Catholic Charity in Secular America

First Things has an excellent article up by Archbishop Chaput.  In it he points out that the United States is becoming a hostile place for faithful Catholics.

I would like to offer three reflections that focus on the “Catholic” identity of Catholic Charities and, by extension, the identity of all Catholic social work.

First: What we do becomes who we are. A man who does good usually becomes good—or at least better than he was. A man who struggles with his fear and overcomes it and shows courage gradually becomes brave. And a man who steals from his friends or cheats his company, even in little things, eventually becomes a thief. He may start as a good man with some unhappy appetites and alibis, but unless he repents and changes, the sins become the man. The habit of stealing, or lying, or cowardice, or adultery, reshapes him into a different creature.

What applies to individuals can apply just as easily to institutions and organizations. The more that Catholic universities or hospitals mute their religious identity, the more that Catholic social ministries weaken their religious character, the less “Catholic” they are, the less useful to the Gospel they become.

Second: The individual is sacred but not sovereign. For Catholics, every human person—no matter how disabled, poor, or flawed—has a unique, inviolable dignity. Sanctity of life and the basic rights that go with it begin at conception and continue through natural death.

But civil society consists not just of autonomous individuals. It also consists of communities, which have rights of their own. Catholic institutions are extensions of the Catholic community and Catholic belief. The state has no right to interfere with their legitimate work, even when it claims to act in the name of individuals unhappy with Catholic teaching. The individual’s right to resent the Church or reject her beliefs does not trump the rights of the Catholic community to believe and live according to its faith.

To put it another way, Catholic ministries have the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs about marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues. And if the state forbids those Catholic ministries to be faithful in their services through legal or financial bullying, then as a matter of integrity they should end their services.

The third point gives context to the other two: A new kind of America is emerging in the early 21st century, and it’s likely to be much less friendly to religious faith than anything in the nation’s past. That has implications for every aspect of Catholic social ministry. Continue reading….

The article is a shorter version of a talk that Archbishop Chaput gave to the Catholic Social Workers association.  In it he addresses what makes Catholic social work, well, Catholic. The National Catholic Register has a transcript of the talk here.

I really hope that Pope Benedict gives the good bishop a red hat soon!

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
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