The Catholic Thing
“As a Practicing Politician” Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Saturday, 02 June 2012

Bill Ritter, the former governor of Colorado, is not happy about attempts to reform the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Its critics point to its schizophrenic tendency to fund or partner with groups that promote things (i.e. abortion, contraception, gay activism, Alinsky-inspired Marxism, etc.), which by definition undermine human development.

Channeling his inner Nancy Pelosi, Ritter sought to take CCHD’s critics to task in the Denver Post by resorting to that familiar touch of politically calculated obfuscation, if not legerdemain: “As a practicing Catholic…”                 

By that, he does not mean what in plain language it ordinarily would: a Catholic who believes what the Church teaches, and despite personal failings, keeps making efforts to understand, abide by, and love those teachings. Precisely because we are convinced the Holy Faith in its entirety is such a sublime treasure, we keep at it despite the challenges, failures, and even humiliation we may encounter in our ongoing conversion.

But Ritter meant that a Catholic who accepts aspects of the faith no one really questions – such as the command to care for the needy (though precisely how to do that is not neatly prescribed) – may for that reason feel at liberty to reject what the faith clearly requires regarding what are often dismissed as the “social issues.”

A truly practicing Catholic would not adopt the terminology (“equality for the gay community”) characteristic of attempts to legitimize “same-sex marriage,” which he does several times in the space of his short commentary. Such a Catholic might struggle to accept that teaching, or might not fully understand how “same-sex marriage” advocacy undermines the common good. 

But he would not disregard such teachings and then turn around and say it is “conservative activists who put politics and narrow ideology before the common good.” He goes on to describe the recent budget proposal prepared by practicing Catholic Paul Ryan, who dodges no essential Catholic doctrine, as “morally indefensible.” That Ryan shares with Benedict XVI a deep wariness about the State, which would seek to “absorb everything into itself,” to provide everything except “the very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving personal concern” (Deus Caritas Est), is a possibility Ritter does not entertain.

Ritter speaks forcefully about the need to put faith into action, pointing to own his formative years of service in Zambia. I certainly respect that and, like him, have been continually impressed by the committed Catholics I observed performing works of mercy in several African countries. But my guess is that if he tried to convince practicing Catholics in Zambia what he meant by “marriage equality”, they would look at him mutedly with a blank, faraway look in their eyes.

It’s a look I’ve seen many times as pushy westerners spout progressive platitudes as if they were Gospel Truth. The Africans would be too polite to look at him as if he were mad, or to embarrass him about accommodating such an obvious contortion of reality.

       Former Gov. Ritter gestures

A practicing Catholic would not strain to argue that preserving Catholic identity within the Church’s charitable institutions (which includes shunning what must be shunned) somehow threatens the common good. Doing so seems even more incongruent now, when practicing Catholics are exercised by the fact that his political allies are waging a war on religious liberty, driving Catholic charities to shut down adoption service programming, and may well end up compelling Catholic hospitals to close their doors. 

Please, tell me again how the sick and the vulnerable are helped by these grossly political moves of a hostile Leviathan? In such a context, Ritter’s depiction of CCHD’s critics as “determined to play politics with the lives of the poor” is truly Obama-esque in that it inverts, not just bends, the truth.

It can be dangerous to define too rigidly just what it means to be a practicing Catholic. We should never denigrate anyone’s struggles to meet the various demands of the faith, just as St. Francis de Sales counseled, wisely, that we should also be patient with ourselves.

I recently stumbled upon a brief sketch of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman martyred in 1900. He had been hooked on opiates for three decades, which at that time and place meant he went without the Eucharist. He prayed to break free from his addiction though he never really managed to do so. At his trial he was given the option to renounce his faith. He refused and paid with his life.

His clarity about the content of the faith, not to mention his courage in publicly defending rather than misrepresenting it, despite his own anguished imperfection, is edifying in a way that Ritter’s pervasive brand of intellectual dishonesty is not.

Practicing Catholics should certainly debate how best to serve those in need. But let’s actually care enough, as Benedict XVI reminded U. S. bishops on a recent ad limina visit, “to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering.”

Do we really believe that truth, or find ourselves practically ashamed by it? That is the question of the day. The pity is that while Ritter didn’t seem to be ashamed of his faith in Zambia, he does seem so here and now.

Here and now, as Benedict went on to highlight, we need “an engaged, articulate and well formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture” – with the courage to counter its aggressive secularism. Honestly striving to do that seems like one fitting component of what being a practicing Catholic now entails, particularly in Ritter’s line of work. 

Matthew Hanley is, with Jokin de Irala, M.D., the author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, winner of a best-book award from the Catholic Press Association. His latest report, The Catholic Church & The Global AIDS Crisis is now available from the Catholic Truth Society, publisher to the Holy See in the U.K.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, June 02, 2012
I would like some day to publicly release copies of grants approved by CCHD with groups like ACORN in concert with my diocese's assent. It would concretize the nonsense put forth by Ritter about the "good" done by CCHD. The people in the pews have been hoodwinked into thinking that they are supporting Catholic charity. CCHD is a Democrat party supporting, left-wing Catholic agency funded by the poor slob in the pew. If only the faithful knew the full truth about what's been going on for the past 40 years!
written by Bangwell Putt, June 02, 2012
"Press on," Matthew Hanley. May the Holy Spirit powerfully inspire your words and actions.

May he also inspire and direct those of us who participate in this struggle through prayerful intercession. May we assist you through greater prayer and sacrifice.
written by Frank, June 02, 2012
"the common good." Everytime I hear that phrase I cringe. More peanut butter has been made and gone rancid over that one. The common good is both an accommodation and compromise with evil which either dilutes or corrupts the core virtue and/or holiness of the original intent.
And I am as guilty as the next guy/gal. It's much easier to pull out my wallet or chequebook, make a donation then head off for my tee time than to roll up my sleeves and engage the problem.
What I have at least learned in my 50+ years as Protestant and now a very happy and committed Catholic is that Christ gave of himself. He used his divine power and authority directly to help others and of course save all of us. He invested himself and set the standard for all of us.
So I pray for all here and ask for the same, that we invest ourselves first then whatever resources we can bring to bare. That's what I think Christ is calling us to. Your thoughts?
written by Manfred, June 02, 2012
"If only the faithful knew the full truth about what's been going on for the past 40 years!" @Deacon Ed: You said in one sentence what I (and others) have been attempting to say on this site for the last three years. Identifying someone as a "Catholic" has become irrelevant as no one can any longer define the term.
written by Tony Esolen, June 02, 2012
My pastor refuses to collect money for the Campaign for Human Development (note well: they only added "Catholic" a few years ago, after effacing, in their name as well as in their actions, that they had anything to do with the Church and her teachings).

The word "practicing" in the sentence "I am a practicing Catholic" means, I'm guessing, that the speaker goes to Mass at least sometimes. Note that the adjective is not "faithful": "I am a faithful Catholic" would imply "I believe all the sacred truths which the holy Catholic Church believes and teaches, because thou, O Lord, hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived." Now then, if there is a significant gap between "practicing" and "faithful," the person so "practicing" is doing so in hypocrisy; a better word would be "pretending". The human capacity for self-deception is great indeed.
written by Dave, June 02, 2012
Would that the bishops of the Church speak out against "as a practicing Catholic" and all the filth and sludge the phrase brings into the Church!

It's wonderful that we are celebrating from the end of June to the Fourth of July this period in defense of religious liberty; but the bishops must tackle the enemies within. And we should make no mistake that they are enemies within who would seek to subvert the Magisterium and the authority of the bishops, and them alone, to teach authentically in the name of the Lord and the Church.

Mr. Hanley, your article is a wonderful service; and, coupled with Austin Ruse's of yesterday, it lays out clearly what we are up against. A Cabinet Secretary who says "we are in a war" is not about to back down, not without the Lord's intervention. But he relies upon us to do our part. I hope all readers of The Catholic Thing are planning to join with the Bishops in the Fortnight of Freedom. Much is at stake.
written by Sherry, June 02, 2012
One thing that has surprised me lately is the number of daily communicants who do not believe what the Church teaches. Whether the issue is women priests, gay marriage, contraception, or the perceived mistreatment of nuns by the Vatican, there are those who go to Mass "faithfully" every day who believe the Church will have to eventually come around to their way of thinking.

That is what they read in the newspaper or online, read in their book clubs, see on TV, in theaters, in the movies - and hear from their children. That is how, unfortunately, many Catholics receive their adult faith formation.

There still are many bishops and pastors who do not agree with Church teachings on key issues. They don't use the pulpit to help people have "informed consciences" other than on issues in which they believe. Just by looking at the parish or diocesan website, one can generally discern their beliefs (unless, of course, they are new).

They have DREs and other people responsible for church programs who, likewise, do not agree with the teachings. So if parishoners are "catechized", it is in such a way as to reinforce what they see and hear in the secular environment. Many have not had the opportunity to have the teachings of our Church explained by people who love Christ and His Church.

Hopefully, Pope Benedict XVI's "Year of Faith", beginning in October, will help to provide opportunities for people to learn what Vatican II really means - and our role as lay people - and our responsibility to help with the New Evangelization.

written by jsmitty, June 02, 2012
I agree with everything in the piece but this:

That Ryan shares with Benedict XVI a deep wariness about the State, which would seek to “absorb everything into itself,” to provide everything except “the very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving personal concern” (Deus Caritas Est), is a possibility Ritter does not entertain.

Um...sorry...Mr. Hanley I think you're channeling your inner George Weigel here. It's profoundly disingenuous to project the attitudes of the anti-government American right wing onto the Pope. He shares little in this regard with Paul Ryan. This is the Pope who wrote "In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of Catholic social consciousness." ("Without Roots" , p 72). Not surprising actually since he comes from Germany where the welfare state in uncontroversial.

We're really hurting our credibility as Catholics when we allow ideological partisanship to be the lens by which we interpret the demands of faith. Yes, Democrats have done this too and are worse offenders....point conceded. But this doesn't excuse what Catholic Republicans are engaged in doing with the Church's social doctrine. And this piece is another in a sad illustration of this phenomenon.
written by Kenneth, June 02, 2012
Benedict XVI “The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person − every person − needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005, n. 28)
written by WSquared, June 03, 2012
“As a practicing Catholic…”


The next time we hear that one, we should counter it with "oh, yeah? PROVE IT."

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of living. Sloppy prayer leads to sloppy belief and theology, and we all know where that leads-- awful catechesis, the so-called "Spirit" of Vatican II, and so-called "practicing" and "devout" Catholics who think that they can dissent and misrepresent Church teaching in public and who think that their Catholic faith "compels" them to support this, that, and the other thing that is contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches. No, Madam, the Body of Christ does NOT compel you!

Furthermore, let's not forget that as per Ross Douthat, Brad Gregory, Robert Barron et al., we essentially live in a culture where so many people harp on about "What Would Jesus Do?" but essentially worship a Jesus of their own making and essentially deny the Incarnation. Hence various pretentious exhortations to "forget the Church, follow Jesus!" whereby the head is supposedly able to float freely, severed from His Body.
written by Cthemfly25, June 03, 2012
While a 40 year review of the CCHD would expose a history of deplorable conduct, you need not go back so far in time. Its funding activity of the health care reform advocacy groups in 2009 deserves much criticism.

Excellent rebuttal and the comments too. Thanks
written by jsmitty, June 03, 2012
@ Kenneth

sigh. I see you too have mastered the art of the selective quotation taken out of context. Yes...the state must not supplant charity. the very same document in #26 the Pope says this:

It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community's goods. This has always been emphasized by Christian teaching on the State and by the Church's social doctrine.

Listen to that again...A government that according to the principle of subsidiarity guarantees to each person his share of good.

So please if you will square this with the anti-government attitudes and agenda of Paul Ryan.

Let's be honest people...the agenda of the American GOP leaves alot to be desired from the standpoint of Catholic social teaching.
written by Kenneth, June 04, 2012
jsmitty, I am a registered independent with no love for either party. I posted the quote, with no comments, to counter your use of selective quotation. I was providing the further context to your comments. I hold to the full teaching of Christ's Catholic Church. I note again that I made no comments in the post. All of that was the pope. I am sorry that you are allowing "ideological partisanship to be the lens by which we interpret the demands of faith."
written by jsmitty, June 04, 2012
Fair apologies if I assumed you were another Catholic Republican trying to dance around 120 years of social teaching...but I'm not being selective in quoting Benedict. The author of the piece is being highly tendentious in his claim that Benedict shares Paul Ryan's "deep wariness of the state."

For the record, I'm a registered Republican. But at some point someone needs to remind people that neither the Catholic Church nor its Pope--while in no way statist-- shares the vitriolic antipathy to government social programs that has infected partisans of the American right, especially in the Obama years. DCE, like every document going back to Rerum, assumes the existence of a welfare state (i.e social insurance) in one form or another.

I notice however that both you and Mr Hanley ignore the other quote I provided of DCE...How does Mr. Hanley think his opposition to "Leviathan" squares with the belief in a government that rightly acts to ensure everyone a just share of the community goods--not in spite of subsidiarity, but because of it.

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