April 25, 2022
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A Layman’s Memo to Catholic Prelates

A Layman’s Memo to Catholic Prelates

It seems that the more social problems have multiplied in America in recent years, the less helpful the leadership of Catholic prelates has become. They still offer moral guidance but more often than not it skims the surface of moral issues and avoids deeper and timelier concerns. Moreover, on those occasions when they deal with more serious matters, their message tends to reflect “progressive” political views more than traditional Catholic teaching.

I believe that this deficiency in hierarchical leadership is as significant a cause of shrinking Church membership as the sex abuse scandal was. I also believe that the only way to reverse the trend is for the hierarchy to acknowledge and address their failure and begin speaking forcefully on issues that matter. Here are a few of those issues, with brief comments on how traditional Catholic teaching would view them:

Human Nature

For over half a century the idea that high self-esteem is essential to psychological and spiritual well-being has been embraced by educators and many other shapers of culture, including many Catholic priests and prelates. In reality, this idea is a grave misreading of human nature that is incompatible with the concepts of Original Sin and human imperfection. It has undermined learning and self-improvement, devalued conscience and contrition, and contributed to feelings of entitlement and the habit of blaming others for one’s problems and faults. Catholic prelates should therefore reject the concept of self-esteem and work to restore emphasis on self-respect, self-control, and self-improvement.

Voting

For generations, Catholics (among others) have believed that they have a moral obligation to vote as their parents and grandparents voted. That notion is patently false. The actual moral obligation of voters is to carefully examine all candidates and support the most honest and capable ones, regardless of their party affiliation. This obligation is by no means casual. Violating it is not only intellectually irresponsible but brings harmful consequences to the nation. It is therefore unquestionably sinful! Such negative consequences have been dramatically evident since the 2020 election that replaced Donald Trump with Joe Biden. Catholic prelates should set aside their own political biases and lead the cause for more responsible voting behavior.

Immigration

The issue of immigration is more controversial than ever, even among Catholics. The Church has always seen immigration through the lens of the biblical command to love (show charity to) one’s neighbor. That is still the appropriate lens, but the heat of disagreement has caused important questions to be ignored: “Does the command apply to individuals, governments, or both? If both, does it apply in the same way or different ways? Is the obligation only toward immigrants or also toward fellow citizens? If to both, what should be done when the obligations conflict?”  

Careful consideration of these questions in the light of Catholic theology leads to these conclusions: The biblical call to charitable treatment of one’s neighbor is to individuals; it applies to governments only secondarily and by extension. Governments need to take special care in their charity to those outside their country because they expend their citizens’ money, not their own. Furthermore, governments have special obligations to citizens, notably to establish and enforce laws that protect them and to guarantee their safety and security. When governments ignore their own laws and/or their obligations to citizens—as they are doing in the case of illegal immigrants—they are violating their obligations and committing a moral offense. As guardians of their Church’s moral tradition, Catholic bishops should cease supporting that offense and lead the opposition to open borders.

Law and Order

The American people have a right to protection from lawbreakers. That protection includes lawmakers passing appropriate legislation against crime, police apprehending offenders, and the courts dispensing justice by freeing the innocent and penalizing the guilty in a way and for a period that fits both the nature of the offense and the danger of its recurrence. Each agency has a moral as well as legal obligation to fulfill its duty. Each citizen has a moral obligation to support the agencies. Yet in the last few years we have had individuals and groups demanding the defunding of police departments; justifying rioting, looting, assaults on people, and the destruction of property; emptying prisons of violent offenders; and re-designating felonies such as armed robbery as misdemeanors.

The promoters of these actions attempt to justify them by claiming that they will achieve such noble ends  as the elimination of racism. However, Catholic teaching has long made clear that neither a noble goal nor a good intention ever justifies the use of immoral means. Accordingly, Catholic leaders should publicly condemn anarchist behaviors and lead in the restoration of law and order.

Education 

In recent decades America’s public schools have preached political propaganda rather than teaching traditional subject matter. Over time, a divisive program known as Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become most prominent form of that propaganda. When the Covid pandemic forced schools to offer virtual learning, parents were able to see what their children were learning. Many were outraged and protested to school boards, who not only denied them a fair hearing, but in some instances called them “insurrectionists” and reported them to the U.S. Attorney General, who directed the FBI to investigate them. The effect of this reporting was to undermine the parents’ civil rights, but few liberals regarded that as a problem.

As all this was occurring, parents voiced two other concerns: first, about reopened schools requiring children to wear masks, and then, about renewed school closings and a return to virtual learning. Many medical experts share the parents’ concerns, arguing that both masks and virtual learning do more harm than good. However, teachers’ unions disagree with the parents and medical experts, and their views have held sway. Some states are now considering aiding parents by giving them funds to pay for private schooling. The Catholic Church has always been a leading supporter of  parents’ God-given rights in the education of their children and the obligations of educators to provide meaningful learning. Catholic prelates need to overcome their virtual silence in both matters and once again become leaders in those causes.

The U.S Constitution

Most historians would agree that, though every form of government has its flaws, the form adopted by the United States is among the wisest ever conceived. The reason it deserves that classification, they would say, is that it reflects biblical and philosophical insights concerning human nature and offers greater freedom and opportunity than any other country in history. That view is most clearly confirmed by the millions of people who do everything possible, legal or illegal, to live here. Even so, America has come under attack, often in dramatic ways like the toppling of statues of famous Americans, the changing of the names of schools and other public buildings, and the revision of history to fit new narratives, such as that of the 1619 Project. More alarming is the effort to make the America a socialist or even communist country despite the disastrous record of both those systems. Catholic prelates should not be giving tacit approval to any such initiatives, as some seem to be doing. They should instead be arguing forcefully that this country has been blessed by God with more freedoms and opportunities than any country in human history and that, though its flaws should be acknowledged and overcome, its foundational structure should be maintained.

These are just a few examples of Catholic prelates’ failure to provide a level of leadership consistent with their positions. The future of both the Catholic Church and the civilization it played a central role in creating will in a significant way depend on the prelates’ willingness to meet their leadership responsibilities.

Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

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