Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paul Ryan's Bishop Plays the "Intrinsically Evil" (Pro-GOP) Trump Card

Paul Ryan's bishop Robert C. Morlino has just played what I called, several days ago, the "typical vote-GOP election-cycle trump card of the USCCB for some years now."  At his blog site in the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, Morlino writes that he can't and won't endorse a particular candidate (wink, nudge), but in obedience to church law, he has an obligation as Paul Ryan's bishop to defend Ryan's good name and point out that Ryan "is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above."

And what are those principles?  In Morlino's formulation--and let me underscore that: in the formulation of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin--the principles that absolutely have to govern the conscience of Catholics as they vote revolve around the 

sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property. 
Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. 

This is the Catholic social teaching that, in the formulation of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, Paul Ryan understands and faithfully follows.  And so Catholic voters (and, indeed, all human beings of good will) are bound by sacred obligation and on pain of losing their souls should they disobey, to keep in mind the following as they cast their votes:

Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.

All the rest is, as Bishop Morlino stresses, a matter of prudential judgment that does not involve questions of intrinsic evil about which there can be no disagreement.   You know, like questions involving "government-coerced secularism and socialism."  But areas in which questions about intrinsic evil aren't involved?  These are things like the following: "How to care for the poor . . . ."

We Catholics faithful to the teaching of the church who do not wish to lose our souls cannot entertain any varying opinions at all about "government-coerced secularism and socialism" and the right to private property.  We can, however, entertain any and all varying opinions about "how to care for the poor," and we can even claim that, in the name of Catholic social teaching about subsidiarity, depriving the poor of networks assuring their social safety--networks providing them with food when they're hungry, clothes when they're naked, houses when they are homeless, medical treatment when they are sick, education when they are untutored, jobs when they lack employment: we can even claim, as faithful Catholics, that policy decisions which cut assistance to the poor in all of these areas are a matter of prudential judgment and do not touch matters of intrinsic evil.

Maters of intrinsic evil like government-coerced secularism and socialism.

In a phone conversation about his blog posting with Joan Frawley Desmond of the National Catholic Register, Bishop Morlino states,

Since others have, I believe, unfairly attacked his [i.e., Ryan's] reputation, I have to look out for his good name. That is Church law. If someone disagrees with Paul, he is free to do that. But not on the basis of reputation destruction, really calumny . . . . They say things about him that aren’t true. I am not a defender of Paul Ryan; I am a defender of reputations of Catholics in the public sphere whose reputations are unjustly attacked.

"I have to look out for his good name. That is Church law": that is one of the strangest formulations of the role of bishops in the Catholic church I've run across in lo these many years.  An exceptionally strange formulation, when one considers the very public attacks one bishop after another made on Mr. Obama and his reputation when he spoke at Notre Dame University several years ago.

What principle, I wonder, demands that a bishop must defend a Paul Ryan, but is free to attack a Barack Obama, a Ted Kennedy, a Kathleen Sibelius, or a Nancy Pelosi?  I'm a bit befuddled by Morlino's claim here, since 1) contrary to Morlino's claim, there is absolutely nothing written anywhere in church law which requires a bishop to defend the "good name" of a political figure in his diocese, and 2) there is much in church teaching which prohibits the kind of overt partisanship that Bishop Morlino is seeking to peddle here under the guise of being faithful to what church law demands of him as a bishop.

Morlino's defense of Ryan has the smell of an unsavory mess cooked up in a back room by Republican operatives collaborating with well-heeled right-wing donors.  It tramples on authentic Catholic social teaching (authentic, as opposed to Morlino's perversion of this teaching), which nowhere demands that Catholics oppose socialism as intrinsically evil, and which nowhere elevates public debates about "secularism" imposed by the government to the level of principles of intrinsic evil that bind Catholic conscience and predetermine how Catholics vote.

Morlino is making himself a willing GOP tool with these statements, and in doing so, is shamefully abdicating his responsibility as a pastoral leader.  He's also misleading the faithful whom it's his pastoral responsibility to lead as a Catholic pastor.  

Authentic Catholic social teaching, as opposed to Morlino's GOP-crafted misreading of it, has always strictly weighed the right to private property against the common good, and has insisted that the right to private property is not an absolute right, but is normed by the common good.  As I noted several days ago, Thomas Aquinas expressly teaches the following:

When one man has excess wealth (that is, property and wealth which are beyond his legitimate needs) while another is in poverty (lacking material necessities), the rich man is a thief. The excess he possesses belongs to the poor man and, if he refuses to distribute his wealth accordingly, he plays the part of the "rich fool" in the Gospel parable (Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 66)?

As Pope Paul VI writes in Populorum Progressio, in line with the venerable, longstanding tradition about private property that Aquinas is summarizing here:

Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one’s exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities.

And as Pope Leo XIII states in Rerum Novarum, again summarizing that longstanding tradition Aquinas is reiterating with his statement:

Every person has by nature the right to possess property as his or her own. . . . But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used?, the Church replies without hesitation in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: "One should not consider one’s material possessions as one’s own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when other are in need."

And as the bishops of the Catholic church stated as a body at Vatican II in the document Gaudium et Spes:

God has intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of all people and all peoples. Hence justice, accompanied by charity, must so regulate the distribution of created goods that they are actually available to all in an equitable measure. . . . Therefore, in using them everyone should consider legitimate possessions not only as their own but also as common property, in the sense that they should be able to profit not only themselves but other people as well.   

These papal statements and the statement of Vatican II echo St. Ambrose, who wrote,

You are not making a gift of your possessions to poor persons [i.e., when you give to the poor]. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich (De Nabuthe c.12, n.53).

And they echo the teaching of St. John Chrysostom:

Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs (Hom. in Lazaro 2,5): 

And they echo the teaching of St. Gregory the Great:

When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice (Regula Pastoralis 3,21).

It's rather surprising to me that a bishop as punctilious as Bishop Morlino appears to be about asserting the demands of his office and the authority of his office and the unilateral right of his episcopal office to teach the faithful not only appears to know nothing of centuries and centuries of Catholic teaching about the right to private property and the common good, but actively misrepresents that teaching in his rather embarrassing attempt to give cover to a Catholic political leader who has stated clearly to the world that he wants to make savage cuts in programs that provide for the poor while refusing to tax the rich.

Morlino is misrepresenting Catholic teaching and misleading Catholics in an unvarnished attempt to make himself a political tool in the hands of a single political party.

P.S. (later in the day): for further statements about Morlino and background about his political-theological agenda, see this posting providing links to the work of other bloggers who have been following Morlino.

H/t to Dennis Coday's "Morning Briefing" column at NCR for the link to the National Catholic Register article.

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