Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some Thoughts On The USCCB Meeting In Baltimore

Cardinal Dolan, who can't be all that happy with how things have progressed in Baltimore, has a personal project of returning year round meatless Fridays to American Catholics.  Sigh.

Welcome news from the USCCB meeting in Baltimore.  A pastoral statement on social justice, put together by Detroit's AB Vigneron was denounced by a series of retired bishops led by Houston's AB Fiorenza and defeated in a floor vote, failing to get a two thirds majority necessary for passage--134 yes-84 no with 9 abstentions. AB Fiorenza did not pull many punches in his assessment of the original doctrine.  The following is from Jerry Filteau's report in the National Catholic Reporter:  It was written before the vote and then updated later.

Statement on economy denounced by archbishop fails to pass

Jerry Filteau - National Catholic Reporter - 11/13/2012
Portents of a major social justice conflict among the U.S. bishops rose on the first day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall meeting Monday when retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Texas, denounced a proposed pastoral statement on workers, poverty and the economy as a betrayal of Catholic social teaching.

If approved in its draft form, the statement would be "lampooned" in the Catholic academic world, he said.
Fiorenza, a former USCCB president, said the proposed statement devotes only one short sentence to the long history of Catholic social teaching on workers' rights to organize in unions, to bargain collectively with their employers and to go on strike if their demands for just wages and working conditions are not met.
He noted that the proposed statement, "The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times: A pastoral message on work, poverty and the economy," did not have a single reference, even in a footnote, to the bishops' landmark 1986 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," which the bishops developed after years of consultation with economists and other experts. The letter addressed a full range of applications of Catholic social teaching to economic policy and practice in the United States. (I find it quite telling that one of the best statements ever to come from the USCCB was not cited even once.)

"Where's the continuity?" Fiorenza asked.
"I am very disappointed, and I fear that this draft, if not changed in a major way," will harm the U.S. bishops' record on Catholic social teaching, he said.
"The title of this document is about work, and it seems you only gave one sentence to our social teaching ... on the right of workers to unionize," he said.

"One sentence," he added. "It's almost like it was an afterthought. But when you look at the compendium of the social teachings of the church, there are three long paragraphs on the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike."
Those kinds of rights are "at the heart of our social teaching" on the rights and dignity of workers, he said.
He added that some conservative Catholic institutions, like the Acton Institute in Michigan, have tried to argue that Pope Leo XIII's landmark 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which spelled out workers' and private property rights and marks the start of modern Catholic social teaching, is a dated document that is "no longer applicable today." (OK it's Acton Institute, but really, to whom is this encyclical no longer applicable? Silicon valley maybe, but not Walmart or our corporations who outsource American jobs.)

"Every pope from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI has insisted upon the right to unionize," he said, but the proposed pastoral statement facing the bishops "gives short shrift" to that teaching.

Fiorenza said the proposed document fails to address adequately several other current issues of poverty and human dignity in U.S. economic policy by not giving adequate treatment to the issue of political prudential judgment as a criterion for church assessments of the morality of political policies or decisions.
"Sometimes prudential judgments can be neither prudent nor moral," especially when such judgments attack the poor and the common good, he said. He said he thought Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., head of the bishops' domestic policy committee, and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, head of international policy for the bishops, "got it right" earlier this year when they publicly opposed Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget proposals as not in keeping with Catholic social teaching. (As an aside, it was down right amazing how the two words 'prudential judgment' became the buzz words of the political right as it pertained to their own policies.)

"Why don't we address [in the proposed statement] the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, beginning with Paul VI in Populorum Progressio [his 1967 encyclical letter, "On the Progress of Peoples"] and John Paul II, Benedict XVI: They speak about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots and the right to a redistribution -- redistribution has become a dirty word, yet the [recent popes] have said that this must take place," he said.

"There's not a word about this" in the proposed new statement on the economy, he said.
"I fear that this will not be an effective instrument" for the bishops to address the current woes in the U.S. economy or the people suffering from those problems, Fiorenza said.


This original letter was probably written with input from Action Institute, given how it reads, and given where Acton Institute is in relationship to AB Vigneron's Archdiocesan See of Detroit. It's really nice to see that not all of our bishops are ready and willing to sell out Church teaching to the 'prudential judgments' of the Republican think tank world. At least yet anyway.

Cardinal Dolan gave the opening address and spent considerable time waxing eloquently about the sacrament of penance and how efficacious it would be for the bishops themselves.  Not a bad idea if the penance consists of more than 'three hail Marys and three Our Fathers'. It would be a good idea if the penances given were about restitution for failures.  We might then see Bishop Finn take a permanent vacation, but I doubt Cardinal Dolan had those kinds of penances in mind.  I guess I found it interesting that Dolan would lecture about confession and then get have one of his predecessors publicly confess his reservations about a document which truly would have been lampooned in the academic world and underscored the USCCB's hard swing to the right.  I really would have loved to have been able to see the look on Dolan's face as Fiorenza voiced his observations.  I don't know that any sitting USCCB President has ever had a letter of this importance shot down from the floor.

I have no doubt it was retired bishops that voiced their opposition because this was the strategy the opposition chose to use.  It allowed retired bishops with nothing to lose to voice the concerns of those that had way more to lose.  I'm sure there were conference calls and emails and such moving amongst the bishops before this conference.  Probably quite a few after the disaster of a showing Catholic bishops received on November 6th.  While I have no doubt bishops know how to read polls, the kinds of polls that say American Catholics show most unity over social justice issues, I also like to think that many of them voted against this statement for spiritual reasons.  After all Jesus didn't become man to save the wealth of the wealthy from redistribution, but to bring good news to the poor and the marginalized.

I also couldn't help but hear that AB Cordileone wants to double down on his anti gay marriage failure.  As Jim McCrea noted, nothing like continuing to dig a bigger hole for yourself with a double sized shovel.  I'd like to hope that we have bishops in the USCCB who are also rethinking this strategy.  There are numerous polls out there that indicate Catholics who get the difference between civil and sacramental marriage are now in the majority and that percentage is rising.

No matter what else comes out of this conference, I really took a big dose of hope from the fact that finally the rightwing of the USCCB was essentially slowed down and told their 'prudential judgment' was not very prudential.  


  1. I'm sorry I'm far more cynical than you are, Colleen. The current crop of active U.S. bishops were not chosen because they favor the poor for "spiritual reasons." Rather, the bishops realize they can't afford any more bad publicity. They know it doesn't matter what their "official" position is anyhow. Come next election, the outspoken bishops will be pushing for a Republican victory aquiesced to by the silence of the rest. Betty Clermont

    1. If I was betting on this, I would be betting against my take. On the other hand, lots of things can happen in four years. Why the Vatican could order up one stupid thing after another until even our supine bishops realize it's all moved beyond their tolerance for official embarrassment.

  2. Cordileone took a plea bargain to a reduced charge rather than a full DUI. One would think he should be chastened enough about the experience that he would take a lower profile, but evidently that's not how he sees it.

    1. That Sal doesn't seem chastened is not surprising to me. He's a protege of Cardinal Burke.

  3. The "Error has no rights" approach allows quick and summary judgments, encourages "a smaller, more faithful" church, despite the silly Good Shepherd tromping around the countryside looking for 1% of the sheep.
    Shouldn't the parable of the weeds and the wheat come into play here somewhere?
    If I ever hear about "ontological change" again I will have projectile vomit!
    Chuck Murphy near Milwaukee

  4. Speaking of the bloated toad Dolan have you seen the essay titled Morbid Symptoms in Commonweal by Eugene McCarrather. An essay which roundly criticises Dolan and all of his benighted right-wing fellow travellers.