A dispute has arisen in Illinois between Catholic Charities and the state government. As the National Catholic Register explains it, “Catholic Charities branches of three Illinois dioceses have filed a lawsuit against the state of Illinois in order to continue operating according to Catholic principles — by providing foster care and adoption services only to married couples or non-cohabitating singles.” In an interview, with the newspaper, Rev. Robert A. Sirico defends Catholic Charities in light of the principle of subsidiarity while arguing for the right of the Catholic Charities to exist and conduct its own business without the influence of the state:

“What is it about foster care that necessitates a state-run system? Why can’t it be done on local levels?” he said. “Why can’t a city, municipality or affiliation of organizations do it and merely abide by standards set by the state? But when you have it monopolized, in effect, by the state [which uses organizations such as Catholic Charities as contractors to provide services], then you have the political-interest groups in control.”

Rev. Sirico also offers a solution for guaranteeing the independence of Catholic Charities:

“I think we need to separate the giving from the mechanism of the state,” Father Sirico continued. “I think there are ways to incentivize people to give that aren’t channeled through political and bureaucratic agencies. For instance, what if we had a tax credit to corporations or individuals that allowed their money to be used in a way that isn’t run through the state, but for services that they’re already obligated to pay the state to perform? For example, you have a tax obligation; but let’s say you’re allowed to take the portion going to social services and designate it to a specific charity you wanted to support. You don’t pay the state. The state reduces its involvement in that sphere. What you do is present the state with a documented receipt that you paid money to that charity.”

Click here to read the full article

Detroit has has been plagued by the economic downturn more than most cities, and has struggled to recover. However, sometimes gloomy economic conditions breed innovation. That is the focus of Jordan Ballor’s “Let Detroit’s farms flourish” which appeared in the Detroit News.

Ballor explains that residents are putting vacant lots to use by urban farming:

These areas of growth, in the form of cooperatives, community programs and individual plots, represent a significant avenue for the revitalization of the city. The benefits of urban farming are manifold. Otherwise unproductive vacant lots, which have been estimated to number close to 100,000, are put to an economically and socially positive use. Urban farmers learn skills and discipline necessary to have long-term economic success.

For some, urban farming is a necessity, for others, such as the youth, it may be a new opportunity to keep them off the streets; however for everyone partaking, it is form of creativity and responsibility rooted in the Bible:

In these kinds of efforts we see the spark of human creativity and responsibility shine through in the face of adversity. This creativity reflects in a human way the creativity of the divine. The biblical account of creation includes the blessing to humankind, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). This blessing has been understood to refer to human cultural work in all kinds of areas, including the cultivation of the land and the raising of crops. We find God’s specific injunction to Adam to reflect this aspect of cultivation quite clearly: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:16). And as the Bible begins with human beings caring for a garden, it ends with restored humanity living in a city, the New Jerusalem (Revelations 21).

Unfortunately some Detroit residents are discovering that everyone isn’t encouraging their innovation and desire to farm. City regulations are preventing some from succeeding:

There are perils, of course, and perhaps there are none greater than the political culture of regulation, entitlement and corruption that has marred the city for decades. The city government must not crush this nascent urban gardening movement through superfluous regulation and the instinctive reflex to government control.

This has already happened in the case of Neighbors Building Brightmoor, which maintains gardens on city-owned lots. Reit Schumack, who heads up the group, says that new city regulations will, among other things, prevent him from organizing a youth group as he has done in the past to grow food and sell it at a farmers market. “It’s a beautiful self-sustaining program where 15 kids are busy the entire growing season, make money, learn all kinds of skills, and really, I can’t do this. This is forbidden, what I’m doing,” Schumack recently told Michigan Public Radio.

Let’s hope that Detroit sends a message of hope and encouragement to its residents. In these struggling times, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged. Detroit’s past has been plagued by a corrupt overregulated political culture. Instead of stifling growth, Detroit should seize upon this opportunity to demonstrate that it is going to take a new path towards creating a political environment that allows it to flourish once again.

Click here the read the full article.

It is very easy to forget what is happening in other parts of the world especially when we are in the midst of our own financial crisis in the United States. Considering the economic challenges we are faced with, this may be a mistake as we can learn from other’s problems. Europe is experiencing economic woes that continue to worsen. In the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg explains:

As Europe’s financial crisis worsens, it’s increasingly apparent that the economic woes of countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece have resulted from more than just bad policy. With each passing day, evidence mounts that one dynamic driving the crisis is that of untruth: a disturbing European pattern of fabrication about levels of public spending and debt.

The latest proof for this thesis is the discovery by newly-elected Spanish regional and local governments of concealed debts run up by their predecessors. This contradicts claims by Spain’s Socialist Finance Minister, Elena Salgado, that Spain’s regions had no “hidden deficits” on their accounts. Spain’s business community, however, has long complained about local governments pressuring private companies to do business with them “off the books.”

One reason for such behavior is that Spain’s government knows that the greater Spain’s real overall-public debt, the higher will be the interest-rates demanded by financial markets and the more stringent will be the conditions attached to any “financial assistance package” (i.e., bailout) that Spain might, like Portugal and Greece, eventually need.

As Gregg says, the financial problems in Europe are not just current but have been festering since the beginning of the Eurozone when strict standards were to be implemented:

In the 1990s, European governments agreed the single currency’s success would depend upon countries entering the eurozone on a solid financial basis and then remaining on a firm footing. To that end, both the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) established strict criteria concerning public spending for countries admitted to the single currency.

One such standard concerned the ratio of an applicant country’ gross government debt to GDP. It was not to exceed 60 percent at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Maastricht’s convergence criteria also specified that the ratio of the annual government deficit to GDP should not exceed 3 percent of the same fiscal period.

Such standards were supposed to prevent a “free rider” program from occurring so countries with an irresponsible fiscal reputation, such as Greece, didn’t use their membership to over-indulge and rely on the rest of the members to bail them out. However, this policy wasn’t strictly adhered too. Gregg states that “…many euro applicants were allowed to get away with ‘creative accounting’ to meet the conditions of Maastricht.”

Europe continued to financially falter and wasn’t showing signs of recovery. This could be seen from many actions such as the encouragement of “fudging” numbers through new rules that “added many exceptions for types of spending that would not be included when determining debt and deficit figures.”

Is there a solution to Europe’s financial crisis? Gregg responds with a resounding yes:

Few “core values” would have a more bracing effect upon Europe’s current economic problems than their governments embracing honesty, transparency, and accountability. No doubt many a European political-career would be terminated as a result. The alternative, however, is for Europe’s governments to continue the charade about the real state of their finances.

Morally and financially, that’s not an option at all.

Click here to read the full article in the American Spectator.

Essential reading on Jim Wallis by long-time observer Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy:

How does Wallis—the old Students for a Democratic Society agitator who touted the Vietcong in the 1970s and the Sandinistas in the 1980s, who denounced welfare reform in the 1990s as a betrayal of the poor, and whose funding by George Soros was exposed last year—enlist Catholic bishops and mainstream evangelicals in his endless political campaigns? “We’re frankly challenging leadership on both sides of the aisle on this one,” he recently told reporters. “If you’re going to come after the poor, you have to go through us first.” Famously a name dropper, Wallis mentioned his impending White House visit. He’d urged evangelicals to support Obama in 2008 and has carefully not burned bridges, despite passage of the ultimately bipartisan 2011 budget cuts against which he fasted.

Read Mark Tooley’s “Our Savior, the Democrats” on WeeklyStandard.com.

Writing in the Detroit Free Press, reporters Joe Swickard and Pat Anstett describe the life and June 3 passing of Jack Kevorkian. Long before he made a name for himself as a “assisted suicide advocate,” Kevorkian was known to the nurses at Pontiac General Hospital in Michigan as “Dr. Death” for his bizarre experiments.

Death came naturally to the man who’d vowed he’d starve himself rather than submit to the state’s authority behind bars. “It’s not a matter of starving yourself in jail, it’s a matter of I don’t want to live as a slave and imprisonment is the ultimate slavery,” he said in 1998.

In that same year, Rev. Robert A. Sirico wrote “Terminal TV” for the New York Times in which he examined Kevorkian’s “twisted rationale, one that overlooked the reality that the ethic of life is the precondition of the freedom to choose.” Rev. Sirico also cited Kevorkian’s threat to starve himself, which turned out to be empty bluster.

The most immediate question is, What should be done with Dr. Kevorkian? Earlier this month Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have legalized assisted suicide. The law offers no protection for Dr. Kevorkian. Recognizing this, he has invited the authorities to arrest him, in which case he promises to starve himself.

Former Oakland County (Mich.) prosecutor David Gorcyca told Detroit television station WXYZ that he admired Jack Kevorkian “for his commitment to his controversial crusade.” However, Gorcyca said that if “Dr. Death” realized how sick he was himself, it was “hypocritical” not to use assisted suicide to end his own life.

“I always thought some day, when he gets near the end, he’s going to videotape it and he’s going to end his own life and he’s going to air it for the world to see,” Gorcyca said.

WXYZ reported that Kevorkian died early Friday morning at a Royal Oak, Mich., hospital. “Friends say he passed away peacefully, to the sounds of his favorite classical music,” the station said.

Read Rev. Sirico’s “Terminal TV.”

You may have  noticed a new addition to the PowerBlog; the new +1 button joins the existing Facebook and Twitter buttons at the top of posts.   +1 is a new initiative from Google that brings forth more relevant search results influenced by user feedback.  Here is a snippet from the official Google launch:

+1 is as simple on the rest of the web as it is on Google search. With a single click you can recommend that raincoat, news article or favorite sci-fi movie to friends, contacts and the rest of the world. The next time your connections search, they could see your +1’s directly in their search results, helping them find your recommendations when they’re most useful.

Since we now use the +1 button you can recommend any blog post you wish using the new feature.  It will be integrated across all Acton sites over time, but for now make sure you cast your vote on high quality PowerBlog posts!

I recently had a unique opportunity to speak about unity in Christ’s mission. I was asked to present an address to The Barnabas Group (TBG) in San Diego (May 9) and Costa Mesa (May 10). The Costa Mesa site is in Orange County for those who do not know Southern California. My title for both meetings was: “The Unity Factor: One Lord, One Church, One Mission.”

The Barnabas Group is one of the more unique missions and ministries I’ve encountered. It combines a high view of business as divine vocation with a big vision of Christ’s kingdom and personal responsibility to his mission. The members of the Barnabas Group are thoughtful, serious and successful people. (I am using the word success here in a business sense thus I do not mean by it that success equals Christian faithfulness per se.)

The Barnabas Group (TBG) has existed since 2000. Their purpose is to make a powerful impact on ministries around the corner and around the globe. In contrast to many great individuals and organizations who support ministries primarily with the checkbook, TBG believes ministry-minded people can provide so much more if given an opportunity to use their network, time, unique abilities, spiritual gifts and resources to help ministries that reflect their own God-given passions. The result is a truly dynamic organization that stays fresh, exciting, and highly relevant to its members, ministries and the communities where it serves.

img-port-Shank TBG was founded by Bob Shank (photo) and Jim West. Their purpose was to help men and women who had completed a three-year coaching program (The Master’s Program) to engage their personal calling in service for God’s Kingdom. Today, The Barnabas Group is made up of men and women who are enrolled in, or are graduates of, The Master's Program as well as other service-oriented Christian men and women who are willing to search out and participate in the exciting opportunities TBG provides. You can read more about the passion and vision of both men at the Web sites I’ve linked to in this post.

TBG meets as a whole four times annually. Members invest money and time in the group which allows them to learn about ministries and get involved at a personal level. Each time TBG meets six ministries are allowed/asked to present their mission and its need in 15 minutes. Two speakers are also asked to give plenary addresses that are considered relevant to the mission of TBG. I was one of those two presenters on May 9 and 10.

Presently there are ten groups, five of which are in California and the five in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix and Houston.

I experienced several opportunities by speaking to TBG. First, I met some of the finest Christian businessmen I’ve come across in my entire life. It was so great to see what happens when the member ministers (laity) of churches become highly trained and deeply committed to their work as divine calling. Second, the ministries that presented themselves to the two groups I spoke to were all interesting, dynamic and exciting. I got to know each of these presenters personally. I felt that my primary role was to encourage these other missions. I see myself as an encourager of leaders so this opportunity fit me perfectly. I was not directly seeking financial help (though ACT 3 can use help) so I was perfectly free to give myself to the group and the other ministries who were there to present. I was given peace to trust God for what he wanted to do through my investment and let the results flow as they would. This is part and parcel of my ACT 3 vision, which is “to equip leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.” Third, I was deeply encouraged personally. My nephew had a lot to do with my getting to know Bob Shank and Jim West. When each person at out table was asked to share what person had encouraged them recently we each shared. My nephew said, “My uncle John!” That was enough to make my day.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to introduce a number of Barnabas Group leaders to Acton Institute, which gave me a special opportunity to partner again with my new Acton connection.

If you are a man or woman in business, and want to get better trained for effective kingdom ministry and involved in one of the most unique groups I’ve met, then check out The Master’s Program and TBG.

Blog author: rsirico
Thursday, June 2, 2011
By

I have said it many times in the past, but now I have confirmation: According to the editors of the New York Times, the Pope is not permitted to make moral judgments because only the Editorial Board of the New York Times (all genuflect here) is permitted to pontificate:

“Ms. Abramson, 57, said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like “ascending to Valhalla.”

“In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

The budget proposed by House Republicans has lead to a heated debate; one key facet being whether funding should be cut for programs that benefit the poor and vulnerable. Critics claim the House Republicans’ proposed budget violates Catholic social teaching (click here to read the critics’ open letter to Speaker Boehner). Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s first response to Boehner’s critics appeared in NRO. In this week’s commentary Rev. Sirico expands upon his first response and articulates how Catholics can disagree on how to assist the poor and vulnerable. The article originally appeared in Crisis Magazine.

Not Whether to Help the Poor, But How

By Rev. Sirico

The debate over the application of the core teachings of the Christian faith began when Jesus was presented with a Roman coin containing Caesar’s image. In that moment, the Lord drew both a limitation to the legitimate power of the state and a distinction between it and the supreme authority of Almighty God. What would unfold over the years following was a highly balanced and well thought-out hierarchy of values rooted in a core understanding of the dignity of the human person. Yet it was not so abstract a set of principles as to be incapable of providing guidance for concrete policy recommendations that nonetheless do not collapse dogmatic and unchangeable doctrine into the dynamic stuff of politics and policies.

Along this circuitous route to a more balanced set of principles, there have been dead ends and extremes from which the Church has pulled her faithful: the medieval Spiritualist Franciscan (i fraticelli) who wanted to ban private property as intrinsically evil, or, more recently, the Liberation Theologians who attempted to “collapse the eschaton” of the Kingdom of God into socialist revolution.

Yet the incarnation of Christ does not let the Christian off the hook when it comes to our beliefs about human dignity and the practical protection of the vulnerable. Understanding how to translate the social implications of the gospel into workable and concrete solutions is at times as frustrating and ambiguous as understanding the homoousian clause of the Creed.

Let us take the recent occasions of public discourse by Catholics on these matters occasioned by an open letter issued by a group of Catholic professors, which argues that the budget proposed by House Republicans violates Catholic social teaching, and in which they come close to calling the Speaker of the House a heretic.

There is evidence in this letter, and in some of the commentary surrounding it, of a failure to grasp the necessary distinctions in Catholic moral theology (of which, as the popes have noted, the social teaching is a branch). I pointed out in my original critique of the open letter that the Catholic professors’ statement neglected the important distinction between “non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines” and the “prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching.” Then I cited the Compendium of the Social Doctrine: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions” (571).  The use of the phrase “contingent questions” in the Compendium is quite deliberate. It means that it is simply inaccurate to say that Catholics who debate how to address poverty dissent from the Church’s teaching in the same way as someone who does not support the Church’s insistence on legal protection for the unborn.

Some Catholic commentators reject this point, offering in defense a quotation from Caritas in Veritate: “Clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church’s social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it…. There is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new.”

Benedict’s point here is that the Church’s teaching in the moral realm is one consistent body of thought. It is not a hodgepodge of policy concerns, among which Catholics may pick and choose along the lines of the fashionable Cafeteria Catholicism. The Church’s solicitude for the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, and the elderly is all of a piece. In that sense, the critique is correct: A Catholic cannot subordinate “justice issues” to “life issues”; he must embrace the Church’s teaching as a whole, because life issues are justice issues.

Yet the distinction holds. This is not because “justice issues” are less important than “life issues,” but because they are fundamentally different — a difference rooted in two millennia of Catholic moral reflection. Abortion involves the direct and intentional destruction of an innocent human life. It is never permissible intentionally to choose evil. Laws that permit abortion are inherently unjust, and Catholics are obligated to work toward legal prohibition of abortion.

When it comes to doing good, however, which is what addressing poverty entails, the Church does not stipulate exactly how such good is to be done. Helping the poor requires a different sort of moral analysis — not because I (or the Church’s teaching) am “dualist,” as some critics suggest, nor because assisting the poor is “less important” than protecting the unborn, but because the two issues possess different characteristics and therefore require different sorts of moral analysis.

This distinction holds, for example, outside the realm of the Church’s social teaching and can be seen in her teaching on the moral manner in which life is conceived. A superficial criticism of the Church’s stance against artificial contraception says, “Why is it wrong to avoid conception by the use of chemicals or condoms, but not immoral when using natural family planning methods?” The error in this argument is the same one made by the critics to whom I am responding: In the former case, an evil means is being chosen (the action to chemically prevent conception, for example), rather than refraining from doing good at a given time (actions leading to conception). It is not a sin to refrain from choosing from all the many goods available; it is always a sin to intentionally choose to do evil.

It is possible to argue that cutting welfare programs is consistent with Catholic social teaching, because we may choose from the various options available to us to do good by evaluating them in the hierarchy of goods. It will not do to fling citations of social encyclicals at each other on this point. Certainly there are passages that could be found to support increased government activity in the economy and provision of social services — when necessary to serve the common good. But there are also passages that suggest decreased government activity and withdrawal from social services (i.e., critiques of bureaucracy and calls for more vigorous private charity). Whether a particular situation — in this case, the budget battle in the United States in the year 2011 — calls for one or the other is manifestly a prudential question about which Catholics may disagree.

At the root of the incredulity and exasperation of some Catholics who mix fair arguments with vitriol is an incapacity to recognize that we really believe that many government programs aggravate rather than ameliorate poverty and other social ills. Rather than debating the prudence of the policies at hand, detractors resort to ad hominem attacks and pronounce anathemas selectively. Yet there is by this time a vast literature on the damage wrought by the war on poverty and its failure to achieve its goals. Such critics can continue to believe that shoveling government money into welfare programs discharges Catholic social teaching’s obligation to assist the poor if they wish, but their inability to see other views as reasonable, at least, is distressingly myopic.

A Catholic may not disregard the Church’s teaching to assist the poor and vulnerable; to do so would be to neglect the words and example of Christ Himself. It would be, in effect, to deny the Faith. But on the question of how best to fulfill that obligation, Catholics will indeed disagree, and the Church does not teach that it must be otherwise. The same kind of latitude is not permitted when it comes to legal protection of the unborn. I do not believe that this is “my view” of the matter; it is the mind of the Church, to which I hope my own mind is conformed.

Long-time Acton Institute friend and Markets and Morality contributor Jean-Francois Orsini has a new book out. In Fight the Left (yes, it has a polemical edge!), Orsini argues that there are essentially two approaches to the world: liberalism and conservatism. His use of liberalism is decidedly contemporary (i.e., modern, not classical liberalism). His conservatism is sympathetic to the free market but, more importantly, it is “first principled,” meaning that he lays out the foundation on which conservatism must be based. In particular, it must recognize the truth about man: a being, created by God, endowed with the ability to choose good or evil. From this anthropology flows the rest of Orsini’s discussion, including a brief historical survey of conservative giants (Buckley, Goldwater, Reagan); an exposition of Catholic social teaching; and a few policy applications.

If you’re looking for a brief, easy, but nonetheless thought-provoking read, check out Fight the Left.