Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Confession Time

The Catholic story coursing through the news cycle in a big way this week has been the news of an app for iPhones, iPads and iPods developed in Indiana that walks the user through an examination of conscience in preparation for confession.

Like any good Catholic story, this one has plenty of nuance and detail that some media outlets didn't get exactly right.

First of all, the app isn't a replacement for traditional confession, as some early accounts suggested.

It also has not received the endorsement of the USCCB, as other outlets have alluded. (It's nothing personal. The USCCB simply doesn't endorse products.) As this CNS story explains, the app has received the imprimatur of Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, meaning the local bishop has signed off on its release and said nothing about the app is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Further confusion has come from the fact that one of the priests involved in developing the app was Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap., the executive director of Doctrine for the USCCB. And while this involvement would seem to suggest USCCB approval, Father Weinandy's role in the process was not in his official USCCB capacity.

By this point, news of the app has circled the globe, drawing comment from secular media, Catholic media and even the Vatican spokesman.

Apart from being a ton of free publicity it's generated for the app itself, the energy behind this story suggests a real interest in the Catholic Church when it engages contemporary society, especially through new media. One could argue, for instance with Pope Benedict's recently urging of Christians to engage the world of social media, that this enthusiasm is mutual.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is Your Parish a “Marriage-Building” Community?

We are proud to join in the celebration of National Marriage Week. Our guest blogger today is Dr. Richard McCord, executive director of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB. He offers a reflection on the U.S. bishops' efforts to highlight marriage as a pastoral priority, both at the national and local level.

World Day of Day of Marriage (February 13) and National Marriage Week (February 7-14) provide us with an opportunity to celebrate, reflect and give thanks for the gift of marriage; also to realize the uniqueness of this call and its importance for the good of society.

The continuing vitality of marriage as an institution cannot be taken for granted. This is a lesson learned during the past four decades when our nation – including its Catholic population – has experienced a retreat from marriage. The marriage rate has declined; the cohabitation rate has increased; and the high divorce rate is holding steady.

A recent national study reveals the weakness of marriage among middle class Americans. Another raises the question of whether marriage has become obsolete as the basis for family life. National surveys are finding an increased acceptance of so called “same-sex marriage” particularly among the younger generation of twenty-somethings.

The continuance of negative social trends is not inevitable. Today’s data are not necessarily tomorrow’s destiny. Nothing will change, though, if we don’t take action now.

This is why the U.S. bishops established the National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage in 2004. They extended and deepened their commitment when they adopted the strengthening of marriage and family as one of their five priority goals in 2009.

The Catholic Church has a long and rich history of teaching about the meaning and importance of marriage and family life. Happy and holy marriages are a work of God’s grace combined with our human effort. Marriages are strong and enduring when they rest on three pillars: a transcendent vision, a range of skills that can lead to virtuous relationships, and a supportive community. Through theological, spiritual and pastoral resources, the Catholic faith tradition can help couples and communities put these pillars in place and thereby build strong marriages.

The centerpiece of this resource-based strategy is the 2009 U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan. The annual observance of Catechetical Sunday in 2010 also provided many educational resources on the sacrament of matrimony, and a new pamphlet series for engaged and married couples is also underway.

A second stage of the highly successful "What have you done for your marriage today? public service announcements campaign is now in production, this time emphasizing the social value of a good marriage. The 2007 radio and television spots, which utilized the comments of persons-on-the-street, got extensive airtime (equivalent of more than $20 million) and won several industry awards.

A major resource is the “for your marriage” website (, a one-stop location featuring “resources for a happy and holy marriage.” It has articles on a wide range of topics, blogs, book reviews, daily marriage tips, Church teaching and even practical help for planning a Catholic wedding. These English-language resources have a Spanish-language complement in the website and in a radio campaign that is currently in production.

In light of recent social and political developments, the bishops have also felt it necessary to organize an effort aimed at protecting the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman and at promoting a better understanding of this truth that is based on right reason and divine revelation. This project, consisting of catechetical materials and public policy advocacy (see ), responds to a growing challenge in our society. It affirms the teaching that marriage must be preserved, protected, strengthened and renewed in keeping with God’s plan for the good of humanity.

All these resources will not be fully effective unless they are joined to an even greater resource, namely, the Catholic people themselves. A huge potential force for good exists in the witness and service of married couples and families who live and worship in the more than eighteen thousand parishes throughout our country. What a difference it could make if every parish committed itself to become a “marriage-building community”!

This effort would not be a new program but rather a new attitude and approach to what the parish may be doing already. It would incorporate the three elements of a Christian vision of marriage, skills that lead to virtuous living, and supportive ministries within the community. Becoming a marriage-building church, particularly at the parish level, is what the bishops envision in their pastoral letter when they urge “a renewed commitment by the entire Catholic community to helping those called to the vocation of married life to live it faithfully, fruitfully, and joyfully.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Health Care, the Bishops Show the Way Forward

In the recent debate and votes to repeal last year's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. the health care bill, the U.S. bishops were largely absent from the "to repeal or not repeal" debate. That's not to say the bishops didn't weigh in. The chairmen of the USCCB committees relevant to health care reform (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Stephen Blaire, Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Archbishop José Gomez, Migration) sent the same letter to the U.S. House and Senate as each body prepared to vote on repeal:

Dear Represenative/Senator:

As the House/Senate prepares to resume debate on health care reform, we wish to make clear the position and priorities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on this vitally important issue.

Throughout the last Congress the Catholic bishops of the United States affirmed our strong support for universal access to health care. Basic health care for all is a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved. It has never been, and is not now, for the bishops to decide the best means to realize that essential goal. However, regardless of which means are chosen, they must fall within certain fundamental moral parameters, which the bishops have a duty to articulate strongly and clearly. We have urged and continue to urge that legislation on health care reform reflect the following three moral criteria:

- Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all;
- Retain longstanding requirements that effectively protect conscience rights and that prohibit use of federal funds for elective abortions or plans that include them; and
- Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access.

Rather than joining efforts to support or oppose the repeal of the recently enacted health care law, we will continue to devote our efforts to correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health care reform can truly be life-affirming for all.

In the 111th Congress, H.R. 5111 was introduced by Congressmen Pitts and Lipinski to ensure that the new health care law will maintain longstanding federal policies on abortion in the areas of federal funding and conscience rights. H.R. 6570 was also introduced by Congressman Fortenberry to ensure that all people -- Catholics and others alike -- maintain their current ability under federal law to provide and purchase health coverage that is consistent with their faith and values. We will strongly support laws like these in the new Congress and we will seek ways to ensure a more just health care system for immigrant families.

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so all may have access to care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. As Pope Benedict recently stated, in the health care sector “it is important to establish a real distributive justice which, on the basis of objective needs, guarantees adequate care to all.” Moreover, “if it is not to become inhuman, the world of health care cannot disregard the moral rules that must govern it” (Message to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, November 15, 2010). We wholeheartedly commit ourselves to health care reform that achieves these worthy goals. We will advocate for addressing the current problems in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as others that may become apparent in the course of its implementation.

So rather than entering the new debate, the bishops reaffirmed, as they did time and again during last year's health care debate, their principles that health care reform must make health care accessible and affordable to all, that it must protect human life and conscience and that it must be fair to immigrants.

Now that the repeal movement has ended with yesterday's vote in the Senate, the position of the bishops really seems to offer a way forward, that is, fixing the serious moral flaws of health care reform one piece at a time.