Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Faltering Public Square Voice of Archbishop Flynn

Memorial of St. Christopher Magallanes and his companions

In February George Weigel argued that the most significant development in US Catholic life in 2004 was that several individual bishops vindicated Vatican II by rediscovering their voices as authentic teachers of the faith. While bemoaning the USCCB's bureaucratic response of forming a committee, which would not take serious action until after the election, to address the "crisis" of a Catholic presidential nominee who openly defied Catholic teaching for decades, he was heartened by a new development:

With the archbishops of St. Louis and Denver in the lead, local bishops around the country decided that, rather than waiting on the conference's lethargic "process," they would reclaim the teaching authority Vatican II had taught was theirs. Thus, while the bishops' conference had nothing of consequence to say about "Catholics and politics" during the heat of the 2004 debate, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver (to take but one example of the new trend) produced a magisterial of-ed essay for the New York Times, demolishing the notion of Catholic sectarianism and challenging the entire nation to bring conscience to bear in public life.
Not only did Archbishops Burke and Chaput not shrink from the public square, they were joined by others before and soon after the election who recognized that participation in the political process is a moral obligation, including the Minnesota Conference with Archbishop Flynn. In addition to testifying before the Minnesota Legislature, the MCC issued a priority list of 13 items and pastoral letters and messages on educational choice, taxation and the state's budget, and marriage. In general, even though I strongly disagree with three of the MCC's objectives, I welcome the addition of the episcopal voice to the public arena.

Recognizing that after 10 years of relative quiet, Archbishop Flynn has stepped into the political spotlight, and with the legislative year winding down, the StarTribune has published a recent interview (free reg. may be req'd, links usually good for 2 weeks) with him. The area that has gotten the most play is, of course, one of those topics on which I disagree. Here's an excerpt:

On his decision to speak out for higher taxes:

"It's so easy to make decisions on a budget without really knowing how that decision is going to affect a single mother, someone who needs assistance in health care, someone who needs child care. When I heard them [legislators] talking about cutbacks and no increase in taxes at all, I was compelled to do something. I pay taxes, you know, and my salary is about $2,200 a month plus room and board, so I'm not starving. I wouldn't mind a tax increase. I would be happy to pay it if I knew a single mother was going to be assisted, to put her child in a day care center so that she could go out and do her work and not worry about that child. I'm not going to let this go. I'm hosting a meeting of religious leaders at my residence within the next month, simply to keep revisiting this, so we don't let it get lost, this idea that the state budget is a moral statement."

First, I agree with the notions that the budget is a moral statement and it is easy to lose sight of how decisions related to it affect those in need directly. But it does not follow that the proper action is to raise taxes. Could it be that the current budget priorities are out of whack and that it is more moral to redirect monies from illicit, or ineffective, programs rather than advocate attempting to extract more funds from the populace at the point of a gun?

We're not starving either. We do quite well, thank you. But Minnesotans are already among the most taxed in the nation. And raising already high taxes always reduces the desired behavior and the corresponding revenue. And incremental monies collected for a given purpose never get close to going dollar for dollar to that purpose. And there are other ways.

The Eucharist is at the center of our mission as Catholics. We are called to bring others to Christ through His Church. Solidarity requires we pay taxes and fees to allow the state to administer to those in need, and we do. Solidarity also requires that we act as individuals and families, using the gifts bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit, to the benefit of the common good.

My wife and I have seven children (using the domestic church to build the Church Militant). We have four in Catholic school currently (a primary method for evangelizing youth). And we, as a family, help raise money, volunteer services, and give thousands of dollars per year to a list of Catholic organizations (including the archdiocese) that does a far better job of stretching a dollar to help people than does the state. Raising taxes beyond their already high rates reduces our freedom to act in the way we ought. So even if it were truly possible, I would have a tough time buying into the archbishop's idea that "I would be happy to pay [more taxes] if I knew a single mother was going to be assisted, to put her child in a day care center so that she could go out and do her work and not worry about that child."

I admit that this is a bit of an uncharitable rant. Nevertheless, I do welcome the archbishop's voice in the public square and think that his change this year, particularly compared to his previous general silence, is to the good. Unfortunately, some of the political positions he has emphasized that are not matters of Catholic dogma (things with which a faithful Catholic may disagree) have caused confusion regarding those things that are a matter of dogma. Still, I hope and pray His Excellency will better strengthen his voice from the foundation of the Blessed Sacrament, from which, as I have noted many times before, I am certain he has a special insight to draw.

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