Are institutions Catholic enough?

The number of agencies calling themselves big-C “Catholic” will shrink. That is the inevitable result of De Caritate Ministranda , … Continued

The number of agencies calling themselves big-C “Catholic” will shrink. That is the inevitable result of
De Caritate Ministranda
, delivered December 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI as a motu proprio (a decree from the pope himself). As analyzed by John L. Allen, Jr., this ecclesiastical legislation establishes new regulations for any charitable agency that wants to include “Catholic” in its name. Ironically, the papal mandate may play a role in deciding current court battles between the bishops and the Obama administration over the obligation to provide health insurance plans that include contraceptive services.

The motu proprio makes a local bishop the ultimate arbiter of organized Catholic social justice ministry. While Catholic individuals are still free to volunteer time and money to secular organizations, as for instance the Red Cross or the YMCA, sponsors of specifically Catholic relief efforts are not. The local bishop must now provide written authorization for any agency to dispense charity in the name of Catholicism. That authorization may be withheld or withdrawn if the organization fails in any of several areas.

For instance, the salaries of the agency’s personnel must be reviewed by the bishop to ensure that “they are in due proportion to analogous expenses of his diocesan Curia (Art. 10:4).” Moreover, the people working in the agency must behave like Catholics obedient to church teaching and ecclesiastical practices. This is a norm binding not only on Catholics but also on non-Catholics who must show “respect” for “the Catholic identity of these works

(Art. 7:1).” Moreover, the agency’s personnel must satisfy the bishop that they offer “an evangelical witness in the service of charity.” In other words, the bishop can strip the Catholic label from any organization if its employees, whether Catholic or not, fail to “give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity” (Art. 7:2). The bishop is also to oblige “theological and pastoral formation” of personnel working in such an agency, mandating study of “suitable aids to the spiritual life.” I think this amounts to “catechism classes” for all staff.

The motu proprio’s most important stricture prevents funding “from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to the church’s teaching” or for “initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the church’s teaching (Art 10:3).” At present, I don’t know of any secular government that is always “in conformity with the church’s teaching,” and I find unconvincing the reasoning of the Vatican official cited by John Allen, Jr. that tax payer funding is permissible to Catholic organizations “since the government in itself promotes what is good and required for all the community and is entitled to do so by its very nature…”

I think De Caritate Ministranda creates problems for the bishops’ current lawsuits claiming religious persecution by the Obama administration because both pope and president shrink Catholic identity in parallel ways. The pontiff wants “Catholic” restricted to corporations that pursue the religious goals of church teaching and whose personnel embody Gospel witness. So does the HHS mandate that exempts such institutions from insurance plans covering contraception. The pope also forbids Catholic organizations’ acceptance of funds from institutions whose positions stand in variance with the church, a position generally embraced in Washington by refusing government funds to groups with specifically religious goals. Some have proposed a middle-ground where Catholic organizations simultaneously follow their faith teachings but also receiving public funds for civic good deeds: but this space no longer exists according to pope and president.

I imagine a “Perry Mason” court moment when an administration lawyer dramatically asks Cardinal Dolan if he agrees with the pope that Washington’s support for abortion and contraception rights are opposed to church teaching. Siding with the pope is, of course, a necessity, but agreement simultaneously endorses the HHS distinction between religious and non-religious organizations and precludes government funding for any specifically “Catholic” agency. With public funding over 50 percent of some institutional budgets, loss of such money spells operational doom. I predict many hospitals and colleges will drop the “Catholic” label in order to qualify for funding even if then obliged to pay for contraception coverage. In short, we are witness to the shrinking of the Catholic identity.

  • DavidJ9

    It looks like the Catholic Church in America will have to get rid of all of their hospitals because the Pope demands it.

  • DavidJ9

    I suppose the Catholic universities like Notre Dame, Marquette, Saint X and the rest will also be jettisoned by the bishops because Benedict demands it.


    With the Los Angles diocese’s papers that came into the open this week on the sexual child abuse cover up, will the Los Angles diocese be Catholic enoff?

  • ThomasBaum

    Are Catholics catholic enough?

  • mjb

    I agree with this article, but what I agree to is the clarification of what Catholic means. First Benedict states, elsewhere, he wants better Catholics not cafeteria ones: for those there are many churches where you can choose your belief. To be Catholic you can not believe abortion is ok, [Catholics who do not attend mass weekly are the ones who are pro choice, but to not go to required weekly mass is sinning, etc], and so on.
    a college, charity to be in the church [in grace] must be not only handing out bread, teaching, but must be doing so in the spirit of charity [love]. St paul states acts w/o love are dross. For the C. Church love includes in the very act, evangelization. Evangelization can not be done if one is in sin, because you are blocked from grace [not weakness, not mistakes, not error, but sin]
    and can not impart love.
    thus the role of charity in both the thing done and HOW it is done; for the church it must be done in grace with charity. If you do not want that you can do giving to many non Catholic organizations. No Catholic org. can submit to things sinful [of course we all sin, but not by policy]. govt can not define the church, it can see to it that it does good works, which Catholic schools, etc do full well.
    Lastly, Govt. does the good, simply in its role as civil order-its faults do not dismis its general goodness, anymore than a Catholic who sins is a non Catholic, confession keeps him in the church
    no one is requiring belief, only duty in the roles established, and those hwo choose to work for church [non catholics too] must act on its precepts
    …if not there are plenty other places to work
    the fog of the last 50 years of the church is now being lifted by benedict [et al] and that clarity is its very role in the world: to proclaim the call to be partners in salvation, with Jesus who is God. If one does not agree, there is no penalty to work, etc, some where else. go with good tidings
    so what is problem again?


    Most USA RCs do not fully agree with RCC teachings that they know. Just take birth control. Ask RCs or look at their family size. As you spoke of sin, bear in mind what you think is sin, another may not. The RCC has controled the RCs with the guilt complex to seek the priest’s forgiveness with those words ” THROUGH THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CHURCH” which is a group with sin well over the years as well as with the cover up of the sexual abuse crimes of the children. The history of confession is very interesting as well. Just look at the Los Angles diocese’s paper of the cover up of the children sex abuse crimes that came out this week. Now who is catholic enough?

  • plattitudes

    Never fear, though, the stalwart WaPo commenters will remind us of the pervert priests in every other story remotely related to catholocism, or religion in general.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “no one is requiring belief, only duty in the roles established,”.

    There definitely seems to be a dilfference between the Catholic Faith and the Catholic Religion.

    How many Catholics, or Christians in general for that matter, are catholic in believing that Jesus is the Saviour of the world.

    Sadly, much sadlier, how many even want Jesus being the Saviour of the world to be catholic.

    In case you or someone else don’t know, “catholic” means universal.

    You also wrote, “to not go to required weekly mass is sinning”.

    As far as not going to Mass weekly being a sin, this is a man-made sin.

    Jesus actually spoke out about things such as this.

    I find it rather sad that one would go to Mass only because it is an “obligation” and by the way, this is a man-made “Catholic Church obligation” and what does it have to do with anything that God-Incarnate, Jesus, spoke of?

  • FelicityHangnail

    When I hear the word “Catholic”, I think of Catholic child molesters and those in this most invenerable institutions who made it a POLICY to protect these same Catholic child molesters from law-enforcement investigation and prosecution!!! Is this what is meant by “behave like a Catholic”?

  • ThomasBaum

    Those that think that the Catholic Church can do no wrong are just as blind as those that think the Catholic Church can do nothing right, they are merely two sides of the same blind coin.

    The word “catholic” means universal and God’s Plan is small c catholic (universal) just as Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw EVERYONE to Myself”, not big on details but very simple and to the point.

  • Bluefish2012

    Saying that attending Mass because it is an obligation is sad is like saying dishonoring your parents because it is an obligation is sad. And yet it is an obligation under the 4th commandment to honor one’s parents, no?

    Jesus gave his Apostles the power to “bind and loose.” The Church has always required attendance at Sunday Mass as the main way to comply with the commandment to keep holy the Lord’s day.

  • Bluefish2012

    Surely that doesn’t apply only to RCs. It’s a universal question, right?

  • ThomasBaum

    If the only reason that one goes to Mass is because of a man-made rule calling it a sin than I do, indeed, find that sad to the point where it very well may have become what Jesus spoke of concerning the religious authorities of His day.

    Concerning the 4th Commandment, do you think that Jesus would condone the actions of parents that abuse their children?

    Is honoring one’s parents, just speaking of those that may be abusive in some terrible manner, to just accept it and pretend that it is fine?

    God gave us a brain and a heart and we are to use both, we are not to be automatons?

    We are suppose to be God’s gift to each other, we should at least try to make this a reality.

    No one should ever use the bible to justify their terrible behaviour but it happens all the time.

    We will all be judged and it was Jesus Who extended the invitation to “Come follow Me and walk with Me”, not to hide behind Him or the book that speaks of Him.

    When and if it becomes all about rules and regulations and only about rules and regulations then it becomes less the meaningless and it should become time to look for some meaning.

    Do you think that Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you”, just because He wanted to hear Himself speak?

  • Elohist

    The idea that only those who go to church are “good Catholics” is not factual. Plenty of pro-choice Catholics attend mass, not because they favor abortion, but because they see the failure of the approach that abolishing Roe v. Wade is the ONLY way to oppose abortion. Change circumstances by providing social assistance to women with unwanted pregnacies and you will reduce abortions faster than waiting for a court decision that allows the states to write the rules.
    BTW, if an abused teen stops going to mass, does that make them less Catholic than the abusing priest who leads the liturgy despite his sins?