The Watering Hole, Thursday, April 19th, 2012: Good News/Bad News?

A few days ago I received an excited missive from James Salt at Catholics United. (I still don’t know why I’m on their email list.) The email read, in part:

We’ve got our party hats on at Catholics United HQ. Why?

Our organizing efforts are working. The Catholic bishops are beginning to speak out against Paul Ryan’s devastating budget cuts! Click here to read more.

To say the least, this is fantastic news!

If you are as surprised and as happy as we are, will you take a moment to call Cardinal Dolan’s office in New York City? Call him now at 212-371-1000. Here’s what we recommend you say:

First, thank the bishops for speaking out against Paul Ryan’s budget.

Then ask that they continue to fight on behalf of the poor and less fortunate.

It may have taken almost a month, but it’s great the bishops are finally standing up against the immorality of punishing the poor. Paul Ryan and his far-right cohorts need to understand that when they attack the poor, Catholics cannot–must not–remain silent.

At first I thought, “okay, that’s good news.” Then I read The Hill article to which the email had linked, and the second paragraph gave me pause:

In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

While the fact that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are speaking out against the Ryan budget IS a good thing, the fact that the USCCB has ‘certain “moral criteria”‘ by which it judges, and apparently influences, legislation, is NOT. Just look at the recent brouhaha over contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act, demonstrating the amount of power the USCCB can wield.

On the other hand, though, maybe it really IS more good than bad news. In defending his budget, Ryan reiterated and expanded on the reasoning behind it. From The Hill:

Ryan made the moral case for his budget in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network. He said government shouldn’t be responsible for lifting its citizens out of poverty — rather, that it’s the obligation of the citizens themselves to be society’s caretakers.

“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in the interview. “So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

“Those principles are very, very important,” Ryan said. “And the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.”

As an ex-Catholic, I have never heard of this “Social Magisterium” idea before. And, after reading up on it a little, I find the idea more than a little disquieting:

“The inviolability of human life in all stages of its development from conception to natural death, and in every condition of health and well-being, is primary because it reflects the life of God who is the source of human rights….The Church never yields to the violations of the right to life which continue to occur.

Society reveals its whole truth as a community of persons….The lay faithful’s apostolic duty in the temporal order is to be understood as service to persons, first expressed in marriage and family life. This duty to society can be fulfilled only with the conviction of the family’s unique and irreplaceable value in social and ecclesial development. As the basic cell of society, the family must receive primary concern in a time when egoism and its derivatives threaten to dry up the springs of life, and when ideologically inspired social systems try to usurp the family’s role in education….A vast cultural, economic, and legislative effort is needed in order to safeguard the family’s role in humanizing persons and society. This duty falls above all on lay people, who must obtain from public authority the respect and support family rights need in fulfilling that role. Saving the family will save society itself.”

According to another source,

“THE MISSION OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL MAGISTERIUM The Church’s mission belongs to the supernatural order…it does not interfere with legitimate temporal options nor support specific political programs…Nevertheless, the Church has a strict right–also a duty–to teach the moral aspects of the secular order, whether this be in politics, economics. or social matters…”

So, Paul Ryan believes that his Catholic faith and this “social magisterium” not only inform, but dictate, his legislative policies.

But the USCCB disagrees with Ryan’s interpretation of Catholic faith.

And Catholics-United.org, while they agree with the USCCB in this instance, has also called the bishops out on their focus on wedge issues at the expense of focusing on (what C-U believes are) the more essential and traditional aspects of Christ’s teachings.

I’m confused: how many versions of the Catholic church ARE there? And how much influence should any version have?

This is our daily open thread — What’s on your mind today?