Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Catholic Charities: The Bishop of Springfield Gets it Right

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 15, 2011

“The silver lining of this decision is that our Catholic Charities going forward will be able to focus on being more Catholic and more charitable, while less dependent on government funding and less encumbered by intrusive state policies.”

One is tempted to emblazon this statement by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois on every bumper sticker in the world, and across the very heavens as well. This was Bishop Paprocki’s conclusion after the bishops of Illinois failed to get a temporary stay of execution of the State’s plan to move adoption and foster care services to other agencies willing to place children with same-sex couples.

We’ve been talking about this for some time on For example, see Phil Lawler’s Christian Social Services of Illinois: martyrs need not apply, written just a few days ago, and my own Mixed Morality in the Peoria Adoption Solution, back in October. The Bishop of Springfield is exactly right: This development frees Catholic Charities in the affected regions to be both more Catholic and more charitable.

Catholic Charities can be far more forthright about its Catholic identity if it is free from government funding and the regulations that inevitably accompany it. It is never good for a religious mission to be dependent on government. The missions of the Church and the State are not the same, the values of Churchmen and politicians are seldom identical, and in a modern secular state, the endemic opposition to both religion and the natural law makes a classical problem far worse. Any situation in which the Church receives funding through the government—whether for social services, education or ministerial stipends—is a disaster waiting to happen for the Church.

Moreover, the Church must never put herself in the position of being considered an agency of the State. This goes beyond the damage done by misguided or even immoral state regulations, such as those specifically at stake in Illinois. When the Church or its agencies carry on their charitable and apostolic activities with funds provided by the State, they are by that very fact subordinated to the State in both perception and reality.

But the Church is an independent institution in her own right, wielding the spiritual sword. Indeed, it is the Church which has the proper role of specifying the legitimate and moral ends and means of temporal government, and not the other way around.

Bishop Paprocki was also correct when he said that this disentanglement of Catholic Charities from the State would make Catholic Charities more charitable. While it is perfectly legitimate, as a means of fostering the common good, for government to provide various forms of relief and assistance to those without any other recourse, this is not a charitable work on the part of the State. For those who provide the funds—namely the taxpayers—it is not charity, for it is not voluntary. And for those who administer the funds, it is not charity but a paying job.

True charity is a voluntary sacrificial giving for the personal good of someone in need. While many in social service careers have wonderful motives, and some may go beyond their duties to perform many acts of personal charity, public social services do not represent that direct and vivifying charity by which we voluntarily enter the life of another to seek the good of the whole person—of the brother or sister in need. There are typically vast affective and effective gulfs between State social programs and true charity. Catholic Charities, by its very nature, should maximize the latter.

It is worth rereading the second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est to review and more deeply grasp this precise and essential point.

One final thought: When people rely primarily on the State for their needs, they become increasingly dependent on the State. A cycle of dependency is perpetuated and seldom escaped through State programs. Yet such programs invariably increase the power of the State in a way which reduces the influence of other institutions which make for a more vibrant social order. By contrast, when a person’s extraordinary needs are met with charity, there will generally be a natural progression of assistance which addresses the root causes of the visible misfortune. People can get “back on their feet”, and then they often become new agents of charity in their own right.

Through this process, the intermediary institutions which provide such sacrificial service gain stature in the minds and hearts of those they serve, attracting others to the same values and service. A whole tapestry of good habits, and organizations which foster them, will emerge to enrich the social order. People will be able to find their place in communities of genuine concern which affirm their dignity and worth. The State, with its frequently corrosive impact on initiative and self-reliance, will shrink as society grows healthier in this way.

There is no question that Bishop Paprocki is exactly right. The decision to end the battle with the State of Illinois has “a silver lining”. But the corollary is that all of us need to increase our sacrificial commitment to doing and supporting truly Catholic charitable work. For if that silver is invested well, its future value will be immense. Its future value will be incalculable.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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