Sunday, September 23, 2018

Dear Laity

The clergy sex abuse crisis doesn't actually affect me or my family.

One of my kids received First Communion last year. Another's in line for it this year. We love our parish community. Our priest and council already have stringent standards in place for safety, transparency, and accountability. Honestly, we're fine.

Sure, there's corruption and in-fighting over at the Vatican. And yes, there's scandal up in Pennsylvania. There's even evidence that our archdiocese has mishandled clergy sexual abuse cases as recently as this summer.

But ultimately, my own little Catholic world is working A-OK, and it would be a reactionary waste of time and energy for me to get involved with what doesn't actually affect me.

Except, it does affect me. And it is affecting my children.

My older kids -- ages 7 and 8 -- have started to notice a change in our parish. They're confused by strange announcements before Mass, mentioning the need to talk to police officers, and vague homily references about sorrow and young victims. 

Even if I were to quiet their fears within our little domestic church while remaining silent to the Church at large, it would clash dissonantly against my vocation as a Catholic mother.

Saints have testified through centuries of cyclically rotten Church leadership that all laity -- empowered through baptism as priest, prophet, and king -- are called to sanctify, teach, and govern within our faith as sharers in the ministry of Christ.

It's tempting to cloister my family from the scandals of the Church and simply grasp for the Sacraments, only occasionally brushing the edge of her messy bureaucracy. But we have the ability, and the calling, to do so much more.

In scripture, laypeople Priscilla and Aquila interrupt Apollo's teaching to help him more fully teach the Gospel.

To St. Francis of Assisi, a poor layperson with no social or religious standing, the Lord pleaded for him to help reform the Church: "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."

Yes, we pray and fast and mourn in the quiet of our homes and local parishes. But we also speak truth and seek audience with those who can change the course of Church history.

St. Catherine of Siena admonished Pope Gregory XI in 1376 to quit being a French political puppet and return to Rome: "May ardor of charity be in you, in such wise as shall prevent you from hearing the voice of incarnate demons, and heeding the counsel of perverse counselors, settled in self-love, who, as I understand, want to alarm you, so as to prevent your return... I tell you that you have no need to fear."

When we act and speak in times of crisis, we are not working against the Church. We are working for her.

IApostolicam ActuositatemPope Paul VI encourages the laity in their God-given commission to "build up the Church, sanctify the world, and give it life in Christ."

Far from usurping the jobs of priests, bishops, and cardinals, our voices and actions in times of crisis are the very antidote to saving our Church.

As Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen appealed to the Knights of Columbus in 1972: "Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious."

If you’re also a lay Catholic mother, wanting to help change the course of our Church, you’re in one of the most powerful positions possible. We hold the audience of our children. We form the hearts and habits of the next generation.

For this reason, I decided to include my kids in the current reckoning within our Church. (This is a loose transcript of the conversation I had with my older kids, ages 7 and 8, about the sexual abuse crisis.)

A couple weeks ago, we participated as a family in a peaceful protest against sexual abuse and cover-up in our archdiocese. The kids jostled over signs and snacks while representing the youth our Church has failed to protect. 

Our message of accountability spread quickly and easily among other laity gathered outside the Co-Cathedral, unaware of the protest scheduled for that day. I received many nods of agreement and quiet words of affirmation as we stood with our signs on the sidewalk. I thanked passing priests for their blessings of my kids.

I can't say the number of police officers who nodded in approval as they walked past. One officer even stopped his patrol car, called out to us, and waved with appreciation and encouragement.

Many commuters, stuck in downtown rush hour traffic past the Co-Cathedral, silently read our signs, which expressed both love and concern for our Church. What an important message for us to share with non-Catholics: we're not naively putting our heads in the sand, denying there's a problem, and carrying on as usual.

Our kids are young, but they’re learning that as baptized Catholics, their voices are important in our Church. They have a right and a duty to speak truth, both in our Church and in the world at large.

Dear laity, dear friends, let's not remain silent in this dark hour of our Church. This is not a crisis our bishops can navigate alone. Their spiritual isolation is what allowed this deep-seated scandal to go unaddressed for so long.

It’s not hypocrisy for those of us also struggling in our various personal sins to call out the egregious sin of our leaders. We’re not virtue signaling when we voice concern. We’re not stepping out of line when we participate in an event organized by laity. We’re not wasting time and energy when we repeatedly remind our bishops and cardinals – in love and respect – that anything short of a complete overhaul of current policies on transparency and accountability is not enough.

When we pray, speak, act, and advocate in unity with others, in response to a very real crisis in the Catholic hierarchy, we are living out our God-given commission as laity in care for our beloved Church.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

How I Talked To My Kids About The Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis

Below is a conversation I had with my boys about the sexual abuse scandal in our Catholic Church. It’s not perfect, but it’s a starting point. Please feel free to offer your own suggestions or experiences in talking with kids about this difficult issue.

Mom: “Hey, guys. Come sit with me. I want to talk about something pretty serious.”

The kids, excited to stay up past bedtime, snuggled in close.

Mom: “You know how Father Philip said he was really sad during Mass last week?”

Josh (age 7): “Yeah. He looked really sad.”

Mom: “Do you know why he’s sad?"

Joe (age 8): “No. I didn’t get what he was talking about.”

Mom: “Well, he's sad because some priests weren't doing their jobs, and they hurt people. Do you know what the job of a priest is?”

Josh: “To do Mass!”

Joe: “To give us the sacraments.”

Mom: “Yeah, that’s right. Do you guys remember what Jesus asked Peter to do when they were walking on the beach together after Jesus was crucified and came back to life?” 

Josh: “Ummmmm…” 

Joe: “Something about sheep?”

Mom: “Yeah -- Jesus asked Peter to feed and care for his sheep. And who are the sheep?”

Josh: “WE ARE!”

Mom: “Yep. That’s right, Josh. Everyone is a sheep. And whose job is it to take care of the sheep?"

Josh: "The shepherd!"

Mom: "That's right. It’s the job of the shepherd to take care of the sheep. Well, Father Philip and a lot of us are really sad because we’ve learned that there are some priests who weren't doing their job. They were hurting people instead of taking care of them.”

Joe: “How were they hurting them?”

Mom: “You know how everyone has private parts, and we want to protect everyone's privacy, so we don’t talk about or look at or touch other people’s private parts?”

Joe (hesitantly): “Yes.”

Mom: “Well, there were some priests who didn’t do that. They hurt people instead of helping them.”

Josh: “That’s weird.”

Mom: “Yeah, it’s not right at all. You know how Daddy and I want you to trust your ‘uh-oh’ feeling? Do you remember what that is?”

Joe: “Yeah. If something doesn’t feel right or someone makes me feel scared or weird, I get away.”

Mom: “And then what can you do?”

Josh: “We come and tell you.”

Mom: “Yeah, Daddy and I want you to come and tell us, so we can make sure you're safe and make sure other kids are safe too. That's our job!" 

Josh: "Yeah, that's your job!" 

Mom: "Do you guys know whose job it is to make sure priests do their job?"

Joe: "The bishop!" 

Mom: "That's right. If a priest hurts someone, it's the bishop's job to make them stop. But a lot of bishops didn't do that." 

Josh: "So whose job is it to make sure bishops do their job?" 

Mom: "Joe, do you know?" 

Joe: "The pope?"

Mom: "Yes, the pope. And he didn't do very much to help either, so that makes us even more sad. Whose job is it to make sure that priests and bishops and the pope do their jobs?"

Josh: "God?"

Mom: "Yes, it's definitely God's job to help everyone do their jobs! But I'm thinking of someone else. Whose job is it to make sure priests and bishops and the pope do their job?" 

Joe: "The president?"

Mom: "No... it's OUR job!"

Josh: "What? No way!"

Mom: "Yes way! All the regular people in the Church are called 'laity,' and we have a very special, important job. We speak the Truth that God gives us, we connect people with Jesus, and we are leaders by example." 

Josh: "That's a lot." 

Mom: "It is a lot. But God gives us a special helper. Who does God give us to help us?"

Joe: "The Holy Spirit." 

Mom: "That's right, Joe. And that's why we're so sad. The Holy Spirit helps us to do our job. And the Holy Spirit is helping us to see how some priests and bishops have hurt people. So now, what do we do since we know people are hurt?"

Josh: "Tell somebody!" 

Mom: "Yep. Because what happens if we don't tell somebody?"

Josh: "They keep getting hurt." 

Mom: "Yeah. Can I tell you what St. Catherine of Siena said happens when we don't say something?" 

Joe: "Yeah." 

Mom: "She said, 'I see the world is rotten because of silence.' What does it mean that the world is rotten?" 

Josh: "Like, people are getting hurt and bad things are happening." 

Mom: "Yeah, that's exactly what it means, and that's what's happening in our Church because people chose to be silent instead of doing their jobs. So what should we do so that we're not silent about people getting hurt?"

Joe: "Tell someone?" 

Mom: "Yeah, we need to say something. You're right. And we need to tell someone who can do something about it, right?"

Joe: "Yeah. Who can we tell?" 

Mom: "Well, we're going to stay up late tomorrow night so we can join with other laity all the way downtown in what's called a 'protest.' We're going to make some signs for people to read. What should our signs say?"

Josh (laughing): "Hey, bishop, do your job!" 

Joe: "How about 'Don't hurt people'?"

Mom: "Those are both good sign ideas. We'll keep thinking about different signs we can make. But can you guys think of anything else we can do about this sad problem?"

Joe: "I don't know." 

Mom: "That's just it, Joe. I don't really know either. What do we do when we have a problem, and we don't know what to do about it?"

Josh: "We pray about it!" 

Mom: "That's a great idea, Josh. Can we pray about it right now, together?"

Josh: "Yeah!"

Mom: "Dear Lord, please help us. We don't know what to do. People have been really hurt by priests and bishops in your Church. Help us to know what to do."

Joe: "And please help the people who were hurt."

Mom: "Hm-mm. Josh, do you have anything you want to add to our prayer?"

Josh: "No, not really. Um, Hail Mary?" 

Mom: "Yeah, why don't you start the 'Hail Mary,' and we'll pray with you?"

Josh: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who I Am

When I was 4, my mom said she liked to hear me sing during worship at church. I learned to love the Lord.

When I was 6, my dad gave me a giant pencil after a business trip and called me an author. I learned to love writing.

When I was 8, the receptionist at my dance studio looked over the counter and said she liked my big, brown eyes. I learned to like myself.

When I was 10, my fourth-grade teacher turned an incredibly diverse class into a tightknit, safe family for one wonderful year. I learned inclusivity is wonderful.

When I was 12, my sixth-grade teacher made me read The Phantom Tollbooth even though I wanted to read All Creatures Great And Small. I learned to love wit and wordplay. 

When I was 14, I kissed a boy I didn't know and it started out high school really awkwardly. I learned that high school is awkward, and wow, so am I. 

When I was 16, a police officer gave me my first traffic ticket for driving through a stop sign while lost in a wealthy neighborhood in the middle of the night, and my dad didn't freak out. I learned how to navigate traffic court, how to lose a lot of hard-earned cash very quickly, and how to parent a teenager. 

When I was 18, a new teacher at school called me out for being rude to her in class. Eight years later, while student teaching high schoolers, I learned that what goes around really does come around. 

When I was 20, my parents adopted my little sister after she was abandoned in the foster care system. I learned the world can be really awful, but good people can stop the cycle. 

When I was 22, my alma mater gave me a diploma with honors and several nice awards. I learned that a college degree doesn't mean anything, and you need more than that to get a job.

When I was 24, my boss called me a meddling busybody when I advocated for a group of employees who were being treated unfairly. I learned that when it comes to advocacy, I am definitely a meddling busybody -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

When I was 26, someone I tremendously admired said I taught a good ballet class. I learned that I'm a good teacher. 

When I was 28, a pregnancy test said I was unexpectedly pregnant while unemployed and without health insurance. I learned that God really does make a way when there seems to be no way. 

When I was 30, my midwife said she knew I could push out this baby and that I needed to do it within three pushes for the sake of my son. I learned to trust my body and love midwives. 

When I was 32, my employer said I could go to part-time hours, work from home, and they would still cover my health insurance. I learned a good employer can change a life, and it really doesn't hurt to ask! 

When I was 34, my husband's company offered him a job three hours away while I was eight months pregnant and caring for four kids under age six. I learned, once again, that God really, really, really does make a way.

When I was 36, my country was more divided politically than I'd ever experienced, and my Church was embroiled in scandal. I'm learning that good people -- even if they disagree on major issues -- can still work together for good. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

What The Hell Is Going On in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston?

A mass email to parishioners hit my inbox just minutes after a friend shared a breaking news article on the same topic via Facebook.

Local News coverage by KPRC Houston
Why did it take my parish 18 years to notify parishioners of sexual abuse? Why did it take two decades, a police report, and media attention to ask if there may be more victims? Why did it take two decades, a police report, and media attention for a reassigned priest to be removed from ministry?

When I first received the news report, parish email, diocesan statement, and arrest warrant, it appeared everything was simply a matter of crossed timelines and unfortunate coincidences.

The victim didn’t press charges. The victim’s family left the country. The priest denied all allegations. What was the diocese to do but quietly move him to another unsuspecting parish 71 miles and two counties away, as recommended by the lay commission created to oversee these investigations? Who knew that another victim would come forward 18 years later?

In the diocesan statement, they say there have been no further allegations against this priest in his 18 years of ministry. But how would they know if there are other victims? They didn’t notify parishioners at Sacred Heart 20 years ago. In fact, according to the Archdiocesan Policy and Procedure For Investigating Allegations of Sexual Abuse By Clergy Against a Minor, when an allegation occurs, notification of parishioners is nowhere listed on the detailed action list. Bishop consults with legal counsel? Check. Priest retains legal counsel? Check. Outreach to others who may have been victimized by the same clergy? Not anywhere in the 1200-word document.

The further one reads into the details, the more loopholes that appear in the diocesan statement.

Once two separate victims – unbeknownst to each other (according to police investigation noted on the arrest warrant) – had both alerted the archdiocese to abuse by the same priest, why was he still not removed from ministry?

If, as the diocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator claims, a report was made to both the Conroe Police Department and Child Protective Services following a meeting with the victim on August 8, 2018, why is there no record with either the police department or CPS of that report?

Excerpt from the Arrest Warrant for Fr Manuel
If the highest administrative authority in our diocese on cases of sexual abuse -- the Victims Assistance Coordinator -- failed to report this most recent case of sexual abuse, how many other cases over the years have failed to be reported? Someone needs to open up the archives and find out. 

One of the victims reported that Fr Manuel showed him naked photos of other seminarians taken during his time in seminary. Who was in Fr Manuel's seminary class? Are these seminarians more victims? Are they now priests in our diocese and possibly perpetrators of more abuse? Where is this pornographic seminary project now? Are there copies? 

What if these victims of Fr Manuel had not pursued the further action of reporting abuse to civil authorities themselves, trusting the diocese' claim that it had already been reported? Would our archdiocese with its 1.7 million Catholics continue quietly in our naive status quo – both parishes completely unaware that a priest with credible accusations of sexual assault against him and possibly more victims in his wake is in a ministry position within the archdiocese that’s led by the president of the USCCB, the same man entrusted to spearhead Vatican action addressing the crisis of clerical sexual abuse throughout the international Church?

How could Cardinal DiNardo meet with a victim six weeks ago, the second victim to come forward with allegations against this priest, fail to act on the information received, finally remove the priest from ministry over this past weekend (telling parishioners he was “on retreat”) – due to an impending arrest and media storm – and then, on Tuesday, have the audacity to release this letter to every parishioner in the diocese assuring us that everything is under control?

Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability? Where is the care for victims so loudly declared in every diocesan sexual abuse manual crammed into the hands of every diocesan volunteer from Bulletin-Shuffler to RE Teacher for the past two decades that even our own archbishop can’t seem to follow?

As I wrote earlier this summer, and as is further evidenced by even this latest revelation of abuse, the crisis in our Church is clericalism and abuse of power, not homosexuality. The number of bishops who covered for Cardinal McCarrick -- and who still, to this day, deny any knowledge of his abuse -- clearly enable this culture of sexual abuse to spread like fungus throughout our Church. 

We, the laity, must remain vigilant in our insistence that the magisterium clean house and establish new protocols for full investigation, transparency, and accountability regarding the abuse of children and adults. There's a candlelight vigil, organized by local laity, at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas on Friday, October 5, at 6:30 PM as a public statement that the laity will not tolerate this culture of abuse within our Church any longer. My family will be there. I hope you'll come too. 

Below is a timeline of events from the abuse at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe 20 years ago up to this week, according to the arrest warrant and archdiocesan statement.

1999-2000: Fr Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abuses a teenage girl and a teenage boy in his parish multiple times over several years.

2001: The abuse is reported to the diocese by the girl’s family who then moves out of country.

There is no record of an announcement at the parish at that time to check for other victims.

2003: An internal review board clears Fr Manuel for active ministry.

2004: Father Manuel is reassigned to a new parish.

2010: The female victim moves back to the area, is surprised to see Fr Manuel in parish ministry, and contacts the diocese again. She meets directly with Sister O’Connell (Victims Assistance Coordinator) and Cardinal DiNardo. She is assured he is in an administrative position, not in contact with any children or teenagers.

2018: The male victim, who no longer lives in the Houston area, is put in contact with Sister O’Connell after reporting the abuse to his current diocese.

August 8, 2018: The male victim meets with Cardinal DiNardo and Sister O'Connell. He was told he should have spoken up sooner. Sister O’Connell tells the victim that she filed a report with the Conroe Police Department and Child Protective Services. No record of this can be confirmed by the police department or CPS.

August 9, 2018: Fr Manuel remains in his ministerial position as parish priest despite two credible accusations against him.

August 27, 2018: The male victim files a police report, recognizing that the diocese is not going to act.

August 29, 2018: The female victim files a police report with concerns that Fr Manuel is still in active ministry with children.

September 8, 2018: Fr Manuel does not celebrate Mass at his parish. Parishioners are told he is “on retreat.”

September 10, 2018: An arrest warrant is issued for Fr Manuel.

September 11, 2018: Fr Manuel turns himself into police.

September 11, 2018: Cardinal DiNardo issues general statement to all Catholics in the archdiocese, stating that he shares our “anger and rage” about the sexual abuse within our Church.

September 12, 2018: Cardinal DiNardo issues a statement about Fr Manuel, defending the diocese’ actions throughout the past two decades.

September 12, 2018: Fr Philip, current pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe, sends out an email inviting any additional victims to come forward.

September 16, 2018: Fr Philip reads a statement from Cardinal DiNardo before Mass at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe providing contact information for the Conroe Police Department, asking other victims or anyone with information to come forward. (Detective Joe McGrew: 936-522-3591)

Arrest Warrant:

Archdiocesan Statement Regarding Clergy Abuse In Response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Reports and Cardinal McCarrick (9/11/18):

Archdiocesan Statement Regarding Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez (9/12/18):

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Did Beto Argue With A Catholic Priest About Same-Sex Marriage?

There's a video circulating from 2011 with Beto purportedly arguing with a priest.

I'd encourage anyone who's curious about the situation to watch the entire 12-minute interaction. Simply reading a summary, commentary, or even the transcript can't provide context or content for honest discussion of the issues raised, namely what family structure should qualify for spousal benefits of employer-sponsored health insurance? 

Was it an argument? Not really. The priest was pastoral and well-intentioned. Beto was respectful and concerned. Both spoke calmly and sincerely.

The city council issue at stake is not whether same-sex unions should be legalized or recognized as marriage. This is a discussion on whether families of same-sex city employees should receive health insurance coverage.

In this interchange, I believe the priest, Father Michael Rodriguez, mistakenly applies the Church's teaching on marriage to an issue on which the Church has no official teaching -- whether health insurance should be extended to cover people in what would be considered "invalid" marriages. 

For some reason, Fr Rodriguez chose to question whether gay families, in particular, should receive health care, but his reasoning -- that they don't conform to a Catholic definition of marriage -- actually questions whether any city employee's family that isn't considered valid, according to Catholic teaching, should receive healthcare.

The Catholic Church rightfully limits the sacrament of matrimony, but it doesn't just exclude gay people. According to Catholic teaching, any heterosexual or homosexual person who can't or won't commit to total, free, fruitful, faithful love is not able to commit to a sacramental marriage. 

And yet, when it comes to whether city employees should receive health insurance for their families, the line isn't drawn at whether marriages practice "free, total, faithful, and fruitful" vows or even whether marriages are considered valid by the Church. For some reason, Fr Rodriguez draws the line at gay or straight, making an exception for many illicit and invalid heterosexual marriages, yet excluding gay families. 

For example, consider heterosexual spouses who were previously divorced from a Catholic sacramental marriage and are now civilly "married," thereby engaging in extramarital sex with their new "spouse," living in a relationship that the Catholic Church doesn't recognize as marriage with the further belief that this relationship could never even become a licit marriage in the future. According to Fr Rodriguez' reasoning, they should not be eligible for employer-sponsored family health insurance, because they are not in a real marriage. 

Please, please do not read what I just wrote as condemnation. I know that marriage issues today are complicated, and many good people, Catholics included, are navigating difficult family situations. My point in using this illustration is simply to indicate that these issues affect both gay and straight people, yet civil policies are often applied discriminately against only gay people -- as in this case of employer-sponsored health insurance.

Would Fr Rodriguez suggest a couple married by the Church who intended from the beginning to contracept not qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance? Their marriage is not valid. Would Fr Rodriguez ask the city to deny family health insurance coverage to a husband who cheats regularly on his wife because he never intended the "faithful" part of his vows? According to Catholic teaching, their marriage is not valid. Should city employees submit annual state-of-our-marriage disclosures to ensure that they're still living out valid marriage vows as a prerequisite for family coverage by their employer-sponsored health insurance? 

My point is simply that if we're going to base family health insurance coverage on whether a marriage is valid, there are a lot more families that need to be excluded than just gay people.

In 2011, when this video was recorded, I imagine there were many more city employees living in invalid heterosexual "marriages" than invalid homosexual "marriages." Should we revoke everyone's family's health insurance?

As I've stated before, I'm actually against any kind of employer-sponsored health insurance as the point of access for healthcare in our country. It's bureaucratic, discriminatory, costly, unnecessary, and leads to all kinds of moral confusion about employer coverage obligations. But if we're going to insist on running with such a ridiculous system, then, at the very least, let's discriminate against everyone equally.

Now, if we're dredging up this Beto-priest video with the intent to focus on the completely separate talking point of whether same-sex marriage should be legal in Texas, attempting to pit Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz against each other, I'll save you some time: Beto supports it, and Cruz said he's personally against it but he'll support same-sex marriage if the state votes for it. Given that the majority of Texans support same-sex marriage, it would seem to be a non-issue for both Beto and Cruz in this election cycle. 

If you'd like to consider other issues that Beto and Cruz actually disagree on, I've written on education, the economy, healthcare, criminal justice, immigration, student loans, and higher education over here

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sex and Capitalism: The Encyclical That Preceded Humanae Vitae

I mistakenly opened a bio of Blessed Paul VI while rotely skimming my daily scripture app.

Most remembered for writing Humanae Vitae -- the Church document that condemned artificial contraception in the middle of the sexual revolution -- I was surprised to read that he also worked extensively to improve employer/employee relations.

Ambrosius007 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], Wikimedia Commons 

It fascinates me that the same pope who wrote a famous encyclical against contraception -- what some consider to be the litmus test of orthodox Catholicism today -- also wrote extensively about the dangers of capitalism and a free market economy.

For some reason, although both messages underscore the dignity of every human person and the importance of living out that dignity within our marriage and work vocations, we don't seem to take Blessed Paul VI’s economic message to heart the same way we've dissected the one about sex.

Written in 1967 (only a year prior to Humanae Vitae), Blessed Paul VI's encyclical Populorum Progressio methodically addresses multiple offenses against human dignity and development caused by wealth disparity, global poverty, nationalism, the failure of developed nations to welcome immigrants, the refusal to tax luxury as a means of wealth redistribution, and the monetary waste of a global arms race.

"In short, 'as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.' When 'private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,' it is for the public authorities 'to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.'" - Blessed Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio 

Perhaps, (one might rationalize), we can dismiss the ideas of Populorum Progressio, while still embracing Humanae Vitae, since one addresses economics while the other carries the infallible ecclesial authority of teaching on faith and morals. And yet, to say the focus of Populorum Progressio is economics would be like saying the heart of Humanae Vitae is healthcare.

Thankfully, Blessed Paul VI clarified the weight given each of his encyclicals, freeing us from the burden to argue about it 50 years later. In 1964, he wrote a short encyclical on the Church (Ecclesiam Suam), clarifying within the first couple paragraphs that it was simply a friendly letter, not intended as “a solemn proclamation of Catholic doctrine or of moral or social principles.”

Contrary to the introduction of that 1964 encyclical, Populorum Progressio emphasizes the importance of its message straight from the outset (emphasis mine):

"With an even clearer awareness, since the Second Vatican Council, of the demands imposed by Christ's Gospel in this area, the Church judges it her duty to help all men explore this serious problem in all its dimensions, and to impress upon them the need for concerted action at this critical juncture." 

Following this commendation, Blessed Paul VI directs his readers to five other Church documents written by three recent popes on these same economic topics. While some have faulted Blessed Paul VI for writing too weak an encyclical in Humanae Vitae – failing to cite centuries of Sacred Tradition, the papal solidarity of past encyclicals, natural law, and Sacred Scripture in his arguments against artificial contraception – none of these oversights occur in Populorum Progressio. The economic issues highlighted are so paramount to human dignity that Blessed Paul VI emphasizes he is the fourth modern pope to speak on them.

The following excerpt from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum was written nearly 150 years ago and cited by Blessed Paul VI in Populorum Progressio. Its pastoral warnings sound similar to today's concerns of anti-union legislation, willfully clueless employers, and the unchecked greed of business monopolies. You'll notice Pope Leo XIII believed so strongly in the necessity of worker unions that he likens them to a sacred "ancient religion," now overlooked:

"In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself." 

And from the same document, regarding a just wage making it possible for a thrifty parent to comfortably support a family (particularly relevant in our times when a minimum wage employee can’t rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the US, much less own private property):

“…the first thing of all to secure is to save unfortunate working people from the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making… If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this.” 

And this theme continues in Quadragesimo Anno, an encyclical written by Pope Pius XI nearly 100 years ago -- and also referenced by Pope Paul VI in his pre-Humanae Vitae encyclical. This reads as a timely reminder in an era when the average CEO earns as much in a day as the average worker earns in a year (emphasis mine):

“Therefore, with all our strength and effort we must strive that at least in the future the abundant fruits of production will accrue equitably to those who are rich and will be distributed in ample sufficiency among the workers…” 

Could we say Blessed Paul VI was mistaken? Is his prophetic voice in Humanae Vitae -- predicting increased marital infidelity and the objectification of women -- any less accurate than his prophecies in Populorum Progressio -- predicting increased disparity between rich and poor, social unrest, and drifts toward totalitarian ideologies? Do we not see the reality of these warnings happening today?

Just as Blessed Paul VI provided, in Humanae Vitae, a guidepost for the Church to strengthen marriage and family, he provided, in Populorum Progressio, direction to strengthen society.

He goes so far as to reference Pope Pius XI's admonitions about the errors and poison that thrive in a poorly regulated free market (emphasis mine):

"...the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life - a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated." 
It's hard to believe this was written in 1931. As some American politicians push for less regulation and increased free market forces under the guise of "job creation" and "pro-growth initiatives," typical workers suffer, and as Pope Pius XI warned, this brings the destruction of the "social and moral character of economic life."

In each of the aforementioned encyclicals, our popes warn against the secular appeal of socialism as a solution to the moral perils of capitalism (while recognizing that the masses often pursue socialism as a cure to the unnatural "evil individualistic spirit" empowered by a profit-driven economic system). Thankfully, these encyclicals also offer the most effective prevention of socialism, or government-appropriation of private holdings: ensuring the ability for every person to afford their own private property on a livable wage. Given this, what are we doing to make home ownership an accessible dream for everyone?

(While recognizing the dangers of socialism, the Church in no way condemns taxation and recognizes the good of public services overseen by government, necessitated by taxes. As I've written previously, the Catholic concept of subsidiarity is not at all the modern-day political approach of libertarianism.)

After reading these passionate papal letters -- steeped in arguments of Scripture, Tradition, magisterial consensus, and natural law -- I’m convinced that we, as Catholics, must venture into the morally bankrupt inner cities of our country (and I don't mean the public housing sector). We need to protest Wall Street and their lobbies, secured in buildings so fancy with money so loose they sue each other over rights to sunlight. They need the Good News. Their souls are in peril.

Sometimes in the political polarization of our times, it’s easy to assume that our religious institutions must ally step-in-step with the platform of a deified political party. Reading through these encyclicals reawakened my faith in the independent good counsel of our Church.

If we find one or the other of these encyclicals -- written only a year apart by the same blessed pope -- difficult to accept in contemporary American life, we're not unique. Among the social and political divisions in our country, these documents propose a strange juxtaposition and yet, also, a consistency that's lacking in secular political ideals.

If there is a litmus test for Catholic orthodoxy, it's not soliciting one encyclical or another and holding it over the heads of dissenters. Both Humanae Vitae and Populorum Progressio, gifted to us by Blessed Paul VI, ask great personal sacrifice in service to the God-given dignity of every person.

Through these papal letters, we come to better understand a God who governs the nations of the earth while also speaking into our most intimate of relationships, a God who entrusts us with the overwhelming call to defer to one another in every sphere of our lives: our families, our workplaces, and our world.