Pope Benedict XVI stepped out with a radical, controversial initiative yesterday—the pope issued a directive saying that Catholic charitable institutions have to be…well, you know…Catholic. As in the Gospel mandate to feed the poor and clothe the hungry isn’t supposed to be used a pretext for shoving abortion, contraception and anti-Catholic teachings down the throats of those who need help.
It’s a sign of the times when saying Catholic institutions should be Catholic is even newsworthy, much less controversial, although judging from the media reaction the controversy seems less than it might have been ten or fifteen years ago. I suppose we should always take progress.
But the efforts of political and social activists to manipulate the needs of the poor to their own ends is not new. When the Irish immigrants landed in Boston in the aftermath of the Potato Famine, it was the conservative Brahmin class (the social, economic and intellectual elites of Boston) that sought to use charitable efforts to wean the Irish away from Catholicism.
Today, the same tactic comes from the Left. During the 1990s we saw then-First Lady Hillary Clinton travel to South America to tell the Catholic peoples on that continent they needed to get with the program on birth control.
The United Nations and the population control movement has tried similar pressure, with the carrot of economic help always being dangled as a temptation. Now the efforts to aid those in need are being tied up with not just abortion and birth control, but gay rights—ironic, given that the homosexual population tends to be wealthier than the norm.
Father Shenan Boquet at Human Life International accurately summarized what’s going on—
“More and more the message to the poor and suffering from the secular development industry is ‘we’ll help you, but you need to stop having children now and leave your traditions behind.’”
There’s no stopping the secular left-wing from employing this tactic, of manipulating people’s economic distress to gain support for a political and social agenda, just as there was no stopping the conservative Brahmins in 19th-century Boston. But the latter was not allowed to do it with the name of the Catholic Church as cover–because the shepherds of the Church stood firm. Their 21st-century counterparts now have to do the same. The pope’s edict won’t magically change things overnight, but it’s a good start.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com