Emily Stimpson (whom I don’t think I know except through her writing) has an excellent post from earlier today.
Basically, part of the problem we’re faced with in crises like the HHS mandate on contraception and attempts to redefine marriage is that the Catholic faithful hardly know the Church’s teachings and many of us have not been living them. Even those of us who are regular church-goers may be shaky on the issues because we rarely hear about them.
For decades, post Vatican II, the Catholic Church has been trying to hammer out the roles of the clergy and the laity while at the same time trying to handle a host of other serious issues. I think the HHS mandate made it abundantly clear that we have a lot of work to do. It should have started a long time ago, but nevertheless it has to happen soon if we’re going to be able to exist freely as a Church.
George Weigel had a very provocative piece in the December 2011 of First Things: “The Evangelical Reform of Catholic Advocacy: Effective witness in the public square requires a new focus on what the Church knows.” (Unfortunately, a subscription is required, which is too bad since it’s really a call to action. If you don’t have a subscription, get one or find a friend who has one.) I think he’s spot on:
Even on questions of first principles, the Church’s public advocacy has been weakened by the secularist tide throughout Western society, by two generations of ineffective catechesis that have produced many Catholic politicians and voters who are baptized pagans, and by the scandals of the past decade. It is folly and delusion to imagine that the Church’s pastors have, in real political terms, the authority they enjoyed in the past (however well or poorly they deployed that authority). The same holds true, by extension, for those who represent the bishops in national and state legislatures. Everyone knows this. State Catholic conference officials see this every day, as do at least some USCCB officials. The question—to borrow a phrase from a most unlikely source, Lenin—is “What is to be done?”
Part of Weigel’s answer:
If the authority the Church and its pastors once enjoyed is no longer available, and if the Church does not have the financial resources that many advocacy lobbies have, then the conventional lobbying model makes less and less sense. Unless public officials are already formed by or at least in sympathy with the Church’s teaching on the life issues and marriage—to take two crucial sets of questions—they are unlikely to listen to the bishops or their public policy advocates, because they have concluded that there is no point to listening and no cost to not listening. Furthermore, the ambient culture is instructing them not to listen and is threatening retribution if they do listen.
If the gospel truths and the moral reason that are the Church’s patrimony are to be brought to bear on questions of first principles in Congress and in state legislatures, both the USCCB and the state Catholic conferences must restrategize their work and redeploy their resources. If the only things that many public officials understand are money and power, the bishops conference and the state Catholic conferences—as well as individual bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay catechists—must focus intensified energy on educating the Catholic people so that the people of the Church, when first principles are at stake, are capable of bringing real pressure to bear on their representatives: political pressure and financial pressure. State Catholic conferences must also develop more sophisticated means of communicating the local bishops’ concerns to the Catholic people of a state, allowing them to explain why these concerns are the Church’s priority concerns and how they touch questions of first principles. This gives the Church the mechanism to bring those concerns directly to legislators who need Catholic citizens’ votes in order to remain in office.
This new paradigm for the Church’s engagement in public policy thus places much more emphasis than has been customary on developing a political ground game, which is the only way, in our current situation, to make Catholic efforts to bring moral first principles to bear on public life in an effective way. In twenty-first-century American politics, light often follows heat. And since the Church cannot (and arguably should not) buy influence the ways others do, the only way to build a political ground game and generate the needed heat on politicians in need of enlightenment is through the education of Catholic citizens: from the pulpit, through the Catholic press, and through the virtually unlimited possibilities of the Internet and social media. To adopt a very mixed set of metaphors, education builds muscle, and muscle persuades.
This morning I got a call from a woman who just got a robo-call or some sort of recorded call from the Bishop of her neighboring diocese. Apparently, she’d given that diocese a very small amount of money several years ago. In the call, the Bishop was asking if she would consider making another donation to the diocese. That same Bishop has been silent on matters where every Catholic should be willing to stand up for the truth. More could be said, but I don’t think this is the place for it.
The point is that the Catholic Church (that includes the Bishops, the clergy, and the laity) is facing a crisis that is deeply rooted in the failure of catechesis. Without thorough catechesis, people in the Church – whatever their vocation or state in life – lack the conviction and strength to be effective Catholic witnesses. And when the secular media does more, as Emily noted, to discuss issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, abortion, et al, than the Church does, well then we’re faced with things like this new HHS mandate, not to mention other even more serious issues.