Distinctly Catholic

HHS Mandate & Chief Justice Roberts


Last January, after President Obama announced he would not be expanding the kind of traditional, typical conscience exemptions regarding the HHS contraception mandate, for a brief period in time, most Catholic commentators were united in opposition. From E. J. Dionne and Chris Matthews on the left to Pat Buchanan and Ross Douthat on the right, Catholic voices spoke loudly and clearly that the government had over-stepped. Part of the reaction was tribal, to be sure, but most of it was rooted in Catholic sensibilities that date back to the Reformation. We could not understand how the government could differentiate between a Catholic parish and a Catholic university, labeling the former religiously exempt and the latter essentially secular for purposes of this law, in part because we held, contra the Reformers, that faith and reason must work together. We refused to accept a similar differentiation between the Church’s charitable and healing ministries and our parishes because we held, contra the Reformers, that faith and works must go hand in hand.

Legitimate Rape?


Who talks like this? GOP Senate hopeful Todd Akin made the remark in explaining why he opposes legal abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The phrase seems to suggest that there is such a thing as "illegitimate rape," as in, you know, she shouldn't have been wearing such a tight shirt. The whole episode is appalling.

Realizing his mistake, Akin tried to get out front of the mess he had made. He said he had reviewed what he characterized as an "off-the-cuff remark" and apologized, saying he "misspoke." This was not a slip of the tongue, as the transcript bears out. He began by saying he had had conversations with doctors about this. Just as outrageous is the idea that one could ever make an "off-the-cuff" remark about something as dreadful as rape.



Saturday evening, I read then-Father Joseph Ratzinger's treatment of the line in the Creed about the descent into Hell, contained in his masterful "Introduction to Christianity." (I will be writing more about that book in the near future.) Everything he wrote was powerful, it struck home, but it was a bit abstract. The next day, yesterday, I drove back to DC from Connecticut and discovered the non-abstract definition of Hell: I-95 on the last Sunday before school starts.

Ideology & Issue Role Reversal


American political history is shaped, in large part, by the essentially non-ideological character of the national psyche. We are a practical people. We respond to politics as we do to technology, with a desire to fix it. While divisions between the parties have always been highlighted at campaign time, as soon as the election is over, the ideological divisions within Congress and between Congress and the White House have generally receded as our political leaders look for solutions. Only at a few key times – the Civil War, and the New Deal being the most obvious – was there a clear ideological division in which the political parties could not come to agreement because they were at odds over first principles, and in the case of the New Deal, the GOP eventually came around.

More on Al Smith Dinner


The other day I called attention to Cardinal Timothy Dolan's post about his reasons for inviting both President Obama and Governor Romney to the annual Al Smith dinner. Cardinal Dolan was kinder in explaining his reasonings than I would be. Have a look at the comments on his blog, almost all of which are still critical, some nasty. I encourage everyone to write a comment in support of Cardinal Dolan.

Over at the website Renew America, David Cassidy explained that he understood the cardinal's motivation:

Once again, the American Episcopacy has put institutional interests ahead of what is moral and good. We have no interest in their views on the Farm Bill, trade policies or continuing budget resolutions. We do, however, expect them to speak with clarity and consistency on the great moral issues of our day. It seems Cardinal Dolan, like so many before him, would rather be a political player than a moral force for the good and true.

On Wisconsin!


Thanks to the candidacy of Paul Ryan, we are about to see religious voices in Wisconsin come into conflict. Indeed, it has already begun.

Bishop Robert Morlino posted a column about Ryan's candidacy that has some interesting claims, for example, the idea that violating the right to private property is an intrinsic evil. I had never read that before - not in Aquinas, Augustine, or any more recent Catholic ethicists. In fact, it is a fairly well-established principle of Catholic social teaching that the right to private property is not absolute at all. Absolute and intrinsic are not the same thing, and I honestly can't think how an issue regarding property rights involves an intrinsic evil. Ditto his lumping religious liberty into the category of intrinsic evil.

More disturbing was Morlino's comment in an interview with the National Catholic Register. He said:

Peter Singer & Christian Ethics


Peter Singer is not someone one would call a natural conversation partner for a Catholic moral theologian. He supports abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, to cite only a few glaring differences of opinion. But, Fordham’s Charles Camosy is not your typical Catholic moral theologian. He is one of a new breed of Catholic scholars, one of the founders of the Catholic Conversation Project about which I wrote Wednesday, who responds to the Second Vatican Council’s call to discern the signs of the times without making two obvious fatal mistakes: first, conflating discernment with adoption of the norms of the ambient culture and, second, discerning the signs of the times and concluding that engagement is a fool’s errand. Camosy’s engagement is critical and learned, there is not a whiff of defensiveness nor of triumphalism, and the results are surprising. That engagement has issued in a new book, "Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization."

Lightning Strikes


As a metaphor, "when lightning strikes" indicates rarity. As an actual fact, when a real bolt of lightning makes a direct hit on one's house, it is more of a pain in the neck. Especially when you are in a part of rural America where one's internet connection is a dial-up!

I am taking this rare event as a sign from God that I need another day off from blogging. Besides, I find it well nigh to impossible to write while sitting at a noisy Starbucks. But, I will call readers' attention to three articles that should not be missed.

First, Maria Mazzenga has a post up at Religion & Politics contrasting Paul Ryan and Msgr. John A. Ryan. Full Disclosure: Maria is a fellow Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at CUA and I am on the editorial advisory board at R & P, so I admit an affinity for both author and publisher. But, the article is a learned and thoughful essay that I would recommend if I knew neither.

+Dolan Responds to Critics


Cardinal Timothy Dolan has responded ably to those who have begun criticizing his decision to invite both President Obama and Governor Romney to the Al Smith dinner. In addition to Dolan's call for civility, I would add the concern that conservatives - of all people - should recognize that events like the Al Smith Dinner demonstrate, in a concrete way, the limits of politics. Dolan hints at this in pointing out that the event is about raising money for charity and promoting civility in our national life. I would go further and recommend readers consult Jean Bethke Ehlstain's "Augustine and the Limits of Politics." Even a politician does not exhaust his humanity in his politics.

I am quite sure Cardinal Dolan has not heard the last from the parallel magisterium at LifeSiteNews, the America Life League, et al. I am waiting to hear Cardinal Burke suggest Dolan is acting at the behest of the father of lies!


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In This Issue

May 19-June 1, 2017