In many respects, the Catholic community today is divided into pro-life and social justice camps. That is unfortunate, and while this division can be overstated, it remains true that most Catholic activists sit in either one camp or the other; cross-over Catholics are a rare breed.
Paul Ryan represents the pro-life wing, and Joe Biden represents the social justice wing. Indeed, both exemplify the differences, and not just on the issue of abortion. For example, Ryan’s idea of freedom of choice commits him to supporting school vouchers; Biden’s notion of choice commits him to abortion rights. Ryan is opposed to reinventing the institution of marriage; Biden wants to expand marriage to include two people of the same sex.Ultimately, I really think the two wings need to begin talking to each other. But that will mean both need to get serious about being Catholics first, and political partisans second.
Over at catholicvote.org, Matt Bowman skewers the Catholic Left for their hypocrisy concerning the HHS mandate.
Commonweal Says Taco Bell Can Exploit Workers, Environment | CatholicVote.org
Here's the key quote:
If someone has no conscience, she has no conscience for any purpose.
Catholic critics of the Church's opposition to the HHS mandate usually assert that the Bishops are sacrificing work on economic and social justice in order to focus on sexuality. While individual Catholics, they say, are bound to treat the poor in accord with the teachings of the Church, they are not bound to adhere to the Church's teaching about contraception and sexuality. Catholic businessmen should listen to the dictates of their consciences and treat their workers fairly, give them good working conditions, and not harm the environment; but it's not necessary (and in fact wrong) to do so when faced with being forced by the government to provide those workers with free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization.
This "cafeteria Catholicism" has been around in the Church, particularly in America, for a long time. The media, especially recently, loves to point to polls that show self-identified Catholics practicing contraception, being pro-choice, and supporting gay marriage. (Ironically, these same polls don't ask if Catholics differ from Church social and economic teachings, but I would suspect differences there too). As Catholics, we have become very comfortable with having our political and economic views shaped by non-Catholic sources. I have a good friend at work who is Catholic, has children in Catholic schools, and attends mass every Sunday; I also know that this friend has very liberal political views. I will admit that my views of economic and social policy owe more to Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises than Pope Leo XIII and Rerum Novarum (though I am working to rectify that in light of my reversion). Such a selective approach to the application of Church teaching to the real world is even practiced by priest, women religious, theologians, teachers at our Catholic colleges and universities, and bishops. Those who practice this argue that it is in the spirit of Vatican II, with individual Catholics being able to prudentially exercise their consciences and decide such "non-essential" issues for themselves. It is a strength, they say, of of the 21st century Church.
Ultimately, however, I think it is this very cafeteria Catholicism is responsible for the position we find ourselves in with the HHS mandate (and a whole host of other issues). Because so many different groups and individuals were expressing views as Catholics that differed from what the Magisterium taught authoritatively as Catholic doctrine, our message to the world became muddled and confused. It allowed secularists to chose as "Catholic" those views that were closest to their own; hence the argument that, since "most Catholics" practice birth control, there should be no objection from Catholic institutions to the HHS mandate. It also created a situation among Catholics that we are no longer speaking with one voice as Catholics; in the House of Representatives, Catholic Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican Catholic Paul Ryan differ on most issues from one another and, to some extent, from Catholic teachings. Is it any wonder, then, that the media characterizes the Church in America as divided? While there is certainly more unity over opposition to the mandate than the media likes to portray, are they not at least partially correct?
If the Church in the United States is to recover it's moral authority, then we Catholics need to start speaking with one voice. The teachings of the Church provide a firm foundation for thinking about all aspects of society and culture. It cannot be either social and economic justice or the sanctity of life and marriage; it must be both/and. Catholics on the left need to discard Marx and Kinsey; Catholics on the right need to put Freedman and Mises back on the shelf. We need to first accept that, for us as Catholics, the teachings of the Magisterium provide us with our foundation for thinking about issues--whether we like it or not. We need to go to Confession and confess our disobedience, our role in bringing others into disobedience, and our role in fostering disunity in the body of Christ. We need to pray the Rosary, beseeching the Blessed Virgin to intercede for us that a spirit of unity and concord will reign between us as Catholics, regardless of parties. Then, we need to sit down together with the Catechism, with Rerum Novarum, with Evangelium Vitae, and any other Magisterial documents and begin to fashion a unified response to the issues our nation faces. And we need to do so without regard to party or politics.
In the current House of Representatives, there are 150 self-identified Catholics, divided roughly equally between Democrats and Republicans. If they voted as a block, they would have the balance of power in Congress. The lack of bipartisanship in Congress is lamented and blamed for little work getting done on our nation's problems. What would be the contribution to detoxifying our nation's politics if even half of the Catholic members from both parties decided to work together as Catholics? In the words of John Lennon, just imagine.
But before we can expect our elected officials to do this, we the laity need to do this. This is an area where we can lead. Let us each begin in our own way so that once more the Church in the United States can speak with one, united voice as the Body of Christ.