems they’re doing a better job than they have historically of taking the right position when it comes to morally obligatory positions (as we’ve witnessed bishops speak out about voting for pro-choice politicians and legislation). However, it seems that on issues that can be argued either way, they have a propensity for backing the Democratic party.

I honestly don’t know enough about the New START or the previous STARTs to have an opinion. However, I do find it somewhat disconcerting that the USCCB is urging the senate to support the New START. You can read Bishop Hubbard’s letter (endorsed by the new President Archbishop Dolan) here in which he states that nuclear weapons are bad and thus senators should vote to ratify the New START. I think we can all agree that blowing up innocent people would be a bad thing. However, it seems that there should be room for legitimate debate when it comes to the New START legislation. Here is a list of concerns about the New START from the Heritage Foundation.

(NOTE: The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank. I’m not endorsing them here and I’m not advocating a position against the New START – I’m just using their research as an example of questions one might legitimately ask.)

This leaves me asking many questions:

  • Does the USCCB take the time to address such issues?
  • Does the USCCB clearly distinguish between issues that are morally obligatory and those that are open for debate?
  • Does taking sides on too many issues dilute the USCCB’s ability to make true impressions on voting citizens or does all the noise drown out the more important messages?

Along these lines, today’s First Things’ On the Square article Charity by the Sword addressed similar concerns:

Charity by the sword violates the dignity of the human person regardless of democratic governance. Winning an election does not give a political faction the right to enforce almsgiving any more than it gives them the right to enforce Mass attendance. Long after the rise of representative government the Second Vatican Council stated in Dignitatis Humanae “men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion.”

Conversion by the sword has come to be universally recognized among Christians as a terrible violation of human dignity. It was a gross misunderstanding of the gospel with a perverse effect on the political and evangelistic activity of many Christians.

In time, charity by the sword will similarly be recognized for the horrible mistake that it is. The day will come when the notion that the federal budget must reflect the gospel’s call to charity will seem as absurd as we now find the suggestion that baptism should be a prerequisite for American citizenship.

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One Response to “USCCB Urges Senate to Ratify New START”

  1. Nerina says:

    Ben, I share your frustrations and concerns. And I agree that the default position of the USCCB on too many issues is to side with the Democratic Party. My priest actually said that besides the abortion issue, the Democratic party was the more Catholic one. I pressed him on this statement and he stuck by it. So many Catholics have confused what the State should do and provide with what the Church, as the body of Christ, should do and provide. Frankly, I have no problem with preaching about the preferential option for the poor (as an example), but don’t then tell me the only way to address the needs of the poor is through wealth redistribution mandated by the government. Jesus didn’t tell us to establish a government to feed the needy, he demanded that his disciples take on the challenge. As an aside, I am NOT saying that the State doesn’t bear some sort of responsibility. What I object to is the Church abdicating Her role in caring for those in need.

    As for START, I’m certainly no expert, but prudence would dictate that this is a matter that requires serious consideration. Yes, it would be a wonderful world if all countries agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons. However, reality is much different. With so many rogue states all bent on proving their power, is it smart to embark on a process of disarmament right now? And why the rush to ratify in the lame duck session? The old treaty expired a year ago, so why can’t this wait until the new Congress is seated?

    I don’t know what kind of experts the USCCB has working on this and other issues. I asssume they are knowledgeable and competent consultants like the ones who worked on the health care bill. Speaking of which, I agree that not enough people spoke about the many, many concerns of Obamacare. Abortion was an easy one to identify, but arguments could be made about the morality of burdening future generations with such a debt load, or about subsidiarity, or conscience protections, or “death panels” and rationing of care. I was very disappointed with the weak arguments coming from the USCCB apart from its stalwart defense of life.

    Finally, I remember the SCHIP petition. I didn’t sign it either. In fact, the high-pressure tactics were one of the reasons I didn’t. Again, everytime we give up more to the State or determine that the State is the only entity that can address societal problems, the more the Church loses her moral voice. I say the State would be better served by insuring that religious groups have a say in public discourse and then get out the way and let long-established, effective charities do what they do best – care for people.

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