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Friday, April 12, 2013

Virginia Bishops' Lobby Group Doesn't Represent My Friend (Or Me!)

What do you think about state Catholic conferences hiring lobbyists? Frankly, it makes me queasy. Not that Catholics don't have a right to make their collective voice heard about issues important to Catholics, but from my experience, the bishops are just as likely to support things to which I'm violently opposed. That a state bishop's conference would lobby for a position that is a matter of prudential judgment and frame it as "the Catholic position" is irresponsible. And it's happening all over the country. My friend who wrote the lettter below is spot on in his critique of the Virginia Catholic Conference lobbying efforts. Here's what he wrote to a priest of the Arlington Diocese: 
Hi Father,

A little while ago I sent you a Michael Voris video. Thank you for your reply.

I get your point that those Voris criticizes, however accurately, will not like to hear it. I don’t think Voris is trying to win over those folks but only to intrude upon their self-satisfaction by speaking for the segment of the laity who already agree with him. 
From this laymen’s perspective he's expressing what many of us think. The laity is on the receiving end of one-way communication so our perspective is not something all clergy can share. Still, one can refrain from rejecting the message and shooting the messenger because of style issues. Voris speaks mostly of faith, morals and liturgy but it's not just those which are sources of discontent with the Church’s appointed leaders. As an example of one-way communication that reflects (in my opinion) lack of solidarity and understanding of the working-class laity, I would refer you to page 19 of the Arlington Catholic Herald dated March 21-27, 2013.

This is a full-page report of the lobbying work during the Virginia Legislature's 2013 session by the Virginia Catholic Conference which the article describes as "the public policy agency of Virginia's two bishops and their dioceses." Actually it is simply the personal arm of two bishops and their employees. No more, no less. Bishop Loverde and his employees do not speak to the VA. Legislature in the name of anyone but themselves; certainly not for me or any laity that I know. In fact, I’m offended and embarrassed by their public stance.

Consider some of the "issues" described on page 19 (ACH):
Death Penalty- "The conference supports ending the use of capital punishment..."

Catholics in communion with the Pope are free to support or oppose the death penalty. This was never an issue until JP II included a few lines about it into Veritatis Splendor. He gave the reason that murderers could be confined so that they would not be a public danger. (He did not even mention any other reasons which have always been favored by those who support capital punishment). He provided no evidence, no research in support of his opinion. In fact there are too many cases of murderers killing even while in prison to make the late Pope's opinion into a matter of faith and morals reversing, for example, the dogmatic Council of Trent, and 2000 years of teaching. The late Pope did not even weigh the pros and cons of achieving salvation when faced with either certain death approaching or indefinite life in a very unwholesome atmosphere. This opinion was then inserted in the subsequent Catechism of the Catholic Church and the next thing one knows it has risen to such a "dogma" that Bishops tell legislatures on our behalf that the death penalty has to be abolished. I'm in favor of it and I do not know anyone who is not.

There is a bit of irony in the Conference's report of its efforts on this matter. The Herald reported that "The conference supported Senator Howell's legislation to direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the total cost of the death penalty in the state." Does our Bishop know anything about Senator Janet Howell? Janet Howell has represented the Catholic-plentiful 32nd Senatorial District (parts of Arlington & Fairfax Counties) since 1992. From her very first campaign through her most recent campaign the literature mailed to voters in the Senatorial District has featured her support for abortion. The parishes in the District always remained "silent and neutral" during all of those campaigns. According to the so-called "seamless garment" theory, can we say that Janet Howell is pro-life because she supports abolishing capital punishment and other welfare state issues that the Bishop supports? Janet Howell has used her position on a key Democrat-controlled Senate Committee to kill in Committee much good pro-family legislation.

Gun Safety- "Conference-supported legislation attempted to close the 'gun-show loophole'..."

What charisma of his consecration to the episcopacy made Bishop Loverde a gun-policy expert? No wonder Bishops have lost their effectiveness when speaking on moral issues; they waste that moral capital promoting positions based on talking points from Joe Biden. (Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference declared in the Washington Post that to be pro-life, Catholics must favor banning “assault weapons,” and support other new restrictions). I have two sons who own AR-15s and I'm glad they do. The Second Amendment’s purpose is to enable citizens to resist tyranny, foreign or domestic, and to defend themselves and their families from attackers. It appears elements in the country are determined to limit the means. History has shown that an unarmed citizenry becomes the victim of amoral leaders. Not long ago a priest of my parish devoted his whole homily to the resistance of Mexicans after he saw the movie, For Greater Glory. He even stopped me in the parking lot to share his excitement at what he saw. Good thing the resisters had guns.

Immigration policy- "Conference-supported legislation was proposed in both chambers to grant in-state tuition status to immigrant children who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and have been granted Deferred Action status by the federal government"

This is another welfare state Bill which involves several points about which Catholics can disagree and of which Senator Howell was a co-patron. What, I ask, is the Catholic moral principle upon which our Bishop speaks in our name? (a) These are not "immigrant children who arrived in the United States." They are adult illegal aliens who may have been under 18 when they accompanied their illegal alien parent(s) as those parent(s) broke our laws; and the "Deferred Action status" was not granted by the "federal government". The Obama Administration has unilaterally decided to stop enforcing the law. On one hand Bishops applaud the extra-legal administrative decisions of the Department of Homeland Security while simultaneously complaining about the extra-legal administrative decisions of the Department of Health and Human Services but only to the extent that their "ox is being gored". (b) Tuition in Virginia's public colleges is subsidized by Virginia's taxpayers. The pie is only so big. The more students, the more the State's subsidy is diluted and the more legal, tax-paying parents (or their adult children) have to pay in tuition. Further, a legal resident of Maryland, child of tax-paying parents, would not qualify for in-state tuition at a Virginia public college. Why should the child of an illegal alien? As a tax-free institution itself, should the Diocese of Arlington be promoting the giveaway of the tax money its working-class laity has had to fork out under threat of punishment from the State? Is that solidarity? Is it justice?
Medicaid expansion- "During the recent and ongoing national debates on health care reform, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has consistently called for access to quality, affordable health care that respects the life, health, and conscience rights of all. Consistent with the USCCB's advocacy, the conference supports Medicaid expansion because of the critical services it would provide to many of Virginia's poorest residents and because it would help the vital work of the commonwealth's poorest residents."

The Herald effectively reports what we in the laity have been saying, namely, the Bishops, leading tax-free institutions, and working through those institutions cooperated with other welfare state advocates for over a decade to impose ObamaCare (Constitutional because it's a "tax" according to Supreme Court) on the taxpayers of this country. Again, we question both the standing of the Bishops and the moral principle upon which they presumed to advocate for more taxation on the laity. For the better part of 1900 years the Catholic Church considered charity to be a moral obligation of it and its members. At what point did the moral principle change so that State -forced taxation and State-run inefficient and fraud-ridden bureaucracy became the new moral norm? The fact is that ObamaCare will not result in "access to quality, affordable health care that respects the life, health, and conscience rights of all." It's an economic disaster of tsunami proportions that will contribute to the breakdown. Our Bishops will have good health insurance and won't have to depend on Medicaid for their health needs. According to national pollsters, the majority of Americans do not support ObamaCare and they haven't yet seen the coming ramifications. 
Disabilities- All of us support communal action to help genuinely-disabled people. The point of disagreement is the means. The conference supports the inefficient and fraud-ridden welfare state solution financed by our, not the conferences, taxes.

Uranium Mining- "The conference opposed legislation to rescind Virginia's longstanding ban on uranium mining."

If no other example of lack of competence to speak in our name made the case the laity have with the conference, this one would. The conference aligns with the "environmental movement" against production of new wealth and jobs. I don't know the pros and cons; what I do know is that Our Lord did not provide Bishop Loverde any special insight regarding uranium mining.

Restoring voting rights- The conference advocated restoring voting rights to persons convicted of nonviolent felonies.

The conference didn't say if these were persons who had done their time or were still in prison. What Catholic moral principle is exhibited here? To me it looks more like the Democratic Party's agenda to give the vote to as many felons and illegal immigrants as possible in the expectation that they will vote for Democrats.

In conclusion, the laity understands it is the Bishops’ job is to teach, govern and sanctify. There is a wealth of social teaching of which too many regular church-attending Catholics are ignorant because it hasn’t been taught. Many are instead supporters of and fellow-travelers with “Catholics” of the Tim Kaine, Biden, Pelosi, and Sebelius variety. Educated Catholic parishioners of the 32nd Senatorial District would remove pro-abortion Janet Howell and fill the legislature with a person of pro-live values. The Bishop’s job is to govern his diocese, not the State of Virginia. Men of goodwill may differ on approaches to the topics listed above. The Bishops of Virginia and political advocates in their employment have no special insight. It is in fact harmful for them to be espousing socialist solutions which inevitably go sour and end in coercion. Their actions tell us the Bishops lack understanding and solidarity with the parents and grandparents concerned about the socialist and coercive direction Government has taken.
How many other dioceses are lobbying state legislatures portraying matters about which people of good will can disagree as if they are Catholic doctrine? Frankly, I'm tired of socialistic bishops who consider Democratic policies holier than Church doctrine. I never attend our lobby day because most of what the Virginia bishops support I do not. I wish the bishop spent as much time and money on promoting Church teaching on marriage and contraception as he does promoting liberalism at the state level. The lobby group recently hired three more people to push these liberal positions. It's just one more reason I won't give one a red cent to the diocese or any diocesan collection!


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, when the Holy Father puts something into an encyclical letter—his teaching on the moral legitimacy of the death penalty and when it’s use is (and is not) consistent with Catholic moral principles, it does become part of the magisterium and to reject such teaching is dissent from the teaching authority of the Holy See. The fact that it supersedes earlier teaching—Thomas Aquinas or even the Council of Trent—is irrelevant. The Catholic Church, following Blessed John Henry Newman, affirms the idea that doctrine is not historically fixed but continues to develop through conciliar and papal magisterium.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

The pope did NOT definitively condemn the death penalty. In Evangelium Vitae he wrote, "the nature and extent of the punishment ...ought not to go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." He goes on to say "such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Since Pope John Paul II presented no data to confirm his opinion of the rarity of the cases, one can question whether he is right. In view of the number of homicides that take place inside jails and the number that take place after killers are released, well, it's not as rare as one would like. I suppose you can argue for keeping a murderer in jail for life without parole. That is another argument. Be that as it may, banning capital punishment is NOT a doctrine of the Church, at least not yet.

I'm not sure whether you're correct about all papal encyclicals becoming magisterial doctrine and disagreement being dissent. Since Pope John Paul II was striking new ground there certainly was no magisterial consensus.

Anonymous said...

I did not state that Blessed John Paul definitively condemned the death penalty—I said he defined circumstances when it is and when it is not legitimate. He did maintain some very limited circumstances in which the State has the moral right (and perhaps duty, though that is going slightly further than the text of the encyclical) to employ it. However, Catholics must give their assent of intellect and will to the teaching as the Pope defined it. No more, but no less. Papal encyclicals are part of the ordinary magisterium and the same level of assent is required of Evangelium Vitae and its teaching as Humanae Vitae and its teaching. Unless, of course, one is a cafeteria Catholic and then one claims the right to decide which papal teachings bind and which don’t. The Pope doesn’t have to offer research data to support his teaching. Moreover the moral quality of an act does not depend on its effectivity but on its correspondence to the basic moral principles as established by the teaching of the Church. The cavalier use of the death penalty in some States—Virginia included—does not correspond to the limitations placed upon its moral appropriateness as qualified in Evangelium Vitae. Of course magisterial teaching at the level of encyclical letters is open to reform as in the case of Mortalium Animos. Perhaps Evangelium Vitae too will someday be reversed. But until it is, its teaching—as it is contained in the text of the encyclical—is binding on all faithful Catholics.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Actually the pope did not "define circumstances," he made a vague, non-specific pronouncement about not using it when other sufficient means are available to protect society. That is a judgment call and depends on the heinousness of the crime, the ability of the inmate to impact what happens outside the prison, etc.

As for Virginia, here is the list of crimes that can, but don't necessarily, result in the death penalty. It seems pretty limited to me. All require premeditation and willful murder.

"Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder in the commission of abduction,
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder during a robbery or attempted robbery
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder by a person engaged in a continuing Criminal Drug Enterprise
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder in the commission of rape or attempted rape or sodomy, or attempted sodomy, or object sexual penetration
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a person under the age of 14 by a person over the age of 21
Contract killing
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a law enforcement officer
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of more than one person (within a three year time frame)
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a pregnant woman
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder by an inmate while in a correctional facility.
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder committed during an act of terrorism.
Willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a judge, juror, or witness."

Virginia didn't execute a single prisoner in 2012 and only 6 altogether since 2005. That seems pretty "rare" to me in a state with a population over 8 million. I wish killing innocent people was that rare.

I'm not sure what your point of argument is since the Church recognizes the state's right to protect citizens through use of the death penalty. It is specifically addressed in #2266 of the catechism. #2267 says "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor...public authority should limit itself to such means...."). However, the determination of the state is a matter of prudential judgment.

The death penalty is already rare and I don't think Catholics who support its use to protect the common good are in any way acting in dissent. Nor are they "cafeteria Catholics." The right of the state grows out of the same legitimate right of the individual to engage in legitimate defense (CCC #2263) which includes the right, and even the "grave duty" to use force even lethal force against an aggressor. AS CCC 2265 says "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the state."

Frankly, I'm more concerned about our unjust wars where we kill people (including civilians) willy-nilly than the death penalty where criminals are executed after numerous trials and appeals.

I have often argued against the absolute immorality of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But that is an argument for another day.

susan said...

You are dead-on right about this Mary Ann. This is the letter I sent in response to yet-again-another e-mail blast from the Virginia Catholic Conference on yet-again- another socio-leftist political cause calling on us for action. I gave him a call to action alright....

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Why OH WHY are the US Catholic Bishops still so inexplicably obsessed with a pushing a marxist political agenda? Have they even seriously begun to tackle the deep problems the Church is dealing with especially in terms of TEACHING the Faith; particularly in terms of evils of contraception, disordered passion of homosexuality; doctrines of the Church; or TRUE ecumenism in terms of sending our missionaries to make CONVERTS to Christ’s Church as we’ve been MANDATED by Our Lord??? Lemme give you the obvious answer…NO!!! Look at what the average Catholic believes and you will see 180 out of Church teaching! LOUSY JOB the majority of bishops in the US have done…LOUSY JOB!....But boy, do I hear from them AD NAUSEUM on issues of a decidedly political flavor pushing a leftist agenda…and YES, we can prudentially disagree on matters of immigration (CLOSING THE BORDER and sending criminals home is a reasonable, Catholic position….yet the evils of contraception is a non-negotiable Catholic belief and USCCB (or VCC) NEVER NEVER NEVER sends out blast on that one!) ENOUGH!"

Haven't heard back yet...too pithy?

c matt said...

"I did not state that Blessed John Paul definitively condemned the death penalty—I said he defined circumstances when it is and when it is not legitimate."

Well, he actually did two things: (1) he defined circumstances surrounding its legitimate use [when there is no alternative way to effectively protect society], and (2) he gave a personal assessment of the current state of its use [such conditions are practically non-existent in modern societies]. There is a strong argument that the first qualifies as magisterial teaching, which presents no problem for me since I agree with him. The second point can arguably be considered his personal assessment of the current state of affairs, and while I agree with him to a large extent (I do think the DP is far overutilized in the US), others can disagree with that assessment without necessarily dissenting from magisterial teaching.

c matt said...

"I have often argued against the absolute immorality of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

I am a bit confused - that seems a bit contradictory to your concern with unjust war and killing willy-nilly. Did you argue against the bombs' immorality, or did you mean to say you argued that it was immoral?