Friday, February 12, 2010

Catholics and the Left Friday, November 21, 20

I realize that many non-Catholics wonder why our Church puts such emphasis on the "right to life". In fact many "Catholics" wonder as well.
We must define what it is to be a Catholic. Most "Catholics" likely accept three of seven sacraments and five of the ten commandments. I have seen polls that show that only 40% of Catholics accept the "real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic". That means 60% of Catholics deny the central teaching of their Church and hence are, by definition, non-Catholics. It would be as if a significant number of American Jews acknowledged Jesus as the messiah. Would faithful Jews then be compelled to acknowledge "Jews for Jesus" as a denomination of Judaism?

In a secular, democratic society people may believe whatever they choose. The Roman Catholic Church is neither secular nor democratic. It functions on faith. It is a "matter of faith and morals" fundamental to being a Catholic to believe life begins at conception. Many, like Vice-President-Elect Joesph Biden, argue that this is "a matter of private morality". When prominent Catholics argue in the public arena that obedience to Church doctrine is a matter of private conscience, it confuses the faithful and makes them assume that whatever they chose to believe is just fine. This ethic is creating more and more "cafeteria Catholics" who feel they may pick and chose among the doctrines that they will accept.

I have for a great while found it odd that many on the American left believe that almost any institution except a Church can and should hold members to agreement on matters of doctrine. There was no outcry from most liberals when PA Governor Robert Casey was prevented from addressing the Democratic convention because he differed from the Party platform on abortion. If on the other hand a "Catholic" office holder were denied the sacraments for actively attempting to thwart the Church's mission to end abortion, liberals see that as intolerance.

Again, I have thought for a great many years that a true social democratic movement would be very different the "liberal wing" of Democratic Party. Left Democrats tend to hold radical positions on social issues like abortion. Social democrats would likely be swayed by the fact that a majority of Americans reject these positions. Only 40% of Americans accept abortion on demand and that percentage has been steadily declining over the last three decades.

On political issues left democrats tend to hold doctrinaire positions. Social democrats would likely seek a more consensus building position. A quick look at the positions of the members of Party of European Socialism on economic meltdown will demonstrate this point. Rather than keeping the bank bust for a campaign weapon,the social democratic parties of Europe have worked toward immediate aid packages and a long term strategy to protect against another such mishap. Frequently they are working with conservative ruling parties on such measures. It would doubtless be easier to just blame those in power and create the kind of grid lock that just scuttled a loan to the American auto industry.

On matters of economics, left Democrats are extremely conservative. They can find all the money necessary to bailout Wall Street and none to help working families. Obviously, social democrats would worry about working families first.

It is essential to have actual believing Catholics as part of a social democratic movement. Most Catholics accept the "seamless garment of life" theory put forward by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadine. We understand that war, poverty, and ecological degradation are all sins against the one who made man in His own image and likeness. Our problem comes when we are almost alone institutionally in defending the unborn and are then held up to ridicule for our efforts. This creates an us and them mentality that should have ended centuries ago.

For instance, I would think that believers in personal conscience would quickly move to defend the right of health care providers to recuse themselves from procedures that violate their personal beliefs. The lack of such a vigorous defense of health care providers right to choose makes what should be a strong natural constituency for single payer health care very wary of it. Catholics are afraid single payer would mandate abortion and contraception services at all hospitals.

As Father Andrew Greeley has pointed out, up until the 1970's radical Catholics organized unions, opened soup kitchens, and protested militarism. All the while they remain obedient to their Church. Today radical Catholics start institutes to publish magazines that essentially call for the dissolution of the universal Church.

With economic hard times clearly beginning and perhaps the start of a new depression, it will require people like those who formed the Radical Catholic Alliance of the 1930's to be an active part in a social democratic coalition. It would never occur to me to demand unanimity with my position on abortion (I believe abortion is always a disaster for all concerned and with the exceptions of a direct threat to the life or health of the mother, it is always wrong) with a broad social democratic coalition. I find it equally untenable to be told that I must put my faith in my back pocket in order to participate in such a coalition. There is a real possibility of meeting both pro-life and pro-choice goals by reducing the desire for abortion by ending poverty. Politically social democrats can build the consensus mentioned earlier, yet on matters of faith we must agree to disagree. To do less is advocate theocracy, which is absolutely counter to the ethos of social democracy and Christianity. I am a democratic socialist because I am a Roman Catholic not in spite of it.

Gabriel McCloskey-Ross, third generation radical Catholic

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