Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

Back to the Future in Illinois Child Welfare

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Recent Chicago press accounts of unreported deaths among children managed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had a familiar ring for me. Some of the same cast of characters in the ACLU and Chicago Sun-Times campaign of 2002-2003 against Maryville Academy, a longstanding Catholic childcare institution, over one suicide were now attacking their own creation, the DCFS of today, over many unreported deaths.

Over ten years ago, I issued a challenge in a number of letters to the editors of Chicago papers to revisit the “reforms” of 2002-3 ten years hence to see it they actually made any difference. Today, the same ACLU court appointee is still monitoring DCFS, and some of the same Chicago Sun-Times reporters are ten years later writing about DCFS. At this point, to what good purpose?

Below are several letters I sent to various Chicago newspapers in 2002-3 during the Maryville Academy controversy, which forced out the long-time director of Maryville, Fr. John P. Smyth, in 2003. The core of my 2002-3 argument is drawn from two of these letters:

The enduring naive faith of Chicago child welfare reformers in, of all things, Illinois politics to provide stability for poor children is the core dumb idea to which crusading reformers return decade after decade, like the Biblical dog returning to its vomit. . . .

Both the civil libertarian and psychiatric elites are just as naive about the institutional sustainability of their ideas today as they were in the 1970s. They are banking on the state to fund and run child welfare, but they forget that every few years, the state’s budget collapses as it is doing now, and the rug gets pulled from under the indigent. With drastic cuts expected due to the Illinois fiscal crisis in state DCFS services, stable and prudently endowed independent institutions like Maryville continue to play a critical stop-gap role in serving children, and thus also the public interest. With the state’s resources melting down, the elite now turn to take control of Maryville. But Maryville’s service to children is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom. We should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy.

Here is the rest of my 2002-3 time-capsule below–

=====

September 6, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editor:

The 9/6/02 front page Sun-Times story, “Maryville is Losing Control,” had all of the familiar elements of the child welfare dilemma in Illinois going back over a century: the crusading attorneys, ever wise with infallible hindsight; the under-funded state agency, which passes its problems to the under-staffed religious institution; the psychiatric experts, who now know considerably more about drugs than about many other things; and the legislature, which would rather fund roads and casinos than kids.

One hundred years of ill-advised Illinois policy, misappropriation, and progressive humbug on child welfare all wound up in the last available place it could go, Maryville Academy, because by our century of child neglect in Illinois we have closed most of the rest.

So file the story away, noting the quotes of all the wise people who knew better than Fr. John P. Smyth. Then read this same story in ten years, and judge the effectiveness of the institutions, if there are any left in Illinois, which were organized by the same very wise people. Who of them would dare to so associate the success or failure of such a high-risk charitable effort with their own good name as had Fr. Smyth? Would the ACLU–present but somehow exempt from being quoted directly in the 9/6/02 story?

The real scandal remains that Illinois, from all sources public and private, funds less than one-third of the child welfare services that are necessary. If Fr. Smyth really had all the clout that the Sun-Times implied he did, he would have changed that. He has only spent a lifetime trying.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[unpublished]

December 11, 2002

Catholic New World

Dear Editor:

Recent media stories about Maryville Academy tell us more about the state of child welfare in Illinois than give us any clues for helping poor or disturbed children. We need to know more about Maryville’s place in child welfare history to understand just how unfair the campaign against Maryville is.

In her book, The Juvenile Court and the Progressives, author Victoria Getis described the gradual transition and transfer of child welfare resources in Chicago from idealistic social service at the turn of the 20th century to a growing child welfare apparatus linked with university-based research in following generations. My own summary is that more and more was spent maintaining over time the bureaucracy of judges, attorneys, psychiatrists, social workers, probation officers, guards, professor-evaluators, and support personnel than was spent caring for children. Catholic child-care facilities of this early era, then with independent financial resources from stable funds like religious cemeteries and cottage industries, were shielded from the ups and downs of government, and could provide children relative stability.

In the late 1960s, Illinois’ child welfare system reached a crisis point due to the explosion of urban poverty. Like other states, Illinois, at the behest of legislators for fiscal reasons and civil libertarians for idealistic ones, embraced the de-institionalization movement in child welfare, led in the 1970s by then Illinois DCFS head Jerome Miller. Many child-care institutions were closed, and many dependent teens and pre-teens found themselves on the streets. As a young graduate student in the early 1970s, I followed the fates of children sent away from the closed Angel Guardian Orphanage and other institutions into the alleys of Chicago’s Uptown, Juneway Terrace, West Town, and South and West Sides. Several of these kids wound up dead, and many more faced abuse. It was not Illinois progressivism’s finest hour. The full history of teen de-institutionalization was never told–too embarrassing for the press, the crusading attorneys, and the professors. Maryville director Rev. John Smyth learned the lesson of these years, and prudently built Maryville’s endowment.

If we fast-forward to today, we find the post de-institutionalization generation of civil libertarians now anointed as guardians of child welfare by the press and to a certain extent the courts, with few psychiatric facilities available to children thanks to previous “reforms.”

The civil libertarians now want to change the mission of Maryville Academy to match the latest in their long series of unproved psychiatric experiments. They who have never themselves successfully run a child welfare effort eye the $100 million Maryville endowment built by good Catholic stewardship– proper as it is for an almost 300-bed group of facilities–and want to take over Maryville. Until it stopped doing so on 12/9/02, the state continued to send disturbed kids to Maryville who didn’t belong there, problems developed, the press stepped in, and blamed Maryville. It is an old strategy, brought to perfection during the state’s institutional takeovers and shutdowns of the 1970s. So the press milks the Maryville story, rehashing headlines and adding roughly one new substantive quote a day.

When one thinks of the thousands of young lives sent hither and yon by court-appointed psychiatrists in the 20th century based upon now-discredited Freudian theories, we should be rightfully cautious when today’s child psychiatrists tell us that this time they really, really, have the answer for the development of children and their institutional care. A more sober assessment is that the present science of child psychiatry begins and ends with knowledge of the effects of drugs, and to a lesser extent the relationship between genetics, disease, and mental illness. Almost everything else psychiatric is educated guesswork clothed in mostly unproved scientific-sounding jargon, but Illinois child welfare pundits and the courts, who have failed children for generations, never have and might never ever admit it.

Maryville’s independence is good for the vast majority of children it serves, and is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom to perform works of charity. We Catholics should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy, and challenge the child welfare elite to try to do a better job–and to start by raising their own money to do so.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

====

REVISED [published] letter

December 22, 2002

Editor
Catholic New World

Dear Editor:

The recent unrelenting media campaign against Maryville Academy tells only part of the story of Maryville in Illinois child welfare past and present. In op-ed essays and puff-pieces in the daily papers, leading actors in child welfare now argue what they each want Maryville to be. Two years ago, the press had Maryville walking on water. What is going on?

Here’s what: a determined child welfare elite wants the state to take over Maryville and its multi- million dollar endowment, prudently built over a lifetime by Maryville director Rev. John Smyth for poor and dependent children. Standing in the elite’s way is the reputation of Rev. Smyth.

On the one hand of the elite are the civil libertarians. The press forgets that the civil libertarians cheered for de-institutionalization of youth and mental health institutions in the 1970s, a poorly planned and unfunded transition which led to the deaths and homelessness of uncounted poor persons. Almost thirty years ago I followed a number of the kids put out into the streets when homes like Angel Guardian Orphanage were closed: some wound up dead, some abused. Maryville director Rev. John Smyth learned the lesson of these years, and carefully built Maryville’s endowment.

Ironically, today a gullible press and the courts are persuaded that, having presided over one debacle, the civil libertarians need another crack at child welfare. It was ever thus. See The Juvenile Court and the Progressives, by Victoria Getis, which described how idealistic child welfare innovations became a bureaucracy of the elite.

On the other hand is the child psychiatric elite in Chicago, key actors among which have been publicly cited in recent years by the federal government for not obtaining legally effective informed consent from research subjects. The Chicago press has not done its homework, and has placed some big bets on the wrong horses.

Both the civil libertarian and psychiatric elites are just as naive about the institutional sustainability of their ideas today as they were in the 1970s. They are banking on the state to fund and run child welfare, but they forget that every few years, the state’s budget collapses as it is doing now, and the rug gets pulled from under the indigent. With drastic cuts expected due to the Illinois fiscal crisis in state DCFS services, stable and prudently endowed independent institutions like Maryville continue to play a critical stop-gap role in serving children, and thus also the public interest. With the state’s resources melting down, the elite now turn to take control of Maryville. But Maryville’s service to children is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom. We should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[edited versions of this letter were published]

July 11, 2003

Catholic New World

Dear Editors:

Before journalists at both of Chicago’s dailies begin accepting awards from each other over the Rev. John P. Smyth’s 7/10/03 decision to step down from day to day directon of Maryville Academy, let us ask, What has been accomplished to improve child welfare in Illinois during the newspapers’ two year anti-Maryville crusade?

Not much. According to one of the papers this week, hundreds of DCFS wards still cannot be found in the state’s revolving-door foster care system. And what of the unrelenting source in Illinois of abused and neglected children–the unabated epidemic of physical and sexual abuse of children in poor and minority communities–which Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson has called America’s dirty secret? It is much easier for a newspaper to pick the low-hanging fruit of Maryville or any child-care institution for stories, transcribing from the ever-willing Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy and ACLU’s Ben Wolf, instead of confronting in full detail the rampant beating and molestation of children in poor and minority communities which puts children by the thousands into DCFS’s care in the first place, and risking significant loss of readership. The latter would indeed merit a journalism award.

The Maryville stories are really about the money, the $100 million endowment raised by Fr. Smyth over forty years, which is mentioned in each story as if Smyth committed a crime. The newspapers, the Public Guardian, the ACLU, and the professors are in this story in order to direct how that money is used. But some us still remember why that money was raised: Thirty-five years ago, the newspapers and civil libertarians were riding another hobbyhorse, the move to de-institutionalize child care, which sent hundreds of DCFS wards out into the streets, and managed to kill a number of them. Smyth, a visionary, realized that the state’s child welfare system would always be under-funded and unstable, and that an institution like Maryville could provide uninterrupted service to children despite the foster care turnstyle.

The enduring naive faith of Chicago child welfare reformers in, of all things, Illinois politics to provide stability for poor children is the core dumb idea to which crusading reformers return decade after decade, like the Biblical dog returning to its vomit Face it, the state will never by itself solve the problem, and the jury is still out on whether the psychiatric model of child care favored by the reformers will even work on a large scale. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the psychiatric model turns out after a generation to be an unsustainable idea, too? That is why well-endowed and independent Catholic charities like Maryville will continue to make a significant contribution, despite everything.

There is a final delicious irony here. Usually, celibate priests are criticized for giving advice about sex. In Maryville’s case, the high priests calling for Fr. Smyth’s resignation are child care virgins, those who, unlike Smyth, have never run a large care institution. If Murphy’s or Wolf’s offices or ideas were submitted to the same evaluative scrutiny as was Maryville, would their bully pulpits long endure?

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[published]

July 22, 2003

Editors, Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editors:

Before journalists begin accepting awards from each other over the Rev. John P. Smyth ‘s decision to step down from day-to-day direction of Maryville Academy, let us ask: What has been accomplished to improve child welfare in Illinois during both daily newspapers’ two-year anti-Maryville crusade?

Not much. According to one of the papers, hundreds of DCFS wards still cannot be found in the state’s revolving-door foster care system. And what of the unrelenting source in Illinois of abused and neglected children–the physical and sexual abuse of children in poor and minority communities–which Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson has called America’s dirty secret?

It is much easier for a newspaper to pick the low-hanging fruit of Maryville or any child-care institution for stories, instead of confronting the rampant beating and molestation of children in poor and minority communities that puts children by the thousands into DCFS’ care in the first place.

The Maryville stories are really about the money–the $100 million endowment raised by Smyth over 40 years, which is mentioned in each story as if Smyth committed a crime. The newspapers, the public guardian, the ACLU and the professors are in this story in order to direct how that money is used. But some of us still remember why that money was raised: Thirty-five years ago, the newspapers and civil libertarians were riding another hobbyhorse: the move to deinstitutionalize child care, which sent hundreds of DCFS wards out into the streets, and managed to kill a number of them. Smyth , a visionary, realized that the state’s child welfare system would always be underfunded and unstable, and that an institution like Maryville could provide uninterrupted service to children despite the foster care turnstile.

Face it: The state will never by itself solve the problem, and the jury is still out on whether the psychiatric model of child care favored by the reformers will even work on a large scale. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the psychiatric model turns out after a generation to be an unsustainable idea, too? That is why well-endowed and independent Catholic charities like Maryville will continue to make a significant contribution, despite everything.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

September 21, 2003

Catholic New World

Dear Editors:

The Illinois Governor’s 9/19/03 decision to pull state wards out of Maryville Academy’s main campus brought to light the media and political forces working against Maryville and other Catholic institutions, in manifold ways violating fair play:

* Media accounts on Maryville have repeated the mantra of “suicide, sexual assaults, beatings, drugs, runaways, etc.” often without numbering or dating these incidents, or publishing their number within the entire DCFS system to provide proper context.

* News accounts now devote significant space to editorializing on Maryville and rehashing old charges. When in late August, 2003 the Catholic New World contained an insert on behalf of Maryville, the Sun-Times and Tribune countered by devoting an entire weekend to repetitive stories about a non-event, the decision of the Maryville board not to attack Maryville critics via a media consultant.

* Numerous press accounts on Maryville gave the final paragraph to the ACLU’s Ben Wolf, and clearly reflected his point of view throughout.

* The media and DCFS have blamed Maryville for runaways in several articles for months, but only recently did the press reveal that the DCFS director maintained a statewide policy of allowing children the freedom to run away from institutions by mandating doors be unlocked.

* Headlines blared about the federal investigation into Maryville on Medicaid reporting, but there is not a major university or hospital in Chicago that has not been so investigated and disciplined. Because of the sheer complexity of tax and Medicaid regulation, few could withstand an audit. The Tribune Co. should know this very well, since it has itself been audited and hauled into federal tax court, as reported by the Sun-Times on 11/28/02, to face a $551 million tax liability on the acquisition of Times-Mirror Corp.

* Editorialists on Maryville have naively misunderstood their own role in the social service institution life-cycle. Charitable institutions, whether for the mentally ill, dependent children, or the homeless, serve a social control function–to take the poor off the streets and thereby make them invisible. Then the poor become so numerous in institutions that these become expensive and visible. Then the poor are scattered, in order to make them invisible and cheap to “assist” again. Then the cycle repeats, with help from editorialists who follow the Dilbert principle: “Decentralize what is centralized, and centralize what is decentralized, and you’ll look like an organizational genius.”

Unless he has clearly broken the law, Fr. John Smyth has earned the right after 42 years to remain at Maryville. The public debate about Maryville has revealed many hidden agendas, and forced actors in the drama out into the open, muting their power. Some good will surely come from this.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

====

© Copyright 2002, 2003, 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

How to Disagree with an Icon: On Rejoicing in Being Persecuted While Defending the Innocent

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

How does a pro-life believer best publicly disagree with President Obama, who possesses iconic cultural and political status?

And how best does a believing and active Catholic Christian respond to anti-Catholic persecution and anti-Catholic injustice in public life?

As Bill Clinton used to say, I’ll first consider the second question, then respond to the first one.

Defending Life while Rejoicing at Being Persecuted

On the one hand, our Blessed Lord taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to rejoice when we are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). On the other hand, Scripture calls upon us to respect and defend the rights of the widow, the orphan, and the alien (Exodus 22:21-23; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:17-18), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us to disarm the aggressor (CCC 2265).

Herein I propose that the best way to strike a balance on this question is to accept persecution of one’s own person in Christian joy, but to continue to defend in the public square the truth and the rights of others–especially of the innocent, particularly the unborn–as citizens claiming the rights of any citizen and of any human.

About forty years ago, when I was still in college, my late father asked me to consider a similar set of questions. He had received a letter from his old high school teacher, Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ, who was in the process of establishing the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. My father was thinking about the turn-the-other-cheek / defend-the-innocent-and-the-truth question. I recall at the time coming down myself on the turn-the-other-cheek side, but acknowledging that distortions of truth and unjust attacks against individuals needed to be publicly refuted. We agreed then that the Catholic League was worth supporting, and my Dad became one of Fr. Blum’s early backers in this effort.

Christians and Catholics are today openly persecuted in a “red” or bloody manner in many Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, and in a mostly “white” or un-bloody manner at this time in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In the United States, which brought with it the legacy of British anti-Catholicism, Catholics had a long climb up to open public acceptance until John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. U.S. Catholics bore a special burden in proving that they could be both truly Catholic and truly American. This struggle is reflected in many ways in American Catholic church and school architecture of the early part of the 20th Century, which blend both American and Catholic themes.

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Chicago, 1917; Source: non-copyrighted parish website; fair use invoked

Films such as The Fighting 69th (1940), starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, showed how Catholics were willing to fight for America.

from Wikipedia, fair use invoked

The HHS Rule Controversy

But in the past few weeks, Catholics in the U.S. have begun to face perhaps the most significant church-state conflict in over a century.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed a rule on 1/20/12 that almost all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception effective August 1, 2012. According to the NCHLA website, “Non-profit religious employers that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule’s extremely narrow definition of religious employer, will be given one year—until August 1, 2013—to comply.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York acting as spokesman, has published a number of responses on their website, calling for Catholics and people of good will to urge Congress and the President to take specific actions to respect religious freedom, such as supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).

Besides writing Congress, other politicians, and the President, and voting one’s conscience, what other actions are appropriate for believers?

Certainly, violent actions are forbidden and are dreadfully self-defeating. Such extreme action is not only immoral in itself, but would discredit religious believers and the pro-life cause. Only the deranged or an agent provocateur would suggest violence in this case. History has shown, especially in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, that contemplating extreme or violent action can activate an even more direct persecution, and marginalize religious believers for centuries. Catholics were only able, by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, to regain their right to religious freedom in England more than two hundred years after the Gunpowder Plot. The British monarch is still forbidden to join the Catholic Church.

Extreme rhetoric in response to the HHS rules is also not appropriate, and will in the long run prove ineffective. Appeals to constitutional, Biblical, and universal human rights on behalf of others, these others being the unborn and those believing taxpayers morally objecting to pay for sterilization and abortifacients, promise to be the most effective.

But mere words are not enough. Politicians can and in some cases must be voted out of office over this issue peacefully through the constitutionally-established electoral process.

There is also the question whether the honors and courtesies usually granted to certain politicians, such as appearances speaking to students and faculties, should be given. This is not yet the time for any across the board end to these practices, but each case should be carefully reconsidered. But this is also not the time for Catholic institutions to shower politicians, labor, and business leaders who support abortion rights with awards and knighthoods.

A Failure as Men

This HHS challenge faces the Catholic Church in America at a time when, weakened by the priest abuse scandals, it lacks unobstructed access to the public square without every message from the Church being confounded and scrambled by the scandal.

A few comments on the clergy scandal are therefore apt, because present communication from the Catholic Church is heard in light of it, and little effective communication is possible without addressing it. In a powerful sense, a Catholic bishop’s public words have the priest abuse scandal static humming behind them.

Recently, I have begun to think of the failure of certain bishops and clergy as responders to the priest abuse scandal in a different way: The failure of these bishops and priests was not only a failure of church “headship,” but a “natural law” failure in the traditional male role as the defender of children. Certain bishops and clergy have failed in the priest abuse crisis in a manly sense, as men, in their paternal role. This failure brought into question not only the integrity of ineffective bishops and clergy, but their very manhood.

Because certain bishops and clergy appeared to fail as men in this natural law sense, they have in a very visceral way especially lost the confidence of many women who still value the male as defender. Four decades of political correctness have not wiped out this traditional expectation for the male. Many Catholic men who value this expectation are likewise sickened by this failure.

This loss of confidence in certain bishops and leading clergy is of Biblical proportions. I recall Professor Scott Hahn’s theory of Adam as the failed husband for his silence in not defending his family when Satan came to tempt in Genesis 3. Prof. Hahn assigned great significance to the silence of Adam in this passage.

Weakened by the clergy scandals, our Catholic Church “headship” is therefore in need of redemption in a theological sense, which we believe is a grace given by Christ. The redemption in the social sense will take many years, and depends on the repenting actions of the clergy and of all believers. The episcopacy must understand the depth of their failure in not just the hearts but in the guts of the faithful. I cannot stress more emphatically that this redemptive action includes bishops and clergy reaffirming and in a sense reestablishing their own Christian manhood.

In the mean time, Catholics must effectively communicate as citizens against violations of human and religious freedom, and in particular against the HHS rule in question. This effectiveness of communication depends on the individual acts of millions of believers in contact with their own government officials despite the constant static of the clergy scandals. We should not be deterred by scandal into allowing serious violations of human rights and religious freedom.

It is fortunate that Cardinal (effective mid-February, 2012) Timothy Dolan serves as the spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops in this instance. Despite continual attempts to smear him, his integrity and forthrightness continue to shine through. I do not doubt that there will be aggressive efforts to discredit him going forward. Cardinal Dolan is the right man to stand before the faithful both on the question of episcopal redemption and on defending the unborn and the consciences of those who recognize the rights of these holy innocents. Please see his 1/25/12 Wall Street Journal article.

The bishops’ strong stance on the defense of innocent life is not only redemptive in a theological sense, but in a natural law, manly sense. They are restoring their manhood by acting as the defenders of the innocent, and provide a stunning contrast with the unmanly compromises of business, labor, and government leaders who somewhere along the line decided that they would betray themselves on the defense of innocent life, perhaps, as the old saying goes, to be “happy” in this world rather than “right.” The bishops are seen by many critics in their strong pro-life stand as being on the wrong side of history, when they in fact are on the right side of eternity.

Since potentially millions of pro-life citizens may in one way or another speak to the HHS rule controversy, below I offer some background information on some of the social and political forces at work, which I hope will be helpful for these pro-life citizens as they communicate with their government representatives.

Toward Disagreement with an Icon

Barack Obama is not only the President of the U.S., but commands additional power as a cultural icon.

Many, not only social progressives but also the young, see President Obama as the standard-bearer for movements for human and civil rights, whose election vindicated their lifelong efforts. The Grant Park, Chicago celebration of the President’s election on November 4, 2008 was for many the high point of their lives.

Pro-life believers see this same President as the most radical pro-choice politician ever to hold high office, who would not support a proposed Illinois law providing medical care for infants who survived abortion.

The U.S. Catholic population reflects this divergence of views, and the success of President Obama’s agenda has depended on his ability to in a real sense divide and conquer the U.S. Catholic population on the question of life. He has taken great pains, most recently in his speech at the 2/2/12 National Prayer Breakfast, to establish how a believing Christian can support his own pro-choice policies, with some skirting of the direct question on whether a believer can support abortion rights.

Many socially progressive Catholics agree with the President, but their position has become much more difficult to reconcile with Catholic teachings. Whether by accident or by design, the President’s actions have begun to tear apart the recurrent claim that one can be both a social progressive–if that includes abortion rights–and a faithful Catholic.

While Benedict XVI forcefully linked life ethics and social ethics in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, many progressive Catholics have operated since the 1960s as if this link was not necessary. The President has now brought through the HHS Rule a firm decision on this matter to the doorstep of Christians in general, but to socially progressive Catholics in particular.

But First a Bit of History

Since President Obama arose politically from Chicago, I offer some history on what led to this turning point:

Chicago, the historic home of the Haymarket Affair and thereby the partial inspiration for May Day as an International Workers Day, has a long and varied tradition of progressive and radical political activism.

From the Haymarket martyrs, to Chicago and Illinois labor pioneers, to the intellectual progressives and philosophical pragmatists such as John Dewey and Jane Addams, to the Lakefront Liberals and community activists of today in the tradition of Chicago’s Saul Alinsky, to the violent anti-war protests and later education reforms of Bill Ayers, an amalgam of progressive ideas and traditions has firmly established itself within specific layers of Chicago culture. Over the 20th Century the progressive Chicago panacea of choice shifted from eugenics to abortion.

But despite the “brief, shining” progressive moment of the Harold Washington mayoral administration, 1983-1987, almost every institution established by the Chicago progressive reformers, from the pioneering Juvenile Court system and Chicago Park District to the Cook County Hospital to even the Chicago Public Schools, became a fiefdom within Chicago machine politics. The Chicago progressives, despite periodic vociferous protestations sometimes descending into sullen resignation, and despite the earnest shadow-government machinations of Chicago foundations and civic organizations, have likewise ultimately enabled the “Chicago Way” of one-party machine politics to rule Chicago for decades. Barack Obama himself prior to his presidency endorsed an inept Cook County Board president who had to be forced from office for incompetence. Chicago progressive history is thus comprised of recurrent vainglorious visions that continually evaporate into politics as usual.

Chicago also evidences a distinct tradition of activist Catholicism with likewise early roots prior to Leo XIII‘s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Chicago Catholic Action, with mentors like Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, erupted during its heyday of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s into either “Specialized Catholic Action Movements” in the European Jocist tradition such as the Young Christian Workers, the Christian Family Movement, and the Young Christian Students, or into the separately-founded and imported Catholic Worker, Friendship House, or into the parallel and more institutional youth and labor-oriented efforts of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil, including the Sheil School of Social Studies (1943-1954), and the Chicago Labor Alliance, the latter led by former Catholic Worker and Loyola University educator Ed Marciniak. Later Chicago Catholic activist organizations, such as the Association of Chicago Priests, the Eighth Day Center for Justice, and allied activist non-sectarian organizations (but heavily supported with Catholic dollars) the Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power for Action and Justice, and several others, drew upon these Chicago Catholic activist traditions.

These two Chicago activist traditions, the progressive and the activist Catholic, have complexly intersected both in terms of social networks and in terms of ideas since the late 1800s, especially in labor, politics, philanthropy, neighborhood life, higher education, civic leadership, and clergy politics. Catholic organizations have generously funded community organizing in Chicago since the 1930s, including the work of a young community organizer named Barack Obama in the 1980s, whose move to the U.S. presidency echoed Chicago’s potent blend of strong-arm, one party rule with a progressive patina. By this Catholic-funded work, Mr. Obama earned his status as an “honorary Catholic” among religious Chicago progressives.

The traditions of Chicago progressivism and Catholic activism meet, if not merge, in another significant way, in their descent into pragmatism, not of the philosophical variety, but of the political and economic. The style of leadership among some of the elites of political Chicago and religious Chicago is therefore sometimes indistinguishable, and appears established along the categories of political power and money power alone. From time to time, one might find within Chicago church circles a brash, confrontational approach to action, including not-so-subtle forms of blackmail and intimidation, similar to what one might encounter in Chicago politics. As we say, “It’s a tough town.”

Since the time of the 1960s Kennedy-era “New Breed” Chicago Catholics, activity between Catholic and progressive activists represented itself in a number of free-flowing and permeable relationships. Catholic activists, and especially inner-city Catholic pastors and religious, have had strong standing in neighborhood and civic affairs.

Numerous neighborhood, community and economic development, professional, and civic organizations have been founded in the Chicago area in recent decades with the backing of Catholic talent and resources. In tandem with the growth of these organizations, a number of leading Chicago Catholic clergy, following the lead of Hillenbrand protege Msgr. John J. Egan, have strategically oriented their civic efforts into an interfaith and intentionally secular dimension, in order to broaden the base of support, participation, and power. This strategy, which heavily relied on coalition-building across a wide spectrum of organizations, coincided with the end of the influence of Catholic Action organizations as such, while still paradoxically relying on money donated from Catholic parishes and the Archdiocese of Chicago as a whole to sustain the bulk of these efforts.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, originally founded as the Campaign for Human Development in 1970 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, but with significant impetus from Chicago Catholic clergy and in particular Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Michael R. P. Dempsey (1918–1974), who served as co-founder and first national director of what later came to be called CCHD, has served, among other things, to extend the Chicago style of Catholic community and development activism nationally. In an important way, the CCHD has institutionalized the pattern laid down by the original requests by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil and later Msgr. John J. Egan to Cardinal Samuel Stritch to fund Saul Alinsky’s community organizing with Archdiocesan funds.

These traditions of secular and Catholic progressivism overlapped most dramatically when a Chicago diocesan priest, Rev. Carl Lezak (1937-2009), served as head of the Illinois ACLU from July, 1971, until he resigned September, 1972.

The late Fr. Lezak’s clericalization of civic action was only one of several such incidents in Chicago history, a usurpation of the lay role against which Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, unheeded, warned his protegees in the clergy. A number of these clerical interventions prevented the development of a lay reform tradition independent of one-party rule. Progressive Catholics therefore could not envision themselves voting against the dominant party, but would coalesce with almost liturgical devotion around this or that reform candidate for relatively minor office, thus shoring up of one-party, corrupt government in Chicago and Illinois.

The desire to participate in a glorious public jubilee like Chicago’s November 4, 2008 Grant Park celebration is a powerful one, as is the desire to belong to a larger group. Perhaps a desire to belong, an attachment confusing self-image with public interest, has long prevented socially progressive and labor activist Catholics from deserting one-party rule and throwing the rascals out. This attachment has shaped Chicago and Illinois toward one-party, pro-abortion oligopolies.

But there may be another reason for the staying power of one-party rule in Chicago and Illinois, and that may be abortion itself. Minus the abortion rights controversy, many voters would have switched parties long ago over financial mismanagement and public scandals. But the abortion issue has kept the otherwise reform-minded progressives inside the dominant party, thus perpetuating corruption. Abortion is in many ways the glue that holds the Democratic party together in Illinois and beyond.

Progressive Chicago Catholicism has long misunderstood power as originating solely in money and in politics, but has missed, as Blessed John Paul II well and better understood, the power of culture.

Progressive, pro-choice Catholicism has fed off the illusion that life issues can be set aside for the sake of a wider social justice agenda. Progressive Chicago Catholicism has accepted a permeable, non-Aristotelean definition of justice not inclusive of the rights of the vulnerable unborn, but tied to their own self-image as compassionate and just.

It appears that some of these contradictory progressive dreams and politics–and illusions–have been exported by Barack Obama from Chicago to the nation.

The End of the Church as Mediating Institution?

But now Catholics may face a choice between following their President’s health care policies and following their Church. The President promised a “Sensible Conscience Clause” at Notre Dame in 2009 but did not deliver on it. There is therefore no tangible bridge between the pro-life Catholic and Barack Obama’s “fundamental change.”

And equally critically, the important role of the Church as a mediating institution in society, an institution standing between the power and abuses of government and the defenseless, the very institutional foundation of progressive Catholicism, is being shaken away.

It is at this point an open question whether we will see the state slowly seize all health care away from pro-life charitable institutions, like the Tudor monarchs seized the monasteries, ending their charitable services to thousands who thereby had nowhere to go. If some day the government does seize the health care industry, we can expect that it will manage to combine therein the worst inefficiencies seen in Cook County government.

A strong clue to the intent of the Obama Administration in this HHS case can be found in the final chapter of economist Paul R. Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal, in which he urges a coming administration to in very determined fashion continue to lock in progressive reforms so that they can never be undone.


So, How Does One Disagree with an Icon?

First, more traditional Catholics should refrain from shouting “I told you so” to their progressive friends. This is a time for Church unity, not one-upmanship.

Second, the Herod analogy (as slaughterer of the innocents) should not yet be used by Catholics in President Obama’s case. St. John Fisher famously used this analogy regarding marriage with Henry VIII when all else failed, and an enraged Henry VIII lived up to the tagline by treating St. John Fisher as Herod treated Fisher’s namesake St. John the Baptist. All else has not yet failed with President Obama. (Strictly speaking, St. John Fisher had not even used the literal word “Herod” in reference to Henry VIII. Fisher had written in a book defending the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII that he, Fisher, was willing to die like St. John the Baptist defending the authenticity of their marriage. Henry drew the Herod reference himself. Fisher evidently thought and prayed for quite some time about invoking St. John the Baptist. The book he wrote on the royal marriage took him two years, and when the King’s men inventoried St. John Fisher’s possessions after his imprisonment in 1534, they found a replica head of St. John the Baptist on a platter in Fisher’s chapel.)

Third, Catholics should not bemoan any persecution they personally endure for their pro-life beliefs, but bear such persecution, invoking St. Thomas More, merrily.

Fourth, besides writing their legislators and voting their consciences, the very most effective thing pro-life Catholic grown-ups can do to oppose the HHS mandate and the pro-choice agenda is to speak first with their own teen and young adult children. These young adults are the most heavily propagandized generation in human history, regularly hearing from MoveOn.org, Change.org, Rock the Vote, MTV, etc., having hardly ever seen an intact family displayed on television for any length of time, having been carefully led through college’s second and hidden dorm curriculum, and having their own humor and thus thought processes constantly shaped by politicized late-night comedians. The most effective way therefore for pro-life Catholic parents to oppose the pro-choice position is for Catholic parents to personally explain the reasoning behind Catholic pro-life positions first to their own voting children, and then to dialogue with their children about their reaction. Pro-choice politicians absolutely count on the young adult vote, and expect young adults to sit out the HHS controversy. Happily, these young adults are growing more pro-life. Nothing would put pro-choice politicians into a panic more than receiving thousands of e-mails against the HHS mandate from high school and college students and young professionals. Another such panic would ensue if bishops and pastors systematically began to speak personally with high school and college young adult groups against the HHS mandate and enlist such letters on a regular basis.

Fifth, the way to oppose an icon is not to directly attack the icon, but to change the world around the icon so the icon loses its cultural power. This is how the power of culture trumps the power of money and politics. The way to change this world around the icon is to let loose the reasoning behind the pro-life position: the defense of innocent human life. There is no more powerful idea than the defense of the innocent. By unleashing the HHS mandate, the President and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may have inadvertently set this very time for the powerful idea of the defense of innocent human life to come.

Six, by focusing on the reason for religious freedom in this HHS case–the defense of innocent human life–as opposed to simply religious freedom and freedom of conscience in and of themselves, defenses of religious freedom and conscience are then grounded on a doubly strong moral basis: they are not just about the person claiming religious freedom and freedom of conscience, but about the purpose and reason freedom is being exercised: the defense of the innocent unborn. This recalls Benedict XVI’s April 17, 2008 Catholic University of America Address statement to Catholic Educators that “Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in–a participation in Being itself.” The religious freedom we seek is not freedom from, but freedom for–freedom for the good of another, in this case, for the innocent unborn.

Seventh, I wish Jimmy Cagney were around to drive home the point about the objections pro-life Catholics (whose numbers are growing) are making to President Obama: We are both loyal Catholics and loyal Americans, and are exercising our own rights in legitimate defense of others. But Jimmy Cagney has joined, I pray, the Communion of Saints (he did die on screen at least once to save the Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces), so we’ll have to make this point ourselves.

This is indeed a moment of moral choice for Catholics and for people of good will. I pray that this moment remains a peaceful one, and is resolved through reason and good will.

—-

Further Reading:

Cardinal Francis George’s 2/5/12 letter for parish bulletins on the HHS ruling.

The 2/6/12 Wall Street Journal article by Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead, Planned Parenthood’s Hostages.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Twelve Nurses Sue Against Forced Participation in Abortion

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

The Alliance Defense Fund is assisting twelve New Jersey nurses in suing their hospital, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, against requiring them to participate in abortions.

So much for President Obama’s promised but never delivered “sensible conscience clause.”

An Alliance Defense Fund attorney, Matt Bowman, has posted an article with more background. Information on the legal technicalities in the case are available here. Here is an update from 11/4/11 with the names of the nurses.

Please see my earlier essay on the President’s 2009 Notre Dame speech.

I also note that, despite its long history of support for military and other forms of conscientious objection, the ACLU has abandoned support for the human conscience when abortion is the question. This demonstrates once again the corrosive effect of abortion in public affairs.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share