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Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Faltering Public Square Voice of Archbishop Flynn Redux (Letter to the Editor)

Here's the streamlined version of a previous post that I submitted to the StarTribune. One of the highlights of Archbishop Flynn's episcopal service now included, in addition to the surge in Perpetual Adoration sites in the Twin Cities, is the increase in vocations, a development which RCB has also noted.

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 to address the "crisis" of a Catholic presidential nominee who long openly defied Catholic teaching, 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.
Archbishops Burke and Chaput were joined by others soon after the election who recognized that participation in the political process is a moral obligation, including Archbishop Flynn and the Minnesota Catholic Conference. For 2005, in addition to testifying before the legislature, the MCC issued a 13-item priority list and pastoral letters and messages on educational choice, taxation and the state's budget, and marriage. Despite disagreeing with three MCC objectives, I welcome the addition of the episcopal voice to the public arena.

After his stepping into the political spotlight following 10 years in the relative shadows, the StarTribune published an interview with Archbishop Flynn, “Flynn takes on Pawlenty.” The topic that has gotten the most play is, of course, one of those on which I disagree, raising taxes.

First, I do agree that the budget is a moral statement, and it is easy to miss how decisions related to it affect those in need. But it does not follow that the proper action is to raise taxes. Did the MCC and the archbishop not consider that the current budget priorities may be misaligned, and that it may be more moral to redirect monies from illicit, or ineffective, programs rather than advocate extracting more funds from the populace?

Like Archbishop Flynn, we're not starving either, but given that Minnesotans are already among the most taxed in the nation, it is not clear why that must translate to higher taxes. Consider raising already high taxes always reduces the desired behavior and the corresponding revenue. And taxes 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 core of the Catholic mission. We are called to bring others in solidarity 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 we act as individuals, using the gifts bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit, to the benefit of the common good.

My wife and I are growing the Church with seven children. We are evangelizing youth with four currently in Catholic school. And we raise money, volunteer services, and give thousands of dollars per year to Catholic organizations that do a far better job of stretching a dollar to help people than does the state. Higher taxes reduce our freedom to act in the way we ought and does not hold the state government to account for what it already has. As a result, I struggle with adopting the archbishop's view where he “would be happy to pay [more] if [he] knew a single mother was going to be assisted…"

We have been blessed to have Archbishop Flynn. Since he has come to the Twin Cities, there have been a substantial increases in two areas related to the Eucharist: Perpetual Adoration sites and vocations. Such a shepherd must have a unique insight he can share through a pastoral letter that serves us better than the MCC’s teaching on the need for higher taxes.

As misguided as I think he is on taxes, I do welcome the archbishop's voice in the public square and generally find his new assertiveness to the good. Unfortunately, some of the political positions he has emphasized that are not matters of Catholic dogma (specifics with which a faithful Catholic may disagree) have caused confusion regarding those things that are. Still, I pray His Excellency will better strengthen his voice from the foundation of the Eucharist through better considered teachings.

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