Helen Weir
Tea time at Our Sunday Visitor
By Helen Weir
October 18, 2010

It was a couple of weeks ago, on a crisp September Saturday when the leaves were just starting to turn, that I joined a few hundred other patriots for a Tea Party in Merrillan, Wisconsin. Spearheaded by the group called Americans for Prosperity, the headliner of the event was Dick Morris of Fox News fame. For many of us, the former-Clinton-advisor-turned-conservative-guru is the new E. F. Hutton: when Dick speaks, people listen. And listen we did, as he regaled us with howlworthy barbs about Russ Feingold's fabulous freefall in the polls, Ron Kind's congressional kleptomania, and the anticonstitutional antics of Administration Obama. Beneath it all, however, ran an undercurrent of concerned urgency which was universally sensed and shared. There is something afoot in this land which really is no laughing matter at all.

As a revert to the Catholic faith (when people ask me, "How did you learn so much theology?" I generally reply, "the hard way"), I read with considerable interest an article appearing in this week's Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly (p. 4) entitled, "Is the Tea Party At Odds With Catholic Teaching?" Its author is one Scott Alessi, who ends up effectively answering his own question, "Yes!" At least, his choice of terminology would point to that conclusion. The tea partiers are referred to as "disgruntled Americans" whose "at times radical views and controversial practices" are ultimately chalked up to "shared frustration." One is reminded, at this point, of Joe Scheidler's characterization of "choice" as a "weasel word." To choose what, we must ask. It seems to me that "frustration" has become the "weasel word" du jour. Why doesn't anyone go on to ask, frustration with what?

And precisely which "controversial practices" is Mr. Alessi alluding to? Freedom of speech? The ability to distinguish between Democratic rhetoric and reality? Exercising one's rights of assembly and association? Casting cartons of as yet unbrewed beverages into nearby bodies of water?

The author is slightly more forthcoming about what he considers the tea partiers' "radical views." Here is the catalogue he presents:

    While the U. S. bishops have supported the idea of universal health care, tea party activists have commonly called for the repeal of Congress' health care legislation. And positions argued by tea party activists on issues such as immigration, Social Security and the government's regulation of racial discrimination by businesses don't fit within the principles of Catholic social teaching, (Stephen) Schneck (of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America) said. "That kind of thinking is at odds with Catholic thinking about solidarity, about the common good and about the role that the political order should be playing in regards to the dignity of the human person," he said.

Let's take a look at each of these "radical," implicitly "unCatholic" views, not necessarily in their stated order.

Have you ever heard of a tea partier anywhere who has called for deregulation of racial discrimination on the part of Corporate America? I haven't. When people ask me, "Do you belong to the Tea Party?" I tell them, "Since the Tea Party hasn't decided for itself what it is yet, it is impossible either to identify with it or not. I do, however, strongly support the general objectives of limited government and less taxation." The Tea Party, at this point, isn't one ideology or one organization; it is a gawky, gangly youngster of great promise, which is bound to bungle along the way. At the Merrillan Tea Party itself, in fact, one speaker (not Dick Morris!) referred to liberals with a derogatory term I cannot condone; I myself, and all of the people I could immediately see, lowered our eyes and turned our backs for a few sentences after it was uttered. I am not giving the Tea Party some kind of carte blanche endorsement, and I'd wager that the rest of the 58% of weekly Mass-going U. S. Catholics sympathetic to the protests (according to Alessi's own sidebar, citing a "poll conducted earlier this year by McLaughlin and Associates for the National Review Institute") aren't either.

I admit the remote possibility, then, that someone somewhere could have said something that got reconstituted into Alessi's "deregulating racial discrimination" allegation. If the author is referring to identifiable advocacy statements, he ought to document them. If not, he is only recycling the scurrilous slur that those who disagree with Barack Obama are, ipso facto, racists. Given the article's general tone, along with the fact that OSV ran several soft-on-the-secular-savior puff pieces during the 2008 presidential campaign, I suspect that the latter scenario is the more probable.

As for immigration, my fellow RA columnist Matt Abbott has already admirably contrasted the clear and unequivocal teaching found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church with left-wing support for illegal immigration, of the type which throws down the "Offense Against Human Dignity!" flag whenever the new Arizona law is mentioned. Our Lord tells us to turn the other cheek, whereas American liberals tell us to turn a blind eye. There is a difference — a big difference, indeed.

The Catechism says (2241):

    The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent that they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. . . . Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties towards their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country which receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

Matt quotes a reader, Philip C. Onochie, as saying (See the rest of the article, May 6, 2010, "Readers Sound Off On Illegal Immigration, 'Quiet Euthanasia,' Anti-Catholic Bigotry," here):

    How our dear bishops draw the conclusion that the above citing commends us to protect illegal aliens who break the law to come into the country is beyond me . . . Of course we want to treat people with dignity. But arresting people for breaking the law is not wrong.

And neither is requiring the immigrants themselves not to murder ranchers, deal drugs, traffic in human beings, close hospitals and schools through overburdening the taxpaying public, refuse to identify themselves on demand as ordinary Americans are expected to do, or claim large tracts of the United States of America as belonging to Mexico instead. When was the last time you heard anyone — especially those (like OSV) ostensibly concerned with seeing Catholic social teaching carried out in our own realm of North America — proclaiming that the "undocumented" need to honor their own moral obligations towards their countries of adoption? When have we been reminded that respect for the common good empowers those in political authority to safeguard the rights and dignity even of those who already live in the "more prosperous" nations? I missed Mr. Alessi's investigation into those Catholic/political identity clashes, and I'll bet you did, too.

Social Security has become a hot-button issue especially here in Wisconsin, with the November 2 midterm elections, and the final word on the Russ Feingold/Ron Johnson contest, looming. For those of you who do not reside in the Badger State, Feingold has made quite a fuss about Johnson calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" — a characterization which the Republican challenger has not backed off from nor qualified, and which I find as perfectly apt as well. When you assure people you're going to use their money for one purpose, appropriate it for another, and shrug off all complaints with a smiling, "Tough Luck!" you ought to go to jail. You most certainly shouldn't be allowed to ask people for any more dough.

If Mr. Alessi feels that the Church requires us to believe equally in the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation, the primacy of the Pope, and the platform of the Democratic Party, I'd like him to demonstrate it. Even Roman Catholics can look out of the window and decide without magisterial intervention whether or not it is raining. Social Security is just about broke; that is reality. Leaving aside, for the sake of the argument, the question of whether or not the federal government ought to be in the business of interfering with people's retirement funds, the fact remains that the public sector is not providing the promised "security" in any way, shape, or form. How can it possibly be unchristian to seek to serve our elderly or otherwise economically vulnerable population in some other way?

Which brings us to the vexed question of the USCCB's support for Obamacare, sans abortion. Mr. Alessi does quote Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty as pointing out that "though the movement has hesitated to identify itself as pro-life, the majority of tea party activists appear to be in agreement with the Church's stance on abortion." How's that for promoting human dignity? But even if all of the bishops' conditions restricting federal funding of abortion and respecting the conscience rights of healthcare workers and facilities were to be granted — which they are highly unlikely to be — Obamacare would still need to be repealed from a human, American, and yes, also a Catholic point of view. But why?

There is no reason to believe that government-controlled healthcare would meet people's actual needs any better than government-controlled Social Security is doing. And given the fact that Barack Obama has already handed the healthcare reins to rationing czar Donald Berwick in a little-noticed recess appointment, the spectre of legalized and widespread euthanasia absolutely cannot be discounted, whether the American bishops choose to raise a ruckus about it or not. The Catechism of the Catholic Church certainly emphasizes the point. It says (2276-7):

    Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible. Whatever its motives or means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Neither the President with the 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood nor any of his collaborators can be counted on to, shall we say, afford the targeted "special respect."

But some members of the press — even, tragically, the Catholic press — can be counted on to afford him some. The same issue of OSV Newsweekly that carries Mr. Alessi's article also features a darling little photo on page 3, captioned, "SPECIAL HOUSEGUEST: Father Michael Amadeo, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, asks President Obama a question during the president's visit to the home of Jeff and Sandy Hatfield Clubb in Des Moines on Sept. 29." OSV, for whatever reason, doesn't report the nature of Father's question, as if the important thing is simply to glory in the opportunity to interact with such an august figure at all.

Was it, "President Obama, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (#1902) that 'authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner.' In that case, why have you recently been quoting from the Declaration of Independence with the phrase by their Creator carefully excised?"

Was it, "When a Florida pastor announced his intention to burn copies of the Koran last September 11, you, President Obama, exhorted him not to, on the grounds that people in this country have a right to the free exercise of religion. Will you, in the same spirit, intervene with the President of Notre Dame University to allow those who protested your appearance there to exercise their anti-abortion religious beliefs as well?"

Was it, "Why was it necessary, Mr. President, for the crucifix at Georgetown University to be covered up in order for you to deliver a speech there? Do you make similar demands upon members of other faiths and in other nations?"

The challenge of assessing how our political affiliations stack up against our Catholic convictions, then, cuts both ways. Catholics active in the Tea Party seem well aware that there is no perfect secular vehicle for advancing their beliefs, yet do so as best they can, attempting to move the movement itself towards an explicit embrace of the sanctity of all human life. Catholics on the American left, on the other hand, tend to want to bend their co-religionists and (if at all possible) their representation of Church teaching itself into conformity with a pre-existing liberal agenda. So, which "kind of thinking" constitutes the more faithful approach?

We believe; He decides.

Dick Morris and me at the Tea Party in Merrillan, Wisconsin, on September 25, 2010. My crowd estimate was about 300.
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin

Dick's talk
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin

Faces in the Crowd
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin

What Part, Indeed?
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin.

Auctioning off a portrait of Ronaldus Magnus
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin.

Another of those "racist" tea partiers
Photo courtesy of Marlene Grauwels of Fairchild, Wisconsin.

© Helen Weir


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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