Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Can't Wisconsin Public Radio Find any Catholics?

Oh, how I wish I had known beforehand about the interview by Joy Cardin with Marquette theologian Dan Maguire on Wisconsin Public Radio early last week, taking Rep. Paul Ryan to task for allegedly violating Catholic teaching with his recent budget proposal.  As it was, I heard just the tail end of the program, which was enough to determine that Maguire's fundamental approach to this whole question has no connection whatsoever with authentic Catholic doctrine.

Now that I've listened to the whole thing--and looked into it further--it gets a lot worse.

Why Not Get an Actual Catholic to Speak on Catholic Issues?

The choice of Maguire for this particular show is truly bizarre.  As I listened to the interview I marveled at the hypocrisy of the man.  He repeatedly chided Paul Ryan for taking a position contrary to "the USCCB".  Now let's get this straight.  As far as I can determine, Paul Ryan has taken positions contrary to letters from a committee of the USCCB.  In terms of Catholic doctrine, the binding nature of such letters on the conscience of a Catholic is exactly zero. As Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter Apostolos Suos, issued motu proprio:

In order that the doctrinal declarations of the Conference of Bishops referred to in No. 22 of the present Letter may constitute authentic magisterium and be published in the name of the Conference itself, they must be unanimously approved by the Bishops who are members, or receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the Bishops belonging to the Conference and having a deliberative vote.


No body of the Episcopal Conference, outside of the plenary assembly, has the power to carry out acts of authentic magisterium. The Episcopal Conference cannot grant such power to its Commissions or other bodies set up by it.

Dan "Catholics for a Free Choice" Maguire, on the other hand, openly holds public positions on abortion, homosexuality, authority in the Catholic Church, et al., contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as expressed both by the popes and by the bishops gathered in ecumenical council.  (I know, I know, it's so medieval to think that the pope and bishops actually have something to say about what is and isn't authoritative Catholic doctrine.)

And to make his criticism of Ryan all the more preposterous, Maguire has even had his own run-in with a committee of the U.S. bishops.  In 2007 he was, "publicly corrected by the U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine [and yet] showed no sign of changing his opinions".  Interviewed at that time, he said quite openly that, "according to what he called the Church’s 'criteriology,' not everything is de Fide, but that most issues are debatable."

So when his pet positions are in view, then all the supposed authority of a committee of the USCCB is held up as the solemn teaching of the Catholic Church and wielded to denounce Paul Ryan.  But when it comes to his other views--contrary to the perennial teaching of the Church as expressed by popes and ecumenical councils--well then things get a little more fuzzy for Dan Maguire and it's all debatable.

This is brazenly hypocritical.

Even in the WPR interview, Maguire got his heresy right up front.  In the first minutes of the program Maguire touted Nelson Rockefeller as a "good conservative" for the latter's support of abortion.  A few minutes later, the Marquette professor assures us ever-so-piously that "what is good for kids is good and what is bad for kids is ungodly".  Yeah, sure Dr. Maguire.  Murdering them in the womb is just great for kids.

I Have Come to Preach Government Programs for the Poor?

And for all his posturing as a Catholic, Maguire gave the game away yet further when he insisted that the "test of all Christian orthodoxy" is found in Luke 4:18.  And not just in Luke 4:18, but in the one and only one phrase of that verse, wrenched out of context: "he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor".  A caller very rightly challenged him--where, in all of this, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the deliverance of man from his sin?  And where, I would add, is this mentioned in any of the Church's Creeds?  Where exactly does the Catholic Church teach that this one phrase is the veritable litmus test of orthodoxy?  Can you offer us more than your personal opinion, Professor?

But Dan Maguire is not stupid.  He knows full well that the Catholic Church teaches no such thing, that at no time in the history of Christendom has his pet Bible phrase ever been held as a standard of Christian orthodoxy.  It's just one more "sola": sola fide for Martin Luther, sola pauper for Dan Maguire.  Yet he's ready to chastise Paul Ryan for going against Catholic teaching.  The intellectual dishonesty is staggering.

Near the end of the interview he was rightly challenged that the Gospel's imperative to care for the poor does not automatically imply that the government needs to provide that care.  Maguire deployed an embarrassingly convoluted response based on some alleged nuance of the Hebrew of some verse, which he never identifies, that we are to "drape the king" (the king!) with tsedâqâh, a "Hebrew word that comes rooted in the Aramaic language" (huh?) and which he loads up to mean "mercy on the poor" (think you can actually find a Hebrew lexicon citation to back that one up, Dr. Maguire?  I'll have more to say about this in a subsequent posting.)  If a Protestant fundamentalist had gone on Wisconsin Public Radio and flung around isolated Bible verses punctuated with bogus Hebrew word studies like that, he'd be ridiculed as a simpleton.  I guess allegedly Catholic professors of theology can get away with it, as long as they are willing publicly to defy Church authority

He went on to cite the Old Testament imperative to leave the corners of your fields unharvested and to allow gleaning by the poor. He somehow derives from this the conclusion that "the Bible demands redistribution".  Never mind the fact that the guy who owned the field before the gleaning still owns the field after the gleaning and that sacred Scripture still does not say anything about any government swooping in to demand that said field owner allow the gleaning, much less redistribute his wealth by incrementally taking the field away from him.  [Rather interesting, too, is the take on this by prominent Jewish rabbi Maimonides: "Maimonides says that, while the second highest form of tzedakah is to anonymously give donations to unknown recipients, the highest form is to give a gift, loan, or partnership that will result in the recipient supporting himself instead of living upon others."]

Another caller raised an excellent point about subsidiarity, also raised by Cardinal Dolan (proving  that there are different viewpoints on this issue, even among the U.S. bishops.)  But Maguire simply dodged the question with the irrelevant observation that subsidiarity comes from the Latin subidium, which means help.  Yes, and.....?

The principal of subsidiarity provides that the larger political community should not substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals or local governing bodies.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2431), quoting Pope Pius XI, teaches:

Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector.  However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society (emphasis mine).

Yeah, Dr. Maguire, it's our obligation as Catholics to help the poor, we get that part.  And the bulk of that help must come from the government because.....because why?

But for Maguire it's always about the government.  And not just any government.  It's always about the federal government. You can be as personally generous as you want (and it is a documented fact that conservatives are personally more generous than liberals).  You can even acknowledge that government, at some level, does have responsibility to help the poor (and Paul Ryan and I agree with that).  But you'll still be a heartless, cruel, misanthrope to Dan Maguire because only federal government programs count in his book.

And that was the really staggering thing about the whole interview.  Paul Ryan is raked over the coals and accused of being "mean spirited" and "heartless" and of going against the teaching of the Catholic Church because, gasp!, he actually doesn't think that the federal government is the best institution to help the poor. And he's in good company.  As reported in the Wall Street Journal (thanks to The Badger Catholic for this reference):

Paul Ryan shocked the gentle souls at Georgetown University when he traveled up to their campus last Thursday and said: "We believe that Social Security legislation, now billed as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the idea of force and compulsion." The Wisconsin Republican went on to lament that "we in our generation have more and more come to consider the state as bountiful Uncle Sam," and that citizens justify what they get from the state by saying, "We got it coming to us."

Sure sounds like Mr. Ryan was channeling Ayn Rand.

Except for one thing. The words are not Mr. Ryan's. They come from a 1945 column by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, in which she complained about how state intervention limits personal freedom and responsibility. Day's skepticism about government was reflected in her nickname for it: "Holy Mother State."

How far we have traveled since then. As the protests surrounding Mr. Ryan's appearance confirm, the Catholic left long ago jettisoned any worries about the size or scope of government (except for national defense). So the Sermon on the Mount now becomes a call for a single-payer system of universal health insurance.

And that is precisely the problem with the modern Catholic liberals (not all of them are heretics like Maguire) who insist that federal government programs are the solution to all of our problems.  At the core is a loss, or at least a reduction, of supernatural faith.  Robert Royal wrote in Philanthropy Magazine:

It is ironic, then, that the greatest challenge to Catholic philanthropies only began much later, during the New Deal. Aloisius Muench, bishop of Fargo, North Dakota, famously remarked at the time, “The poor belong to us. . . . We will not let them be taken away,” meaning that growing secular programs threatened the old institutional mission. A few years later, another Catholic leader warned that trends towards taking charitable efforts out of the parishes and centralizing them in diocesan offices might lead to a loss of “both the interest and the support of the clergy and the laity.” Even worse, he feared a future “when parish priests and their people cease to say ‘our poor’ and speak rather of ‘your cases.’”  ("Conversion Story: What happens when big charity meets big government")

Make no mistake, I think that the economic injustices in our society are real.  For these, traditional Catholic social teaching has a lot of solutions and I don't think that either the Democrat or Republican parties represent a uniformly just and moral position on these matters.

But Dan Maguire's proposed solutions are antithetical both to natural justice and Catholicism.  And for him to be chosen by Wisconsin Public Radio to represent the Catholic view on this matter was an absolute travesty.


M. Forrest said...

Excellent article, David.

What Maguire said is plainly hypocritical nonsense and the media-left is once again seeking out "Catholics" like him to make bad arguments for "the Church's teaching" -- largely in order to make the DNC look like it really has the market on Catholic social teaching when it doesn’t. I think the left clings to and promotes this view because they are already widely (and correctly) perceived as so blatantly out of synch with the Church on "life" issues. At least, the argument goes, we are with the Catholic Church on *this* issue. So you can vote for us because we're right and the Republicans are wrong here. Aside from lousy logic (being supposedly "right" on tax policy or redistribution of wealth can never justify being wrong on the murder of 1.2 million human beings every year), this view about the Catholicity of their economic policies is dubious at best.

Without intending to be an apologist for Ryan (I haven't studied him or his budget enough to make an informed, firm judgment), it seems to me that the left studiously avoids the Catholic principle of subsidiarity - at least when it comes to the secular sphere. They're all about subsidiarity when it comes to Church governance/policy. Not so much when it comes to secular governance/policy. I think many Catholics mistakenly buy into this idea that government solutions to poverty are somehow almost automatically in line with Catholic social teaching.

I thought the quotes you provided from Dorothy Day, Robert Royal and Bishop Muench were particularly interesting and enlightening.

Some years back, I had an extended discussion with former senator Paul Simon (Illinois) about this very issue when welfare reform was being enacted. He complained that it was unconscionable to reduce welfare benefits and force people to search for work because it was a violation of Matthew 25.

After telling him that I was pleased to see him suddenly so concerned with the teachings of Christ (although I wished he was similarly concerned when it came to abortion, etc.), I pointed out that in Matthew 25, Jesus pinned the responsibility we have to take care of the poor squarely on the shoulders of each individual. He didn't say to cede it to the government.

The ultimate purpose of charity is to mirror and foster the love of God and neighbor. The government model tends to pervert charity and too often renders that which could have been truly meaningful and even transformative into something mixed at best (talk to any poor soul who has had to apply for welfare or unemployment benefits).

Instead of gracious giving, we see a tax that is forced upon the individual. Instead of gracious acceptance, we see a transfer payment that receivers tend to perceive as something “due” them. Instead of feeling urged on to become independent and then to help others who have suffered a similar hardship, we see a tendency to become complacent and lethargic. True charity has been perverted.

Anyway - this is something that has always concerned me because I've too often seen Catholics get drawn into this way of thinking about social justice issues (such as Maguire promotes) and it ends up having a very detrimental effect on our collective ability to fight the most pressing moral issues of the day.

ELC said...

"He complained that it was unconscionable to reduce welfare benefits and force people to search for work because it was a violation of Matthew 25."

John Kerry has done that, too. They see in Mt. 25:32 the word "nations" (= gentiles = peoples) and think "countries" (= governments). Yep, that's how they think.