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OCTOBER 4, 2004

 

 

 

Realigning Catholic priorities: Bioethics and the common good

U.S. bishops issue a Catholic call to political responsibility

Catholic Charities weigh in on Prop. 63, 68 and 70

Tips on praying with children: Parents offer advice

COMMENTARY

 

Realigning Catholic priorities:
Bioethics and the common good

By Lisa Sowle Cahill

If asked to name the most prominent item on the Catholic bioethics agenda, most people in the United States, including Catholics themselves, would no doubt name abortion, closely followed by biomedical uses of embryos, such as stem cell research and cloning.

Everyone knows that the Catholic Church prohibits all of the above because of the sanctity of life from conception, and everyone expects Catholic voters and Catholic public figures to respect and follow the church’s leadership on these issues.

For instance, in its 1987 instruction on reproductive technologies, “Donum Vitae,” the Vatican invoked the “inviolability of the person” to assert that embryos have a right to life from conception. During a visit to the Vatican in July 2001, President George W. Bush was exhorted by Pope John Paul II to resist “proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process.”

Litmus test issues
In the spring of 2004, the U.S. Catholic leadership debated whether to forbid Catholics from supporting candidates who did not conform to what the press called the litmus test issues of abortion and stem cell research. Some even proposed the excommunication of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, who had voted against a bill making it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on its mother.

Catholics and others are rightly concerned about the prevalence of ill-considered, immature or desperate abortion choices, especially when these reflect a lack of other alternatives and support for pregnant women and girls.

We should also be concerned about the treatment of early life simply as research material, especially when prospects of patents and profits drive advocacy for increasingly permissive policies and more ample funding.

But protection of prenatal life is only one part of Catholic bioethics. Catholics also have a responsibility to stress the importance of a more just distribution of health care resources because they are essential to the common good, nationally and worldwide.

Pope John Paul II’s warnings to President Bush about stem cell research were widely reported in the U.S. media. How many people, however, read or recall the papal words that preceded the remarks on the right to life?

Respect for human dignity
The pope exhorted Mr. Bush to a greater sense of responsibility for the effects of globalization, deploring a tragic fault line between those who benefit from new opportunities and those who are cut off from them: “Respect for human dignity and belief in the equal dignity of all the members of the human family demand policies aimed at enabling all peoples to have access to the means required to improve their lives....”

This certainly includes basic health care—as well as food, shelter, clean water and safety from violence, all of which are essential constituents of human health.

The previous year, the pope had addressed a meeting of Catholic doctors in Rome, where he made this connection even more explicit: “As we enter the third millennium, men and women, especially in the poorest countries, are unfortunately still deprived of access to health services and the essential medicines for their treatment. Many of our brothers and sisters die each day of malaria, leprosy and AIDS, sometimes in the midst of the general indifference of those who could or should offer them support.”

Condition of children
In his 2004 Lenten message, John Paul II focused on the condition of children worldwide. Mentioning the suffering caused by war, lack of food and water, forced immigration and “other forms of injustice,” he asked, “What, too, of the tragedy of AIDS and its devastating consequences in Africa? It is said that millions of persons are now afflicted by this scourge, many of whom were infected from birth. Humanity cannot close its eyes in the face of so appalling a tragedy!”

At an accompanying press conference, Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Vatican’s charitable organization Cor Unum, elaborated on the pope’s words. He accused international pharmaceutical companies of allowing millions of poor children to die by denying them life-saving drugs in order to protect patent rights. “There should be public pressure to convince drug companies to lower the prices of drugs to treat the victims of AIDS,” he said.

In coordination with the Lenten message, the Vatican issued a special postage stamp, the proceeds from which will go to support a clinic and orphanage for children with AIDS, in Nairobi, Kenya.

The director of the orphanage, Angelo D’Agostino, S.J., said that although 400 people die of AIDS every day in Kenya alone, it is no longer an immediately fatal disease in Europe and North America. “Why the difference?” he asked. “It is the genocidal action of the pharmaceutical cartels, who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a $517 billion profit in 2003.”

Global Fund
Have any bishops considered denying Communion to Catholic C.E.O.’s and boards of drug corporations, or to government officials who advocate for tighter patent protections, or who obstruct larger U.S. donations to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria?
This fund was established in 2001 with the support of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the participation of the World Health Organization. Its aim is to solicit, receive and distribute public and private donations to ameliorate the global disease burden of the poor, and especially to facilitate the purchase by poor countries of lower-cost generic medicines instead of expensive brand-name ones.

The fund needs a minimum of $3 billion a year. The United States, with a national income of $10,000 billion, has refused to commit more than $200 million a year, because the fund is a multilateral agency over which the United States does not have control.

According to the W.H.O.’s “World Health Report 2003,” H.I.V./AIDS has cut life expectancy by as much as 20 years for millions in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 5 percent of those who require antiretroviral treatment receive it.

In developing countries, communicable diseases still represent seven out of the ten major causes of child deaths. In Africa, malaria is the number one killer of children under five.

The leading causes of death for adults, besides AIDS, are respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria. Some 500 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are infected by malaria each year, which causes more than 1.2 million deaths. The risk of dying in childbirth is 250 times greater for women in poor countries than in rich ones, amounting to more than 500,000 maternal deaths a year.

Global common good
There is no doubt that these statistics should cause as much concern to Catholics as abortion rates, methods of researching stem cell potential in this country and keeping comatose persons alive indefinitely.

The global common good, including participation in the good of health care, is an indispensable moral criterion for evaluating policies and politics, as well as for our personal investments of votes, dollars and time.

A first defining characteristic of the tradition of Catholic social teaching, then, is that it provides a moral framework to balance individual needs and rights with the solidarity of all in the common good, difficult though this may be to accomplish in the concrete.

A second characteristic, equally important, is that Catholic social tradition is activist, interventionist and hopeful. Countercultural separatism, despairing of the power of religious commitment and moral values to right social wrongs, is not the Catholic way.

The very raison d’etre of the modern papal social encyclicals is to make a difference in the real world. In the words of Pope Leo XIII, author of the first of these encyclicals, “all agree, and there can be no question whatever, that some remedy must be found, and quickly found, for the misery and wretchedness which press so heavily at this moment on the large majority of the very poor” (“Rerum Novarum,” 1891, No. 2).

There is surely reason to observe, well over a century later, that the amelioration of world poverty has not been as quick as Pope Leo may have hoped.

Yet there is also evidence that emerging international practices of democracy, human rights, women’s rights, basic education, vaccines and antibiotics—and even communications technologies and other aspects of globalization—have helped relieve the plight of the poorest of the poor.

Moral and political realism
The real enemy of Catholic bioethics and social ethics is not internal Catholic dissent, religious pluralism among cultures or modern secularism as such. It is, rather, the stance of what might be called moral and political realism.

Political realism is the view that world affairs are governed primarily by self-interest, that the interests of the powerful always result in the domination of the weak, and that nothing can be done to change this situation on any significant scale.

To the contrary, Catholic bioethics must attack health care inequities at home and abroad with energy and confidence, always concerned about individual rights and the dignity of persons, but equally conscious that the common good requires more equitable sharing of benefits. But is this in fact a realistic goal? And how can it be achieved?

The practical optimism of Catholic bioethics requires appreciation of a third characteristic: on-the-ground embodiment of the Catholic vision through a multitude of national, international and transnational institutions.

Catholic health care providers
Catholic bioethics has always had a strong institutional presence in civil society through the church’s care ministries. In the United States alone, the Catholic Church operates almost 15 percent of community hospitals, and hundreds of clinics and nursing homes are run under Catholic auspices. The historic mission of Catholic health care providers has been to the poor and underserved, even when it threatens their own financial viability.

More than simply a provider of charity care, however, Catholic health care often partners with non-Catholic medical facilities and local and federal operations and agencies to enhance access for the underserved. Catholic health care providers also seek out ways to bring about state and federal policy changes, mobilizing broad-based social action.

The Catholic Health Association, for example, an independent professional organization for health care systems and facilities, sponsors a Web site with an “eAdvocacy” option for concerted grass-roots action on issues like proposed Medicaid cuts.

Catholic bioethics
Catholic bioethics also has an international and transnational presence through institutions like Catholic Charities, Caritas International, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (commonly known as Cafod), the Jesuit African AIDS Network and the All-Africa Conference: Sister-to-Sister.

The latter is a new collaborative project between the Sisters of Mercy and African women’s religious congregations, aimed at developing responses to the AIDS crisis as it affects women.

Men’s and women’s religious orders also provide health care through clinics in the so-called two-thirds world—the two-thirds of the world’s population that does not enjoy most of the benefits of the globalized market economy.

Educate on behalf of health justice
The international Catholic university system provides another network through which to educate and engage on behalf of health justice.

The universality of Catholicism is usually envisioned institutionally, as the ecclesial structures linking local bishops and their dioceses to the pontiff in Rome. Not only the pope, but also local bishops’ conferences can be influential voices.

For instance, the U.S. bishops issued an important statement on universal health coverage in 1993 (“A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform”), and the African bishops produced a position paper in 2003 on AIDS.

Dioceses and parishes sponsor programs through which members can invest time and resources that reflect their commitments in such areas.

Yet beyond the formal ecclesial structure, other flexible and overlapping institutions are just as essential in constituting Catholicism as a global presence and in making possible what it can accomplish.

Catholics in Boston, San Antonio, Omaha or San Diego may feel too distant from people dying of malaria to make a difference. Lamentably, we may even feel that uninsured immigrants in our own hometowns live outside the world our actions touch. Catholic bioethics as social ethics makes the connection clear.

The humanity of such persons calls us to recognize their dignity. The concept of the common good alerts us to the structural changes required to make that dignity meaningful. Confident hope that change is possible inspires us to action. Catholic links among local and global realities provide vital institutional means to bring our ideals to reality.

(Lisa Sowle Cahill is a professor of theology at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Reprinted with permission of The America Press, Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. For subscription information visit www.americamagazine.org.)


U.S. bishops issue a Catholic call
to political responsibility

Below is a summary of the statement, “The Challenge of Faithful Citizenship” by the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Elections are a time for debate and decisions. Our nation has been attacked and has gone to war. We have moved from sharing budget surpluses to allocating the burdens of deficits. Our world faces fundamental questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left behind. Our community of faith is working to heal wounds and rebuild trust, but we cannot abandon the duty to act on our faith in political life.

Politics should be about an old idea with new power—the common good. The questions should not be, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It should be, “How can ‘we’—all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable—be better off in the years ahead?”

In this election year, we ask who has a place at the table of life in our nation and around the world. Where is the place at the table for children destroyed before they are born; for the hungry and those who lack health care; for families who need decent work, wages, education, and hope for the future? How can the poor and vulnerable have a real place at the table where policies and priorities are set?

For Catholics, a special table—an altar—is where we find the direction to use our voices and votes to defend life, advance justice, pursue peace, and find a place at the table for all God’s children.

We need a new kind of politics—focused on moral principles, not on polls; on the needs of the vulnerable, not the contributions of the powerful; and on the pursuit of the common good, not the demands of special interests. Some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity.

However, this is no time for retreat or discouragement. We need more, not less engagement in political life.

A call to faithful citizenship
In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Believers are called to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process. Even those who are not citizens are called to participate.

Catholics who seek political office have a particular responsibility to bring together their faith, moral convictions, and public responsibilities. This is about more than one election. It requires ongoing participation in the political process.

The Constitution protects our right to speak without governmental favoritism or discrimination. Our nation is enriched, not threatened, when religious groups join public debate. A Catholic moral framework is often not “politically correct;” it does not fit the rigid ideologies of “right” or “left,” or the platform of any party.

Believers are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society, testing every candidate and party for how they affect human life and dignity, and how they pursue justice and peace.

The role of the Church
The Church is called to share our social teaching, to highlight the moral dimensions of issues, to participate in debate on public policy, and to witness to the Gospel.

Our community of faith brings several assets to these challenges: A consistent moral framework anchored in the Scriptures and expressed in the teaching of the Church; everyday experience in educating the young, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, welcoming refugees, and speaking for those who have no voice; and a large and diverse community—Republican, Democrat, and Independent—all called to provide a moral leaven for our democracy and to be the “salt of the earth.”

We urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or self-interest.

As bishops, we do not wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We hope that voters will examine candidates on the full range of issues and on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. A consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework to address issues in the political arena.

For Catholics, the defense of human life and dignity is not a narrow cause, but a way of life. A recent Vatican statement reminds us that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit voting for a political program or law that contradicts fundamental principles of our faith.
It also reminds us that we should not isolate a particular element of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust our responsibility towards the common good.

Moral priorities for public life
Many political issues have important moral dimensions that must be considered. Over the years, we have issued statements applying Catholic social teaching to the public concerns of our day.

In Faithful Citizenship, we offer a brief summary of our positions on issues. “Protecting Human Life” begins with our oppositions to abortion and euthanasia, which are pre-eminent threats to human life and dignity, and extends to our oppositions to cloning, assisted suicide, and the death penalty, and our efforts to promote peace. “Promoting Family Life” focuses on promotion of marriage, parental choice in education, responsible communications, and moral and economic supports for families. “Pursuing Social Justice” requires working for a more just economic life with decent jobs and just wages, providing adequate assistance to poor families, overcoming a culture of violence, combating discrimination, and defending the right to quality health care, housing, and food.

“Practicing Global Solidarity” addresses overcoming hunger and global poverty, reducing debt and promoting development, responding to the needs of immigrants and refugees, pursuing peace, and working to reduce regional conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world.

This brief description only begins to explain how Catholic teaching has been applied to these issues. We hope Catholics and others will read our complete statement on Faithful Citizenship, as well as other documents that address key issues for the campaign and for the years to come.

Conclusion
The dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States at this time. We urge Catholics to register, vote, and become more involved in public life, to protect human life and dignity and to advance the common good. Faithful citizenship challenges us to seek a place at the table of life for all God’s children in the elections of 2004 and beyond.

Copyright „ 2004, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.

The full text of this document is available at www.uscb.org/faithfulcitizenship. Other resources on faithful citizenship are available at www.oakdiocese.orgunder social justice.


 

Catholic Charities weigh in on
Prop. 63, 68 and 70

By Rick Mockler

While many of us seem to have made up our minds long ago about the presidential race, we’re now beginning to consider the many State initiatives on the Nov. 2 ballot. I don’t relish the laundry list in the polling booth, but there are several proposals that would significantly affect the poor and vulnerable. One would expand services to the at-risk mentally ill and the other would expand gambling in California.

Proposition 63 builds on an experiment initiated five years ago by Sacramento Assemblyman Darryl Steinberg, which integrated outreach and services to the mentally ill, including medical care, short and long-term housing, prescription drugs, vocational training, and self-help and social rehabilitation. This approach has significantly reduced homelessness and crime in the select areas where it has been tried.

California has demonstrated that when it chooses to, it is capable of ameliorating the pain of mental illness. Prop. 63 would provide the resources to confront this epidemic statewide and to address the illness that has festered ever since the State closed down its mental hospitals 35 years ago.

Hundreds of thousand of Californians suffer from severe mental illness. Mentally ill children fail in school and the affected adults often end up on the streets or in jail. Neither Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, nor other existing providers currently have the resources necessary to adequately address these needs.

Prop. 63 would generate resources through a one percent increase on taxable incomes over $1 million, adding up to $750 million annually. This tax is a modest increase compared to the size of the tax breaks that the wealthy have received in recent years.

The two ballot measures raising greatest alarm for Catholic Charities are Propositions 68 and 70, which would vastly expand gambling in California.

Many of those who frequent casinos simply can’t afford to be there. Gaming businesses promote the chance to make a quick buck – disproportionately appealing to people living on the economic edge. Casinos prey on the poorest segments of our society. Those of us at Catholic Charities have seen this exploitation first hand.

Prop. 68 is sponsored by non-tribal gambling interests and is designed to expand non-tribal gambling. Proponents of Prop. 68 argue that it would generate approximately a billion dollars a year in new revenue for California because of the requirement that 25-30 percent of revenue go to the State.

Prop. 70 is sponsored by tribal gambling interests and it proposes to expand the number of games allowed in existing casinos and to expand tribal gambling in urban areas. It would establish 99-year gambling compacts and limit the amount of revenue that the State could collect from these facilities. Prop. 70 would likely create a financial drain on local governments.

Even Prop. 68, which would at least dedicate significant new revenue to the state, is not worth the social problems it would create. While Prop. 70 is being promoted as a way to help Indian tribes, in fact the tremendous expansion of Indian gaming so far has had only a nominal impact on most Native Americans in California. We believe that there are better ways to generate revenue or resources than to permit exploitation of the poor.

In our support for Prop. 63 and our opposition to Prop. 68 and Prop. 70, Catholic Charities joins many other California leaders, including the major associations of police chiefs and sheriffs. Our shared experience is that good mental health services advance the public order and that expanding gambling undermines it.

On these questions, as well as every other issue we face as Catholic citizens, our challenge is to consider the impact of our decisions on our brothers and sisters that are vulnerable. How do our choices affect the life, health and wholeness of those in greatest need? That is the challenge of faithful citizenship.

(Rick Mockler is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of California. He can be reached at rmockler@cacatholic.org.)


Tips on praying with children:
Parents offer advice

By Julie McCarty

October is “settling in” time. The mad dash of school beginnings is over. Children, parents, and teachers are beginning to adjust to the new routine, and the holiday crunch has not yet begun.

Autumn is a good time to inventory the prayer life of our children. Do we pray with our kids? How often? Why or why not?

Unlike soccer or scouting, prayer is more than an extracurricular activity. Just as nutritious food, sleep, and fresh air are essential for our children’s physical development, prayer is essential for growing healthy souls.

There are many ways to nurture the prayer life of children. Here are tips from three families:

Talk about God in positive ways. Granite Bay, California, resident Mary Wurster, mother of four, suggests bringing up Jesus in ordinary conversation. For example, a parent can ask a young child, “Did you know that Jesus had a mommy and daddy just like you?” Jesus, she observes, is easier for most children to comprehend than the more vague notion of God.

Start simple. A father of four children, ages 9-16, Bart Tesoriero of Phoenix, Arizona, advises parents to start simply: “Don’t try to pray a whole rosary with your children or take them to an hour of Adoration. Depending on their ages, pray simply.” Gradually build from one Hail Mary to one decade of the rosary per night.

Use the five senses. Catholics like to pray using sacramentals, that is, objects like candles, holy water, sacred images, and music. Lita Friesen of Minneapolis, mother of two young children, told me that using the “hands on” approach is especially important. Lita and her husband, Mickey, have various seasonal prayer activities for their family.

Each night during Advent, when the children are in their pajamas, they light a candle and cuddle while listening to the song “Night of Silence.” (The parents seemed a little tired of this, but not the kids!)

On Holy Thursday, they wash each other’s feet, including the dog’s paws. In the autumn, they write their hopes for the future on leaves, bury them, and plant bulbs that will appear in the spring.

Make prayer part of the daily routine. Mealtime and bedtime seem to be the best times for families to pray together. Wurster recounts that she sang a simple blessing song to her infants just before lying them down in their cribs. This made bedtime a natural time for prayer as the children grew older.

Give them “wiggle room.” Although you want to teach your children attitudes proper to prayer, it is also important to remember that they are still learning. Better to have them “hang over a couch or lie down on the floor and pray, than to kneel up straight and resist [the genuine spirit of] prayer—especially in the teen years,” suggests Tesoriero.

Allowing for wiggle room may boost the child’s creativity in prayer, too. One day, Mickey Friesen walked into a room and saw his young daughter, Chloe, dancing. When he asked her why she was dancing, she responded enthusiastically, “That’s the way I pray!”

Take advantage of “prayerful moments.” The parents I consulted encouraged spontaneous prayers in the midst of everyday living.

Wurster mentioned praying together briefly when the family hears an ambulance, or praying for a child who is scared (so he or she will realize that Jesus is with them when mom or dad can’t be). Tesoriero told of praying “over their little ‘owies’ ” each time they put on a bandaid.

Mickey Friesen said parents can comment aloud “What a beautiful day—thank you, God!” while walking a child outdoors. Include prayer in sad times, too, when you visit a grandparent’s grave, see someone hurt on TV, or discover a dead rabbit in the backyard. This helps children realize that God is with them even in hard times.

Nurture the right kind of quiet and solitude. Parents agreed that children need a bit of quiet and solitude in order to develop spiritually. This is not easy to foster in a culture that values noise and constant activity. Additionally, there is the legitimate concern that children might confuse healthy silence with the “silent treatment” or with being punished (as in “time-out”).

Parents suggested turning off the media, using candles, soft music, or quiet spiritual reading together as ways to develop pre-skills for solitude. Keeping “time-out” places in the house separate from prayer places is another way to keep the two types of silence distinct, notes Wurster.

Pray yourself. “Like the apostles who watched Jesus pray, our children learn from our example.

“Don’t pray to be noticed, but do pray,” insists Tesoriero. When your kids see you going to Mass, reading Scripture on the couch, or asking God for forgiveness, they will naturally gravitate towards praying on their own.

To read more about praying with children:
“Praying with Your Children: A Guide for Families” by Pat Fosarelli (Resource Publications, 2003, magazine-size paper edition with perforated pages, $4.95).
For more info on the book, go to www.rpinet.com.

(Julie McCarty, M.A.T., is a freelance writer from Eagan, Minnesota, whose syndicated column on prayer, “The Prayerful Heart,” appears in diocesan newspapers around the country. Contact her at soulwriting@yahoo.com.)

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