Social Teaching

Catholic Opinion by the Numbers: A Revealing New Poll

By Deal W. Hudson

Nanci Pelosi calls herself a conservative Catholic. Sure, she may be in favor of abortion, women priests, and homosexual marriages, but according to the House minority leader, that has no bearing on her life as a Catholic.

How does she define “conservative Catholic”? In a January interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Pelosi explains, “I was raised… in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us.”

Pelosi’s brand of Catholicism—one concerned with culture, roots, and a vague notion of “respect”—is fairly common in the ranks of Catholic politicians. Believing their faith to be merely a cultural heritage rather than a living guide, they are happy to call themselves Catholic at election time and then, once in office, behave in conspicuously un-Catholic ways.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem reserved for campaigning politicians. Catholics in all walks of life, prelate and layman alike, manage to rationalize the disjunction between the demands of their faith and the reality of their voting habits. In an attempt to shore up the distance between faith and practice, the Vatican published its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life earlier this year. Put simply, the document points out that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically including such divisive issues as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual unions.

Whether they are simply unaware of this fact or choose to ignore it, studies have shown that Catholic voting trends on these issues tend to be no different from those of the general public. Such studies have led many pundits to disregard the possibility of a unified Catholic vote to which a politician could appeal with any sort of regularity. Catholics may account for a quarter of the nation’s population and a third of its voters, but these numbers alone aren’t enough to effect any sort of positive change.

However, what the pundits fail to recognize—but most any Catholic could tell you—is that there’s a significant difference between the habits of a practicing Catholic and one who, like Pelosi, keeps the title as a cultural reference only. The number of such “inactive” Catholics is relatively high, and their voting practices will not differ substantially from the population at large. Group all these Catholics together in an opinion poll and the results will be inconclusive at best, with no clear voice prevailing.

This realization was the driving force behind a survey conducted by Crisis in 1998. The poll asked self-identified Catholics questions on issues of politics, faith, and morals, and responses were broken down according to how often that person attended Mass in a standard month. The results were telling: The more often a person attended Mass, the more likely his answers were in line with Church teaching. After clearing away the various views of inactive Catholics, what was left was a relatively uniform group of Catholic opinions. With a solid core of committed Catholics, the survey proved that active Catholics were indeed a well-defined constituency. Based on an analysis of their past voting trends, these Catholics were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.

As a follow-up to the 1998 survey, Crisis conducted another survey in November 2002 structured in a similar fashion with many of the same questions regarding political and moral issues (for the full results of the survey, visit our Web site at This second survey established once again that when it comes to voting and public opinion, the distinction between an active and an inactive Catholic is crucial. Even then, however, Catholics still have a long way to go in acting consistently on the teachings of the Faith.

The Laity

No matter how else they may disagree, Catholics of all stripes identify the decline of individual morality in America as a serious problem. Seventy-three percent of all Catholics and 79 percent of active Catholics acknowledge the reality of this crisis, while similar numbers attribute the problem to the negative influence of popular culture. It can hardly be surprising that there should be such consensus, especially given recent revelations about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. If such an erosion of personal morals could be found among leaders of the Church—the very institution responsible for guiding the laity in matters of morality—then it’s no wonder that Catholics have little faith in society at large.

But while both active and inactive Catholics can agree on the existence of a moral crisis, the two groups have little in common when it comes to political legislation regarding moral issues. Take the question of same-sex marriage: Inactive Catholics are generally opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (66 percent), while active Catholics would oppose such a motion much more frequently (75 percent). The same holds true for abortion:

Only 36 percent of inactive Catholics would favor “enacting legal restrictions on abortion in order to reduce the number of abortions being performed,” compared with 55 percent of active Catholics. In the case of human embryo cloning, not even a majority of inactive Catholics would outlaw it: 55 percent would allow cloning for medical research, while 58 percent of active Catholics would outlaw cloning in all cases.

One may ask how inactive Catholics could be so out of step with Church teaching. The more pressing question, however, is why aren’t active Catholics more in step with that teaching? Though the numbers may be higher than a similar response from the general population, the fact that only 55 percent of regular church-goers would favor restrictions on abortion is baffling. Indeed, it seems to fly in the face of everything one would expect from committed Catholics. How could it be possible?

It’s likely that had the question been worded differently to emphasize the morality of the issue rather than the legislative procedures surrounding it, active Catholics might have stood more firmly behind the Church’s teaching on such issues. A small comfort, however, when one considers the implications of holding such beliefs without the commitment to act on them. As a result, many Catholics have fallen into a sort of Cuomo Catholicism, one that is active in private worship but not in public practice.

This sad conclusion is consistent with the reaction of some Catholics to political and moral questions of a lesser magnitude that were also in the survey. Seventy-six percent of active Catholics are in favor of school vouchers, for example, and 68 percent would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortions to its patients. Just as these Catholics seem hesitant to force their beliefs on society, so too would they resent the advances of society on their own institutions and beliefs. The “live and let live” approach sits well with such Catholics.

But the Vatican says that isn’t enough. The doctrinal note maintains that “there cannot be two parallel lives in [Catholics’] existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” The dignity of life is not the private opinion of select Catholics but a truth that transcends human institutions. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles,” the note states, “which are the underpinning of life in society.”

The Bishops

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the laity to make the connection between beliefs and voting habits, blame for letting such behavior pass without comment has often been laid at the feet of the bishops. Members of the clergy are called to task for being conspicuously silent on the standard hot-button issues of abortion, euthanasia, and their respective counterparts. After reports of sexual abuse surfaced, however, similar silence was seen not only as irresponsible but morally reprehensible. The lack of action by certain bishops is jeopardizing the authority of all bishops.

Should they think otherwise, the bishops need only read the results of the survey. Only a slim majority of active Catholics-52 percent—is supportive of the manner in which the bishops have responded to the abuse crisis; inactive Catholics are much more critical, with only 35 percent being satisfied by the bishops’ response. There is no group firmly in the bishops’ corner; even large donors and those who attend Mass more than five times a month have a high rate of dissatisfaction. Given that much of their support—monetary or otherwise—generally comes from these groups, all bishops will likely feel a strain in clergy-laity relations as a result.

The approval ratings for bishops may gradually recover over time. A more disturbing and, perhaps, more lasting trend is that a large percentage of Catholics have less faith in the moral teachings of the Church as a result of the scandal. Sixty-six percent of active Catholics claim their faith is unshaken, but the fact that even 29 percent would now doubt those teachings is a serious issue (5 percent remained unsure). And unfortunately, those in the best position to reassure the doubters are part of the cause for doubt.

Bishops can do a number of things to stave off further disappointment and disaster. For one, they must remain diligent in their work to repair past cases of abuse. But the laity also needs proof that everything possible is being done to prevent these crimes in the future. A full 65 percent of all Catholics believe the abuse is still occurring today, so an appeal to forgiveness for past mistakes will not be enough to allay those fears. Visible, public steps must be taken at this point: Whether going into seminaries or going out to comfort the abused, members of the flock need to feel that their shepherd is leading the fight in this scandal, not being dragged along unwillingly.

Once again, the Vatican has clear directives for those in power: “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.” The bishops must shoulder this responsibility if the laity will ever be encouraged to follow.

The President

With such emphasis placed on the laity’s involvement in the political sphere, it becomes important for politicians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to understand where the support of active Catholic voters is likely to be found. The political press core identified the 1998 poll as providing a valuable tool to then-Governor George W. Bush in his campaign for the White House. President Bush was able to appeal to specific concerns and interests of active Catholics, attracting support with his platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

The work paid off: Bush was elected and is currently enjoying fairly regular support from Catholics. Seventy-two percent of active Catholics approve of the job Bush is doing as president (well above the usual numbers for general public opinion), and 57 percent feel that he’s supportive of Catholic values. One could say that Bush has won the respect of active-Catholic voters, but there are still a lot of voters who need to be convinced of his dedication. It’s one thing to note that 22 percent of active Catholics don’t think he’s supportive of their values; the fact that 22 percent aren’t sure one way or the other shows that Bush still has a lot of room to persuade them.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity among Catholics may be the result of the president’s stand on the war in Iraq. In a departure from the usual trend, support is greater among inactive Catholics on the issue. Only 52 percent of active Catholics favored intervening in Iraq. Most likely, the words of the bishops condemning the idea of war had a great impact on active Catholics—a reality that could be problematic for a president who may be largely remembered for his stand against Saddam Hussein.

How, then, does one win back those active Catholics who did not support the president’s stance on the conflict? This subsection tends to be more disapproving of Bush’s job as president, with only 50 percent supporting him, and is more skeptical of his support for Catholic values (32 percent). There’s room for improvement, however: 27 percent of these Catholics are unsure of his commitment—a window of opportunity for the president to convince them otherwise.

Most active Catholics who opposed Bush on Iraq identify themselves as Democrats; they were more apt to vote for Al Gore in the last election than the general population of Catholics but consider themselves more moderate than anything else. They had the same ambiguity regarding the question of abortion legislation, and yet—curiously enough—would more readily identify themselves as pro-life.

Bush can appeal to these voters by raising the bar. These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren. They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports. Bush cannot present himself simply as the lesser of two evils but must be seen as a proactive leader who will attain results.

Whatever choices the candidates represent, however, the responsibility ultimately returns to the laity. Without the dedication to vote their Catholic conscience, an army of committed Catholic politicians will be of no use. Catholics—those in public office and those who vote for them—need to be reminded of their duty to the universal truths taught by the Church and upheld by natural law, a responsibility that can never be shirked.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2003.

How Catholic Universities Fool Their Donors

By Deal W. Hudson

During my eight years at Crisis, the conversation that most often reoccurs is the one about the fate of the Catholic university and college. It begins inevitably with an alumnus complaining about the latest anti-Catholic outbreak on the hallowed grounds of their former college campus and ends with their asking me for advice. I always respond by asking them whether or not they’ve spoken to the administration with their wallets, either threatening to end donations and/or actually pulling the trigger. Nine out of ten times they shake their heads sadly saying, “No, I can’t do that; it’s better to keep a place at the table or the problem will only get worse.”

Wrong answer.

Most college graduates are nostalgic: Carefree days filled with books, sports, and sporting around. It’s difficult to get hard-hearted toward all that, especially when you add nuns and priests who taught you the Faith and the lessons of life. When the experience becomes multigenerational, the bonding to a particular campus is almost irresistible. And Catholics are nothing if not loyal. History has shown that they’ll forgive anything—from a decade of losing football teams to a theology department full of professors eager to bash, or slyly subvert, the Church in the national media.

By staying in touch with these alums, I’ve been able to observe how their colleges try to soothe them and keep them assured of their Catholic identity. The most obvious scheme is for the development department to ask them for a targeted gift—one that goes directly to some program that seems to reinforce orthodoxy. So programs in Catholic studies, lecture series, or campus ministries are created and offered to skeptical donors as a way of sticking with the institution while—wink, wink—the tenured faculty retires or moves on and younger, more faithful professors are hired.

Such philanthropy may salve the donor’s conscience, but it does nothing for the Catholic identity of the institution except distract everyone’s attention away from its primary concern: what’s being taught in the classroom. What good does it do to pay for a tasty dessert when the main course remains undercooked? Does an occasional lecture from George Weigel change the character of a university? (Even Weigel isn’t that good!) Does taking a group of existing courses from different departments and lumping them together under “Catholic Studies” ensure the Magisterial position is being taught and defended in the classroom? No—in fact, such programs may compound the problem, since the course on feminist interpretations of the “three Marys” is no longer solely in the province of the English department.

Next in line is what I call the “Ex Corde Ecclesiae Shuffle”—quite popular among college presidents and development directors. Concerned alums ask how the implementation and mandatum are going only to be warned of “those people in the Vatican” who are afraid of an educated laity. The inside story of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the alums are told, is that mean old Cardinal Ratzinger was uncomfortable with the “academic excellence” of the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities and didn’t really understand the tradition of “academic freedom” in this country. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, they’re told, is just another attempt by the Vatican to control the U.S. Church.

Perhaps the Vatican is concerned about an uneducated laity…one that’s uneducated in the Faith. Indeed, the anti-Roman antagonism on Catholic campuses rarely shows its face directly; rather, blunt comments are limited to the ears of those cognoscenti who earnestly wish for a “progressive” successor to John Paul II. For outsiders, it’s there to be seen and heard in the body language, the silences, and emphatic focus on “peace and justice” issues.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t appear that any of the major Catholic institutions that fit this profile have any financial problems, although some smaller and mid-size schools have struggled and gone out of business. It may be that the more established schools have passed successfully through the period where donor pressure might have produced reforms: It’s unlikely that graduates from the 1970s will care enough about Catholic identity to withhold their money. Sadly, it appears that Catholic schools since the early 1970s have been producing the perfect donors: well-educated in the world of commerce and able to make enough money to give it away, but uneducated in the Faith and incapable of knowing when their beloved alma mater has drifted from its mission.

Published in Crisis Magazine, May 1, 2003

Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

By Deal W. Hudson

Mikhail Gorbachev was the final president of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 to 1991. His policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) led to the end of communism in the USSR and the birth of a new, democratic Russia.

Currently, he heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an international think tank. He sat down with Deal W. Hudson in his office in Moscow, under-neath a large portrait of his late, beloved wife, Raisa.

Deal W. Hudson: The United States and its allies are now at war with terrorism. How do you see that proceeding?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Even as we’re witnessing a new euphoria from the victory over the Taliban, we have to state firmly that resorting to bombing of entire countries and peoples each time we battle with terrorism is absolutely unacceptable. We need to decide this on a case-by-case basis. There are economic, financial, and other means to go about combating this threat.

Do you think, in some cases, the same objective can be achieved through nonviolent methods?

Yes, of course. I was talking to Margaret Thatcher when she called for NATO strikes against Serbs in Bosnia. I asked her why she didn’t use this method of bombing in Belfast with all the problems with the IRA in northern Ireland—even when she narrowly escaped the bombing in a hotel. Why was it all right to bomb the Serbs? I saw her on the TV screen, and she was saying, “Bomb them, bomb them.” My answer was very harsh: I told her not to resort to violence.

What would you suggest?

Recently, I did an interview with a German newspaper in which I pointed out that there are many other nonmilitary options available. I was one of the first to suggest going the financial route. My proposal was to take ten banks that offer support to terrorist groups and revoke their licenses. You can be sure the next day 120 percent of the other banks would change their practices. When the newspaper ran the article, the headline said, “Gorbachev wants to revoke licenses of German banks.” [Laughter]

I understand you met with former President Clinton recently?

Yes, I met President Clinton in Madrid. My relationship with President Clinton was quite strained, if not downright tense. Of course, it was not because of Monica Lewinsky. I was highly critical of his foreign policy. He is guilty for the fact that the U.S. has wasted those ten years following the end of the Cold War.

What should he have done? How did he waste those years? Do you mean against terrorism?

I think he missed out on opportunities to develop a new world order. I discussed this at length with the president of the United States, George W. Bush. I think [the United States and Russia] should have worked more on the NATO issues and the issues of European security. Following the end of the Cold War, little had been done. I think Mr. Clinton, as a freshman in foreign politics, was spending too much time on the little details, and as a result, none of us was ready for the challenges of globalization.

So [Mr. Clinton and I] were the two principal speakers at the Madrid conference, and Mr. Clinton delivered a very interesting address. Put bluntly, he was rather self-critical. I asked, “Why bother with self-criticism? You’re interested in the poverty issue, and something must be done about it.” He said, “It wasn’t really me who caused the growth of poverty, but I didn’t do very much to address it.”

Are you encouraged by the strong relationship between President Bush and President Putin?

Very much so. It would be good if no one paid attention to those who criticize Bush in the United States or those who tend to criticize Mr. Putin in Russia. Mr. Putin has great support among the ordinary people, but some scholars and intellectuals who cater to the party interests of ruling elites try to criticize him. We shouldn’t only talk about the need

What kind of mechanisms do you have in mind?

Take NATO, for example. Russia, together with NATO, is addressing some of the really critical problems of today, and Russia’s contribution to this process is much bigger than that of all those aspiring states who want to join NATO. And it’s going to be this way in the future. If we consolidate this strength, I think we will all benefit. It’s not necessary that Russia join NATO; the main thing is to have a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO. This mechanism should give Russia equal footing not only in the decision- making process but also in discussing all those issues.

Recently, my old acquaintance and friend, Mr. Colin Powell, came to Moscow and said yes, we should give Russia a bigger role with NATO, but we shouldn’t give it the right of veto. I told the secretary of state that he’s moving too fast and that he should warn his allies not to give in. The president should know that if Russia will participate more in decision-making in NATO, then NATO would be guaranteed not to make mistakes in the future.

Putin has the same stance that we had in Malta during our meeting with Mr. Bush: We don’t consider our countries to be enemies. But America does have to understand that just as you have interests—vital interests—that we understand, we have ours as well. If there’s dialogue, if there’s a mechanism, we’ll discuss issues and find mutually beneficial solutions. If NATO is really ready for a partnership, it couldn’t find a better partner than Russia.

Some people say that the United States and Russia are natural allies. Do you agree?

Yes. Objectively speaking, they should be allies. It’s significant that today we can speak of a partnership between the two—that we could be allies. We see both the Russian and American sides working in this direction, So, you are correct.

But there’s work to be done right now. If we don’t consider seriously all Mr. Putin’s proposals regarding domestic and foreign policy, we may miss another chance—because, you know, these proposals are really far-reaching.

Right now, we see new challenges, new problems. We were discussing the problems concerning the anti-terrorist coalition—the war on the Taliban. Of course we’re sure the United States will win this war. Following this victory, there will be euphoria, and we will forget about everything we’ve just gone through. We’ll forget about the main challenges, about what we should really be doing.

You speak of the changes between Russia and the West. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in Russia itself? What were some of the challenges you faced as president?

I’ve often been invited to speak about the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. I think it’s a very interesting subject. In our case, we were all learning to pronounce this term “private property,” and it was almost like a second revolution. In each of my speeches, the members of the Politburo would look for words that in some way or another might be understood as critical of socialism. Those, they tried to replace. You must understand, by 1985, 90 percent of all the Soviet population was born under socialist rule after the October Revolution. They knew nothing of power, private property, and so on. So the main obstacle for Russian progress is our set of preconceptions. Our friends in the West wanted to think that because Gorbachev declared freedom, democracy, pluralism, glasnost, and so on that everything would change overnight.

But for now, without an efficient legal system which is truly able to enforce federal law, Russia will not be able to get back on track with democratic reforms.

How do you see your legacy? What will the history books say about your leadership of the Soviet Union?

There was a very interesting poll conducted by the All-Russian Poll Center. The results of this poll were wonderful. Everyone is for reform now, but they’re arguing about whether we ever needed to start perestroika at all. Forty-two percent of the people think that we needed to start perestroika and 45 percent say we shouldn’t have. This 45 percent who say that we shouldn’t have are mainly senior citizens. So the most active, young, middle-class part of the population say that it was worthwhile.

Another peculiar feature was that even those respondents who said that it wasn’t worth starting perestroika at all say that they are for pluralism—pluralism of ideas, pluralism of parties, pluralism of ideology, and religious confession. So even if they didn’t think perestroika was a great idea, 60 to 80 percent say they’re happy with the changes it brought. Even those who voted against perestroika in this poll—they say that those benefits are good. They support those benefits.

I’m especially encouraged by the fact that 80 to 82 percent of all those respondents, when asked what kind of Russia they’d like to see in the future, say that they want a free, democratic country. So I think I’ll live to see that day. Mine is the usual fate of reformers: Either we get killed or our contribution is acknowledged only 50 years later.

Published at Crisis Magazine, February 1, 2002

A City Divided: How Israel’s Wall Is Splitting the Holy Land

By Deal W. Hudson

I met my guide, Helmut Konitzer, at the airport. A German who visits the West Bank to assist the sisters, monks, and priests living there, Helmut had the look of a well-cut drifter. I wasn’t surprised when he told me his preferred mode of transportation was his motorcycle, especially when medicines have to be delivered quickly to the sisters for their work. Cars are always delayed by the roadblocks. “On my motorcycle, I can just go around, as you will see,” he said.

There was still a little sunlight left in our day, and Helmut thought it important to introduce me to one reality of life in the Holy Land—the checkpoint. He took me to the most dangerous checkpoint on the West Bank, the one that blocks the road leading into and out of Ramallah, home to the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

AII the roads in and out of the West Bank have checkpoints. Cities and suburbs that used to be minutes apart are almost totally separated by the time and trouble it takes to traverse these roadblocks. A simple car trip from Ramallah to East Jerusalem or from Jerusalem to Bethlehem—which normally takes only a few minutes—can now take an hour or more. That is, unless you have the yellow license plate of an Israeli citizen.

I realized I would be thankful for Helmut’s motorcycle.

Once we were through the checkpoint, we still had time to look at the Mount of Olives as the sun was setting. I was about to see the most sacred ground in the world. I stepped from the car and looked down upon the place where Jesus was arrested, crucified, and resurrected. The late afternoon sunlight was almost blinding and extremely hot as I tried to take it all in.

And that’s when I saw it. Looking north, I could see clearly in the distance a towering concrete wall that wound its way to the spot where I stood. This was the reason I had come. It is being built by Israel to help prevent suicide bombers and other terrorists from entering the country. Thus far, it has met with success. But for Christians, that success has come at a price.

A Briefing in Rome

Before I arrived in Jerusalem, I made a point to meet with Rev. David Jaeger in Rome. A convert born both Jewish and Israeli, he’s the kind of priest who should be the protagonist in a series of detective novels. He has the size of a man who spends too much time at the table in conversation, but once he speaks, I’m grateful that such a Chestertonian character still exists. Given his intelligence and encyclopedic memory, I could see why he occupies such an important position in the Vatican. Father Jaeger is officially in charge of all the diplomatic negotiations between the Holy See and the nation of Israel.

When we sat down in a hotel adjacent to the airport, he thought it important that I first understand the history and status of negotiations between the Holy See and Israel—the purpose of which was to finalize what is called the “fundamental agreement” between the two nations, formalizing their legal and diplomatic relationships. (Catholics sometimes forget that the Holy See is also a political, governmental entity in the eyes of other nations.)

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the Israeli government had canceled the most recent negotiations just as the

Previous pages: Two views of the wall in Jerusalem two sides seemed on the verge of settling many of the legal and financial issues left unresolved by previous talks.

Shortly following my return to the United States, Israel returned to the talks but disappointed Jaeger by saying they had no authority to actually negotiate. This prompted a letter from Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to continue the negotiations with an Israeli delegation with real authority. The letter worked. As I write, the two nations are back at the table making progress.

Unfortunately, the fundamental charter—the fruit of earlier negotiations that was signed in 1993—was never added to Israeli law, which means it is unenforceable. And thus, Church property disputes cannot be resolved in the court because there’s no legal relationship between the Church and the Israeli government. There are many cases of confiscation of Church property by Israel that have never been resolved or even litigated.

The Wall

There’s something shocking about seeing the wall for the first time, large and imposing as it is. When you stand next to a concrete section, it seems like overkill—its dwarfing presence signifies a resolute intent. But there are good reasons why it was conceived and built. Israel has been plagued for years by suicide bombers, young Palestinians who strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Since September 2000, 921 people have been killed by these attacks, including many non-Israelis and several American citizens. The rationale for the proposed 400-mile wall (estimates vary between 372 and 466 miles)—officially called a “fence”—is to provide a buffer zone against terrorism. As of September 2004, more than 125 miles have been built. Fifteen miles consist of a 28-foot-tall concrete wall surrounded by security fences; the remainder is made up of chain-link fences, barbed wire, trenches, and land mines.

There is evidence that, at least in the short term, the wall has made Israel more secure. A spokesman for Sharon estimates that the structure has reduced attacks by 50 percent. Others argue that the barrier has been even more effective than that.

But while the number of suicide bombers has measurably decreased, they’re still active. In one case, terrorists resorted to firing rockets over the wall into Jewish neighborhoods. Thus far these attacks have been largely symbolic—no one has been killed by them and little damage has resulted. Nevertheless, with each terrorist strike the rationale for the wall gains strength, and debate about specific problems with the structure recedes from public view.

This is a shame, since I’m concerned that there’s a larger, long-term price to pay here. And those footing the bill are too often the few remaining Christians left in the Holy Land—most of whom are Palestinian—and by the Christian apostolates who minister to the West Bank communities.

Unfortunately, even the mildest criticism of the wall is considered by some to be an outrageous breach of support for Israel. Shortly before I left for Jerusalem, Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) took this risk by writing an open letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell protesting the construction of the barrier, the confiscation of Church property, and the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Holy See. Like Congressman Hyde, I do not question Israel’s right to exist or its absolute obligation to defend its citizenry against heinous acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, I do fear that this structure has actually deepened the hatred between the two neighbors. Given how bad the blood has been between them, this is a tragic achievement.

According to the Israeli government, when completed, over 95 percent of the wall will be made up of a “chain-link fence system,” utilizing 60 to 100 yard-wide cleared areas with ditches, roads, razor wire, watchtowers, cameras, and electronic sensors.

The walls and fences follow, roughly, the boundaries of what is termed the “Green Line,” or the truce lines of the 1948 war of independence. However, in several significant places the wall juts out into the West Bank to surround various Jewish settlements. In doing so, it often separates Palestinian farmers from their fields or convents from the schools they run.

The structure was politically controversial from the beginning. President Bush, Israel’s most important political ally, said on July 23, 2003, “I think the wall is a problem. And I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank. And I will continue to discuss this issue very clearly with the prime minister.”

A month later it was reported that the Bush administration was actually threatening to withhold billions of dollars in loan guarantees from Israel if the Sharon government continued to build the wall through the West Bank. Yet the Israelis, led by a determined Sharon, never halted the construction. And two months later, after some alterations in the wall route made at the request of the White House, the administration ended its public opposition.

But the story doesn’t end there. It can’t. Too many have been harmed by the wall and its winding route. It was time for me to meet them.

The Daughters of Charity

The Daughters of Charity have ministered to the people of the West Bank for centuries. At present they offer services to both Palestinian and Israeli foster children. On the second day of my trip, I was welcomed by Mother Josephine and Sister Lodi. They are a study in contrasts: Josephine tall and reserved; Lodi short, talkative, and ready to show me exactly where the Israeli government stole their land.

Apparently, in early April 2003, Mother Josephine was approached by a group of Israeli military officers who told her that a wall was to be built “very close” to their property: Did they prefer to be on the Israeli or the Palestinian side? This was a tremendous dilemma: The sisters had served this community of East Jerusalem for hundreds of years and were now being asked which neighbors—those to the east or those to the west—to cut off. After much deliberation, they felt constrained to choose the Israeli side because it would interfere less with their staff and the children they house.

The nuns were soon shown a map of the area and were assured that the wall wouldn’t touch their property. But later that month, Sister Lodi heard a loud noise at the back of the monastery property. She went to investigate and found a bulldozer breaking through their stone fence. When she asked one of the soldiers accompanying the construction crew just what they were doing, he pointed a gun at her chest and said, “Sister, go back to your house. We are not to talk to you we are ordered to come here to do what we are ordered to do.”

The men used the bulldozers to prepare the area for construction, destroying the nuns’ orchard of olive and lemon trees. Since it was nearly time for the olive harvest, the sisters asked if they could at least pick the olives before the trees were bulldozed. They were refused.

Split in Two

But the Daughters of Charity isn’t the only religious community to suffer. Not far away, Russian Orthodox Mother Agapia—the sister of former Clinton-adviser-turned-media-star George Stephanopoulos—runs the Bethany School, owned by the Orthodox convent of St. Mary Magdalen.

Unfortunately, the wall has actually separated the school from the convent itself. The sisters now must go around the winding wall and through the numerous checkpoints to get to their school. The Christian children on the other side will soon be unable to attend at all. Mother’s first concern, though, was that the 80 or so Christian families who still remain in the Bethany area will leave. For centuries Bethany, like many cities around Jerusalem, was almost entirely Christian. Not so anymore.

“Out of 15,000 people living here, there are only 70 to 80 Christian families left,” she told me. “Most of them have Jerusalem IDs, and up to this point they’re educated people. They’ve had jobs, whether in tourism or accounting or working for the Franciscan Press, but their lives are on the other side of the wall. So if this wall becomes a case where the people are sealed off, it’s inevitable that they’re going to have to consider moving out of there.”

Mother looks at the future and sees only the physical remnants of Christianity. “We’ll still have the churches,” she said, sadly. “Lazarus’s tomb is down the road about one-half kilometer from the school here, and there’s a Greek convent across the street from us. So the churches themselves may stay, but there won’t be life—the living stones are going to be gone. And I think the situation is going to repeat itself in Bethlehem and within the center of Jerusalem, because the life for the normal people is being squeezed out. They see no hope for the future for their children, and even trying to conduct daily life is becoming increasingly impossible. The Holy Land is being mutilated.”

I asked her if being covered from head to toe in a black habit made it difficult to get through the checkpoints. She nodded. “There’s a route that we should be able to easily get from Bethlehem, and we can’t do it. I have sisters, nuns in our community, who during the nativity season, tried to enter Bethlehem to go to a church service and were turned away by the Israeli soldiers.”

This is the tale I heard again and again as I visited the religious communities of the Holy Land.

Before praying the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in Old Jerusalem, I took one more look at the wall and the damage being done to Catholic property.

There was once a time when you could walk the path between the Franciscan and Greek Orthodox monasteries and see the beautiful panorama of the Mount of Olives going down and up the hill on the other side. Today, all one can see is a 28-foot wall of concrete. The structure behind the Franciscans hadn’t yet been finished, but that would soon change—the bulldozers and dump trucks don’t observe the holy day. Behind the monasteries—amid the roaring engines—construction workers were excavating the hill and clearing a 25-yard space on either side of the wall. The area was to be transformed into a militarized zone.

Walking up the hill from the Franciscan monastery toward the creek, flanked by a big earth-moving shovel truck, I looked at the freshly turned earth. It wasn’t hard to imagine that some relics from the time of Christ—Roman coins, maybe?—might still be in that dirt. We’ll never know, as the piles were later removed and discarded.

For a moment, I stood in the gap of an unfinished section of the wall and looked out over the beautiful sight of East Jerusalem stretching up to Lazarus’s Tomb. Will anyone ever see this view again?

A Meeting with the Nuncio

The papal nuncio of Jerusalem is Msgr. Pietro Sambi and he welcomed me in the manner of a natural diplomat: I felt immediately at ease, and he treated our meeting as if it were the most important event of his day (though it surely was not). Among his many responsibilities as nuncio is to, represent the political and legal concerns of the Holy See in Israel. This is no small task. When I met with him he was not only very concerned about the wall but also about the disturbing number of religious worker visas that were being turned down by the Israeli government.

When I asked him if he thought the construction of the security wall would backfire on Israel, he didn’t dodge the question. “The wall will damage the image of Israel in the sense that it contradicts the values of the Israeli people,” he explained.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t understand their reasons for building the structure. “It must be clear, terrorism has to be condemned, especially when it is against [a] civil and innocent person. Secondly, terrorism will never bring peace. There is a Chinese proverb that when the fish is swimming, it means that there is water. If you want the fish to stop swimming, you have to take away the water. And you have to take away the reasons for terrorism, by which those in this region justify themselves.”

Sambi felt that the “road map” formally proposed by Middle East negotiators in May 2003 was a good way to remove the conditions that promote terrorism—by creating a Palestinian state, most notably. The wall accomplishes just the opposite: “It is a monument to division and to a future of conflict. It’s separating students from the schools, sick people from the centers of health, people from their places of work, faithful from their places of prayer and what is extremely important in the Palestinian society is creating a belief in family relations…and this is disrupting the basis of Palestinian culture.”

Meeting with the Patriarch

I could not end my trip without a visit to Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. (I am privileged to be a knight in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the patriarch was going to give me a palm for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.) His reputation preceded him: Sabbah is considered the bête noir of the Catholic Church for the Israeli government—fiercely outspoken in his criticism of Israel for their treatment of Palestinians. He didn’t mince words with me either.

I first asked him about the dwindling presence of Christians in the Holy Land. According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 40 percent of all Christians have left Israel since 1967. There are now around 72,000 Latin-rite Catholics in the whole of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan combined. I wondered if he thought this was an intentional effort on the part of the Israeli government.

He shook his head. “It is not the intention of Israel. But the fact is, the government creates pressures—such as the visa question—which threaten the existence of the Christians in the Holy Land. The Holy Land Christians themselves are caught between the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis,” he explained. “You cannot distinguish Palestinian Christians…. Siege is imposed upon all villages and towns, whether they are Christian or whether they are Muslim…. Therefore, this situation of Christians depends absolutely on the general situation of peace and violence in this land.”

But given the spiritual importance of Israel, I asked, why haven’t Catholics in the United States responded more substantially to the crisis? Sabbah noted that it’s partly due to their ignorance of the full situation but also because Americans are far removed from the realities of the Holy Land. “Awareness is needed because Christians everywhere have an obligation towards the Holy Land, and not only towards the Christians, but towards Jews and Muslims, as well. The basic call of any Christian is reconciliation. Catholics, and all the faithful in all of the churches, should be made aware of what’s going on here, the truth of what’s happening, and be asked not to [take] sides but to help both the Israelis and Palestinians move towards reconciliation.”

The Only Catholic University in the Holy Land

If there is any Catholic institution in the Holy Land that inspires hope, it’s Bethlehem University. The complex sits on a hill close by the Church of the Holy Nativity. Since 1973 it has served thousands of Palestinian students, only a small percentage of whom are Catholic.

The entrance to the university was well-guarded by sturdy-looking security men with guns visibly displayed. But once inside, the atmosphere was that of any other college campus—filled with smiling and cheerful students studying, chatting, and laughing as they moved from class to class.

Brother Vincent Malham has been president of Bethlehem University, owned by the Christian Brothers, for more than eight years. As we sat and talked in the school cafeteria, he told me how much he worries that the wall will soon encircle all of Bethlehem. At present, 20 percent of the students—including many of the Christians—come from Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the placement of the wall may cause the already low number of Christian students to dwindle even further. It will also affect the ability to keep faculty and staff. Even today, the Palestinian faculty members who live in Jerusalem must park their cars at the checkpoint and walk to the university.

“It’s the systematic strangulation of Bethlehem,” Malham said. Indeed, he thinks the Israelis want to see the further deterioration of the Christian presence there. But if that’s true, why don’t the Evangelical Christians—frequent pilgrims to the Holy Land—see the same thing? “I don’t think they get it,” he answered. “I don’t think they’ve even been over to this side. It’s just like so many of our congressmen who are wined and dined on the other side. They’re met at the airport, they’re given red-carpet treatment, they’re given a very specialized, a very restrictive, a very wonderful visit in Israel itself. They’re told to avoid mixing with the Palestinians.”

After lunch he gave me a tour of the new library where a packed room was watching The Passion of the Christ with Arabic subtitles. I shook off the urge to hold an impromptu focus group and followed Malham up to the third floor, where he pointed to the spot Israeli rockets were fired into the building shortly after it opened during the riots of 2002. The Israeli commander claimed that a sniper was shooting at the soldiers from the library, even though eyewitnesses reported that the shots came from nowhere near the university.

We climbed up onto the roof of the chapel at Holy Family Hospital and stood alongside a statute of Mary that overlooks the town. The statue itself had just been restored from the damage it suffered when Israeli troops used it as target practice for their automatic weapons.

A Terrible Mess

My time in Israel left me with one overriding conclusion: The few Christian institutions remaining in the Holy Land must be protected and supported. Where else in this area—except for Bethlehem University—are Palestinian students, Muslim and Christian alike, filling an auditorium to watch a screening of The Passion? What will happen when the remaining Christian children are walled-off from schools run by the likes of Sister Agapia? What will become of the elderly when they can no longer receive care from Sister Josephine?

Against Israel’s history of conflict and the layers of hatred on both sides, the Christian remnant is being crushed. Something must be done to protect what’s left of their presence in the Holy Land. And that’s why the wall deserves our attention. For it isn’t simply a barrier against terrorism, but yet another obstacle to those who persevere in the land where Jesus walked.

Published in Crisis Magazine, January 1, 2005.

How to Vote Catholic-In Brief

By Deal W. Hudson

Political Participation

•Catholics are obliged to participate in politics by voting.

•Legislators are elected to serve and protect the common good, human dignity, and rights of human persons.

•Voters should have a clear understanding of the principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

•The life issues are dominant in the hierarchy of issues for the Catholic voter.

Prudential Judgment

•Prudential judgment is the application of principle to con­crete situations.

•Catholic principles apply to all political issues but in many cases do not lead prudentially to one acceptable Catholic position.

•The bishops’ teachings on faith and morals are binding; their prudential judgments on policy guide us but do not bind us.

Public Witness

•The Christian Faith cannot be restricted to oneself and one’s family, making it impossible to “love one’s neighbor.”

•The principle of subsidiarity teaches that Catholics should first address social problems at the local level before asking the government to intervene.

•Politics and government need the public witness of what faith teaches about the common good, human rights, and human dignity.


•Abortion is the dominant political issue.

•Being pro-abortion disqualifies a candidate from a Catho­lic vote.

•Catholics can justly support politicians who advocate in­cremental means toward eliminating abortion.


•The ban against euthanasia and assisted suicide admits of no exception.

•Removing extraordinary means of supporting life is allow­able as a prudential judgment.

•The growing acceptance of euthanasia and assisted sui­cide rests on the misguided assumption that pain detracts from the value of life.


•Since science serves human ends, not its own, scientific research must always respect the moral law.

•Science must respect the inherent dignity of the human person.
Unused and unwanted embryos must be treated with the respect afforded to other human beings.

•Ending human life cannot be justified in the name of thera­peutic (i.e., medical) benefits to other persons.


•Population policy must not include abortion and steriliza­tion as methods of slowing population growth.

•The use of contraception in population policy undermines marriage and ignores the moral issues of promiscuity and disease.

•Catholic institutions should not be required to support contraception or abortion through mandated insurance coverage.

•The right to abortion should not be allowed to enter in­ternational law under the rubric of women’s “reproductive health” or fears of overpopulation.

The Death Penalty

•The Church teaches that the death penalty is acceptable in principle but should be avoided in practice.

•The responsibility of elected officials is to ensure that pe­nal systems and sentencing policies do in fact protect soci­ety from known aggressors.

•The practical elimination of the death penalty is based upon the strength of the penal system and the commensu­rateness of the sentencing procedures.


•States have the right to engage in war in self-defense but should first exhaust all peaceful solutions.

•Just war is waged within defined moral boundaries in re­gard to its targets, goals, and outcomes.

•Political leadership must have both the inclination toward peace and the capacity for decisive action if war is just and necessary.

Defense and Terrorism

•Nations have a duty to protect their citizens from legitimate threats.

•Nations should build their capacity for defense in light of just-war theory.

•Terrorism—the injury and murder of innocent civilians— is never justified.

•Defending a nation combines the military, international diplomacy, and a compassionate foreign policy.

Judicial Issues

•Judges should be evaluated according to their judicial re­cords and commitment to the limited judicial role, not at­tacked for their privately held religious views.

•Those who would nominate and confirm judicial activists disenfranchise the faithful Catholic voter.

•Catholic leaders have a duty to respect their constituents and their Church’s commitment to natural law tradition when considering judicial appointees.

Marriage and the Family

•Marriage was instituted prior to the state and should be recognized by the state as something inviolate and neces­sary to the common good.

•Prudential judgments about law and public policy should always seek to strengthen marriage and families.

•So-called same-sex marriages cannot be recognized by the Catholic Church, and civil unions are likely to undermine marriage and damage its foundational role in society.


•Parents—not the state–have the right to educate their children.

•Catholic parents have the right to have their chil­dren educated in a curriculum consonant with Catho­lic values.

•Governments should provide financial support to families for the education they desire for their children.

Economic Issues

•Work is a matter of human dignity and is necessary to the common good.

•Government should create the conditions that support business and industry development.

•Corporate responsibility is critical in helping to maintain economic success.


•Taxes should be fairly based upon one’s ability to pay.

•Tax policy should not penalize marriage or the raising of children.

•Corporate taxes should not threaten the capacity to create and sustain jobs.


•The preferential option for the poor requires that authori­ties first provide assistance to the poor and oppressed.

•The poor must have access to the education and job train­ing necessary to compete in today’s job market.

•Strong families that remain intact keep their members from falling into poverty.

Health Care

•Health-care needs should be met by a combination of per­sonal and corporate insurance, philanthropy, and govern­ment programs.

•Catholic health-care organizations must be free to per­form their work with clear consciences.

•Abstinence and fidelity should be the foundation of sexu­ally transmitted disease—education and prevention.

Religious Liberty

•Religious expression is a human right that should be rec­ognized by the state.

•States that enforce secularism in social services and educa­tion are violating religious liberty.

•Political debate naturally involves religious concepts since law and public policy directly affect the common good.


•A nation should seek to accommodate the immigrant who, for just reasons, seeks greater access to the basic goods of life.

•Political leaders and citizens should recognize the reality of human interdependence that crosses all borders and all national identities.

•The immigrant is a person who deserves the same protec­tion of law and social benefits afforded to citizens.

The Environment

•From creation, human beings are given special responsi­bility as stewards of the earth.

•As part of its duty to the common good, the government should prevent unnecessary harm to natural resources.

•Government should also use creative and technological skill, in concert with global cooperation, to reverse existing environmental damage.

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2006

How to Vote Catholic: Part II-Marriage and the Family

By Deal W. Hudson

“A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public au­thority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family rela­tionship are to be evaluated” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2202).

The Catholic Church teaches that the institution of marriage comes prior to the state and therefore must be ac­cepted as normative. Indeed, all the nations in the world over the past 20 centuries have never questioned this stan­dard, until recently.

On February 3, 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state laws restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman were based upon a reli­gious prejudice. This decision unleashed a national debate on the meaning of marriage and spurred many to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying the legal meaning of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

The pope and bishops around the world have directly rejected the idea of “same-sex marriage”: “It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it can­not cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union” (USCCB, Between Man and Woman: Questions and An­swers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions).

The Church must defend traditional marriage not only because it was instituted by God, but also because the fam­ily is the foundation of all society: “The family is the com­munity in which, from childhood, one can learn moral val­ues, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society” (CCC 2207).

The Catholic view of marriage should inform public policy in several ways. As the U.S. bishops have said, “Poli­cies related to the definition of marriage, taxes, the work­place, divorce, and welfare must be designed to help fami­lies stay together and to reward responsibility and sacrifice for children” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility).

The specific policies are a matter of prudential judg­ment, but what is behind them—the firm belief that marriage between a man and a woman should be protected by the state—is a non-negotiable principle of Catholic teaching.

The USCCB is strongly supportive of the consti­tutional amendment to defend marriage recently introduced in the Congress. A majority of Catholic senators, unfortunately, voted against it, in spite of the bishops’ lobbying effort.

Politicians will disagree prudentially on how best to protect marriage through law and public policy. The option being considered by some states, that of recognizing “civil unions” between homosexuals and affording to them some or all of the benefits of married persons, should be judged by its impact on the common good and especially on mar­riage and children.

The Pontifical Council for the Family has criticized the prospect of civil unions: “This would be an arbitrary use of power which does not contribute to the common good because the original nature of marriage and the family proceeds and exceeds, in an absolute and radical way, the sovereign power of the State” (Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions, 9).


“The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primor­dial and inalienable” (CCC 2221).

Parents should know that it’s their job to oversee the education of their children. “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public au­thorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229).

As public schools have become more secular in their curriculums, with some even hostile to the expression of religious views, parents have been forced to find alterna­tives that are “consonant with Catholic convictions.” This has led to a modest revival in diocesan and private Catho­lic education. It has also led many parents to enroll their children in private schools without religious affiliation or non-sectarian Christian schools. For those who cannot find or afford private schools, homeschooling has become the most viable option.

The problem of choosing a private school is that many Catholic parents cannot afford it, even at the reduced pric­es often available at parish schools. For this reason, some Catholic leaders have made a prudential judgment to sup­port the idea of school choice.

Choice in education means that parents who qualify can receive an annual stipend from the government for use at private schools. Some would argue, however, that the state should not provide financial support for those parents who choose to send their children to parochial schools. Their argument is based on the perceived threat of such contributions to the separation of church and state.

Yet if the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the fi­nancial reach of parents, even those who receive govern­ment subsidies.

So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes paro­chial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education.

Economic Issues

“A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’, it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the neces­sary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labour” (Centesimus Annus, 43).

The well-being of our families, communities, and na­tion depends on the success of business and industry to cre­ate wealth. The greater the growth of industry, the more stable our society becomes: “Another name for peace is development. Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war, so too there is a collective responsibility for promoting development” (Centesimus Annus, 52).

Businesses and industries create the wealth that provides financial support for their workers, both blue and white col­lar, and their families through earned wages, medical bene­fits, life insurance, disability, and pension plans. Without these wages and benefits, most workers would be unable to obtain the necessary goods of life. They would also be un­able to support the present levels of government services and programs through the payment of taxes. The quality of life for all citizens, regardless of their income brackets, is thus proportionate to the success of their nation’s business and industry. It is therefore in the interest of every citizen that the economic sector grows and prospers.

Government, as a promoter of the common good, has an obligation to ensure that social and economic conditions promote business development. More often than not, as ar­gued in John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991), this can best be achieved by allowing market forces to act freely. As shown by the decline of communism, the state does not generally make the best allocations of capital when it is the sole decision-maker.

The more that regulations are imposed by government, the less room is left for entrepreneurial enterprise and cre­ative decision-making. According to the principle of sub­sidiarity, corporate executives and managers should be allowed to control their own economic development, within the boundaries of law and morality.

At the same time—and again in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity—the government has a responsi­bility to protect the weak and vulnerable from unethical be­havior. Government also has a duty to protect the rights of workers by ensuring decent working conditions, establish­ing fair wages, and holding corporate leaders accountable for breaking the laws governing corporate behavior.

Accountability is thus a social partnership between the private sector and the government. Private industry profes­sionals and associations play an important role in setting appropriate standards for particular professions, businesses, and industries. Legislative and executive bodies also must set standards for responsible conduct through the passage and enforcement of appropriate laws to protect society as a whole from abuses.

Often referred to as the backbone of the U.S. econo­my, small businesses account for 99 percent of employers and, with the recent movement of formerly American facto­ries and jobs offshore, now create between 60 percent and 75 percent of net new jobs annually. Pope Leo XIII wrote, “The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Rerum Novarum, 46).


“In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contribut­ing” (Mater et Magistra, 132).

Every citizen has a moral obligation to contribute to the common good. In financial terms, this responsibility is car­ried out primarily through a person’s labor and the wealth it creates. But a citizen also contributes through the payment of taxes, which are used to fund the cost of government.

Balancing this tax burden is a matter of prudential judg­ment. Taxes that are adjusted to income levels are designed to place more of the burden on the wealthy. However, some argue that this policy penalizes those who are successful and may actually deter others who would otherwise work to earn more. In response, some have suggested a flat tax, in which all citizens pay the same tax rate, or a consumption tax, based upon what an individual spends.

How the combination of progressive and regressive taxes is balanced is a source of much debate. Regardless of the solution, taxation policy should not become a weapon in class warfare. Citizens should work together to create a solution that is fair to all sides. The common good should be the goal of any taxation policy, not the interests of one particular class.

A just tax system is one that is based on a citizen’s abil­ity to pay. In supporting their nation and communities, tax­payers should not find themselves unable to provide for their own families or maintain their businesses. Workers should earn enough money to pay their taxes and still take home a “living wage.” Traditional families should also be encouraged. This means that a husband working full-time should be able to support his wife and children at home.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many moth­ers are forced to leave their children in order to earn second incomes because of the amount of tax the fathers must pay out of their incomes. This economic pressure adds to the stress and emotional cost to parents and their children. This is why the USCCB has supported family-friendly tax legis­lation, such as tax credits for children and direct rebates to low-income families with dependents. The bishops’ confer­ence has also supported adjustments that would reduce the “marriage penalty” by increasing the qualifying amount for married workers.

Large corporations, small businesses, and other institu­tions that employ workers also have a significant impact on family stability, as well as on society as a whole. In addition to paying workers’ wages, corporations provide financial support for the common good by paying federal and state income taxes. These taxes represent another major source of revenue for the government.

To sustain the corporations and businesses that provide employment and financial support, the government should ensure that corporate taxes are low enough for both large and small companies to operate at optimal levels. “Govern­ments must provide regulations and a system of taxation which encourage firms to preserve the environment, em­ploy disadvantaged workers, and create jobs in depressed areas. Managers and stockholders should not be torn be­tween their responsibilities to their organizations and their responsibilities toward society as a whole” (USCCB, Eco­nomic Justice for All, 118).


“Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of char­ity which remain indispensable always and everywhere” (Libertatis Conscientia, 68).

This “preferential option for the poor” challenges Catho­lics to make a special effort to help those in poverty. How this is translated into public policy is a matter for prudential judgment. But it’s clear from other aspects of the Church’s social teaching that Catholics must be careful not to under­mine any person’s right to self-determination and autonomy, as has been witnessed by some forms of welfare assistance.

The principle of social justice combines the notion that persons are responsible for exercising their freedom to obtain the goods of life, and that these goods are propor­tionate to their inherent dignity. But there are some who cannot obtain these goods without assistance. One of the most contentious issues in modern politics is the question of what and how much should be provided by the community or the state.

Catholic social teaching does not justify the growth of a federal welfare state. A wealthy state that provides for the less fortunate is to be preferred to the socialist state where everyone is equally poor. The goal of Catholic social teach­ing is to provide the conditions for persons to obtain the goods appropriate to the dignity of their existence.

One way in which the government can most appropriately weed out the roots of poverty is through a sound fis­cal policy. At a minimum, the Church advocates regulated income levels and working conditions that promote self-respect and self-sufficiency: “The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with hu­man dignity” (Pacem in Terris, 20).

The federal government should also enact legislation that motivates the unemployed to move from the welfare lines to the workforce. We should not embrace policies that encourage the unemployed to become dependent on the government, thereby losing their incentives to be­come self-sufficient.

Health Care

“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance” (CCC 2288).

The number of uninsured in our country continues to be a major problem. As Catholics, we are called to respect the dignity of people by defending their basic right to health care. The principle of subsidiarity teaches that government must become involved when there is a problem that cannot be solved at the local level.

Throughout this country’s history, Catholic hospi­tals—622 as of 2002—have steadfastly fulfilled the moral obligation to care for the sick. But faith-based medical ser­vices, along with publicly funded hospitals and clinics, are strained to take care of the uninsured.

Insured patients are also financially strained to meet the rising costs of health care. Most rely on their employee benefit plans, which are less expensive than private insur­ance policies. However, the costs are still high, and some companies are scaling back their benefit programs. Other companies and professions do not offer any benefits at all.

Another health-care issue that has surfaced is that of conscience protections. Following the passage of Roe v. Wade, Congress protected the rights of health organiza­tions and providers to refuse to perform abortions under the conscientious objection principle. Today, this question is returning with a vengeance.

In recent years, “reproductive rights” advocates have pushed for expanded health-care coverage that would force all employee health plans to include contraception and “emergency contraception.” The Catholic health-care ministry is based on the protection of life and preservation of the dignity of people. Procedures that are contrary to this mission (abortion, euthanasia, and contraception) cannot be provided by Catholic hospitals or supported by Catholic health-care plans.

Religious Liberty

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that . . . no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

Because they are created by God, human beings have an intrinsic dignity. Their desire to practice religion is an expression of their dignity and must be considered a fun­damental human right. Since religious belief is not uniform, the duty to respect religious liberty requires tolerance and respect for pluralism. The state must govern in a manner that allows full religious expression according to the dic­tates of the particular faith.

The goal of religious liberty is twofold: freedom of re­ligious expression and suppression of those individuals or groups who would impose their beliefs on others. Protec­tion of the common good can take precedence over an in­dividual’s right to religious expression. Therefore, religious liberty does not protect those who promote violent demon­strations of faith or call people to commit violent acts.

The issue that most people identify with religious liberty—the display of religious symbols—is the easiest to resolve. The founding of America was rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings that were incorporated into our legal system and fundamental democratic charter and documents. In this regard, the distinct influence of the Ten Command­ments cannot be ignored.

In the interest of respecting the complementary prin­ciples of religious tolerance and respect for historic tra­ditions, the Ten Commandments have long been posted in our public places. Likewise, Christmas manger scenes should be allowed in public places along with menorahs or other symbols that show respect for religious tradi­tions. Recently the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance has come under attack, signifying the intent of secularizers to remove any symbol or mention of religion from the public arena.

During the past 35 years, government authorities have implicitly established secularism as an official state religion. Secularism has taken many forms: the removal of voluntary religious instruction in public schools; the banning of voluntary private prayer in public schools; employment dis­crimination against those who openly practice their faith; the promotion of an atheist “ethos”; and mandatory con­traceptive coverage in health plans. “It is therefore difficult . . . to accept a position that gives only atheism the right of citizenship in public and social life, while believers are, as though by principle, barely tolerated or are treated as sec­ond-class citizens” (Redemptor Hominis, 17).

For the first 125 years of the American experience, government authorities relied upon the charitable work performed by faith-based organizations. It is only in more recent years that government social-service and education agencies have withheld financial support.

This is discriminatory. Secular organizations and faith-based organizations should play on a level playing field in competing for government funds. However, faith-based or­ganizations that accept government funding must not be forced to sacrifice their religious liberties. A Catholic ma­ternity center that receives a government grant must not be required to hire an abortion advocate.


“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country, and, where there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (Pacem in Terris, 25).

Persons emigrate from one country to another for a va­riety of reasons. It may be for reasons of stark persecution, the desire to escape poverty, or to seek greater opportunity. The Church views immigration as a right that should be recognized by every nation. That right is rooted in the be­lief that each person should have access to the basic goods that constitute the universal common good.

The willingness for one country to accept persons across the borders and offer them a home is emblematic of the unity of the human family and an act of human soli­darity. Some political leaders have spared no effort to re­strict—and, in some cases, end—legal immigration to the United States. They argue that new immigrants do not as­similate to the American way of life and pose a threat to the jobs of U.S. citizens.

Some immigrants may just need time to adjust to American life and culture. In fact, a period of living in eth­nic communities may be what immigrants need to prepare for mainstream society. Given the core of Catholic social teaching, any political candidate who impedes this process or betrays a hostile attitude toward immigrants would be found wanting.

The prosperity of the United States is not only attrac­tive; according to the Catechism it places a special obliga­tion on its citizens and elected representatives: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (CCC 2241).

The Church also recognizes that a country has the right to monitor and set reasonable limits on immigration, espe­cially now when the threat of terrorist infiltration raises con­cerns about immigrants from the Middle East. The United States may also protect its cultural patrimony, which some ply intelligence when making decisions that affect the immigrants to America do not share. But citizens should not fall into nationalist rhetoric that would reject most immi­grants both now and in the future.

The Environment

“Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).

Man’s relationship with the environment is subject to various principles of Catholic social teaching, such as soli­darity and prudence, and the preferential option for the poor. The Church does not think environmental issues can be resolved through economic or scientific means alone—the underlying moral and cultural causes must be addressed if changes are to become permanent.

Since creation, the Church teaches, men and women have been made the stewards of this world. Despite this authority, we do not have an unfettered rule over the environment. Our control is subject to the same restrictions that are imposed on governing bodies: Just as governments serve to protect the common good, so too must we recognize our solidarity with nature.

Prudence requires that nations and their leaders apply intelligence when making decisions that affect the environment. Unfortunately, some are more concerned with meeting their economic and consumer goals than in responsibly carrying out their stewardship roles. As a result, the common good has been threatened from an array of environmental issues, including pollution and nuclear waste.

Arguably the more significant factor in environmental crises has been the rise of consumerism and over-consump­tion: “In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative conse­quences of the careless habits of a few” (John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis).

Rather than addressing issues of protecting natural re­sources or curbing consumerism, the affluent nations tend to focus more on reducing third-world birth rates. Foreign aid packages that are sent to Africa from USAID and other federally funded relief organizations often contain materi­als directed toward population control, such as contracep­tion and voluntary sterilization. Even if these initiatives were successful, the impact on the environment would not be nearly as significant as reduced consumption. The sheer number of people is not the problem. Some of the most densely populated areas of the world are both affluent and ecologically secure.

To be fair, the leaders of the developed world have tak­en steps to curb their excessive consumerism. But men and women, the natural stewards of all creation, must continue to focus their creativity on more responsible development: “Even as humanity’s mistakes are at the root of earth’s travail today, human talents and invention can and must assist in its rebirth and contribute to human development” (USCCB, Renewing the Earth).

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2006

Just Who Is “Us”?

By Deal W. Hudson

Recently, I spoke to a group of pro-life leaders about the 2016 election. I made the following remarks with the hope that the Trump and Cruz factions can eventually “kiss and make up.”


I’m going to address the question, “Who Is Us?”

In recent weeks criticism has been leveled at Trump for not being “one of us.” (I have deliberately left out a link to this criticism.)

I’ve used this phrase, but never publicly. Never as a public argument.

Now that I’ve seen it used this way, I am deleting it from my vocabulary.


Because I started asking myself just “who is ‘us?’” And, am I part of the “us” who speak this way about others not being “one of ‘us?’”

So I started making a list of questions about who could or should be called “one of ‘us.’”

Such as:

A woman who’s had an abortion?

A man who’s encouraged a woman to have an abortion?

A person who claims to be pro life yet can’t talk about it coherently?

A person who accepts the ‘three exceptions”?

A person who claims to be prolife but contracepts and defends it?

Persons with test tube babies?

Women with frozen eggs?


Catholics divorced and remarried?

The rude, crude, and unattractive?

Male chauvinist pigs?

Anyone who’s been picked up drunk by the police?

Anyone who’s ever been to a strip club?

Or owned a strip club?

Those who watch porn?

The porn-addicted?

Pedophile priests?

Homosexual priests?

Unchaste homosexual priests?

Unchaste heterosexual priests?

Now, I want to pose a question about all of the above:

Are they “one of ‘us’” as long as they are not outed and their “offense” made public?

If outed, do they cease being “one of ‘us?’”

If not outed, do we think they are “one of ‘us’” but aren’t really?

If not outed, do they think they are “one of ‘us’” but aren’t really?

Or do we wait for a prominent Catholic leader to tell us who is “one of ‘us?’”

Another way of answering the question is this:

The “us,” it seems, is who we are FOR.

And the not “one of ‘us’” is who we are AGAINST.

What if “us” accounts for only 20 or 30 % of voters? (Probably far less.)

What if the “us” makes political coalitions impossible? Winning impossible?

What if the “us” turns off even those who sympathize with “us?”

What if it being an “us” makes “us” look like “whited sepulchers?” (Matthew 23.27)

One final question:

If we were all stripped naked and standing before God, would anyone qualify to be “one of ‘us?’”

Because then all will be revealed, all will be outed. The hairs on our heads will be counted (in my case that won’t take long!).

I believe, and I think you will agree, that God has a different conception of “us,” and who belongs to Him.

It’s not based upon our sins, or whether they were made public while on earth, or our erroneous beliefs — He opens His arms to all who have learned to love Him.

By repentance and receiving forgiveness.

By growing through the trials and errors of life.

By learning from the just judgment of others and undergoing a continual conversion of the heart toward Him.

In other words, A Pilgrim’s Progress.

That’s the only way I can make Christian sense of being part of an “us”: As a pilgrim among pilgrims who “for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” (1 Cor 13.12)


PS. Since this speech, Pope Francis issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. As I read it, I recognized the Holy Father was addressing the similar theme of how Catholics relate themselves to those who have committed, or remain in, “objective” sin.

Published at The Christian Review, April 15, 2016