Friday, July 15, 2011

The nine principles for Catholic social agencies: Archbishop Chaput

I’m sure that readers are aware of the activities associated with and around the preparation of the examination of Ireland under the UN Universal Periodic Review next October.
You may also be aware of the controversy surrounding the ‘Your Rights, Right Now’ Report drawn up by a coalition of ‘civil society’ groups, including many with a pro-abortion and anti-family agenda.    The coalition purported to have gained an endorsement of their Report from a number of organisations and agencies, some of them church groups, but these were unaware that their names had been included in the YRRN Report and subsequently expressed a wish (which was refused) to have their names removed from the list of endorsers.  

In this regard, I think that what Archbishop Chaput, of Denver, Colorado, had to say when he spoke recently during the Catholic Social Workers National Association Meeting in Colorado, was very telling for all of us.  Now, I am not implying that any of the Irish Catholic agencies are remiss in their outlook, but I think that this timely warning from Archbishop Chaput is of the utmost importance.
Speaking on the ‘Catholic’ identity of Catholic charities, and by extension, the identity of all Catholic social work, the Archbishop said:

‘…  Everything in Catholic social ministry begins and ends with Jesus Christ.   If it doesn’t, it isn’t Catholic.  And if our social work isn’t deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word “Catholic.”  It’s that simple. …
‘… Catholic ministries have the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs on marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues.  And if the state refuses to allow those Catholic ministries to be faithful in their services through legal or financial bullying, then as a matter of integrity, they should end their services. …
‘Individuals, on their own, have very little power in dealing with the state.  But communities, and especially religious communities, have a great deal of power in shaping attitudes and behavior.  Churches are one of those “mediating institutions,” along with voluntary associations, fraternal organizations and especially the family, that stand between the power of the state and the weakness of individuals. …
‘In the years ahead, we’re going to see more and more attempts by civil authority to interfere in the life of believing communities.  We’ll also see less and less unchallenged space for religious institutions to carry out their work in the public square. …
‘Being faithful to Catholic teaching isn’t something optional for a Catholic social worker.  It’s basic to his or her identity. …

The Archbishop proceeded to suggest nine principles for Catholic social agencies:
First, every act of Catholic social work should function faithfully within the mission and structures of the local diocese, with special respect for the role of the bishop.  All such social work should be true to Scripture, Church teaching and the Code of Canon Law.
Second, every Catholic social ministry, along with providing material aid, should allow for the possibility of verbally professing the Gospel, as prudence permits.
Third – and this should be obvious – no Catholic charitable worker should ever engage in coercive proselytization.  He or she should always embody respect for an individual’s freedom, and be governed by humility and common sense.
Fourth, every Catholic social ministry should insist on the best professional skills from its staff, and should use the best professional means at its disposal in serving others – so long as those skills and means reflect the truth of Catholic moral teaching.
Fifth, Catholic Charities and similar Catholic organizations should always provide opportunities for prayer for their employees and volunteers.  Prayer is integral to Christian charity both as the means of experiencing the love of God ourselves and of seeking God’s help – without which, none of our works can prosper.
Sixth, every Catholic social ministry – guided by charity and prudence, but also by courage – should bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ to the wider community.  This includes giving a public voice to the rights of the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the immigrant and the unborn child, consistent with the particular nature of its work.
Seventh, Every Catholic Charities organization, both through action and instruction, should seek to deepen an awareness of Catholic social teaching within the Christian community.
Eighth, Catholic social work always should involve both an effective outreach to individuals struggling with poverty, and a frank critique of the structural causes of poverty through the lens of Catholic social teaching.
 Ninth and finally, Catholic social ministries should welcome opportunities to work with other individuals, groups and social agencies in ways that are compatible with Catholic teaching. But we need to stay alert to the fact that cooperation can easily turn Catholic organizations into sub-contractors of large donors – donors with a very different anthropology and thus very different notions of authentic human development.  And that can undermine the very purpose of Catholic social work...