First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
And there was no one left to speak out for me.
—Rev. Martin Niemöller (at various times, and in various versions)
You’ve probably seen that a series of lawsuits has been filed by various Catholic organizations challenging the abortion-funding and contraception mandates emanating from Obamacare. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, leading the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been most vocal in opposition to these obvious intrusions into Catholics’ free exercise of their religious convictions. And rightly so.
But my question to Cardinal Dolan and others is: Where have you been?
To begin with, while I applaud the recent outspokenness, I have to say that the sudden righteous indignation over government mandates involving abortion and contraception rings a bit hollow. Granted, I’m a recent arrival to the Church via the RCIA process. But in the five years I’ve been attending Mass I can count on two fingers the times I’ve heard any discussion of the Church’s teaching about human life and the abortion/contraception issue (and we didn’t cover it in RCIA at all). This is not a cafeteria plan elective issue—it’s fundamental to the faith. Yet my experience has been that by and large we deal with it by not dealing with it, particularly when it’s come to challenging the District. I’m not aware of Sean Cardinal O’Malley in Boston, or Donald Cardinal Wuerl in Washington, D.C., or Archbishop George Niederauer in San Francisco, or Archbishop Joseph Naumann in Kansas City, or Bishop Francis Malooly in Wilmington so much as denying communion to, much less excommunicating “Catholic” politicians like Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS), all of whom have actively pushed pro-abortion and pro-contraception policies directly in conflict with the Church’s teaching. The Church whines the whine now, but it has to a certain extent failed to walk the walk on the abortion/contraception issue.
That said, there’s a larger point at work here.
I’ve been discussing this issue off and on with a buddy of mine for awhile. The USCCB and others complain now that the federal government’s overstepping has landed squarely on their First Amendment toes. But this has been something that was coming for a long time, and they’ve not only been silent as government creep has swallowed liberty in other areas, they’ve actually been actively cheering it on. In other words, for all their current complaining about government overreach, the Obamacare problem is something Catholic leadership in the U.S. has to a large degree brought on itself by consistently supporting an ever-expanding federal government to accomplish objectives that are more properly the province of the private efforts of the Church.
Consider (and h/t to Brutus for feeding me most of these links):
- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been favoring a government overhaul of healthcare since 1919. In short, the USCCB has for a century advocated that the government nationalize this private industry, and that health care for one person be paid for with tax dollars taken from another.
- Continuing an at least tacit opposition to free markets and private property, the Church—apparently including at least some U.S. Bishops—supported the “basic sentiment” of the “Occupy” movement, including the government-forced redistribution of wealth,and global “regulation” of economies.
- As far back as at least 2001, the USCCB was advocating for government “stimulus,” again forcibly redistributing wealth by taking it from one person in the form of taxes, and giving it to another in the form of “benefits.”
- The USCCB opposed Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget in part because it took measures to deal with the fraud endemic in the Child Care Tax credit. Recall, as I reported here that billions were being lost through this program as illegal aliens were claiming credits—resulting in their receiving actual checks from the U.S. Treasury—for children that did not exist, or were not in this country. But no matter to the Church, even though through this fraud illegals are literally stealing money from taxpayers.
- And the USCCB has advocated the creation of a National Housing Trust Fund, to create housing funded through taxpayer money siphoned from FHA and Ginnie Mae.
The Church has excelled at supporting social issues through its charitable works for millennia. In the U.S., for over 100 years Catholic Charities USA has been working to reduce poverty and hunger—in 2010 alone CCUSA fed over 7 million people, and provided various social services to over 10 million. There are over 400 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. Nearly 7,000 Catholic primary and secondary schools boast a total enrollment of over 2 million children. There are 244 Catholic colleges and universities.
Where the Church and the Bishops run astray is when they seek to accomplish their social mission through government. The Church can collect and distribute alms, and when it’s voluntary that’s fine. But she goes too far when she attempts to use the force of government to extract those alms at the point of a federal bayonet. Yet time and again the Church, and more specifically the USCCB, has advocated just that, apparently with no regard for the intrusion on free markets and private property rights such efforts pose.
I’ve written on this subject before. God instructed us to be our brother’s keeper, but what God expects from us is always voluntary. As the USCCB should well know, in our Catholic liturgy, during the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass the priest recites that even Jesus’ Passion—the ultimate social justice program—was something into which He “entered willingly.” God gave us free will, and when we look at social works in a biblical context, it is the willingness to give that is the touchstone, not accomplishing charitable aims by any means necessary, including force of government.
For too long the Church in the U.S. has misunderstood the proper role of government in our constitutional republic, and failed to appreciate the ramifications of the ratchet effect inevitably associated with government creep. The Bishops cheered the expansion of government when it furthered the Church’s social aims, but they did so with too little foresight as to what ramifications expanding government intrusions in one area might have on others. They howl now that they’re getting bitten by the law of unintended consequences, and they’re shocked to find that the Beast to which they’ve fed others’ liberty for decades has now turned to devour theirs.
Having unwittingly sowed the wind, the Church is now reaping the whirlwind (see Hosea 8:7).
God help us.