The Catholic Church and Public Morality (Some brief Reflections)

The Catholic Church and Public Morality
(Some brief Reflections)

“The usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range. These require that the freedom of the human person be respected as far as possible and curtailed only when and insofar as necessary.” (Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Freedom, paragraph 7.)

“The morality proper to the life and action of society and the state is not univocally the morality of personal life, or even of familial life. Therefore the effort to bring the organized action of politics and the practical art of statecraft directly under the control of the Christian values that govern personal and familial life is inherently fallacious. It makes wreckage not only of public policy but also of morality itself. (John Courtney Murray, S.J., We Hold These Truths, page 286)


The continuing “debate” between the USCCB and the Obama administration raises once again some old questions. When should the state interfere with religious freedom or any personal freedom? The immediate answer has always been: When the public order calls for it. But what then is the public order?

According to the Catholic understanding expressed in Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, the public order involves a three-fold reality of justice, public peace, and public morality (not just private morality). So, for example, while in the United States we greatly respect religious freedom we also restrict religious freedom by prohibiting human sacrifice in religious observances (justice). We also prohibit churches from ringing loud bells for a long time early in the morning (public peace). And of course (as Mr. Romney would apparently also agree) we prohibit Mormons from practicing polygamy (public morality).

The Catholic (Vatican II) understanding therefore can easily justify the legalization of gay and lesbian unions even if one accepts the official hierarchical teaching on homosexual relations. One begins with the freedom of homosexuals to live together. Today in fact most people in our society agree that permanent gay and lesbian unions are much better for society than promiscuous relationships. The state can support such permanent unions by granting rights such as health insurance and Social Security benefits. As a matter of fact, the legalization of permanent gay unions does not necessarily go against the importance of the family as a basic unit of society.

The Catholic Church therefore, for example, cannot call for laws to stop the sale of artificial contraceptives or to close sperm banks.

Yes….Catholic bishops have the right to hold the position that same-sex genital behavior, artificial contraception, and masturbation are all “intrinsically evil.”

Catholic teaching would insist, however, that when it comes to public morality in the United States (or anywhere) there is no moral obligation to prohibit an act simply because Catholic hierarchical authority considers it immoral.

Rather, there is a moral obligation to prohibit an act only if:

1) The act poses a real and serious threat to society, or
2) Prohibition of the act doesn’t result in greater harm to society

Now I must get into a proper Ash Wednesday frame of mind……..Another good Catholic practice!


USCCB Memory Problems : How Could They Forget Cardinal Cushing

When the Massachusetts legislature voted in 1966 to end the last all-out ban on contraceptives in the United States, it was with the approval and assistance of the Boston Archdiocese

On February 15, 1963, Boston’s Cardinal Richard James Cushing (1895–1970) was the guest on “Conversation Piece,” an afternoon talk show on local radio station WEEI….Cushing addressed public concerns about the role of the Catholic Church in politics.

As President Kennedy himself had done, Cushing offered the assurance that Catholics did not believe religious viewpoints should control political decision making in the democratic arena.

The leader of 1.8 million Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese, Cushing told the radio audience that he had no desire to impose the Church’s moral judgments, by using his considerable influence over Massachusetts legislation, on people of other faiths.

This memory refresher comes from Seth Meehan a Ph.D. student in history at Boston College. His article titled “From Patriotism to Pluralism: How Catholics Initiated the Repeal of Birth Control Restrictions in Massachusetts,” apeared in the Catholic Historical Review in July 2010. His article earned Meehan the Peter Guilday Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association


Bishop-Speak: Same-Sex Marriage and Sexual Exploitation

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 7th that a 2008 California referendum banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The appeals court, upholding an earlier district court decision, ruled that the voter-approved ban, known as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. For now, same-sex couples who desire to marry in California may still not be able to do so, since the decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joins the bishops of California in denouncing the February 7th decision: “Today’s court ruling is a grave injustice, ignoring the reality that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Dolan said.

Meanwhile, the new Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., has endorsed the legislative campaign now underway to legalize same sex marriage in Maryland. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, wrote on the Washington Post website that gay marriage opponents should not be so certain the Bible is on their side. According to her the Bible is silent on the subject of same-gender monogamous relationships; but clearly condemns exploitative sexual activity that is the antithesis of loving, committed relationships.

I would like to hear ALL bishops speaking out about “exploitative sexual activity that is the antithesis of loving, committed relationships.”

The President of the USCCB has every right to express his position about same-sex marriage. Increasingly, however, American Catholics don’t agree with him.

According to the latest report from the Pew Research Center, American Catholic supporters for same-sex marriage now outnumber opponents (52% vs. 37%). In 2010, U.S. Catholics were more evenly divided on the issue, with 46% favoring same-sex marriage and 42% expressing opposition. A majority of white Catholics (57%) now express support for same-sex marriage, while Hispanic Catholics continue to be closely divided (42% favor same-sex marriage, 42% are opposed).

AND thinking about “exploitative sexual activity that is the antithesis of loving, committed relationships,” Soon-to-be Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s predecessor in New York, retired Cardinal Edward Egan has taken back his earlier apology for clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of New York.

In March 2002, Cardinal Egan, then Archbishop of New York, issued a pastoral letter to be read at all week end liturgies. In it, he offered an apology about the church’s handling of sex-abuse cases in New York and in Bridgeport, Conn., where he was previously bishop.

Back then…..Egan wrote: “It is clear that today we have a much better understanding of this problem….If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

Now, 10 years later and in retirement, Cardinal Egan has taken back his apology.

In the February 2012 issue of Connecticut Magazine, Egan says: “I never should have said that….I don’t think we did anything wrong.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to put Cardinal Edward, Bishop Mariann, and Cardinal DesignateTimothy in a locked room for a week: a special episcopal retreat.


Clarity, Consience and Catholic Confusion

(My Final Observations About Games Some Bishops Play) Clarity from the White House: Health Reform, Preventive Services, and Religious Institutions Cecilia Muñoz February 01, 2012 Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover women’s preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August, 2012. This new law […]


As reported by Aanda Terkel in the Huffington Post, President Obama’s pro-choice birth control decision has drawn enthusiatic praise from Amercan other-than-USCCB religious leaders.

On Monday, 30 January, religious leaders from the Jewish, Unitarian, Baptist and other faiths addressed a letter to Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. All are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which includes more than 40 denominations.

They did not condemn but thanked President Obama: “We believe that all women deserve access to affordable birth control, regardless of their employer, and we hope that, in the future, HHS will expand the same preventive coverage to women across the board.”

The letter continued…..”As clergy, we are committed to upholding the important goals of reproductive justice and health, empowering women and men to make decisions about whether and when to have and bear children within their own moral and religious tradition, and assuring them the means and ability to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment. Access to reproductive health services recognizes a moral value embraced across the religious spectrum. We thank you for your decision supporting the fundamental value of reproductive health to women and families.”

Rev. Matthew Westfox said the letter was intended to thank the Obama administration for its decision, and to provide an alternative religious voice, since so much attention had been put on opposition to the rule by some Roman Catholic leaders.

“What a lot of the press has been reporting is that all religious groups are opposed to this — which is just categorically untrue,” Westfox said.

Westfox continued…..”We really wanted to make clear that on behalf of ourselves and thousands of people of faith and clergy and religious organizations across the country, that we stood in support of this decision. We think it’s really important to know that many people of faith are supportive of this and have been supportive of access to birth control and individual people being able to access their conscience in support of health care.”

As pointed out here a few days ago, the loudest voice opposing the Obama administration’s decision has been the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.