A bridge too far…

When I heard about the Occupy Wall Street folks (and those groups that have sprung up because of OWS) focusing attention on 1) America’s failing infrastructure, and especially its bridges, and 2) the jobs such efforts would create, but that the American Conference of Catholic Bishops has chosen not to take a position on the financial inequity and the detrimental effect such inequity has on a society, but rather to double down on the matters of abortion and birth control, I have to say I became rather peeved. The Vatican has been speaking out about the immorality of an economic system that leaves so many out and concentrates the money and power in the hands of a few, but the American bishops choose not to discuss the matter, but continue to hammer on matters of women’s reproductive rights, which positioning aligns them with the right wing of the Republican party, which has no interest in good jobs for most people, or in addressing the widening gap between rich and poor, and the gradual disappearance of anything resembling a middle class. In choosing not to come out forcefully against such economic inequality and iniquity, the bishops are tacitly condoning this system.  I know some in the Catholic hierarchy who  would say that their failure to condemn financial policies that put profit before people, and that take away the dignity of the working poor, does not indicate that they condone such practices.  But when they continue to harp on the one issue, and when bishops like Justin Rigali go out of the way to demonize pro-choice politicians like John Kerry, vowing to withhold communion, thereby sending a clear message — John Kerry bad, George Bush good — to the parishioners — well, then I think Catholics have a right to be angry with their hierarchy.  I will not address the morality of abortion rights here, though the failure of the Catholic Church to take any strong position on responsible birth control measures, especially in the poverty stricken third world does seem to me to be a failure of good leadership and a failure in moral terms.  The failure of business schools at Catholic universities to push hard for a fairer economic system, one that works for all of God’s children, rather than the greedy few seems such a failure as well.  I have known some people, especially during the Reagan years, preaching the gospel of supply side economics which turned out to be just a ponzi scheme to take money from the needy and give it to the greedy.  They would also suggest that there should be no legislative controls on business, that the marketplace would sort that all out.  Well, we’ve seen how de-regulation worked — companies grew bigger and bigger, becoming de facto monopolies with nothing to stop them.  And it angers me that the church and schools that bear the designation Catholic are preaching a gospel other than that of Jesus of Nazareth, which does not seem to be supply side economics, unless you interpret the line “The poor you shall always have with you” as “The poor are a bunch of losers, who deserve their sorry state.” 

At any rate, I found it interesting that when the Vatican (and this is not the soft Vatican II) is speaking out against economic injustice and arguing for a more equitable tax, when those moneys could go to rebuilding America’s infrastructure and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs, not just part-time no benefitts minimum wage jobs that offer no promise of a better future, the American bishops are silent on this matter, choosing instead to focus on reproductive rights again, like a broken record.  As most American women of an age when pregnancy is possible utilize birth control — the most common type being hormonal birth control — what happens if the Catholic Church wins on this issue, if the bishops convince enough politicians to head down the path of Mississippi?   Will American Catholic women thank the bishops for this intervention in their lives?  I’m guessing not.  I imagine that many women will take that as just one more thing the MEN in funny hats have done to them, and they’ll leave.  This is not to say that bishops should cave on matters of grave importance, but their failure to see many matters of grave importance (sexual abuse against children by priests, and the way many faithful Catholics live their lives) suggests to me an incredible deafness.  No one in the Catholic Church, no bishop, no priest, no pope can damn anyone;  if you believe in damnation, only God can do that.  Yes, they can expel you from the club, but no one should confuse the Catholic Church with the community of believers. 

When I heard this story the other day I found it ironic about the bridges and the failure of the Catholic Church to push vigorously for a program that would rebuild America’s bridges, among other things.  The Latin word for priest is pontifex, which means “bridge-maker” or “bridge-builder.”  The pope is called on official Vatican documents, Pontifex Maximus (“chief priest”).  And though the pope is talking about economic justice, his bishops in America are failing to be “bridge-builders.”  They are failing to build communities but are often erecting barriers.  They are failing to take to the streets in favor of economic justice (as they did during the time of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers) and building communities there.  They are failing to speak out against the injustice of burdensome legislation that will take the vote away from many poorer Americans.  To give them credit, the American bishops in Alabama and Arizona have been speaking out against the immigration policies proposed in those states.  But as the steel bridges crumble about us, there is a greater chasm between rich and poor in this country that is not right, not just, and not Christian in any meaningful sense of that term.  And where are the bridge-makers?  Well, they’re not on the job and my own disappointment with the Catholic Church will not abate until they live up to their title, and do right.

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