Rethinking politics: A better path to faithful citizenship [on Catholics and politics]

On Catholics, politics and partisanship:

For the last 44 years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published Faithful Citizenship, a “teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics.” There is much in Faithful Citizenship to recommend it. Yet, it has begun to seem to me like it is time for something new. I say this only partly because the bishops proved unable to offer a new version of the document for this election that would revise the document, last re-written in 2007 before Pope Francis had begun his ministry. I say it also because there are persuasive signs that the whole approach of Faithful Citizenship has failed.

The Pew Research Center released figures last year that paint a devastating picture of how Catholics approach politics. On issue after issue, whether we discuss extending the border wall or whether climate change is caused by human activity, there was no measurable difference between Republicans and Catholics who identify as Republicans, between Democrats and Catholics who identify as Democrats. The discouraging picture is clear: 44 years of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” has left Catholics looking just like non-Catholics in American political life. Being Catholic makes no discernible difference. In politics, we are not Catholics. We are partisans, just like everybody else.

Considering how much effort the bishops have devoted to Faithful Citizenship, the scale of this calamity should stop us dead in our tracks. Especially as we look around at our world and the role Catholics have played in fueling our polarized political climate, now seems like a good time to re-think how we engage with politics as faithful citizens from the ground up. In fact, I think we are obligated to do that. For that reason, I am asking readers to join me on a journey for the next six months. In these next six columns, I will take some space to reflect on a better way to be faithful citizens. My hope is that I can raise some good questions and provoke some thought.

I’d like to begin by asking an elemental question: What is politics?

The question seems simple. Politics is familiar. We use the word all the time. The Corpus of Contemporary American English places politics at 954th out of more than 170,000 words in frequent usage (top 1 percent). There is little that could be more familiar to us. And yet, we use the word politicsincorrectly almost every time.

The study of politics began in the ancient Greek polis. The best way I can translate the original sense of what politics meant (politeia) is to say that it refers to “what the people share in common.” This is the sense that is closest to how Catholic social teaching understands politics, as well. Too often when we say politics, we mean partisanship, taking sides in a divisive conflict. But narrow self-interest is the opposite of what politics really means. When we misuse the word, we are cheating ourselves. We are depriving ourselves of the best hope we have against narrow self-interest: a sense that politics calls us out of ourselves, toward something greater.

When President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, he called on young people “to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress.” He was calling them away from individual self-interest toward a greater common good. We do not need to sacrifice our consciences or our convictions. But we must sacrifice our certainty that other people are proceeding from bad motives. Politics in this better sense is about learning together how to disagree together, while still working together toward justice, peace, and the common good. Somehow, we Americans became captives to a different idea. And, because we are indistinguishable from other Americans, Catholics became captive to that idea too.

If our politics ever is going to be something better than a football game, it falls on Catholics to bear witness to a real alternative, a different way to think about politics that focuses on the common good instead of endless conflict. And the best way to approach this is by living our Catholic faith in politics less like a checklist of issue positions and more like an ongoing invitation to dialogue and engagement. We must recognize that we share the community with everyone, and everyone belongs to the community. We can—and, must—dialogue with those who disagree with us. After all, we cannot expect them to listen to us if we will not hear out their deepest concerns, too.

If Catholics want to shape a public conversation more concerned with protecting the most vulnerable, then we must change ourselves and how we engage the conversation. We must experience a conversion. We must offer something different, instead of reflecting back the partisanship our politics already offers. We must do better.

Source: Rethinking politics: A better path to faithful citizenship

Limiting Muslim immigration is patriotic, US cardinal says

??? Pope Francis has his challenges:

Limiting the number of Muslims allowed to immigrate to traditionally Christian nations would be a prudent decision on the part of politicians, said U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.

During a pro-life and pro-family conference in Rome May 17, the day before Italy’s March for Life, Burke outlined his views on immigration.

“To resist large-scale Muslim immigration in my judgment is to be responsible,” Burke said, responding to a written question.

Islam “believes itself to be destined to rule the world,” he said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what has happened in Europe,” the cardinal said, citing the large Muslim immigrant populations in France, Germany and Italy.

Burke’s comments are the latest addition to a debate among Catholics regarding the application of Gospel precepts to the large numbers of migrants arriving in Western nations from Africa and the Middle East.

In early May, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s almoner, told a reporter that the Vatican would refuse a papal blessing to Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, who is known for his restrictive immigration policies.

Burke said that the while the Church must be generous to “individuals that are not able to find a way of living in their own country,” this is not the case for many Muslim migrants, “who are opportunists.”

The cardinal mentioned the book No Go Zones: How Sharia Law is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You, written by former Breitbart News reporter Raheem Kassam, as evidence that Muslim immigration is having an effect even in the United States.

Pope Francis has made a generous attitude toward migrants a cornerstone of his pontificate, underlining the Christian duty to “welcome the stranger” over political or demographic considerations, although he repeatedly has added that government leaders have a responsibility to assess how many migrants their countries truly can integrate. Such an assessment should include the financial costs of helping immigrants learn the local language and customs, the pope has said.

Answering the written question from a conference participant, Burke said Christian nations’ abandonment of traditional moral norms has been a cause of Europe’s Muslim influx.

“Muslims have said that they are able today to accomplish what they were not able to accomplish in the past with armaments because Christians no longer are ready to defend their faith, what they believe; they are no longer ready to defend the moral law,” the cardinal said.

Another reason for the demographic shift, the cardinal said, is that “Christians are not reproducing themselves,” referring to the widespread use of contraceptives.

In this context, Catholics have a duty to instruct migrants on “what is bankrupt in the culture” into which they are received. To the extent possible, Catholics should even to try to work with them “to recover what is true culture,” which includes a recognition of the dignity of life, respect for sexual morality and proper worship of God, the cardinal said.

In view of these considerations, limiting “large-scale Muslim immigration is in fact, as far as I’m concerned, a responsible exercise of one’s patriotism,” Burke said.

In April, Burke contributed a foreword to a book titled, Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church, by Roberto de Mattei, an Italian historian.

“At a time of profoundest spiritual and moral crisis, the Catholic Church needs more than ever before to recall her sacred tradition, unbroken from the time of the apostles,” the cardinal wrote.

Burke, 70, is perhaps best known as one of four cardinals who, opposed to the possibility that some divorced and civilly remarried couples might eventually be readmitted to the sacraments, wrote a series of “dubia” or doubts about Francis’s 2016 exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.

Source: Limiting Muslim immigration is patriotic, US cardinal says

It’s not right to equate Islam with violence, pope says

Worth noting:

Speaking to journalists aboard his return flight from Krakow, Poland, July 31, the pope also stressed that violence exists in all religions, including Catholicism, and it cannot be pinned to one single religion.

“I do not like to speak of Islamic violence because everyday when I look through the papers, I see violence here in Italy,” the pope told reporters. “And they are baptized Catholics. There are violent Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I also have to speak of Catholic violence,” he added.

Spending about 30 minutes with reporters and responding to six questions, Pope Francis was asked to elaborate on comments he had made flying to Poland July 27 when he told the journalists that religions are not at war and want peace.

The pope’s initial comment came in speaking about the murder July 26 of an elderly priest during Mass in a Catholic church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. Two men, armed with knives, entered the church during Mass. The attackers murdered 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, slitting his throat. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the murder.

Although the death of the French priest was committed in the name of Islam, the pope said that it is unfair to label an entire religion violent because of the actions of a few fundamentalists.

“One thing is true. I believe that in almost all religions, there is always a small fundamentalist group. We have them, too,” the pope said. “When fundamentalism goes to the point of killing — you can even kill with the tongue. This is what St. James says, but (you can kill) also with a knife. ”

“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right and it is not true,” he said.

Instead, the pope said, that those who choose to enter fundamentalists groups, such as the Islamic State, do so because “they have been left empty” of ideals, work and values.

Source: It’s not right to equate Islam with violence, pope says

Shias, Catholics and Protestants: Sectarian splits are widening in Islam and lessening in Christianity | The Economist

Worth reflecting upon:

ONE OF this week’s most arresting news photographs featured Pope Francis in smiling conversation with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who is touring Europe in the hope of asserting his country’s emergence from international isolation. The Iranian visitor asked for the pontiff’s prayers, and the Vatican announced afterwards that “common spiritual values” emerged during the conversation. It was the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999.

A 40-minute chat, with interpreters, probably wasn’t long enough for much investigation of those shared sensibilities. But among observers of the world of religion it has often been suggested that Islam’s Shia-Sunni split corresponds in certain ways with the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christendom. Of course, as with any broad generalisation about religion, you can’t push it too far.

But Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American scholar-cum-diplomat who is a leading world authority on Shia Islam, finds the parallel quite striking. As he has argued, both Shia Muslims and Catholics have a respect for clerical authority and for theological tradition as it has evolved over time; that is in contrast with the stress put by many Sunnis, and Protestants, on going back to the original divine revelation and ignoring whatever came later.

In the Shia tradition, as in the Catholic one, there is a long line of succession through which sacred authority is thought to have been transferred over the centuries. Both among the Shias and the Catholics, there is emphasis on the idea of martyrdom leading to redemption. Some images of the slain Ali, whose murder in 680 is a primordial event for Shias, bear at least a passing resemblance to Christian depictions of Jesus Christ.

Of course, you can find points of similarity between any pair of religions and cultures if you look hard enough and set aside the major differences. But John Allen, a commentator on Vatican affairs, has argued that Catholics and Shias have geopolitical reasons for keeping in touch, as well as the religious and cultural reasons cited by Mr Nasr.

When it looks at Syria, the Vatican is instinctively protective of the Iranian-backed Assad regime, because it fears that the government’s overthrow by Sunni militants would spell doom for Christians. (That has not prevented some individual Catholic priests speaking out bravely against the Syrian regime’s atrocities.)

In September 2013, the Holy See strongly resisted American threats to bomb government forces in Syria. Then, at least, the Iranians had good reason to feel grateful to the Vatican. Another point is that wherever fundamentalist Sunnis (from conservative monarchs to populist Muslim Brothers) have held power, they have generally been anti-Shia and anti-Christian in equal measure.

But there is one big difference between intra-Muslim and intra-Christian divisions. The former are tending to grow wider, as tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia exacerbates the sectarian chasm in every other place where different forms of Islam coincide, from the civil-war zones of Syria and Yemen to the streets of Beirut and Islamabad.

Among Christian leaders, meanwhile, it is generally agreed that everything should be done to overcome division. As well as welcoming his Iranian guest, Pope Francis announced this week that he would go to Sweden in October to attend the start of a year of commemorations of the religious Reformation initiated by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517. In some ways, that is an extraordinary thing for a pope to be celebrating; the fact that the Vatican lost its sway over northern Europe, and blood-letting between Catholics and Lutherans convulsed the centre of Europe for a couple of centuries.

But a joint reflection by Catholic and Lutheran theologians has come up with an elegant way in which both churches can mark the event; it stresses that Luther’s original intention was to reform Catholicism from within, not to start a new church; and that everybody can agree that some reform was needed.

In the same sort of spirit, Shia and Sunni theologians get together from time to time and stress that whatever their differences, they recognise one another as Muslims and monotheists; but at the moment Islam’s sectarian hotheads seem to be making a much louder noise. If the pope and Mr Rouhani had a bit longer together, they might usefully have reflected on how people can be persuaded to stop killing one another because they have different interpretations of events in sacred history that took place long, long ago.

Source: Shias, Catholics and Protestants: Sectarian splits are widening in Islam and lessening in Christianity | The Economist

A leap forward in Catholic-Jewish relations: Marmur

Dov Murmur on both current developments and the historical context:

In order to explain and strengthen the relationship between Catholics and Jews the Vatican has followed up its historic document Nostra Aetate that initiated the dramatic shift half a century ago and about which I wrote last October. Over the years the Church has issued statements which amplify its stance. Five aspects are particularly significant.

  • The Church no longer sees itself as having superseded Judaism. It now speaks of Jews as elder brothers and sisters. It maintains that God’s covenant with the Jews has not been abrogated by Christianity.
  • The accusation that the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus has been revoked. The possibility that his contemporaries were involved in the crucifixion in no way puts the burden on their descendants.
  • Christian anti-Semitism that has been the cause of persecution and extermination of Jews to this day has been repudiated in the light of what had befallen the Jews by the hands of believing Christians and subsequent secular imitators.
  • Affirming incontrovertible historic facts about the roots of Judaism in the Land of Israel, the legitimacy of re-establishing a Jewish homeland there has been affirmed. The Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. The fact that Christianity was born in that land is being celebrated by Christians without in any way denying Jewish rights.

As a result, as David Berger put it in the online journal Tablet, “No longer could a loyal Catholic assert that Jewish dispossession from the land resulted from sin of the crucifixion and that unrepentant Jewry must remain in its exile.”

Berger also reminds readers that the Catholic Church has come to occupy the middle ground between most evangelicals’ unconditional support of Israel, including the policies of the current government, and at the other end of the wide spectrum, the stance of many Protestant denominations that tend to repudiate virtually everything Israel does, at times perhaps even questioning its right to exist.

  • The latest Vatican elucidation of Nostra Aetate came last month. It states that the Church “neither conducts nor supports” any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews. Not only has the legitimacy of Judaism been affirmed, the accusation of deicide withdrawn, the concomitant persecution of Jews repudiated, but now also attempts to make Jews “see the light” and embrace Christianity have been removed from the Church’s agenda.

Source: A leap forward in Catholic-Jewish relations: Marmur | Toronto Star