Secretary, Department of Social Development and World Peace
Address to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering
Monday, February 21, 2005
Ray East and I have been partners in crime for a long time. I knew him before he was famous. I was going to say “rich and famous” but I don’t think he ever got there. We had the great privilege to work together in service of the Church in Washington under the leadership of Cardinal James Hickey. Last night and today as we remember the saints, remember the leaders, and remember the people who taught us, it’s important to remember that Cardinal Hickey was in his own quiet way a remarkable leader of the Church’s social mission. With Maria (Heria) here, she remembers he was a powerful advocate for peace and human rights in El Salvador. Racial justice was his passion. He stood up for immigrants here in our Nation’s Capitol and he renewed Catholic Charities and other service agencies and put them in the service of “the least of these.” He was the person who I heard first use the line that I always use, that when asked why so many of the people in shelters, soup kitchens, and schools are not Catholic he declared, “We serve the hungry, we shelter the homeless, we educate the young, not because they are Catholic because we are Catholic.” So I think his spirit is here represented by Ray and others.
This hotel has a lot of memories for me. I particularly like its intimate and creative design—sort of brown cardboard all around us. We had a great meeting here last year, but most of my memories revolve around other meetings here. The Catholic Bishops of United States meet in this very room and it would be fair to say that are some difference between our gatherings and those gatherings. It won’t surprise you that our liturgies are a little more vibrant and diverse. It would be fair to say there were no balloons on the podium. Do you have the feeling you missed the New Years Eve party, and it’s the day after? I frankly prefer talking about human life and dignity, justice and peace, not clerical sexual abuse and liturgical translations. One other thing I have noticed--there are more smiles here for reasons we all understand. We all work for Bishops. It’s a tough time to be a Bishop. I admire the ways they’re trying in difficult circumstances to set the right course to overcome the challenges we all know and stand up for human life and dignity.
It is good to be together. Times are tough, for us as well as Bishops. I always draw strength, ideas, energy and hope from these days together. It is good to be with people who share a common mission from different ministries. We have different organizational homes, but we share common commitment to defend human life and dignity. We also share rather pompous titles and impossible job descriptions. This is where I usually tell the story that many of you have heard over and over of the woman in the elevator who said I “need to do a better job” when she heard that I was in charge of “Social Development and World Peace.” Well it happened again. A woman here for the first time who shall remain nameless, who works for Catholic Charities in New England, said she really had trouble persuading the chief financial officer of her organization to get here. So she brought in the program and she explained there would be a lot of important people and great speakers and she apparently mentioned me and my title, and she said he said, “You ought not to listen to him because he ought to be fired if he is in charge of peace and justice.” It was a nice way to begin the gathering.
White Water Rafting
Yesterday was a powerful experience, an uplifting and challenging liturgy, and a night to remember where we come from and honor people who represent the best of our tradition. Bob Vitillo, who will be deeply missed even as he takes up his important task of helping the Universal Church deal with HIV and AIDS, in his eloquent presentation, quoted Pope John Paul II his call to “go out into the deep.” We’re not going to do that this morning. I have been asked to try to talk about the context for our work and the task ahead of us and frankly, as I was thinking about it we are in the shallow end of the pool today.
Gaudium et Spes talks about the signs of the time. It is a very powerful metaphor, but I would like to offer a different image where we find ourselves. I think we are “white water rafting.” The only time I went water rafting was in Colorado after several dioceses got together. I was very excited about it until I got there and everybody had special boots and outer wear and we had sneakers and shorts on and I remember two things about it. One: I was scared to death; I was just holding on for my life. And two: the water was absolutely freezing. And I said to the guide, “How come the water’s so cold?” and he said, “Because it was snow an hour ago.” I think we are white water rafting. I think we are being pushed along by some powerful, social, moral, economic, political, cultural currents, and there are a lot of rocks in the way. What I learned that one time of white water rafting was that to get to where you want to go, you have to know what the currents are and where the rocks are to get to where you want to go. So I am going to offer some thoughts about some of the currents and some of the rocks.
This is the hardest talk I give every year. I look around the room I see people I have worked with for years and I see new people that I am so excited are a part of this gathering. I have given the same assignment with many of the same people. I used to tell funny stories about my kids, but they have mostly grown up and are not so funny. They would find it really odd that I am talking about “The Church in the Modern World.” They think I know something about “the Church” but I have not a clue about the “Modern World.” Some of you heard me say my two daughters went in different directions: one an activist and the other a cheerleader. I said I feel like I am living with Sr. Helen Prejean and Britney Spears. Well Sr. Helen has taken a diversion. I told her Mother Teresa never went to a tanning salon, and she has discovered that blond highlights really complete her ministry. The cheerleader has become a wonderful young woman, a great student, trying to choose a college. All my life I have gotten to know college presidents when I needed to get to know financial aid directors. But she has become very active. I am very proud of her; she organized her friends to go down to The March for Life. So things are different. My boys are out of school and both are employed, so God does answer some of our prayers.
But some things have not changed. Some of you know that my daughter was in Rome studying this last semester and I took all those frequent flyer miles from visiting you and took the whole family to Rome and my oldest son said he was happy to go but he wanted to be clear he was going for the pasta, not the Pope. Well we did both. We got to see the Holy Father and we ate our way through Italy. The one thing I would say is that we planned this before the dollar collapsed and it would be fair to say that I have a different view of debt relief than I used to--I think it ought to start with my Visa bill.
But I don’t have a lot of funny stories about my kids, so I am going to take a different approach. I have traded my legal pad for power point. I am not a computer geek but I do know how to delete all of your e-mails. I want to look back at this year. I am going to look around at what we are dealing with, especially in terms of defending human life and dignity, and then I want to look ahead, outlining the message we bring to the Hill, insisting that business as usual will not do for us these days, and offer a preview of some new tools and new campaigns.
A November Day
Last night, well the last two nights, I have seen Maria who I got to know first in El Salvador. And her presence, courage and story brought back memories of a gray November Day. Lech Walensa was at the Conference. He was president of Poland and he came to thank the Catholic Church in America for our support of solidarity. I do not know what a Polish electrician looks like, but he looked like a Polish electrician to me. And he had changed not just his factory, not just his town, not just his country-- he had changed the whole world “without a pane of glass being broken.” He said, “I want to thank every bishop, every pastor, every Catholic in the United States for your support of solidarity.” Because of my role I was one of the people had to respond and I said, “Mr. President, it is not hard to support Solidarity. Everyone supported Solidarity. Your cause was just, your leadership was inspiring, your tactics were nonviolent. Everyone supported Solidarity.” He shook his finger and I will never forget and he said, “No. In the beginning, when it mattered the most, the only allies we had were the Catholic Church and the labor movement, and that made all the difference.”
It was inspiring. It was moving. I went back to my office feeling good about things then the phone rang and it was a voice I didn’t know, an accent I had trouble understanding. It was a voice from El Salvador and they said, “They have killed priests and the women who work with them”—the now familiar terrible story of the murder of the Jesuits. And this person said, “You have to call the Embassy, you have to call the White House, you have to call the State Department, you have to call journalists, you have to tell them what has happened here.” And I was stunned and I said, “Wait a minute. Wouldn’t it be better if you made those calls? Those were your brothers, El Salvador is your land.” And this person whose name I never learned said, “No. Because of where you are, because you are part of the most powerful democracy on earth, it is more important what you do than what we do.” Now I don’t really agree with that. I think the Church in El Salvador, the people of El Salvador have achieved some measure of peace and justice because of the courage of people like Maria and Archbishop Romero and many others. But the caller had a point: because of where we are, because of the freedom we have, because of the resources we have, we have a special responsibility and a special obligation. How we are “the Church in the Modern World” is really important not just for us, but for others who look to us for help and support.
A Lenten Lesson
I was trying to think about this talk a few weeks ago and I heard the first reading of the Sunday before Lent. It was the Sunday before Lent began. The words from Isaiah are familiar: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, stand with the oppressed. Then your light shall rise; then the gloom shall lift.” We can feel pretty gloomy these days looking at our church, our world, our country. How do we lift the gloom? “Share your bread with the hungry; shelter the homeless; stand with the oppressed.” Then the Gospel reading was those familiar words: “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” Ours is not a head-for-the-hills religion. We are called to be the leaven, we are called to engage, we are called not to stand aside and judge, but to shape history, to change the world, to renew the earth. That’s our mission; that’s our message; that’s what brings us together.
A Job Description
Washington has gotten “religion”--all those polls about moral value connecting with people of faith. Kathy Curran went up to meet with some staff on the Hill and they wanted “the Greatest Hits of the Bible”--the ten verses that talk most eloquently on the poor. They want to get to know Amos and Isaiah. They were not necessarily interested in changing their policies, but everybody is looking to the Scriptures, to faith, to describe what they do, and so am I, and so are you. I found our job description, if you read along with me:
“Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5) Paul to Timothy, Paul to us, the Church to us, in season and out of season exhort, unfailing in patience and teaching, endure, and fulfill your ministry--that’s our job; that’s our task; that’s our mission.
A Hunger for Mission
Let me take a look back. These are obviously tough times in lots of ways. For our Church, we’re still under challenge. I talk to a lot of priests, it’s one of best things I do. I find a hunger for mission, our social mission, among our priests. And I say to them, “I know the headlines are not about your service. They’re not about your sacrifice.” They’re about betrayal, broken trust, bankruptcies, convictions. The audits have just been released; we’re trying to get this right but the headlines are still pretty scary. And our credibility, I think we have to say, has been hurt.
That is why it is terribly important that our work be the work of the whole church, not just the bishops. We must find ways to empower, enable, encourage and call forth lay men and women to be “the salt of the earth,” to be “the light of the world.” There is also discussion in light of the financial consequences of the scandal and other realities, at the Conference and in your dioceses we were asked, “What is essential and what is not in your work? What is the work of the Church--really the work of the church--and what is not?” And we have to find away to say clearly, persuasively, effectively that sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, standing with the weak, working for peace is essential to the work of the church. It is not optional, it is not fringe. It is at the core of who we are and what we believe. Care for creation is not some trendy movement—it’s who we are. The option for the poor is not some slogan from Latin America—it’s Matthew 25; it’s the passion of the prophets. We have to make clear that this is the essential work of the Church. We have to act like the Church-- not a fringe group, not an interest group, not a faction. This is a time for mission--not just maintenance, not just survival--but mission: “To bring good news to the poor and liberty to captives, to bring sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free.”
A Look Back
A Church Under Challenge
I always quote Cardinal McCarrick, at the end of a press conference which focused not on the remarkable work of this Archdiocese, not on his work as chairman of the International Policy Committee or the Domestic Policy Committee, but just on the scandals. He said to the journalists, “We’re more than our mistakes. We care for the weak. We stand up for life. We serve the sick. We welcome the stranger. And we try to help people live their lives with dignity and with faith so that they can help shape a better world.” We have to remind ourselves, our bishops, our people, all those around us, we are about mission and we’re more than our institutional mistakes.
A Nation at War
We are a nation at war. What ever you thought of the war, it is worth remembering that the Holy Father and the Catholic bishops were among the few voices really challenging, really questioning the decision to go to war. There was no real debate in the Senate. There wasn’t much of a debate in the country, but the Holy Father sent an emissary to meet with the President. Our bishops, time after time, statement after statement, tried to raise fundamental questions. Putting that aside, no one, no one, thought it would be like this. We were going to be welcomed as liberators. No one imagined that fourteen hundred deaths later, ten thousand injuries later, countless Iraqi lives destroyed, that we’d face the challenges, the cost--the human cost, the economic cost. This weekend, having watched with pride those people waving their purple fingers, eighty people killed, most of them because they were practicing their faith, celebrating a religious holiday. No one thought it would be like this. There is a lot talk of sacrifice. The Iraqis are making terrible sacrifices. Our military families are making major sacrifices. And sad to say that when the budget is adopted, the poor will make major sacrifices. But I am not making any sacrifices, except it’s harder to get on an airplane. We have to talk about shared sacrifice. Now, having not found weapons of massive destruction in Iraq, we have Korea and Iran competing with each other as who will join the nuclear club first.
A Dismal Campaign
We went through a campaign, and for those who won, I suppose they thought it was great. For those who lost … Regardless of who won, I thought it was a pretty dismal campaign. For months it was about who did what, who was where, when, 30 years ago in Vietnam. We saw attacks, not debate. Nobody offered a program. Both candidates, it seemed to me, were in denial about the war. The President said it was necessary and was going to go fine—“Stay the course.” And Kerry, having supported the war and then opposed its conduct, could never find a consistent position.
The poor were missing in action. The president came to office talking about “compassionate conservatism” and lost his voice on that. And the Democrats I think lost their voice, maybe their values. I heard a story that at the Democratic Convention, where everything was scrubbed and censored, one of the people offering a prayer was told to take the word “poor” out of the prayer.
As a result of this campaign we are still a divided nation: red states, blue states. I think in some ways we are black and blue, not just red and blue: We are bruised and wounded. The margins were narrow, but the differences are great. We see the world in different ways. Empowered Republicans now control the Congress with an increased majority, the Senate with an increased majority, and the White House for two terms. They say they’re going to do this on their own. The Speaker said he would pass legislation only with “the majority of the majority.” They’re trying to remake Social Security, they’re going to make the tax cuts permanent. Democrats are combative; their strategy seems to be “Just say no.” When Democrats lose, first they usually blame the candidate, then often they blame the voters. They need to look at the message as well. Having lost with a northeast liberal, they have now elected as chair of their party someone who may be more liberal from a state that is more in the northeast.
So it was a dismal campaign, but I think there were elements of hope for us. I think it was good news that the connection between faith and politics was a serious focus in this election. Lots of talk, lots of coverage, lots of questions. I think it is great news that the exit polls told us that “moral values” were a compelling issue for many voters. It wasn’t “Just the economy, stupid.” It wasn’t “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” for many people.
I think it was great that Catholics were in the middle of the fight. We’re up for grabs. I come from a mixed marriage. My mother is from St. Paul and my dad is from Minneapolis, which is a big deal. My mother was a committed Republican--her brother was the Republican leader of Minnesota Senate--and my father is a die hard Democrat. His father was Hubert Humphrey’s finance chairman when he first ran for office. So I learned at an early age that we can express our views in different ways, but that was not always the case.
I always tell the story about Mrs. O’Reilly in Chicago, who believed in her faith, her family, and her party, in that order. She was very disappointed her son had become a Republican, had moved to the suburbs, and they were arguing about politics one day and he said with some exasperation, “Mother, if Jesus Christ himself came back as a Republican, you wouldn’t vote him?” And she looked at him and said, “Well, why would he change his party affiliation after all these years?” Well, those days are gone for whole variety of reasons including the intolerance of the Democratic Party for pro-life voices. We are up for grabs.
I have found in Church basements and university halls, Catholics wrestling with new seriousness and urgency with what it meant to be a Catholic and American, a believer and a voter. They understood this was not just self interest. This was about war and peace; about life and death; about who moves ahead and who gets left behind.
This was good for our Church and good for politics. Not everybody agrees. We heard a lot about the First Amendment--the risk to our faith, the risk to our country. I believe politics is enriched, not diminished, when people bring their deepest convictions about life, about dignity, about peace into public life. We’re not a threat to pluralism; we are an expression of pluralism. Otherwise I fear it is only about power, it is only about money, it is only about ego.
The bad news is that much of the discussion of religion and politics and Catholics in public life was shrill and shallow. John Kerry kept telling us he was an altar boy. When pressed on how his positions, particularly on human life, matched up with the faith he professed, he told the New York Times that he was a faithful Catholic in tradition of Pius XXIII. It would be fair to say he did not have a copy of Gaudium et Spes on his bookshelf. A high point or low point for me was when the President and Karl Rove shifted the date of the G8 Summit so that he could have a picture with the Holy Father. They moved the whole meeting for that moment. I don’t know what was in your newspaper, but what was in my newspaper was a picture of the Holy Father shaking his finger at the President talking about Iraq and the Middle East.
A lot of the dialogue was poisoned by partisanship and distorted by ideology. It was more about winning an election than finding a way to live our faith in a democracy. The “least of these” were missing, as I said earlier--nowhere to be found. And the definition of moral values which I celebrate was selective. The President talked constantly about the “culture of life,” and that’s all he said, and “traditional marriage,” and that’s all he said. John Kerry skipped over those and any concern for the poor or health care.
Our message of human life and dignity is politically incorrect right now. It is counter-cultural. I saw the list of the top ten priorities for the Senate Democrats: Number one was a larger military. Number ten was mandated contraceptive coverage. The only reference to the poor was the minimum wage. Where are the poor? I listened to the administration’s priorities in the President’s acceptance speech, inaugural address and State of the Union. There were vague references to life, to family, but any passion around the compassionate conservative agenda appears to have gone. The priorities are elsewhere. The president is barnstorming the country for private accounts, and to make the case that the war was right and for freedom. The bully pulpit is missing on things that are important to us.
Rhetoric and Reality
Beware the rhetoric which masks the realities. Amos is very popular in Washington these days, people are getting to know Isaiah, but they often mask the same policies. New words on life from Democrats have to be matched by different actions. Ownership society may mean we are all on are own, if we’re not careful. So it’s not just the rhetoric. The case for us is the faith-based initiative. We support that, in principle. It is a good thing to invite and support people of faith to fight poverty in partnership with the federal government and other entities of government. We’ve been doing it forever; it didn’t take a faith-based initiative to remind us our obligations. But in toughest parts of our cities and country, there are not many allies and most of the time all that’s there is little churches, some of our schools. So it was a good thing to try to bring down the walls between faith and service.
Something strange happened last week in Washington, somebody told the truth. David Quo, who was the Deputy Director of the Faith-based Initiative, said that it was done in by the hostility of Democrats to faith and the indifference of Republicans to the poor. That’s harsh, but we worked on the CARE Act and saw that the Democrats held it up because they could not use it as a vehicle to get at the faith dimensions, and the Republicans had no enthusiasm because it would spend money for the poor. I want to be clear. I think the Faith-based Initiative has been blessed by good leaders. John DiIulio, who is a member of our Domestic Policy Committee, David Quo, who left, and Jim Towey, who leads this effort and has spoken at this meeting. Jim Towey is a man of great integrity and has a passion for the poor. It is a good thing that he is in the administration, but the faith-based initiative isn’t the priority and it certainly doesn’t have the resources, and it tells us something about both parties.
Human Life AND Dignity
As we go to the Hill, as we continue the work of Faithful Citizenship, we have to be clear about the foundational principle of Catholic Social Teaching: Human life and dignity. Every word is important. Human life comes first. Without life nothing else is possible. And--somebody said the most important word in Catholic moral theology is “and”--and dignity. Without dignity, life is not truly human. We don’t split those words, John Paul II doesn’t split those words, our bishops and our faith don’t split those words … life and dignity.
There are two temptations. One temptation is for some people to make no ethical distinctions, set no moral priorities. They treat Faithful Citizenship as a score card. That’s not our tradition. A million abortions a year are not the same thing as reduction in WIC. Another danger is to dismiss, to ignore other central parts of our faith, which require prudential judgments: issues of life and death, family, care for creation, economic justice. The fact that we can debate how best to serve “the least of these,” how best to pursue peace and justice, doesn’t mean that any Catholic, any believer can set those concerns aside.
There was some talk this year about non-negotiables. That’s not our language. It’s more about politics than morality, more about ideology than theology. It is clear that the fundamental issues of life and family are not negotiable for us. We’re not going to compromise our principles on that. But it is also clear that no Catholic can ignore the biblical call and moral obligation to stand up for “the least of these,” to hunger and thirst for justice, to pursue peace, to care for creation, to defend workers. We can debate how best to act on these obligations, but if we are going to talk about non-negotiables, they’re non-negotiable, too. They are a part of who we are. That is not to argue for some easy equivalence. A Catholic moral framework that does not start with life and dignity, does not emphasize care for the weak and the Gospel call to peacemaking, is neither complete nor fully Catholic. We have to be clear: this challenges us, this challenges the Left, this challenges the Right.
Consistent Life Ethic
Let me say something about the “consistent ethic of life.” It’s not a tactic. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a way out for politicians. It’s not a scorecard. It’s an expression of who we are and what we believe. It has been clearly taught. Some people like to dismiss it: “Oh that was just Cardinal Bernardin.” No, this is John Paul II. This is the Catholic bishops of the United States. This is the Gospel of Life. This is our faith. It does not make all issues equal, but applies Catholic teaching on human life and dignity to the major threats to the human person. I for one don’t think the seamless garment metaphor works. It’s not seamless and it does not offer one garment. These are different matters with different rationale, different claims, but they have the same core, the same root, the same call: the life and dignity of the human person. The defense of life involves differing moral claims and ethical principles, but it calls us to preach the Gospel of Life and promote a culture of life from conception to natural death. “The Culture of Life” is not a political slogan. It is a way of thinking and acting. It begins with the unborn. You can’t jump over that, you can’t ignore that. But it doesn’t end there. I think Catholic progressives should be measured by how we stand up for human life, how consistently, how courageously, how persistently. And Catholic conservatives should be measured by how often, how consistently, how persistently, how courageously we stand up for human dignity. The consistent life ethic doesn’t give anyone a free pass. It challenges all of us.
Let me talk a little bit about polarization in public life and how I am afraid it’s finding its way into ecclesial life. Some of what went on was absolutely sincere and well motivated. I said I was impressed and encouraged by how people struggled to reconcile their faith with their choices. A lot of people felt homeless, but a lot of people are trying to build a home politically. But there were other parts of this that seemed more about ideology than theology, less about faith than politics. I think the politics of division can seep into our Church where some try to divide bishops from one another, bishops from their institutions. We hear about good bishops and bad bishops, faithful and unfaithful leaders—you’ve read it.
A journalist called me two days after the election and screamed at me that the bishops had elected Bush and it was on us for all that was going to happen to the poor. We had quite a debate about which was the institution with more problems: the Democratic Party or the Roman Catholic Church. And then I suggested that journalism seem to have a lot of problems, too. But this was personal for him as well.
Just Monday night in Frankfurt, Kentucky, I gave a talk for people going to the Hill to lobby on stem cells, on housing, on the budget. And I do what I do and do what you do, and as I was leaving they were still working and a young woman came out who had just been hired to do the Pro-Life work for the State Catholic Conference and she said, “Thank you.” I was glad it was over and nobody had asked really hard questions. And she said, “I felt at home tonight. I’m for justice and I’m for life, and half the time I don’t feel at home. What you shared made me feel at home, made me feel like a Catholic.”
We’re in this together. We have to be very careful how we do this; and we have to be very clear we are in this together. This meeting, Donna Hansen, who we honored the other night—“the queen of collaboration.” When I took this job about a century ago, she said, “Why can’t you do more together? Why is there this meeting and that meeting, this agenda and that agenda?” Well, we took her advice. We have fourteen groups working together, planning together. But we need to build on our gathering and extend our reach. We need to resist polarization and make sure we’re not contributing to the polarization. We have to be clear that we’re not a faction; we’re not an interest group. We have to be clear that we serve the Church. I heard that some people think this is a matter of structure. I don’t agree. When I worked in Washington, all the ministries were together and we did a legislative network that did everything. I think that’s the way to go. But bureaucracy is no excuse for a lack of unity. We can divide up the work but we cannot divide up the Church. We can not have the pro-lifers over there and us over here, African American and Hispanics feeling isolated from both. We have to find ways to come together, to build bridges, to reach out, to remind ourselves we’re one family of faith with one mission.
There is a paradox as we look ahead. There are two approaches in my experience—this is true of pastors, bishops, and bureaucrats like me. Sometimes we think the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching is so right, that all we need to do is share it, and be persistent and be persuasive. Then there are times when I think I and others are convinced that our values are so under fire, so vulnerable, that our faith and teaching need to be protected. This is a time for confidence. This is a time to take what’s in “the Church in the Modern World” and share it because people are hungry for this message.
I always get nervous when people talk about humility, especially people like me. I have been accused of a lot things but I’ve never been accused of being humble. But this is a time to look at ourselves. I’ve done a lot of work in Northern Ireland and I’m just back from the Middle East, and I find people are very eloquent about what somebody else ought to do. Sinn Fein says what the British government ought to do, and the British government says what Catholic politicians ought to do, and the Protestants say what the Catholics ought to do. You can bring any meeting to a halt in Belfast by saying, “What are you really prepared to do?” And the Middle East is the same way; I was just there. Israelis talking about the fear of their children going to a pizza party. And Palestinians talking about decades of occupation with no future, no hope. And you say, “What are you prepared to do to build the bridges?” Everyone is very passionate, but there’s a sense of mutual besiegement a lot of the time. We have to ask ourselves in what ways our attitudes, behaviors, tactics get in the way.
There’s a great temptation, at least my temptation, to be defensive. I’ve never given a talk in my life that didn’t include abortion, and the unborn, whether it was to the National Council of Churches or a Pro-Life convening. This is not a time to be defensive. This is a time to stand up for who we are. The New York Times, on the day after the bishops’ meeting began, said there’s “a battle between the pro-life and the social justice parts of the Church.” I’m going to stand up and say that’s not true. I belong to both. If there’s a war, I’m on both sides. That’s not who we are. That’s not how I act and I hope it’s not how you act. So we can stand up and say, “That’s a caricature. That’s not who we are.” What we ought to ask is, “Why do people sometimes doubt us? Why are we not clear?” And we can challenge them as well, and remind ourselves that we belong to one community, one people of God.
We have many issues and one message as we go to the Hill: the moral measure of our society is how we treat the weak and vulnerable, the poor and powerless. And guess what—you’re mostly on your own up there. Bread for the World, Oxfam, some other allies—but for the most part, that’s a very lonely message. In many focus groups, whether it’s NASCAR dads or soccer moms—it’s not about “the least of these.” And we have to ask, “Who bears the burdens? Who’s going to make the sacrifices? Who’s going to get left behind?” Whether it’s the budget or the environment, the minimum wage, housing, agriculture, civil rights, disabilities—we have to look at these issues from the “bottom up.” We have a different agenda. That’s not the way the Senate Finance Committee looks at it.
On Iraq, we have to resist the temptation to say, “I told you so.” That’s not very helpful. We have to help our country find what our Committee calls “a responsible transition”—a transition because the occupation is now at the center of the problem, and a responsible transition because having done what we’ve done, we cannot leave that poor place in shambles. We have to work on human rights—the treatment of prisoners, but also the treatment of Christians. Imagine if we were in Baghdad this morning, a beleaguered Christian community. We have to stand with them.
The Way Forward
The challenge of communications. What’s the line—“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” How many times I’ve been on the road and someone stands up and says, “How come we never hear about abortion from the pulpit?” That’s not my experience. “Why won’t the bishops say anything about Iraq?” Which of the six statements would you like? “Where’s the witness for the poor? What about the environment? What about family?” We don’t lack the words. We lack the capacity to be heard effectively, and we have to get better. Sometimes I think we end up in the worst of both worlds: where our adversaries know exactly where we are. The Bush administration knows where we were on Iraq. The Democratic Party knows where we are on embryonic stem cell research. It’s our allies that don’t think we stand with them.
Business as usual will not do it. First of all, there are not enough of us. It’s terrific to have 500-plus in the midst of budget cuts and travel restrictions. But there aren’t enough of us. We have to reach out; we have to go deeper; we have to go broader. We have to make clear this is the work of the whole Church. This is not just about statements and letters and action alerts. This is about relationships, and Faithful Citizenship. It’s not about one Tuesday in November. It’s not about what we do the two months before the election. It’s about every day.
We have some new tools: The Compendium. The first thing about the Compendium is its title. It’s “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.” We have had a real debate: “Is Catholic social teaching real teaching?” That debate is over. It’s real doctrine. The Compendium is a remarkable achievement. It’s an overview. It’s different in that it’s Trinitarian and Christo-centric; it’s not just what they said in Rerum Novarum. It’s huge—525 pages. The best thing in it is the index. It’s not cheap—use your discount. The document it most resembles is not an encyclical but Gaudium et Spes. It’s not a catechism. It’s not a history. It doesn’t offer a set of lesson plans or homily notes. It’s not an easy read. It’s not really new—that’s the most important thing to say about it. This is not a fad for this year to be replaced by something new next year.
We are working together with CCHD, CRS, and MRS, Preaching the Just Word, and the Committees on Priestly Life and on Priestly Formation, and the Committee on Vocations to offer together training and workshops for priests. It’s unprecedented. We’re actually working together. It offers a variety of formats: one day, two days, three days, a week.
Dan will promise you that the toolbox based on “Communities of Salt and Light” (it still may be the best thing that we’ve done) will be available before the end of summer. Unless we take the message of Communities of Salt and Light, its strategy of integration seriously, we’re just another faction in the Church.
We have developed a number of campaigns. Theses are resources for education. They lay the groundwork for change. We can’t get to where we want to go on health care, on the death penalty, on trade, aid, and debt with just action alerts, a couple statements, a letter to the Congress. We have to prepare the ground. We have to work together. We have to find out how to use communications that don’t involve 500 page books. These campaigns are not mandates. I don’t think anybody here is going to do six campaigns. They’re not programs. This is not a cookie-cutter how-to manual. This is not our whole agenda. There are lots of issues for which we don’t have a campaign. We’ve been working on the environment in an affirmative way for a long time with the help of our inter-faith colleagues. We don’t need a new campaign for that. It’s not one-size-fits-all. And we’re under no illusions. I came from a diocese and I told staff when I got here, “No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘How can I help the USCCB do its job today?’” There’s some question whether even the people at the USCCB wake up thinking that.
There are two campaigns that are led by others. The Pro-Life Office is working on a campaign around judicial nominees. We do not take positions on nominees, but we ought to be clear that when they talk about “no extremists on the Court,” what they mean by extremists is you and me. If you have any reservations on Roe v. Wade, that’s out of their mainstream. We’re trying to defend the rights of half the country to be considered fit for service in public life.
The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform led by our colleagues in MRS is about who we are and who we’re becoming. It simply is an attempt to get our nation to recognize the reality, the contributions, and the dignity of so many immigrants in our midst. We are trying to take advantage of the President’s openness on this. He’s taken huge hits from his own party. This is now an uphill battle. This campaign begins with damage control.
Trade, aid, and debt: our Campaign Against Global Poverty. This is what we’ve been about for a long time. It was remarkable to see the response to the tsunami. We have to explain very carefully that there is a slow motion tsunami that leaves millions drowning in debt, disease, deprivation, and lack of development. We have to look at these issues from the bottom-up, because there are a lot of people looking out just for their own interests. We have to understand that globalization is not the source of all the problems or the solution to all the problems. This campaign is going to support and challenge the administration on HIV/AIDS. They’ve done more than their predecessors on foreign aid, but they have to meet their commitments. This campaign is going to provide resources so we can educate and motivate and encourage, not just three days before a vote, which is too late, but throughout the year.
Health care, where we partner with CHA and Catholic Charities. We have to make clear that it’s morally wrong that 45 million people lack health care in this country. And we have to make clear that health care is not just a product or a privilege. And we have to make clear that we can do better. The health care campaign is going to start out with damage control, trying to keep Medicaid from being savaged or undermined, and then lay the groundwork for a real debate about how we cover a nation. A great irony for me is the new $700 billion program for seniors to have drugs. I have a feeling that all old people are going to have access to Viagra and Cialis, and families--45 million people--are not going to have basic health care.
The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. This is one where we’re joining you. The work has always been at the state. What we’re trying to do is persuade this country not to use the death penalty. We want to do that through legislation, we want to do it through prosecutors not calling for it, jurors not voting for it, and governors not using it. There are new opportunities, there’s new openness here, and you’ll hear more about that from John Zogby tomorrow. It’s not just what the death penalty does to the person executed, it’s what it does to the rest of us. We can’t teach that killing is wrong by killing.
The Middle East is the saddest place on Earth. What we are doing is working with religious leaders in the Muslim and, especially, the Jewish community—not the political leaders—to find common ground and new common commitment to pursue peace in concrete terms. This is a national effort and it’s a local effort in many cities around the country, and many of you are involved. At the opening press conference, I remember a Jewish rabbi saying, “We all know how this is going to end: two states, a divided Jerusalem, settlements pulled back.” He said, “The only question is when? How many Israelis and Palestinians will die before that happens?” A Muslim leader said, “A century of suicide bombers will not drive Israel into the sea and a century of occupation will not dry up the supply of suicide bombers.”
Human Life AND Dignity
In all these efforts we must be “political but not partisan.” There is a temptation these days to become partisan advisors. Some of the people close to the White House from the Catholic community seem more interested in helping the Bush administration reach Catholics than Catholics reach the Bush administration. Some of the people advising the Democrats on their religious conversion seem more about helping them find the right words than the right policies.
We are about human life and dignity. This is the cause of our lifetime, not one election, or one Congress. When my family was in Rome, we had the chance to see the Holy Father, to touch his hand, to be blessed by him, and to hear him. And he looked just awful, until midnight Mass, where, for the first time in months he said the whole Mass. He said it sitting down, which I think violates a lot of rubrics—but I think he’s in charge of the rubrics. It brought back memories of who this man is and has been. We knew him as a young Polish leader, standing up for Solidarity, standing up to dictators, standing against Apartheid, standing at the Wailing Wall, in St. Louis standing against the death penalty, on the Mall standing against abortion. He’s a model for us.
In 1963, I was 13 years old, at the time of Gaudium et Spes. I cared a lot more about the Beatles than I cared about some Vatican document. But I did care about John XXIII, and John F. Kennedy. John XXIII’s vision of renewal and John Kennedy’s call to service changed my life. Gaudium et Spes is the work I do, the work you do. Thirty years later for me, maybe 30 days for some of you, and for others 50 years, this is the work of our lives. This is our vocation. I always tell this story about a family reunion. It was late in the evening. My brother and I were talking and I was complaining: the bishops weren’t as good as I thought they should be. My kids weren’t as great as they should have been. The Congress was terrible. The White House was unresponsive. I expected some sympathy, and my brother said, “Stop whining.” Not much sympathy there. He said, “Count your blessings. I work 50 hours a week to have the chance to do what you do on the weekend. Seize your opportunities and do the best job you can, because it’s really important.”
I’ve heard remarkably little whining these last couple days. But it’s worth reminding us that we have wonderful opportunities, we have great responsibility, and we ought to do the best job we can, because it’s really important.
Let’s return to our task. As Paul wrote to Timothy:
“Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. … As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Thank you very much.