Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Upon arriving at Most Holy Redeemer rectory yesterday (where I stay while in Chicago--my Mom's parish, before she died), I learned of the death, the day before my arrival, of one of the (retired) associates here:  Fr Joe Ruiz.  The obituary in today's Chicago Tribune said he "shared life and faith with hundreds of people throughout the Chicago Archdiocese..."  I simply remember him as a gentle soul who was the one who anointed my Mother before she died.  He was not the greatest preacher since Cardinal Newman, but he cared for people and had the heart of a servant.

I wonder:  should he be referred to as "a church official"?

This is how Msgr William Linn of Philadelphia has been characterized in the press following his sentening of 3-6 years in the general population of a prison (which is a quasi-death sentence).  Is the press using this language to distance Fr Linn's actions from the Catholic clergy?  Not likely-- it is more possible it is attempting by this vocabulary to distance the Catholic Church from anything sacred...

Has Fr Linn also been someone who shared life and faith with others?  Certainly so.  Is he taking the rap for others (living and dead) who are more directly responsible for abuse of children?  Probably.  Is is therefore able to avoid culpability?  No--just look at Penn State, not an altogether unfair analogy...  But the argument that Fr Linn deserves hard time instead of house arrest because otherwise he might flee to the Vatican?!  Really??  This kind of logic, I thought, ended with the 2 defeats of Al Smith in the 1920s.  In any event, even if he did flee, I could virtually guarantee there'd be the swiftest extradition proceeding anyone has ever seen when Benedict would dump him back to the States without a qualm.

What should be Fr Linn's obituary (yes, this is a bit early)?  I would hope it would be similar to what Fr Ruiz's (or mine) would say-- a series of quotes:

"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (the tax-collector)
"Bury this body wherever you want; only remember me when you are at the altar of the Lord" (St Monica)

Footnote:  a friend sent me a message (with which I completely agree) that any fine leveled against Penn State by the NCAA should be directed toward programs to protect children from predatory sex offenders.  What do you think?

Thursday, July 5, 2012


After the dust attempts to settle (or not) in the wake (pun intended) of the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Health Care Law is indeed constitutional, and ignoring the upcoming lawsuits against the HHS mandate attached to it, I want to reflect on the meanings of religious liberty and freedom of conscience and establishment in what I hope will be a calmer (if not more reasoned) manner.

The Catholic Church historically (read: especially—but not only—since President Obama’s health care legislative initiative) has been solidly in favor of universal health insurance made affordable to all.  The issue for the churches (Catholic and others) has been the HHS mandate that forces them to pay for others’ abortions (yes, the “morning after pill” is abortifacient).  Though the press has focused on this as an issue of contraception, the concerns are in fact much larger: can the government enact policies that are in direct opposition to the teachings and practices of a given religious body?

The answer surely is YES and NO.

Consider the circumstances of those Christian bodies (Quakers, Amish, Mennonites…) for which war is totally unacceptable from a moral and religious standpoint.  Can the government nevertheless impose a draft?  Of course it can, and in the past it has.  However:  there was from the beginning an “escape” of sorts for those who objected to bearing arms in warfare because of issues of conscience.  They were granted the status of “conscientious objectors,” and they were required instead to offer alternative service—perhaps as ambulance drivers or medics, for example.  Chaplains of any stripe, moreover, were never obligated to bear arms in the exercise of their duties.  So accommodation can be made.

Catholics (and others) are simply saying:  “It’s bad enough, from our point of view, that the law allows for abortions; we will acquiesce in the law, though we will try to persuade people that it is wrong.   All we ask here is don’t force us to pay for the abortions, as well.  We refrain from coercion of those exercising their legal right; please also refrain from coercion in making us pay for what we in conscience understand to be evil.”  This is not so hard to understand, I don’t think…

On the other hand, what do we really understand by the idea of “restricting freedom of exercise of religion”?  Although it is patently ludicrous to think that a Catholic university or hospital or social services center, by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t minister to or serve Catholics as its overwhelming majority, somehow doesn’t come under the aegis of the law’s definition of “Catholic institution,” we must also recall the context within which the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae was crafted.  A then little-known auxiliary bishop from Poland, Karol Wojtyla, had a major hand in getting this document approved as he knew, first-hand, the struggles of the Polish people to exercise their freedom to worship under a communist regime.  Our situation in the United States is radically different from his, after all, isn’t it?

What if the Catholic Church (and others) were to lose its protected status (eg, tax exemptions) in the name of a completely secular State?  Would the Church be the worse, or the better, off for this?  I think of the position of the Ultramontanes (the ultra-conservative pro-papal authority wing) in the 19th century when they (foolishly) insisted that papal authority must include political and temporal sovereignty over the “Papal States” of central Italy).  This ended in fact in 1870, and it was ended legally in 1929.  To think the pope should not be a prince was regarded as heresy; to see those territories taken over (especially in Rome itself) was thought disastrous.  Yet there could have been no greater blessing to the papacy than the elimination of this completely unnecessary circumstance that history foisted on the papacy from about the 6th century.  Might a loss of privilege from the government here produce similar beneficent effects and blessing?

It is frankly futile to appeal to Scripture in judging issues and controversies like this—after all, there was no such thing as representative republican government (such as we have) in those days.   So appeals to texts like “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” are of little help.  What is of help, though, is historical precedent.  The Church seems most to be the Church (properly speaking) when it is in a minority and is persecuted.  The glory of God is a human being fully alive, St Irenaeus wrote in the 2nd century.   But often being “fully alive” meant being willing (and likely) to die for one’s convictions.  If the insight of the 2nd century North African theologian Tertullian (“The blood of martyrs is the seed-bed of the Church”) is true, then perhaps we might rejoice in some distancing of ourselves from positions of privilege and know that if we are to be prophetic we must be 1) often counter-establishment, and 2) always credible—in our witness if not always in our words.  So let’s get on with it.