Posts Tagged ‘Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand’

On Finally Finishing a Book from My Father Twenty-Five Years Later

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Our family has an established tradition of passing books around as loaners or gifts, and a related running joke about not reading them. Then dangerously, we sometimes do read them!

My late father had a saying that “If you learned one thing” from reading a certain book or attending a course or a certain workshop, it was probably worth it.

I remember, on my father’s side of the family, both my grandfather’s and my father’s enthusiasm about certain classic self-help books in positive mental attitude tradition that I eventually dutifully and substantially read. My grandfather especially liked stories in the Horatio Alger spirit of success after adversity, and also relished various guaranteed cures for arthritis (these I read in my pre-teen years, and have served me in good stead).

Grandpa used the expression, “Go Getter,” to express his approval of a person who took initiative, then with great ceremony, gave his grandchildren a quarter (because we had not as yet learned the proverbial “Value of a Dollar”). If one remained at Grandpa’s side long enough, he would tell his life story, while also explaining the Gold Standard. I recently found what I think was the book by Peter Bernard Kyne from the early 1920s that popularized this expression, Go Getter.

On my mother’s side, my Canadian great-grandmother gave me a book, The Incredible Journey, that she absolutely loved, and I never absolutely finished. Our kids did love the movie, which I watched over and again with them through various Disney movie remakes over several decades. Their great-great grandmother would be very pleased. I suspect our grandchildren will soon watch one of these movies, thereby honoring the memory of their great-great-great grandmother.

In fact, so many were the books passed on to me in my youth that my father presented me the summer gift when I was fourteen of attending an Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course. During this course, I completed Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger in five minutes. (It’s about a man who killed an Arab on a beach, and who thought a lot about the meaning of life, right?) At my peak I was blazing along at thousands of words a minute, although this capacity has faded with the years and with the eyes. But I do recall how sad it was to read an entire comic book in a few seconds. . .

I must admit I used this speed-reading technique from time to time on books my Dad gave to me. In doing so, I performed two “Dad” acts at the same time. Our family does try to kill several birds with one stone whenever possible.

(I’m also reminded that my high school students over thirty years ago referred to Albert Camus as Famous Camus, to rhyme with a notable maker of chocolate chip cookies.)

A few weeks ago, while still recuperating from surgery, I more closely studied a book that my Dad gave to me twenty-five years ago, and to which I gave a quick skim then. This book is the Ratzinger Report (1985), based upon a series of interviews of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with journalist Vittorio Messori, the first in the now genre of Joseph Ratzinger interview books in English, which continued to currently number four, the latter three–Salt of the Earth (1997), God and the World (2000), and Light of the World (2010)–being with journalist Peter Seewald. A similar kind of record, although comprised of addresses and correspondence, can be found in Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, and Islam (2006), by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera.

Joseph Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI’s) interview books, while formal and not aphoristic in structure, provide something of a historic, theological, and cultural counterweight to Martin Luther’s informal and aphoristic Tischreden, or Table Talk, and now outnumber the corpus of Luther’s Tischreden by a page factor of almost four to one.

(Speaking of Luther, I chanced upon a bon mot quoted by the great Luther scholar Jaroslav Pelikan in his book, Whose Bible Is It?: A Short History of the Scriptures, in which he quotes the saying, “The Reformation began, so the saying went, when there was a pope on the seven hills of Rome, but now there were seven popes on every dunghill in Germany.”)

I have spent many hours reading (not speed-reading) the writings of Joseph Ratzinger over the past several decades, and can definitely number many more than “one thing” I learned from him. His gentle demeanor belies the prayerful depth and clarity of his insights and summations.

One key insight contained in the Ratzinger Report is an interpretation of the Vatican II concept of “People of God,” which has been popular since the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, and which seems to have dominated the theology of the Church after the Council.

“That’s true [said then Cardinal Ratzinger]. There was and there still is this emphasis, which in the Council texts, however, is balanced with others that complete it, a balance that has been lost with many theologians. Yet, contrary to what the latter think, in this way there is a risk of moving backward rather than forward. Here indeed is even the danger of abandoning the New Testament in order to return to the Old.

‘People of God’ in Scripture, in fact, is a reference to Israel in its relationship of prayer and fidelity to the Lord. But to limit the definition of the Church to that expression [People of God] means not to give understanding to the New Testament understanding of the Church in its fullness. Here ‘People of God’ actually refers always to the Old Testament element of the Church, to her continuity with Israel.

But the Church receives her New Testament character more distinctively in the concept of the ‘Body of Christ’. One is Church and one is a member thereof, not through sociological adherence, but precisely through incorporation in this Body of the Lord through baptism and the Eucharist.

Behind the concept of the Church as the People of God, which has been so exclusively thrust into the foreground today, hide influences of ecclesiologies which de facto revert to the Old Testament; and perhaps also political, partisan, and collectivist influences. In reality, there is no truly New Testament, Catholic concept of Church without a direct and vital relation not only with sociology but first of all with christology. The Church does not exhaust herself in the ‘collective’ of believers: being the ‘Body of Christ’ she is much more than the simple sum of her members.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, 1985, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, pp. 46-47. Paragraphing above mine.

Then Cardinal Ratzinger’s words on the limitations of the expression “People of God,” and his preference for the simultaneous use of the expression “Body of Christ” along with “People of God,” sum up the fundamental difference between those with a mere political interpretation of Vatican II, as opposed to an integration of the social and the sacramental. I agree with Joseph Ratzinger that the Church is definitely more than the sum of her members, and that using the phrase People of God exclusively without also invoking the Body of Christ is to rely substantially upon pre-Gospel traditions. The People of God and the Body of Christ belong together not only when describing the Church, but when witnessing to Christ as part of His Church. This theology of combining the social with the sacramental is very similar to that of Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, of whom I’ve written previously.

On a different note, one of the theological questions that has returned to me throughout my life is the question of the Fall and of the necessity for Redemption, in other words, What happened after Creation that was so bad that it required Christ to have to suffer, die, and rise to save us?

The question of the Fall is one that Joseph Ratzinger has expressed the wish to write about in retirement because of its critical importance. Here is his answer to a question about the Fall from 1985:

“The biblical narrative of the origins does not relate events in the sense of modern historiography, but rather, it speaks through images. It is a narrative that reveals and hides at the same time. But the underpinning elements are reasonable, and the reality of the dogma must at all events be safeguarded. The Christian would be remiss toward his brethren if he did not proclaim the Christ who first and foremost brings redemption from sin; if he did not proclaim the reality of the alienation (the ‘Fall’) and, at the same time, he did not proclaim that, in order to effect a restoration of our original nature, a help from outside is necessary; if he did not proclaim that the insistence upon self-realization, upon self-salvation does not lead to redemption, but to destruction; finally, if he did not proclaim that, in order to be saved, it is necessary to abandon oneself to Love.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, 1985, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, pg 81.

The questions of the Fall (What was it?) and of Redemption (Why was Christ’s Death and Resurrection necessary?) remain challenging indeed. But I very much like Cardinal Ratzinger’s point that we must realize that we cannot save ourselves, and that to be saved we must abandon ourselves to Love.

So, although, it’s twenty-five years too late, I thank my late father again for the book (I did thank him back then as well). Had he not given it to me, I would not have encountered the holy wisdom imparted by Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger.

That’s the nice thing about a book as a gift. It patiently waits for one to tolle, lege, to take and to read.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Why Clergy Matter on Life Issues

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

After my post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Abortion as Murder, I searched the web for any evidence of the positive impact of Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion.

I found a range of responses, but two common statements: One was that some persons who encountered Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion (many have independently found this condemnation over the past several months) were in a powerful way convicted by it. Some reported breaking into tears, and experiencing a deep moment of conversion against the sin of abortion. In another response however, after a short pause barely considering Bonhoeffer’s words, one writer concluded that it still OK for Christians to be pro-choice on abortion because Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also pro-choice.

Clergy and their opinions do matter on life issues. If one clergy member of public standing and respect allows for fundamental injustice like abortion, the social acceptability of abortion grows, and it continues to proliferate. The responsibility of the clergy on this question is therefore profound. In this regard the strong unity of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception is thus so rare and remarkable.

Images of clergy standing almost completely alone against opposition are iconic in Christian culture, and such a designation is often claimed by a wide variety of clergy standing in contradiction to each other. From St. Cyril of Jerusalem, to Martin Luther, to St. John Fisher, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and even to Chicago’s Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, clergy sometimes stand alone in moral witness, if only among their own congregations and among their own circle of (sometimes former) friends.

While the lonely clerical witness is an authentic Christian cultural icon, it sometimes degrades to media cliche: every media story of clerical dissent from orthodoxy appears to grant lonely Christian witness status to the clerical media darling or stock background commentator of the moment.

But solitary witness does not in and of itself manifest truth: Judas Iscariot also stood alone, and in the end, completely alone.

Perhaps the most dramatic flip of a moral position on abortion was that of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who telegrammed to the U.S. Congress in 1977–

AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE I MUST OPPOSE THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR A POLICY OF KILLING INFANTS.

(Source: Colman McCarthy, “Jackson’s Reversal on Abortion,” Washington Post, 5/21/88, p. A27.)

–and who then announced a pro-choice position on abortion when he chose to run for President in 1984.

Thanks to Edwin Black’s well-documented book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, the work of the National Black Catholic Congress, and such popular media as the film Maafa 21, which have helped make African Americans aware of Margaret Sanger’s genocidal “Negro Project,” more clergy, with the notable exceptions of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rev. Michael Pfleger, have spoken out publicly against abortions, especially in the African American community. (BTW, the Wikipedia entry for Negro Project has been moved into the Margaret Sanger wiki article, and scrubbed of the devastating case against Sanger that Edwin Black and others have so well documented.)

As I’ve written previously, abortion viciously and arbitrarily violates a person out of existence at that person’s supreme point of innocence and defenselessness.

In order to justify abortion, one must violate so many truths and moral principles, opening the door for the logic of violence and infanticide, that no effective tenets remain to protect innocent life in society. By accepting abortion, one immediately commits to some form of moral relativism. Widespread acceptance of abortion undermines the shared values of a life-affirming, and in the end, peacefully free society based upon shared values rather than force.

When the Christian history of this period is written, the names Jesse Jackson Sr. and Desmond Tutu for their pro-choice stands for abortion, and Michael Pfleger for his substantial public silence on the issue–unless they change their positions–despite their present public acclaim, stand to be marred for generations. I hope these men–and the many Catholic clergy who, unlike their bishops, remain silent on abortion–do change their minds and publicly stand for life, for the sake of eternity.

The clergy’s responsibility on matters of life is not only profound, but grave:

Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
(Leviticus 19: 15)

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

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How Prof. Cathleen Kaveny Didn’t Explain it All on the Daily Show

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

M. Cathleen Kaveny, the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Commonweal Magazine contributor, John T. Noonan, Jr. protege, and Humanae Vitae critic, appeared on the Daily Show on 3/1/12.

Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked a great “man on the street” question in his mostly straight-up interview of Prof. Kaveny: Why all the apocalyptic language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the HHS mandate?

Prof. Kaveny did not directly represent the point of view of the Bishops in answering the question, but stuck to the Commonweal, or as I like to call it, the Cogleyweal narrative of urbane dissent from Humanae Vitae. This urbane dissent undermines the ground around Humanae Vitae’s teaching while not directly challenging it, in part by illustrating in various ways that not all Catholics view this matter the way the Bishops do.

A more direct and complete answer to Mr. Stewart’s question might have been this:

1. The Bishops see abortion as a most fundamental and total crime against a single human because it viciously and arbitrarily violates that person out of existence at that person’s supreme point of innocence and defenselessness. Abortion in the eyes of Catholic teaching negates every principle on which other acts of simple justice and social justice rest, and therefore must be opposed in a fundamental way.

2. Many forms of artificial contraception prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, and are thus also forms of abortion.

3. Because Catholic teaching sees these acts, including sterilization, as immoral in a fundamental way, therefore Catholics have built religious institutions, including hospitals and clinics, where Catholics can perform acts of charity while not participating in actions they consider immoral.

4. Civil libertarians, especially in President Obama’s home state of Illinois, who formed the core group advancing his political career and who have key posts in his administration, have long pressed the government to remove the above independence from Catholic institutions.

5. By posting the HHS mandate to the Federal Register without modification in “45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9992–F] RIN 0938–AQ74 Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the White House has given the original mandate the force of law without any “accommodation.” Talks between the staffs of the White House and the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the details of this “accommodation” are not substantively progressing. At this point, the “accommodation” is nothing more than an unfulfilled promise in a string including the “sensible conscience clause.”

6. The White House’s proposed “accommodation” would still force religious institutions that are self-insured to pay for sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception that in some instances acts as an abortifacient. (Somehow, the anonymous Jesuit editorial writers at America Magazine and some Commonweal Magazine personalities think that the mere offer of an “accommodation” makes everything OK now, and are back to supporting the White House instead of the Bishops based apparently upon another unfulfilled promise).

7. The U.S. Catholic Bishops, in order to not participate in supporting a grave evil of sterilization and the distribution of abortifacients, see that it might be necessary to close Catholic hospitals and clinics, built with great sacrifice over the course of many generations, rather that follow the law as it is now written, since the law as written forces Catholic institutions to violate the very principles on which they were founded.

8. In 2009 at Notre Dame University, President Obama promised a “sensible conscience clause” to Catholics. He has not delivered on this promise, it is not contained in the HHS mandate, and it has not been provided in the recent “accommodation.” It is thus reasonable for the Bishops to continue to press for such conscience protection.

9. Therefore, we have heard absolute, life and death, “apocalyptic” language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

As long as the public view of this question is that this matter is only about birth control, but not also equally about human life and religious freedom, the Bishops haven’t broken through sufficiently into the consciousness of the public. To the extent that Prof. Kaveny did not help articulate the Bishops’ view, she assisted in undermining the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ position.

Jon Stewart’s question is a good one: Why the apocalyptic language from the Bishops in this issue?

Much rides now on whether the U.S. Bishops can answer Mr. Stewart’s question effectively in public square, and for the Catholic “man and woman on the street” and others of good will to learn how critical it is to support the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ stand for life and liberty.

The very existence of Catholic institutions, free to follow Catholic consciences, is riding in the balance. Prof. Kaveny, at least in her Daily Show appearance, despite being highly qualified to do so, apparently did not vigorously help to defend the moral independence of Catholic institutions in a free society.

Seemingly yet another case of Notre Dame’s Forgotten Freedom!

For more on the intellectual origins of Prof. Kaveny’s position on Humanae Vitae, please see my scholarly article on Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand.

For a response to Prof. Kaveny from Fr. Robert Barron and the Word
on Fire blog, see this link.

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

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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
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Saving Father Pfleger

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Fr. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was suspended on 4/27/11 in a letter from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago.

Several writers have seen either power, personality, politics, or a simple difference of opinion between Cardinal George and Fr. Pfleger. These writers have followed the beaten path of previous conflicts regarding Fr. Pfleger and his bishop on race, or Left vs. Right, or conservative Catholicism versus a more liberal Catholicism.

But few writers have outlined the predicament of Fr. Pfleger as set down by Cardinal George himself, who presented Fr. Pfleger with a clear choice, and asked for a declaration: Did he either choose to remain a Roman Catholic priest, or did he not? Did he, Michael Pfleger, believe as a Catholic believes?

The first time I saw Michael Pfleger in public action was one Sunday evening early in the 1970s, when he brought the Precious Blood parish choir to our alma mater, Niles College Seminary, then the college seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Clothed in a white turtle-neck, Pfleger accompanied and directed from the piano an enthusiastic and happy group of young people. I recall that one of the songs performed by the choir was “O-o-h Child,” written by Stan Vincent, which had earlier hit the charts in a recording by the Five Stairsteps. If I’m not mistaken, others among the songs may have been the gospel song, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” and also the song “Everyday People,” popularized by Sly and the Family Stone.

In 1976, a year after Fr. Pfleger’s ordination, I was providentially asked to direct this same wonderful choir, and did so for the better part of two years. This work took me in and out of the Rockwell Gardens public housing “projects” in Chicago, and into friendship with some beautiful young people and their families. Many of these children maintained a deep admiration for Fr. Pfleger, although in some cases, their parents took a more cautious, wait-and-see approach toward him.

In 1990, with several hundred others I marched with Fr. Pfleger around Cardinal Bernardin’s home over the issue of the closing of Quigley Seminary South. Fr. Pfleger was already then the Chicago media’s favorite priest. He drew attention, he divided opinions, and he was, in the eyes of at least one Chicago op-ed writer, very good looking in his own blue eyes and vestments on a Sunday morning.

Over the years, Fr. Pfleger became something of an institution. Like his mentor Fr. George Clements, he learned to play the press as a foil against the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago. With St. Sabina’s parishioners and supporters, the parish and school have become a forceful presence in the community. Fr. Pfleger grew close to national civil rights figures, politicians, and figures like Louis Farrakhan Muhammad, whose antisemitic statements have been well-established. But Fr. Pfleger lost much of his political standing after his controversial mockery of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Several times during Francis Cardinal George’s tenure as Archbishop of Chicago, public discussion arose whether Fr. Pfleger should step down as pastor of St. Sabina parish in Chicago, in keeping with the pastoral term limits established and agreed in the 1970s by Chicago’s presbyterate and its Archbishop.

Here is the original text of my earlier letter published on this subject:

February 18, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editor:

It’s understandable that Catholics would like a good pastor to stay a few more years, but it’s not possible, or fair to others not so fortunate.

People who say they can’t go to church or contribute any more if a Rev. Mike Pfleger or Rev. Jack Wall stop being their pastor don’t realize how much they have weakened their pastor’s credibility. After two decades of pastoring, if Frs. Wall and Pfleger have a majority of parishioners who give and pray and do good works because of them personally and not because of Jesus Christ, they have indeed failed as religious leaders, and should not remain in any case.

The Good Lord said, “One man sows, another reaps.” This saying conveys something of the mystery of the Church’s endurance throughout the centuries. By holding on to a pastorate, a Catholic priest risks weakening the meaning of his own ministry, risks encouraging a cult based upon his own personality, and can lessen the sustaining power of the Gospel itself to guide his people.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

While Fr. Pfleger has differed with the Catholic establishment, he has apparently never, ever, publicly bucked the civil rights establishment, even to the point of refusing to rebuke the Rev. Jeremiah Wright when Wright invoked the malicious lie in 2008 that HIV was invented by the US government to destroy African Americans.

Then Sen. Barack Obama’s unequivocal 2008 rejection of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s HIV-US government conspiracy theory was not joined by Fr. Pfleger, who somehow laboriously reasoned at the time that both the Senator and the Reverend could both be simultaneously right.

While known for his opposition to handguns, Fr. Pfleger did not in 2008 rebuke the more deadly HIV-US government conspiracy theory, shown by scientific research to prevent HIV victims from seeking treatment. No one should be taken seriously who spouts such harmful and nonsensical demagoguery as Wright did about a deadly disease, misinforming some of the public who then avoid medical help. Wright’s HIV conspiracy theory deserves every bit of opprobrium that comes its way. But on this point in 2008, Fr. Pfleger was substantially silent, and refused to be drawn into criticism of Wright’s spreading of this divisive, vicious, and hurtful HIV-US government blood libel.

Neither has the press reported any significant public statement from Fr. Pfleger against abortion in the African American community. Had Pfleger ever spoken such a condemnation, his friends in the media, in government, and in politics would have dropped him completely. If a single, dramatic pro-life, anti-abortion statement ever passed Fr. Pfleger’s lips, there would be no more microphones for Fr. Pfleger (except perhaps on Relevant Radio or EWTN), no more cameras, no more Tavis Smiley interviews.

Robert McClory has likened Fr. Pfleger to Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand. But Hillenbrand publicly defended Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, losing many of his friends in the process. Fr. Pfleger has done no such thing.

To the chagrin of the Right, Cardinal George has taken his time with Fr. Pfleger. But the Cardinal’s long journey toward suspending Fr. Pfleger is best explained in light of the Cardinal’s concern to “save the soul” of Fr. Pfleger.

Our history teacher back in the day at Niles College, Fr. Martin Nathaniel Winters, STL, MA, used to say that it took brains to be a heretic, and that most so-called heretics were actually too dumb to effectively frame an heretical position. It appears that Fr. Pfleger is no heretic.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the sin of heresy is a sin against faith, but that the sin of schism is a sin against charity. Fr. Pfleger may be in schism.

Cardinal George framed with his typical clarity the question for Fr. Pfleger: Is he willing to be a Catholic priest? —

Now, however, I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal George’s question, demanding a clear choice in an age founded on equivocation, is both unheard of, and truly unheard to the point of being completely missed. He asked, in effect: Take your time, but answer me clearly, Are you a Catholic, and a committed Catholic priest willing to live out that commitment in obedience to your bishop?

The word “obey” here has a biblical, theological meaning over and above that of the notion of authority as power. This difference most commentators have likewise missed.

Jesus, the Son, obeyed the Father and carried his cross. As bishop, as “head,” Cardinal George is asking for a similar kind of obedience. This obedience is the key to Catholic Christian identity, and especially to priestly identity. It is this very obedience that leads to salvation. Cardinal George’s intent therefore appears to be the saving of Fr. Pfleger:

Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 5:8-10)

Without such obedience–the obedience of Christ–despite a thousand laying on of hands, there is no Catholic identity, and no Catholic priesthood.

© Copyright 2002, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Msgr. Reynold H. Hillenbrand, 1904-1979

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

I’ve finally put up a long-overdue Wikipedia page for Msgr. Reynold H. Hillenbrand, 1904-1979, a liturgical reformer and leader for social justice who greatly influenced Chicago and American Catholicism during the 20th century. As the Wikipedia article states (at least as of 1:10 AM, 10/3/10!):

“Msgr. Hillenbrand’s three-part approach of faithfully presenting papal teaching, calling lay apostles, and bringing laity through the Catholic liturgy to social action, helped form US Catholic leadership prior to the Second Vatican Council, which his liturgical reforms anticipated.”

For an in-depth look at Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, see my scholarly article. From 1992-1994, I was blessed to serve as director of the former Reynold Hillenbrand Institute at the Chicago archdiocesan seminary, formerly Niles College Seminary, now called St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University, and learned much about this saintly man and his impact on those he mentored.

Please see the memorial website on Msgr. Hillenbrand maintained by the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

Rev. Robert Tuzik, PhD, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, has just published his long-awaited book on Msgr. Hillenbrand, based upon his 1989 dissertation, which drew upon the Hillenbrand papers at Notre Dame University. I’ll be offering a short review of this book in the next few weeks.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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