Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whither Catholic Charities in an Aggressively Secular Culture?

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M Cap., the archbishop of Denver, has written for the blog, First Things, an analysis of the challenges 21st century Western secular culture bring to the core values of Catholic charities. For my money, he hits it out of the park. Here are some brief excerpts:

"Catholic charities, then, belong to a varied and energetic civil society in America—a sphere that the nation’s founders meant to remain distinct from the realms of government, industry, and purely private life.

"Two points are vital here. First, the American proposition presumes that large areas of our common life as a nation exist where government has no special competence and no business intruding. Second, self-government means exactly that: self-government. The solutions to problems in American society are mainly the duty of individuals working together in associations. Government involvement is never the first, and usually not the preferred, course of action. The genius of the American system is that government has found ways to work fruitfully with mediating institutions like the Church to solve problems and deliver key social services.

"To put it another way, American civic institutions have always been nonsectarian, but they have never been hostile to religion. Although the Constitution forbids the establishment of a state-sponsored religion, historically, no constitutional problem has been seen in directing public monies to religious charities that serve legitimate public-policy objectives—so long as these religious groups do not use public funds to proselytize.

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"In Boston, the local archdiocese ran one of the nation’s oldest, most respected adoption agencies. Nonetheless, the Church was forced to shut down her adoption ministry. Why? Because the state demanded that the Church begin placing orphans for adoption with homosexual couples—a demand that violates Catholic moral beliefs that children have the right to grow up in a stable family with a married mother and father. Boston’s archbishop, Se├ín Cardinal O’Malley, sought a conscience clause to exempt the Church from the requirement. State lawmakers refused. The result was the end of more than a century of excellent child-adoption services to the general public.

"This case embodied the 'grave inconsistency' that Benedict XVI writes about in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. A small social subgroup—for example, active homosexuals and supporters of homosexual-related issues—demands that the government defend their right to a controversial lifestyle, a right that is 'alleged, . . . arbitrary, and nonessential in nature,' as Benedict puts it. To meet this demand and promote this ambiguous right, public officials attack the 'elementary and basic rights' of defenseless children without parents.

"When we look closely at Church–state conflicts in America, we see that they now often center on a group of behaviors—homosexual activity, contraception, abortion, and the like—that the state in recent years has redefined as essential and nonnegotiable rights. Critics rarely dispute the Church’s work fighting injustice, helping community development, or serving persons in need. But that’s no longer enough. Now they demand that the Church must submit her identity and mission to the state’s promotion of these newly alleged rights—despite the constant Catholic teaching that these behaviors are personal moral tragedies that can lead to deep social injustices.

"As a result, the original links between freedom and truth, and between individual rights and moral duties, are disappearing in the United States. In the name of advancing the rights of the individual, other basic rights—the rights of religious believers, communities, and institutions—and key truths about the human person, are denied.

Read the whole thing here. It's well worth the time.

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