Center for Ethics and Leadership

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Difficulties in Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

It has only been a short time since the exhibit, A Blessing to One Another, closed here at Alvernia University, but certain statements issued by the Catholic Church over the last few months have put a strain on Catholic-Jewish interreligious dialogue.

The first was a correction issued by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to an earlier document on Catholic-Jewish relations. The correction added that Catholics should always witness their faith. A few days ago, the Vatican approved a change to the Catechism that removed the statement that the covenant with Moses remains eternally valid for the Jews and instead now speaks of the covenants, the promises, the patriarchs, and the law belonging to them. The change was made to indicate that the covenants made with the Jews are fulfilled in Christ said the USCCB.

Add to these two recent statements the restoration a few years ago of the earlier Good Friday liturgy that prays for the conversion of the Jews and the Vatican's ignorance of Bishop Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust, and Jewish partners in the dialogue are concerned.

This glass is half-empty and half-full. All of these statements are aimed not externally at Judaism, but internally at Catholic theologians, or for the benefit of traditional Catholics, or at the reconciliation of schismatics with the Church. Unfortunately, interreligious dialogue has changed the rules of the game and theological statements must take the faith of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians into account before they are finalized. The decrees of Vatican II make this consideration necessary.

Should Christians always witness their faith? Yes. In addition, however, the clarification states explicitly that Catholics should not proselytize Jews, so this statement is of less concern, or should be. Does the covenant with Moses remain eternally valid for Jews? Yes. Although Christians have always seen Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophets (read Matthew's Gospel), Paul is very clear in Romans 9-11 about the permanency of God's covenant with the Jews. Consequently, God's relationship with the Jews is God's work, and this Pauline point raises questions about praying for their conversion, something for which Paul never asks. And once Pope Benedict was informed of Bishop's Williamson's statements, he took swift action. Of course, Vatican aides should have caught the problem earlier.

So things have gotten a little rough. Hopefully dialogue will continue. But statements from some rightfully concerned Jews have been harsh. There should be no threat to cut off dialogue, as there has been. More dialogue is called for.

Sister Barred From Teaching for Supporting Women's Ordination

Archbishop Daniel Pilarcyk of Cincinnati has barred from teaching at parishes and institutions Sister of Charity Louise Akers for her support of women's ordination. Sister Akers had placed her name on a website for the Women's Ordination Conference. She agreed to remove it in conversation with the archbishop, but refused in conscience to make a public renunciation of her position.

Catholic bloggers have reacted strongly on both sides of the issue, although the website I searched, WLWT, channel 5, in Cincinnati, seemed to have more Catholics critical of the archbishop and the church hierarchy in general. The issues were three: the sexual abuse scandal (again!), the accusation of sexism in the Church, and the accusation of hypocrisy in banning Sister Akers for what she reduced to a private position of conscience but providing Sen. Kennedy a Catholic funeral. The ferment among the laity continues.

As for the theological issue itself, a few years ago Pope John Paul II called the teaching on women's ordination definitive and forbade further public discussion of it. This caused some concern since the Church does not have a category of teaching classified as definitive but not infallible. In addition, while there has been some protest against the position that Catholics may not dissent publicly against Church teaching, the issue of a faithful Catholic's private dissent in conscience is more strongly debated.

This is a very difficult issue that will roil the Church for some time.

Does Racism Play a Role?

It took a white Southerner to finally say what has been whispered for a while. Jimmy Carter told NBC Nightly News that much of the opposition to President's Obama's proposals was based on racism. Response was quick. Joe Wilson's (R-SC) son said that his father was no racist and that the matter was about policy. African-American Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele agreed. But Dick Harpootlian, former chair of South Carolina's Democrats said that while he did not think Wilson was racist, his remarks encouraged those with racist attitudes toward the president. African-American Congressman, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), who supported Wilson financially early in Wilson's career, was not so sure about the integrity of Wilson's motives. The White House says the president does not think racism plays a role.

The racial remarks have surfaced now and again since Obama's candidacy. There is something happening here.

Financial Messes and Corporate Welfare III

A year after the Lehman collapse, the last thing I thought I would be doing is writing about Wall Street's irresponsibility again, but President Obama needed the anniversary of the meltdown to reprimand the financial community and warn that there would not be a second bailout.

It seems the previous behaviors have crept back in -- if they ever left. The courts had to reject the sweetheart settlement that arose from the Merrill Lynch/Bank of America merger; financial houses are once again lending with more risk than they should, and even the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has backed down under pressure from Congress, which, of course, is under pressure from lobbyists.

We hear the same tired rhetoric: regulation stymies the market and, besides, is unnecessary. The high pay is legitimate because it is pay for performance. Can anyone understand that regulation should exist because humans misbehave? Does anyone ask whether the compensation formulas are in themselves appropriate? Can we have a conversation about the social responsibility of corporations and a genuine understanding of the jobs and savings lost by average Americans as the financial shock waves rippled through all society as they still are doing?

Where are the ethics? Where is the leadership?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Civility II

Some Catholics were outraged that Sen Kennedy received a Catholic funeral because of his position on abortion. Fortunately, Cardinal O'Malley, a Franciscan, defended his presiding over the requiem liturgy. This is more than a question of civility as the cardinal pointed out. It is about whether we believe in the mercy and forgiveness of God, or whether we think we have the authority to say, as one objector put it, that the mass was one more example of the senator spitting in the face of Christ.

Civility I

I'm running to catch a plane, so I will be brief. No sooner had one of my doctoral students criticized those who wanted to keep President Obama's Tuesday speech out of their schools as disrespectful of the office of the president, than Rep. Joe Wilson (R, S.C.) called the president a liar during his health care speech to Congress. What is happening to us?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Importance of Unions

Thursday's (September 2) New York Times (which my undergraduates are supposed to be reading) carried an editorial that reported research done by UCLA on low-wage American workers. The survey found abuses in overtime worked but not paid for, wages below the legal minimum wage, illegal deductions to pay for tools or other expenses, and so on. The Times called the report "an acute picture of powerlessness."

There is more. I have written before about "mobbing" in the workplace, which is when bosses and co-workers pick on an employee until the employee suffers greatly, and the risks of whistle blowing are well known. The Times writes, "Workers who complained to bosses or government agencies or tried to form unions suffered illegal retaliation: firing, suspension, pay cuts or threats to call immigration authorities."

The Times calls for more rigorous government investigation of complaints, especially where immigrant workers are concerned, but the answer is more basic still.

We need a return to the power of the union.

Unions have been blamed for much. Many would blame them for the decline of the auto industry. They are said to interfere with global competitiveness. But that competitiveness is made possible only by exploited foreign workers, often women and children. And Detroit knew long ago about the changing automobile market and workplace and did nothing.

Unions have been under assault since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in the early 80s. At approximately 20 percent membership then, they are now only at 12 percent of the American workforce. They never were stronger than about one-third of the workforce.

One hundred and eighteen years ago, Pope Leo XIII argued for the moral legitimacy and economic necessity of unions. Those reasons, primary among them fairness in the distribution of wealth generated by modern economies, remain valid today. Most of us, including the well educated knowledge workers among us, would benefit from strong unions today.

An Attempt to Save Newspapers, Again

Alvernia's new Vice President of University Life and Student Learning Experiences, Joseph Cicala, has brought a program to campus meant to involve current undergraduates in reading the newspaper. It is a daunting task. News is, after all, available in the palm of one's hand with the right model of cellular phone. And the brevity of the digital transmission is print's greatest challenge. Not the immediacy, the brevity. Unfortunately, newspapers are about anything but brevity.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I am quite dedicated to the importance of newspapers to American society, and so I have incorporated Mr. Cicala's USA Today Collegiate Readership Program into my introductory theology course. Here's hoping I spark some interest.