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the limits of laissez faire

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 13, 2009

I once asked a friend who was an observant Jew why his fellow orthodox were not more active in pro-life politics. He answered (making it clear he didn't share the view), "Most have the attitude, Hey, we've got our own house in order; let the goyim go ahead and abort their young if they want to."

I'm not in a position to say whether or not this is an accurate summation of Jewish opinion, but it should be plain that "Let me go my own way and do as you please" is not the Catholic position on the matter. Unborn children are our brothers and sisters, inherently deserving of protection irrespective of their parents' religion or lack thereof, and a Christian cannot be indifferent to political arrangements that expose them to arbitrary and unjust killing. That's to say, a Catholic hospital, e.g., is right to claim a "conscience exemption" from performing abortions, but the Church's duty in the public sphere does not end with securing freedom of conscience for her own members.

Nor is homicide the only arena of anxiety. Any danger to the common good is of concern to the Church. Especially pertinent in this regard is the CDF's prescient 1992 document "Some Considerations concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons." In the final paragraph of the text the CDF upbraids not only Catholic politicians but ecclesial authorities who would settle for an "include me out" conscience clause in gay rights legislation:

Where a matter of the common good is concerned, it is inappropriate for Church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse legislation even if it grants exceptions to Church organizations and institutions. The Church has the responsibility to promote family life and the public morality of the entire civil society on the basis of fundamental moral values, not simply to protect herself from the application of harmful laws. (emphasis added)

It was gratifying to read that the Archdiocese of Washington told the District of Columbia that it would discontinue the social service programs it operates if the city goes ahead with the same-sex marriage law that does not exempt churches from its strictures. But this ultimatum, while justified, is not enough. The CDF document gives the bishops -- and, in terms of employment in their institutions, religious superiors as well -- unambiguous marching orders:

10. Sexual orientation does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder and evokes moral concern.

11. There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.

12. Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons, including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity. Among other rights, all persons have the right to work, to housing, etc. Nevertheless, these rights are not absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct. This is sometimes not only licit but obligatory. This would obtain moreover not only in the case of culpable behavior but even in the case of actions of the physically or mentally ill. (emphasis added)

It will not have escaped your notice that the current Prefect of the CDF, while a diocesan ordinary, was squishy on precisely these issues. We can hope that in his present office his concern for the common good has broadened to match that of his predecessor, now Pope Benedict, who was and remains anxious that ecclesiastics move beyond a Soap Bubble Catholicism that floats sublime in its own enclosed sphere of exemption, oblivious of the rage and mayhem outside.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Dec. 04, 2009 11:08 PM ET USA

    The purpose of the state is to foster the common good of the community, which consists first and foremost by acknowledging man's inalienable rights which after life itself is the right to freedom of religious expression. The practice of one's religion is an individual rigtht and a social virtue integral to the common good of society. "To secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Gay marriage is a putative right.

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Nov. 14, 2009 10:10 PM ET USA

    Good points, Paul. The modern Church has the protection of the Holy Spirit concerning Truth, but generally it has not been much impressed with the value of truth and honesty. (Did I mention that "credo" does not mean "we believe"--and its only taken about 40 years to actually decide to tell the truth about that?)

  • Posted by: paulmay6949 - Nov. 14, 2009 1:47 AM ET USA

    I am embarrassed to expose my naivety and shallow mind, but I have not been able to understand why every one of our bishops does not agree fully with every point made by Diogenes. It seems some bishops do agree-even publicly. Either that, or break down and explain to us why not. Otherwise, I am left to guess that their reason must be that rather chance making parishioners, or politicians uncomfortable, they would prefer to insult Our Lord? Continue praying for our bishops' courage.

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