Is politics the key to human development? An olfactory question

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 20, 2014

The United States Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development has announced its 2014 grants. Our news story summarizing the grants suggests that a very large number of them fund political advocacy. It would be very interesting to know what percentage.

As compared with what? Well, as compared with direct charitable activities in which Catholics help those in need to adopt the values required for human well-being, acquire the education and formation necessary to spiritual and material success, develop the habits and infrastructures necessary for economic and community development, and fund specific initiatives (such as new businesses) which put people to work.

Is there anything fundamentally wrong with political advocacy? No. Are there grave problems with a vision which sees politics as the key to human development? Yes.

The way the CCHD works continues to raise deep questions about Catholicism, evangelization and culture. Read especially Part II of Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical God Is Love. Part II is entitled “The Practice of Love by the Church as a ‘Community of Love’”.

I am not claiming that habitual critics of the CCHD are doing better. But political advocacy is most often the easiest way to sieze the moral high ground. This makes it both the cheapest and least substantial form of self-justification. Or, to put the question in terms Pope Francis might use: How often do we really smell the sheep in politics?

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: djcastel7241 - May. 17, 2017 2:16 PM ET USA

    The question is why strong Catholic devotion doesn't always translate into following Church moral teaching. The Pope focuses on the poor: many in southern Italy are devout, with beliefs that educated Catholics are ashamed of, yet many of these are mangiapreti, showing deep moral disdain for priests. Since they don’t trust priests, they only get a distorted catechesis from popular culture. This social problem may not exist in the US, but the question was about Portugal, so the answer is on point.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - May. 17, 2017 1:57 PM ET USA

    Francis' comments are more coherent by subtracting his clericalism sentences. What's left says social-moral dysfunctions like support for same-sex unions, abortion&euthanasia result from dysfunctions in the political sphere, in formation of conscience by proper&complete catechesis (with which clericalism interferes) , & in culture. As well, there's a lack of understanding of what a human being is&how that being expresses Natural Law. But I admit that on first reading, I too thought WHAAA-AAT?!

  • Posted by: Retired01 - May. 17, 2017 12:48 PM ET USA

    First, I do not find his answer very clear, which is not surprising. Moreover, he appears to blame the problems mostly on clericalism. Thus, we could hypothesize that he may believe that if Catholics in public life betray Catholic principles, it is mostly the fault of the clergy, with little fault of their own. I wonder what his answer would had been regarding a political trend in unfavorable to belief in climate change. I hypothesize that his answer would be very clear.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 16, 2017 2:11 AM ET USA

    Perhaps Pope Francis was really tired and didn't hear the question at all but decided to "say something" anyway? But he, or his representative, would need to clarify it afterwards.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - May. 15, 2017 4:40 PM ET USA

    I'm so glad to see your reaction. I read it twice in complete bemusement and thought it was me---before I read your comment.

  • Posted by: shrink - May. 15, 2017 4:09 PM ET USA

    Psychiatrist would describe this as non-linear thinking. It is not a compliment.

  • Posted by: iprayiam5731 - May. 15, 2017 1:38 PM ET USA

    I got this: "People aren't properly catechized, they haven't been taught how to understand the teachings of the Church and Catechism as part of the reality of life, and it's mostly because priests are too clerical."

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 15, 2017 12:01 PM ET USA

    Still looking...still looking...still looking...

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 15, 2017 12:01 PM ET USA

    The Angel said: "Penance, Penance, Penance!" Wouldn't have been so wordy.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - May. 15, 2017 11:57 AM ET USA

    Gibberish. But he made sure to blame all the usual suspects. He could just as easily have said, Make sure your seatbacks are in the upright position and your tray tables are stowed and locked. Prepare for landing. Nobody pays any attention to that either.

  • Posted by: ALC - May. 15, 2017 11:46 AM ET USA

    He must come from the Hillary Clinton school of how to deflect a question and never answer it. However, if it's a question of catechesis, then he should be spending more time on teaching and correcting errors instead of contributing to them by vague and confusing answers and documents like LA. His main job is teaching/correcting/leading, not confusion, answers with a wink or allowing others to say what he really means, i.e. Maltese Bishops.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jun. 22, 2014 9:55 PM ET USA

    As you say, some of the bishops' money may support worthy causes, even some that are overtly political. But given the prelates' recent track record, I wouldn't place a very large bet on that being the case. So I find myself aligned with the "perennial critics" of CCHD. When it asks for money each year, I have to decline in favor or more trustworthy charities.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 22, 2014 9:47 PM ET USA

    "Are there grave problems with a vision which sees politics as the key to human development? Yes" This is so grossly understated as to border on the ridiculous. Almost EVERYTHING that our American bishops do nowadays is framed in politics. There is no reasonable enforcement of Canon Law on Catholic institutions & those who try militantly to preach orthodoxy are heckled and then betrayed. The grim reality is is that the "Camelot" characterized by JFK cannot be sustained & will ultimately collapse