Saturday, May 7, 2005

A Plea for Civility - And an Opportunity for Charity.

Many words have been exchanged since I. Shawn McElHinney and Greg Mockeridge decided to publicly express their concerns over the manner in which Stephen Hand ( misrepresented the positions of those who disagreed with him on certain matters of prudential judgement -- capital punishment, economic policy, and the use of military force in the war on terrorism. Here's a timeline of posts to date:

Despite my initial post, some readers expressed curiousity and concern over my display of solidarity. At the risk of repeating myself, here are some further notes on this topic.

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The chief point of Greg/Shawn's recent editorials is that the issues of economics, capital punishment, and war remain areas about which -- citing then-Cardinal Ratzinger -- there could be a "legitimate diversity of opinion" (Paragraph 3, Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion — General Principles June 2004).

This point is sufficiently made by Fr. Michael P. Orsi of Camden, NJ in an excellent article clarifying "Different Levels of Catholic Teaching Homiletic & Pastoral Review December, 2003. [Editor's Note: This article was available last week on HPR's website; from what I understand it was "in rotation"; it's offline at the moment, but I've conveyed a request that it be made available again in the future, given it's pertinence to this discussion and the issues addressed by Greg/Shawn on Rerum Novarum].

This point has been reiterated time and time again -- with respect to the death penalty, by Cardinal Avery Dulles (Catholicism & Capital Punishment First Things 112 (April 2001): 30-35) and Karl Keating (Must Catholics Oppose Capital Punishment? Catholic Answers E-Letter, March 2, 2004); with respect to war, by Russel Shaw "Iraq, Weigel & the Pope" Catholic Exchange March 31, 2003); George Weigel ('Dissent' from church teaching? Great bosh! Tidings March 21, 2003) and Archbishop John Myers (Wall Street Journal Sept. 17, 2004).

As far as politics and economics are concerned, the Church, while offering various perspectives on such matters through the medium of her social teaching, does not propose much less canonize a particular economic model or political platform. As Fr. Orsy noted, "eternal salvation does not depend on one’s adherence to the modified form of capitalism that the Pope suggests in Centesimus Annus (1991) [n. 35]." At the same time:

. . . when it comes to reducing these teachings to action, it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views. When this occurs, they should take care to have and to show mutual esteem and regard, and to explore the extent to which they can work in cooperation among themselves. Thus they can in good time accomplish what necessity required. Let them also take great care not to weaken their efforts in constant controversies. Nor should they, under pretext of seeking what they think best, mean while fail to do what they can and hence should do. (Mater et Magistra, n. 238)

In spite of the urging of Pope John XXIII, some have forsaken opportunities to explore areas of cooperation and persist in grievous attacks on their fellow Catholics, amounting in some cases to outright slander, malignment of character, and calculated mispresentations of the other's position. In my initial post I cited as an example the unfair portrayal of Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and Avery Dulles by the Zwicks in the Houston Catholic Worker (circa. 1999-2002) as apologists for unbridled capitalism and "wage slavery." As Greg laments:

I firmly believe that the enterprise and business sector of our economy and the homeless shelter and soup kitchen outreaches are interdependent. Both need to coordinate their efforts. It is in this light that the attacks Stephen Hand and the Zwicks have launched against people like Michael Novak and George Weigel, who promote the entrepreneurial element of Catholic social teaching, are even more destructive.

More recently, Stephen Hand has given platform to -- or otherwise authored himself -- similar misrepresentations of George Weigel, Karl Keating, Fr. Frank Pavone (Priests for Life), not to mention President Ronald Reagan (at the very time of his death, no less!), all of which is documented in great detail by Greg Mockeridge in his guest editorial, who concludes:

Much as he does with his misrepresentations on the issues death penalty and economic justice, Mr. Hand has willingly disrespected the legitimate diversity of opinion that Catholics enjoy in regards to this issue. Towards this end, he is not above misrepresenting the pope’s position. Nor is he above demonizing those who express different opinions from his, even though such opinions fall well within such legitimate diversity.

I am not so much concerned here as to the justifiabilty of the war in Iraq, the applicability of capital punishment in our society, or the viability of Michael Novak's economic proposals. Like Greg & Shawn, I have my own thoughts on this matter. Stephen is free to differ, and there is time enough to present our respective cases. (For those who are curious, Shawn provides a convenient summary of his reflections here).

What is my concern is the fact that with respect to these issues there is room in the Church for "legitimate diversity of opinion" -- and the possibility for serious debate -- without succumbing to the cheap tactics that have become commonplace on Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.

A selection from TCRNews' latest musings will suffice as an example of what I am objecting to, in which Mr. Hand regards "the warbloggers" in the same fashion as he visited upon previous critics:

. . . while they congratulate each other on bashing peacemakers it means death for those who must endure war, blood and bone, broken bodies, mental breakdowns, absolutely terrified children and all the hell that war heaps on a people, old and young. These bloggers --- many of whom are glued to their keyboards and do not even hold real jobs---seem not to care about real human beings dying, bleeding, blown away. . . . They prefer to pontificate above their competence and side with the powerful. . But Truth and mercy are more important than pleasing such, even if the bloggers, who daily traffic in inconsequential debate, don't care ---like the Popes do--- about the victims of the money imperialists who proclaim a "freedom" which at the end of the day means war for oil, exporting pornosophic license, and more money, money, money. . . . That should make it hard for these bloggers to sleep at night. But when one prefers argument to the cries of the suffering, ego and argument to peacemaking, one sleeps in indifference.

In all fairness, I note that Stephen Hand acknowledged the justifiability of "police action" against Bin Ladin and the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, and has, more importantly, published on TCRNews several op-eds by Fr. James Schall (who objects to the notion that "this is not a war of American imperialism").

May I be so bold, then, as to request that Stephen extend to Greg, Shawn and David ("the warbloggers," I presume?); to Weigel, Novak and Neuhaus ("the neocons"), to Fr. Pavone and Karl Keating, and to anybody else who disagrees with his particular political platform, the same charity, civility, and respect that he presently affords Fr. Schall?

(And with the understanding that we should all strive to better ourselves, this "heartless indifferent money imperialist," howbeit with a full-time "real" job, will hereby strive to do likewise).

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Finally, towards the alleviation of the suffering caused by the war that Stephen has mentioned, not to mention years of oppression under a ruthless dictator and supporter of international terrorism, permit me to recommend as a recipient of our charity Spirit of America, whose mission is to "extend the goodwill of the American people to assist those advancing freedom, democracy and peace abroad."

Spirit of America is a 501c3 nonprofit supported solely through private-sector contributions. They do not receive funding from the government or military, and 100% of your tax-deductible donation is used for the purpose you choose -- among which are: purchasing library books for Iraqi children; helping Iraqi women escape domestic violence, develop job skills, and lobby for rights; bring American and Iraqi schools together to establish bonds of friendship, and contribute to the success of free elections and democracy in Iraq.

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