success stories

Posted January 25, 2004

Book: American Catholics & Civic Engagement: A Distinctive Voice
Edited by: Margaret O’Brien Steinfels
A Sheed and Ward Book, New York, pp.293

Excerpt from Preface:

American Catholics in the Public Square was designed to examine and explore Catholic participation in the nation’s civic life. Its four major goals were:

1. To identify the distinctive elements in Catholicism’s approach to civic life; to explore the strengths and weaknesses of this tradition in the American context; to discover how (and how successfully) this tradition is being transmitted; to identify obstacles within the Catholic Church itself and the Catholic community to a more robust and distinctive Catholic presence in the public square; and to analyze both receptivity and resistances in the larger American culture to the Catholic presence.

2. To generate concrete analyses and recommendations for strengthening Catholic civic engagement — not in an attempt to devise a platform or simple formulas, but simply as a way to gather a range of ideas about current practices and imaginative possibilities that Catholic leaders in various spheres can evaluate, adapt, or discard as they see fit.

3. To encompass a broad spectrum of political and social views of Catholics so as to encourage dialogue between sectors of a large and diverse church who often do not come into significant contact with one another and to open up lines of inquiry that will capture the attention of Catholic leaders, religious an secular media, and political thinkers in a way that could extend the discussion well beyond this project.

4. To reexamine the long-standing Catholic belief in the obligation to promote the common good and to clarify how Catholics may work better with those holding other religious or philosophical convictions toward revitalizing both the religious environment and civic participation in the American republic.

Excerpt from Book:

The Contemporary American Moral Context

In their day, Murray, Ryan, and Maritain were confident that natural law would be widely accepted by reasonable people operating with good faith. They were able to make this assumption in the midst of a broad convergence of moral themes rooted in what was in mid-century called the "Judeo-Christian heritage." They had reason to think that Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could, in principle, agree on matters of ethics and political morality without also achieving the deepest and most profound kind of religious unity. In practice, of course, such consensus was not always obtained, but at least the principle provided the basis for ongoing public conversation on matters of civic life.

Their view points to a stark difference between then and now. Today "religion" is often caricatured by its critics as taking one of two forms: either as intense participation in a cult-like defensive community characterized by cohesion, or, on the other end of the spectrum, as casual membership in a domesticated, therapeutically-minded and quasi-secular social club that gives neither offense nor character to its members. Religion in the former case gives rise to self-righteous intolerance and obstinate fundamentalism; in the latter, to vacuous social conventionality and banal cultural Christianity.

Catholics, of course, can have as many reservations about religion as anyone else. Whereas Ryan, and Maritain could take moral agreement within Catholicism for granted and then work toward forming a consensus over contested policy matters in the public square, today we face the challenge of building moral consensus within the Catholic community itself. The possibility of building this consensus depends in turn, on the ability to engage in productive intra-Catholic moral dialogue. This consensus should not be confused with imposted uniformity. Nor can it be created by means of vigorously exerting institutional power, and for at least two reason. First because consensus is constituted by shared judgment and shared judgment is generated not by coercion but by persuasive reasoning n an atmosphere of trust and dialogue. Second, because coercive threats and their execution are particularly offensive to the sense of fairness and love of freedom that are characteristically American.

This decay of magisterial credibility is a situation that clearly demands our attention. It affects not only the internal life of the Church but also its influence in the public square. For one thing, people who find it increasingly easy to ignore doctrine concerning sexual conduct would also seem more likely to dismiss the Church’s message on a whole range of matters pertaining to civic life and public policy, including the death penalty, euthanasia, the ethics of war, the preferential option for the poor, and ecological responsibility. More broadly, they will be less likely to embrace the kind of broad Catholic social vision that can act asa coherent and morally more appealing alternative to radical individualism. The erosion of the effective authority of the magisterium — its ability to persuade and to exert moral leadership rather than its institutional control — undermines, or at least seriously compromises, its ability to offer a prophetic counterweight to the radical individualism, careerism, and consumerism of American popular culture. It also undercuts its constructive ability to teach the importance of the common good, the global moral interdependence of humanity, and the inherent dignity of the person.

Table of Contents:

Peter Steinfels and Robert Royal

Part 1: Catholic Social Thought in the American Context

The Common Good and Catholic Social Thought
John A. Coleman

Pluralism and the Common Good: A Response
Jane Mansbridge

Catholic Social Thought and the American Experience
Stephen J. Pope

Contending with Liberalism
William A. Galston

Catholics and the Liberal Tradition
Michael Lacey and William M. Shea

Part 2: Catholic Institutions in the American Public Square

The Catholic Parish in the Public Square
Philip J. Murnion

What Do State Catholic Conference Do?
William Bole

The Limits of Coalitions and Compromises: The California State Catholic Conference
Edward E. Dolejsi

Catholic Health Care and the Challenge of Civic Society
Clarke E. Cochran

Part 3: Catholics in the Public Square: Autobiographies

Pro-life, Pro-faimily, Pro-poor
Mary Jo Bane

State House Politician
David Carlin

On the Beat in the South Bronx and Central America
David Gonzales

Politics and Polling
Dotty Lynch

A Journalist’s Calling
Don Wycliff

Look for the Real Story
Paul Moses

Family, Faith, and Union
Kirk Adams

The Workers Worker
John J. Sweeney

Family, Good Fortune, and Stewardship
Thomas J. Donnelly

God Deals with Me through My Clients
W. Shepherdson Abell

Part 4: Catholics in the Voting Booth

How Catholic is the Catholic Vote?
David C. Leege and Paul D. Mueller

There is no Catholic Vote — and It’s Important
E. J. Dionne, Jr.

Catholic Republicans
Kate O’Beirne

Communitarian Lite
William Bole