Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If you haven't been visiting The American Catholic this month, here's just a taste of what you're missing:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Archbishop Charles Chaput interview on Religion and Politics

Archbishop Charles Chaput is participating in an extended chapter-by-chapter interview with Peter Robinson (Uncommon Knowledge), on his new book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life and related topics in U.S. politics and the Church.

  1. Politics & Catholics with Charles Chaput: Chapter 1 of 5
    Archbishop Charles Chaput corrects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said the Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion aren’t clear. On the contrary, Chaput says the Church has long held that abortion is always and in all circumstances wrong. He also says Sen. Joe Biden’s position on abortion — that people should not impose their beliefs on the subject on others — is highly flawed.

  2. Politics & Catholics with Charles Chaput: Chapter 2 of 5
    Archbishop Chaput describes Vatican II as the “primary grace of God to the Catholic Church in the 20th century.” And yet, since Vatican II, the Catholic Church in America has suffered greatly. In particular, the numbers of Catholic seminarians, priests, and nuns have plummeted. Chaput explains why this is, and is not, a dilemma.

  3. Politics & Catholics with Charles Chaput: Chapter 3 of 5
    Archbishop Chaput describes the relationship between Jesus and Caesar, or between Catholics and the state: First, Jesus acknowledged his responsibilities to Caesar. Second, Jesus demoted Caesar, making clear that “God is God and Caesar is not.” Third, Jesus remained silent about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, allowing for individual determinations on the duties of citizens.

  4. Politics & Catholics with Charles Chaput: Chapter 4 of 5
    Archbishop Chaput has written that “The logic behind abortion makes all human rights politically contingent.” For example, Chaput explains that if our leaders can decide when life begins, they also can make determinations about when life should end. Overall, Chaput describes what is a coarsening of the value of life in the Western world.

  5. Politics & Catholics with Charles Chaput: Chapter 5 of 5
    Archbishop Chaput says Catholic Democrats have an obligation to change their party’s platform on abortion, just as Catholic Republicans are responsible for keeping their party pro-life. Moreover, he says the Catholic position on abortion need not be just a Catholic position, but an American position.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Benedict, Sarkozy and "Positive Secularism"

A prevalent topic in Benedict's apostolic journey to France is (understandably) the role played by religion within the context of France's longstanding enforcement of secularity, or laïcité.

During a brief press conference on Friday, when asked whether "France is losing its Christian identity because of laicism" -- Pope Benedict responded in the negative:

It seems evident to me today that laicism does not contradict the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith, since the Christian faith was a universal religion from the beginning. Therefore it did not identify itself with a state and it was present in all the states. It was always clear to the Christians that religion and faith were not political, but rather they formed part of another sphere of human life. ... Politics, the state, were not a religion but rather a secular reality with a specific mission, and the two of them should be open to each other.

In this sense, I would say today that for the French, and not only the French, but also for us, Christians of today in this secularized world, it is important to joyfully live the freedom of our faith, live the beauty of the faith, and show today's world that it is beautiful to be a believer, that it is beautiful to know God; God with a human face in Jesus Christ, show that it is possible to be a believer today, and even that society needs there to be people who know God and who, therefore, can live according to the great values that it has given us and contribute to the presence of these values that are fundamental for the building and survival of our states and societies.

Later, during a meeting with French politicians at the Elysée Palace, after reminding his audience of France's Christian heritage and roots, the Holy Father again urged a rethinking of the relationship between church and state:

Many people, here in France as elsewhere, have reflected on the relations between Church and State. Indeed, Christ had already offered the basic principle for a just solution to the problem of relations between the political sphere and the religious sphere when, in answer to a question, he said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17). The Church in France currently benefits from a “regime of freedom”. Past suspicion has been gradually transformed into a serene and positive dialogue that continues to grow stronger. A new instrument of dialogue has been in place since 2002, and I have much confidence in its work, given the mutual good will. We know that there are still some areas open to dialogue which we will have to pursue and redevelop step by step with determination and patience. You yourself, Mr President, have used the fine expression “laïcité positive” to characterize this more open understanding. At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité is now necessary. In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to – among other things – the creation of a basic ethical consensus in society.
Benedict's discussion of the issue has found a sympathetic listener in the person of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
Unlike any French president in decades, Mr. Sarkozy sees a more open role for religion in French society. And he seized upon the conservative German pope's four-day trip to directly challenge French secularism, one of the most prized traditions of La République and a strict legal and cultural sanction against bringing matters of church and faith into the public realm.

Secularism, or laïcité, is central to the modern French identity. It's a result of hundreds of years of efforts to remove the influence of the Roman Catholic church from French institutions and reduce its moral authority. French media don't discuss religion. At offices or work, most French believers don't tell colleagues they are going to mass or church. It is seen as a private matter.

Yet here on Friday Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, broke protocol and met the pope at the airport. They hosted the pontiff at the Élysée Palace, attended a papal talk at a newly restored Cistercian monastery in downtown Paris in front of 700 intellectuals and artists – where Sarkozy openly argued that while secularism is important, it should not be a hostile force that forbids all talk of God, faith, and transcendence. Sarkozy called for a "positive laïcité" that allows religion to help forge an ethical society.

"It would be crazy to deprive ourselves of religion," remarked Sarkozy, condemning such repression as "a failing against culture and against thought" (Zenit News Service):
Religion, began Sarkozy, "and in particular the Christian religion, with which we share a long history, are living patrimonies of reflection and thought, not only about God, but also about man, society, and that which is a central concern for us today, nature."

It would be crazy to deprive ourselves of religion; [it would be] a failing against culture and against thought. For this reason, I am calling for a positive secularity," he said. "A positive secularity offers our consciences the possibility to interchange -- above and beyond our beliefs and rites -- the sense we want to give to our lives."

The president explained the areas in which this vision of secularism could take root: "France has begun, together with Europe, a reflection on the morality of capitalism.

"Economic growth doesn't make sense if it becomes it's own objective. Only the betterment of the situation of the greatest number of persons and their personal fulfillment constitute legitimate objectives.

"This teaching, that forms part of the heart of the social doctrine of the Church, is in perfect consonance with the challenges of the globalized contemporary economy. Our duty is to listen to it."

"Positive secularism, open secularism, is an invitation to dialogue, to tolerance and respect," Sarkozy acknowledged. "It is an opportunity, an encouragement, a supplementary dimension to the political debate. It is an encouragement to religion, as well as to all currents of thought."

According to the papers, Sarkozy is twice-divorced and a "lapsed Catholic", in light of which I find it most encouraging to see him taking a stand in this manner against stiff opposition from militant secularists.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Archbishop Chaput: "Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life"

On August 12, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver will release his latest book - Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, which focuses on a question of undeniable importance for Catholics in the U.S. but also around the world: What is the role of faith in the public square?

Fr. Robert Imbelli, a Boston College associate professor of Theology, gives readers an insightful and well-written review of the archbishop’s book, which will be published in L’Osservatore Romano.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI on the American Founding

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations. ...

Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

Excerpts from the White House Welcoming Ceremony Pope Benedict XVI (Apostolic visit to the United States April 16, 2008).

* * *

You represent a nation that plays a crucial role in world events today. The United States carries a weighty and far-reaching responsibility, not only for the well-being of its own people, but for the development and destiny of peoples throughout the world. With a deep sense of participation in the joys and hopes, the sorrows, anxieties, and aspirations of the entire human family, the Holy See is a willing partner in every effort to build a world of genuine peace and justice for all. ...

The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain "self-evident" truths about the human person: truths which could be discerned in human nature, built into it by "nature’s God." Thus they meant to bring into being, not just an independent territory, but a great experiment in what George Washington called "ordered liberty": an experiment in which men and women would enjoy equality of rights and opportunities in the pursuit of happiness and in service to the common good. Reading the founding documents of the United States, one has to be impressed by the concept of freedom they enshrine: a freedom designed to enable people to fulfill their duties and responsibilities toward the family and toward the common good of the community. Their authors clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop, and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.

The American democratic experiment has been successful in many ways. Millions of people around the world look to the United States as a model in their search for freedom, dignity, and prosperity. But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their "lives . . . fortunes . . . and sacred honor."

Respect for religious conviction played no small part in the birth and early development of the United States. Thus John Dickinson, Chairman of the Committee for the Declaration of Independence, said in 1776: "Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of preexisting rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth." Indeed it may be asked whether the American democratic experiment would have been possible, or how well it will succeed in the future, without a deeply rooted vision of divine providence over the individual and over the fate of nations.

John Paul II on the American Experiment - excerpts from Pope John Paul II's words to the Honorable Lindy Boggs as Ambassador to the Holy See on December 16, 1997.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pope Benedict's appreciation for American religious freedom

[Cross-posted to Benedict in America - Chris]

"The Pope likes New York and what it stands for", asserts Jeff Israely in a rather decent article on the Roman Pontiff by the American press ("The American Pope" Time April 3, 2008), examining Benedict's relationship with the American people and his perspectives on the relationship between "church and state" within our country:

"I think he's really fascinated by the city and what it represents," says Raphaela Schmid, a Rome-based German with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who knows him. "It's about people being two things at once, like Italian Americans or Chinese Americans. He's interested in that idea of coexistence."
Israely disputes the idea that the so-called "Vatican enforcer" harbors an antagonism toward "the democratic, pluralistic values that constitute (on our good days) the American brand":
... A survey of the 80-year-old Pontiff's writings over the decades and testimonies from those who know him suggests that Benedict has a soft spot for Americans and finds considerable value in his U.S. church, the third largest Catholic congregation in the world. Most intriguing, he entertains a recurring vision of an America we sometimes lose sight of: an optimistic and diverse but essentially pious society in which faiths and a faith-based conversation on social issues are kept vital by the Founding Fathers' decision to separate church and state. It's not a stretch to say the Pope sees in the U.S.--or in some kind of idealized version of it--a civic model and even an inspiration to his native Europe
According to Israely, during his stint as peritus during the Second Vatican Council, Joseph Ratzinger was sympathetic to the arguments of the U.S. delegation (John Courtney Murray?) in the debate over religious freedom:
Conservatives opposed [religious freedom]: states must sponsor faith, and the faith should be Roman Catholic. The Americans argued that religious liberty was morally imperative and--from experience--that in a multireligious state, Catholicism could best thrive when the government could not play favorites. The council sided with them, and Ratzinger, anticipating a world composed of jostling religious pluralities, heartily approved. In a 1966 analysis, he wrote, "In a critical hour, Council leadership passed from Europe to the young Churches of America and [their allies]," who "were really opening up the way to the future."
Israely admits that Ratzinger's appreciation for the American conception of religious freedom "did not extend to an acceptance that all roads to salvation are equal or to a license for democracy within his church" (how could it, really?) -- nonetheless:
[Benedict] came to respect the way Catholic leaders in the U.S. went about their business. A current (non-American) CDF official notes that the U.S. church is the only one that keeps a "serious" doctrinal office rather than an unthinking rubber stamp or an old-boys' club; when conflicts arise, its bishops are actually prepared to discuss them. Moreover, says Levada, "he seems to recognize that we're plain speakers. We don't hide behind words."

The Pope also admires the Americans' role as, in the words of one cleric, "intellectual first responders," especially as the country's great network of Catholic hospitals wrestles with novel problems of medical ethics. "Through the great sphere of worldly experience that the Church has in America," Benedict wrote, "as well as through her faith experience, decisive influences can be passed on." He has shown his comfort with the direct and thoroughly American approach by appointing Americans to the No. 1 and No. 3 spots in his powerful former office [The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith].

Israely cites as a prominent example of the Pope's appreciation for America expressed in Without Roots, his 2004 exchange with the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera:
It bemoans the European Union's refusal to acknowledge Christianity in a draft constitution, and Pera wonders about bringing back some kind of multidenominational "Christian civil religion." In response, Ratzinger cites Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and makes the case that America's Founding Fathers were pious men of different denominations who wrote the First Amendment prohibiting state establishment (that is, sponsorship) of religion precisely because sponsorship would stifle all non-established creeds--which they hoped would achieve full and varied flower.

Of course, no such bloom would occur if the American soil were not already faith-saturated. But Ratzinger believes in America's "obvious spiritual foundation," its natural, Puritan-instilled DNA. He is well aware that this is eroding; he thinks we watch too much TV and fears that American secularization is proceeding at an "accelerated pace." But he insists that there is a "much clearer and implicit sense" in the U.S. than in Europe of a morality "bequeathed by Christianity." He has also given earnest thought to the mechanics of this civil religion, specifying that to affect the moral consensus, it is not enough for Catholics to rub shoulders with other Christians; they must translate their concerns from doctrinal language into a "public theology" accessible to all.

As far as his Apostolic Journey to America is concerned, Israely believes Benedict will be "less interested in scolding American Catholics than in talking up 'new religious communities ... being formed who quite consciously aim at a complete fulfillment of the demands of religious life'" -- schools of burgeoning Catholic orthodoxy like Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.; Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.; and Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla -- "eruptions of non-state-related religious vitality at which he thinks we excel."

There are a few points in Israely's article which betray his liberal sympathies -- as when he says "There are times when Benedict's love affair with American religious pluralism seems a bit naive, especially when it clashes with his nonnegotiable doctrinal stands" or "downplaying the idea that Catholics may legitimately balance church teaching against the demands of their conscience." But on the whole I think it worth the read. Israely closes:

John Paul II described faith and reason as the twin wings that lift the church. And yet a balanced takeoff has remained elusive. The U.S. is one of the few places where it seems to happen regularly. "America is simultaneously a completely modern and a profoundly religious place. In the world, it is unique in this," says a senior Vatican official. "And Ratzinger wants to understand how those two aspects can coexist." Almost all the things the Pope likes about us--our faith in the real value of plainspokenness, our pluralistic piety and even our wrangles around applying religiously grounded moral principles to increasingly abstruse science--can be understood in light of this quest. If he finds answers in the U.S., they could help define his papacy.

When he arrives on U.S. soil on April 15, we in the press will no doubt be parsing Benedict's every sentence for his opinions on U.S. policy or remonstrance of American morals. But the most important waves emanating from this contact may reverberate well beyond tomorrow's news cycle. John Paul II and the U.S. played as anticommunist co-leads on the 20th century stage. This Pope, more a student of global drama than an eager protagonist, knows that rising religious conflict may be the 21st century's great challenge. He also appears to sense that American power alone won't solve it--but that the power of American values still might. In rummaging through our founding precepts for a path for his own purposes, he might find something important for us to remember too.

Further Reading

Ratzinger/Benedict on "Separation of Church & State"

  • "A Tocquevillian in the Vatican", by Dr. Samuel Gregg:
    Upon being inducted into the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of the Institut de France in 1992, then-Cardinal Ratzinger remarked that Tocqueville's “ Democracy in America has always made a strong impression on me.“

    Describing Tocqueville as “le grand penseur politique,“ the context of these remarks was Ratzinger's insistence that free societies cannot sustain themselves, as Tocqueville observed, without widespread adherence to ”des convictions éthiques communes.“ Ratzinger then underlined Tocqueville's appreciation of Protestant Christianity's role in providing these underpinnings in the United States. In more recent years, Ratzinger expressed admiration for the manner in which church-state relations were arranged in America, using words suggesting he had absorbed Tocqueville's insights into this matter.

  • Biblical Aspects of the Question of Faith and Politics homily delivered on 26 November 1981 for Catholic members of the Bundestag in the church of St. Wynfrith (Boniface).
  • Why Church and State Must Be Separate An excerpt from "Theology and the Church’s Political Stance" in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology (NY: Crossroad, 1988 -- republished by Ignatius Press in 2008).
  • Benedict XVI on Religion and Public Life Zenit News Service Sept. 17, 2005 - which included his June 2005 remarks to Italian President Carlo Ciampi on church-state relations.
  • On October 17, 2005, in a letter to the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera (with whom he co-authored Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam), Pope Benedict expressed his support for a "healthy secularity of the state" -- or that which guarantees "to each citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom, including in the public realm" and includes "a commitment to guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own religious convictions." (The full text of the letter can be found here).
  • Secularity: On Benedict XVI and the Role of Religion in Society | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | January 9, 2007 (on Benedict's lecture to 59th Study Conference of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists).
Ratzinger on Europe

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wherein lies the Kingdom?

The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: "Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is fidelity and faithful adoration."

When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing.

It is not just the negative outcome of the Marxist experiment that proves this. The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. [p. 33]

* * *

Let us return to the third temptation. Its true content becomes apparent when throughout history we realize that it is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria. [p. 40]

If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance? Do we really know Jesus at all? Do we understand him? Do we not have to perhaps make an effort, today as always, to get to know him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for a reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to the AntiChrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new bible, whose real message is the worshiop of well-being and rational planning. [p. 41]

-- Benedict XVI (Jesus of Nazareth

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God's commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.

-- Hans Urs von Balthasar ("The Cross - For Us" excerpt from A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen)