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Few people are better at making accusations with code words than Glenn Beck, the Fox News celebrity. With his chalkboard logic, Beck creates conspiracies that almost always make him a savior against anything named “Democrat” or “Obama.” Ordinarily, it is convenient to ignore such prattle as just as empty as Beck’s interpretation of history, but now he is using his lies and distortions to take on my Church.
The irrepressible Mr. Beck has made quite a stir recently by equating priests who promote the social justice ministry as Communists and Fascists. Beck calls on Catholics to switch parishes and report social justice priests to the bishop. (Beck’s broad brush includes other denominations as well, but I know Catholicism best.) Forget that his plan to “rat on” priests is the same strategy of the Hitler Youth and the Polish Communist Party, and just examine the porous logic of his rant. While I think others like Fr. Martin of America have provided a more developed analysis this is my perspective.
Beck claims that the Bible does not promote economic and social justice. But look at Acts 2: 44-45: “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need.” And just so there is no mistake, this model of economic justice is repeated in Acts 4: 32. These passages echo Jesus’ words about “selling everything and giving it to the poor” (Mt. 19: 21) and about how hard it is for rich people to get into heaven (Lk. 18:25). I don’t know what bible Beck is reading, but it’s not the Catholic one.
Beck says that ending poverty is a “personal responsibility” whereas the social justice ministry puts it all on the government. This is a lie. The papal encyclicals define Catholic social justice by requiring a balance of personal, organizational and governmental efforts. Blessed John XIII included international organizations like the United Nations in his Mater et Magistra. Apparently, Beck would have us be cafeteria Catholics who say, “Mater, sí; Magistra, no.”
Beck says he knows Cardinals and Bishops who are against “the social justice thing.” This is the stuff Joe McCarthy pulled. If Beck has the names of prelates who oppose the Magisterium on social justice, let him produce them. Catholics will write to the Holy Father to get rid of such bishops if they defy Church teaching or even if they seem to defy them. Catholic America has done it before; Boston, St. Louis and Scranton are just a few of the recent battlegrounds where prelates have been sent packing for bad pastoral decisions. Rome’s way of balancing Catholicism’s mission with human errors, I submit, is beyond Beck’s simplistic logic.
What should be the reaction of Catholic America to Beck’s distortions? Dr. William Donohue of the Catholic League is rightly incensed at Beck’s rant, but views the advice to go to another parish as harmless. “Nothing new about that,” writes Donohue, “In the Catholic Church, there are priests who are stridently left-wing and stridently right-wing; many parishioners shop accordingly.” I wonder, however, if Donohue’s encouragement to cafeteria Catholicism is wise.
Certainly, when it comes to politics, lay persons must make up our own minds and cannot just be “ditto-heads” to a pastor’s voting choices. We are called upon to heed the moral teachings of the Church and to apply them according to our conscience to specific political issues. Seldom do our political parties present us with perfect choices. But precisely because Catholic America needs to take such decisions seriously, I think those inclined to vote left need to hear sermons inclined to the right and vice-versa. In other words, we need to see both sides of the question before forming judgment.
I think that following the lead of the Catholic League’s phrase “shop accordingly” divides the Church and makes us less catholic (small “c” = universal). Overcoming divisions will be our continuing struggle. But first we should stop Beck’s anti-Catholic attacks. Start by clicking him off with the remote.