Monday, December 20, 2010

But is the Process Equally Infallbile?

Last May, Sister Mcbride, the hospital administrator who approved a medical procedure that resulted in the death of a 11-week old pre-born child was informed by her bishop, Thomas Olmsted, that she had excommunicated herself, and now, the hospital, St. Joseph Hospital of Catholic Healthcare West, has been given a deadline of Tuesday, Dec. 21 to resolve its conflict with the diocese over the morality of a medical procedure. Bishop Olmsted's decisive intervention and rebuke of the actions which occurred at St. Joseph’s hospital has resulted in predictable responses: Secular commentators have accused him of endangering women’s health; reformist Catholics perceive his action as just another example of ecclesiastical bullying; and many traditional Catholics argue that this is condign punishment for another Catholic institution sullying the Catholic label. While many have an opinion about the result, few have questioned the process. Is it possible that a more transparent and democratic process would not only be edifying but might reduce intra-ecclesial strife?

In the case of a conflict or dissent within the Catholic Church or an organization that seeks to be affiliated with her, bishops often employ closed-door deliberations, which offer the accused little to no opportunity to present an alternative interpretation of the events. Let us consider two instances in which Catholics have come into conflict with their bishops—the one just mentioned and the case of the apostolate in Nebraska, Intercessors of the Lamb.

In the case of Catholic Health Care West, the hospital claims that without the procedure both patients would have died and that only the mother’s life could be saved. Whether this is true or not is beyond the ken of the average lay person but surely this hospital could explain to the lay faithful how it arrived at that medical conclusion. Why not have an open forum in which Sister McBride, or her representative, is allowed to explain the medical facts of the case and how they are compliant with the directives for Catholic health care services? Even within the confines of patient privacy laws, one could discuss the facts of the case with due respect for the woman’s anonymity.

The bishop argues that the steps taken by the hospital were not justified and that the procedure employed was not as the Hospital claims—an indirect abortion, which can be licit. Bishop Olmsted insists that the hospital must accept this interpretation of events to maintain their Catholic identity. In fact, what most threatens the hospital ties to the Catholic Church is their refusal to acknowledge that the procedure was medically unnecessary. "There cannot be a tie in this debate," Olmsted wrote. "Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question."

Might it be helpful and just for the bishop or his representative to explain this position in an open forum? If the diocese believes that there were effective medical alternatives available, could these not be presented? Such an exposition of the facts would not only reduce speculation and resentment but would also be edifying. Catholic medical professionals would be given real medical options and the laity would learn a few things about canon law.

The case of the Intercessors of Lamb offered even greater opportunity for discussion since no one was accused of a mortal sin and there was no danger of revealing sensitive medical information. Yet this Catholic group, which had been endorsed by two previous Catholic bishops was suppressed by Archbishop Lucas without anything resembling due process.

According to the Foundress Nadine Brown, she was presented with a pre-written statement asking for her resignation and to this day she has not been told why she was asked to resign. She was further asked to leave the premises, although she had no money and no place to go, but not to leave the diocese. Again, no reasons were provided by her bishop. More importantly, she was never given an opportunity to suggest alternative arrangements or defend her work.

Nadine Brown, in obedience, has complied with the instructions of her bishop, but is there any reason why a vow of obedience necessitates that one not be given an explanation as well as an opportunity to present one’s case in the presence of the community? As Ms. Brown quite eloquently points out, “For “suppression” to happen in the Catholic Church, there have to be “very grave reasons.”

Moreover, the wider Catholic community, who have been asked not to offer financial support to this group nor to seek spiritual guidance from them, has been given very little information about the abnormalities, which warrant their de facto shunning. According to the diocese, the Intercessors’ lay board refused to comply with the recommendation of the bishop’s canon lawyer to address the following concerns:

Errors in governing documents; serious disunity within the community; widespread dissatisfaction with leadership; lack of safe environment policies; questionable financial practices; violation of its own proper law; use of intimidation tactics to secure obedience from members; inability of members to articulate the Intercessors’ charism; lack of financial transparency; violating norms governing alienation and acts of extraordinary administration; a flawed understanding of prayer and spiritual discernment.

While these are serious allegations, none of them alone are sufficient to justify suppression. But of course, it is not these irregularities that caused their suppression but rather refusal of the board to cede its governing authority to the bishop. According to Deacon Timothy F. McNeil, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, all Catholic institutions and apostolates in the archdiocese must have a connection to the Archbishop of Omaha. “…you cannot make the claim you’re a Catholic organization and at the same time separate yourself from the teaching, sanctifying, and governing role of the archbishop.”

Fair enough. But are there any checks on his authority? What channels are available to Catholic apostolates to appeal the decision of their bishops? What avenues are there for Catholics who want to know the facts which resulted in the exclusion of particular Catholic groups? Given the fact that the Church has reversed her decision on previously denounced persons, such as Biblical scholars using the historical critical method, there can be no doubt that these decisions are not infallible. There is clearly much about the canon laws that govern the Church that the ordinary Catholic does not understand but there is one clear precept that also needs to be understood: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:25-26).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Are You a Good Catholic? No One is Good but God Alone

This month the Serviam blog is hosting its annual CINO Award. The CINO Award (Catholic in Name Only) is granted to the Catholic persons or institutions, which the readers of the blog deem to be the most egregious offenders of Catholic orthodoxy. Last year’s dishonor was paid to Nancy Pelosi, who has again been nominated this year along with Doug Kmeic, Joe Biden and two periodicals: The National Catholic Reporter and America. Whether the intent of this contest is to send a prophetic message or simply to have some innocent fun, the participants would do well to reflect on the spiritual danger to themselves by participating in this act of virtual stone throwing.

While most Catholics journey in starkly different communities, It is difficult in some Catholic circles to avoid the all too frequent discussion about “dissenters.” Such conversations often center on pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage politicians or various dissenters within the Church whom are blamed for her current ailments. Great frustration is expressed that such individuals insist on calling themselves Catholic and have not been forbidden by their bishops from presenting themselves for communion.

The CINO award, it seems to me, is born of this frustration and anxiety. One poster even suggested that Washington DC Archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, should be nominated for failing to take more severe measures against dissenting politicians. Of course, there is much to be anxious about in the Church. That American Catholics are more likely to have abortions than the average population is just one example of the pervasive rejection of the faith that rightly causes a great deal of concerns and anxiety. One of the ways that the self-defined “faithful Catholics” address that reality is by declaring the contracepting, non-mass attending, pro-choicers CINO’s. Once CINO’s are properly identified, then the Church will have purer, albeit smaller numbers, but with nicer statistics. This is not only terrible strategy for a Church that is bleeding members, but it’s contrary to Scripture and sinful. Lost sheep should be sought not declared to be vexing goats.

The CINO award, like the conversations about dissenters, is utterly pointless. Although the writer of the blog assures us that these faithless Catholics are in their prayers, they can’t possibly believe that their mocking them will lead to their conversion. There is little likelihood that Joe Biden will land on this blog and even less chance that upon reading it, he will cover himself with sackcloth and ashes. Therefore, such an award serves no good purpose. It contradicts the words of Saint Paul who said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Although a private prayer for those about whose souls we are concerned is a duty, and at times, private confrontation is equally necessary, public mockery is simply uncharitable and will not give grace to those who hear.

Given the fact that such an activity contributes nothing to the propagation of the Gospel, it can only have one real objective—to serve a self-congratulatory fest for those who have deemed themselves orthodox. In every pointless conversation about who is not orthodox, there is the implicit declaration of one’s own orthodoxy and one’s one superior moral standing. The dangers of such an attitude should not be minimized.

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Jesus strongly cautions against those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt,” and it was not the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not “like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” who went home justified (Luke 18:9-12). Today, these words could easily be replaced with “I thank thee that I am not like the contraceptor, the pro-choicer, women-priest supporter.” Sinful as these activities may be, the greatest of all sin, the Luciferian sin, is not using a condom but pride.

Moreover, there is something presumptuous and self-deceiving about arrogating to oneself the task of declaring who is the least faithful Catholic. If one looks at the list of nominees, they have one thing in common; these are people who have either supported or shown sympathy for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. If one honestly believes there was a need for such a list of malefactors, are there not equally good reasons to include someone like former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani,who has actually been asked by his bishop not to receive Holy Communion? Are these moral disapprobations or political ones?

But the selectivity goes beyond party lines. There is a great plethora of sins by which the devil can entrap us and to focus on how people vote as the chief of all sins, runs the risk of making too many of us feel comfortable and secure in our righteousness when perhaps we should not be. In Matthew 7, Jesus taught that upon his return to separate sheep from the goats that many will be shocked, shocked, when they learn that they have not been doing his will—“Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’”(Matt. 7:22). This passage comes just a few verses after he says, “"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matt. 7:1-2).

And while we are on the subject of sheep and goats, we would also do well to remember that it is He, The Lord, who will separate the sheep from the goats, not us. Whether a particular sinner is the most sinful, the most faithless of all God’s children is known to Him alone. With our failings being as great as they are, no one of us has the time and the spiritual resources to be figuring out who should win the CINO Award. So, next time someone accuses you of being a good, orthodox Catholic, remember there is only one appropriate response, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:17).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Be Not Afraid! Amnesty is Not a Four Letter Word

Harry Reid and the Democrats are hoping to use this lame duck session of congress to deliver on some promises made to Hispanic Americans who helped many of them keep their jobs in the last election. This week, congress is scheduled to vote on the DREAM ACT, which would offer a path to legal residency to the children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States before the age of 16. While I am not hopeful, I am rooting for the Democrats.

This act represents a small step towards infusing sanity and justice into our broken immigration system. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, says, “The DREAM ACT represents a practical, fair, and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation.”

The DREAM ACT, which was originally Utah Republican Orrin Hatch in 2001, used to enjoy bipartisan support from moderate Republicans like, Senator John McCain, but with enthusiastic Tea Parties making illegal immigration among their top priority, many Republicans, worried about keeping their seats, are reluctant to attach their names to anything that looks like amnesty. That’s unfortunate because supporting the DREAM ACT is not only the compassionate, moral choice, it is consistent with many conservative principles.

Among the many philosophical questions that currently divide American society is the source of human rights. There is the theory of positive law, which claims that rights come from the state, which represents the will of the people; this is generally a view embraced by those on the left. On the other hand, there is the classical liberal view, which says that rights are bestowed by the Creator and self-evident in nature. From that perspective, human laws simply codify natural law. This is the view of our nation’s founders and many conservatives claim to embrace this view.

However, on the issue of immigration, the Republican leadership has adopted the view that human rights are immaterial to the debate; they claim that the only relevant moral question is that immigration laws have been broken. Web forums are filled with angry posts by Americans who insist that the issue is simple. They argue that one only needs to understand the difference between the words legal and illegal and that any attempt to create pathways to legal residency simply rewards illegal behavior.

However, there is a law far greater than our federal immigration law. It is the law that motivates each one of us to get up in the morning. It is the law of survival. The impulse to carve a better future for oneself and one’s children is a defining feature of human behavior. It is this impulse that motivated the pilgrims, the Jamestown settlers, the Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine and every group of people who believed that the American project offers them a superior shot at the pursuit of happiness than their alternatives. Any law that stands in the way of such a basic human impulse is simply begging to be flouted. If obedience to this impulse was noble when the pilgrims acted on it, is there any reason why it is less noble when it is exercised by Mexicans?

Conservative commentators, like Michelle Malkin, scold these children of illegals for failing to follow the proper immigration procedure. “Get in the back of the line!” she says. Fair enough. Human impulse does not permit anyone to act as she wishes. Certainly, society must have order. Nations must be able to regulate the flow of migration, at the very least, keep track of who is and who is not within its borders. But this nation, given its immigration history, has a unique responsibility to create paths that allow migrants to establish legal residency. There are currently no other provisions in the law for those who would benefit from the DREAM ACT to apply for legal residency. Every attempt to create pathways for legal residency is called amnesty and obstructed. The Republicans keep telling people to get in lines that do not exist while blocking efforts to open up such lines. The Republicans hinder attempts to expand guest worker programs, lotteries, HB1 visas, etc.; they block legal channels while claiming to support legal immigration. If the Republican Party wants to avoid permanently losing the Hispanic vote, it needs to show that it is indeed the party of legal immigration.

In addition, the conversatives generally support the free market. Yet, in the case of the labor market, it is those on the right who stand in the way of the free exchange of labor. Immigrants come to America because there is a demand for their labor. Americans want cheap fruits and vegetables, cheap daycare, and cheap lawn services. We want low prices at Wal-Mart everyday! And it is that demand that keeps the flow of immigrants coming into this country. Attempts to suppress those market forces won't cause them to disappear, they simply go underground.

It is tempting during this type of high unemployment and rising national debt to scapegoat immigrant labor but that is not only unfair, it is flawed thinking. First of all, while immigrants compete for jobs with native-born Americans, that competition brings down the price of the goods and services that we use. These lower prices increase our purchasing power so that we can purchase more goods and services. Although the individual who loses a job to an immigrant may be bitter, a competitive market places produces a net benefit for the rest of the economy. Secondly, immigrants are not just workers, they are consumers. Their consumption of basic goods, like housing, food and clothing create jobs. In fact, these activities are much more stimulating to the economy than any federal plan that congress and the president can conjure up. The Congressional Budget Office reports that implementation of the DREAM ACT would cut deficits by $1.4 billion in the next decade by increasing tax revenues. With the coming retirement of the baby boomers, entitlements programs like Social Security and Medicare can only benefit from an influx of young workers paying into the system. Conservative politicians would be well aware of these basic economic principles if fear of Tea Parties were not clouding their minds.

The Democrats have their own fears. They are afraid of being accused of embracing amnesty. It is a great evidence of their fecklessness that they have allowed the Republicans to turn a perfectly noble word like amnesty into a slur. Just what is wrong with amnesty? The word “amnesty” simply means a state-issued pardon, and it is disappointing that a blessed and purportedly Christian nation is having so much trouble with the word “pardon.”

Sometimes, we are called to pardon the worst amongst us but America, this time you are in luck. Instead of pardoning the worst among us, you are being asked to pardon “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses longing to be free.” You are being asked to give a generation of young people, who are already your neighbors, an opportunity to participate fully in this wonderful human experiment. America, you are not being robbed. You are being honored.