A 1996 book, Changing Witness: Catholic Bishops And Public Policy, 1917-1994 by Michael Warner (with forward by George Weigel) has broad implications for what is currently happening in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The book details history of the “intellectual changes that have rippled through Catholicism in America over the past two generations” and how the U.S. Catholic Church and bishops have “jettisoned some of the traditional theological equipment while adopting many of the social, economic and political tenets of secularist humanism.”
Excerpts from the book can be found in this 1996 Wanderer article, Social Teachings At Risk In The American Catholic Church, which specifically chronicles J. Bryan Hehir’s involvement in the doctrinal juxtapositions at the USCCB.
The article explains how Hehir’s career was intertwined with 1960’s USCCB General Secretary Cardinal Bernadin and his successor, Bishop James S. Rausch’s attempts at “modernization” of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Bernardin “believed that the Church and its teachings urgently needed modernization” and told the National Catholic Reporter (April 17, 1968) that the “current national crisis” was such that “statements and pastorals were no longer sufficient. We must come up with specific programs which we will fund.”
Bernadin warned “that conservative fear of the unknown threatened to halt renewal in the Church” and accurately predicted ” tension and conflict” if “the movement for change” lost “momentum” because of “traditional Catholic skepticism”.
In those formative years under Bernardin as General Secretary and his successor, Bishop James S. Rausch, there was a certain amount of turnover, but one who retained his influence through the years (to this day) is Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, appointed in 1973 as director of the Office of International Justice and Peace.
“This new approach,” Warner states, “downplays the traditional principle of subsidiarity…USCC officials became boosters of dramatically expanded federal power, claiming that the federal government was the most reliable and sometimes the only engine of change-a conclusion the staff eventually applied to other social questions as well.”
In 1970, the NCCB approved a resolution establishing the Campaign for Human Development “to teach the poor to help themselves while educating the ‘non-poor’ and instilling in them a new sensitivity to the problems of poverty.” (Ed. Note: For over 25 years, U.S. Catholics have contributed millions to the annual CHD collection; ¾ of the monies are distributed at the discretion of USCC to left-wing politically oriented groups-not to the poor as this resolution suggests.)
Hehir’s “social justice” advice at the USCCB coincided with nefarious activities at the CCHD:
By the 1970s, “USCC leaders and staff became the new elite of the American Church setting the agenda and defining social doctrine more and more for the Bishops so that the concerns and ideology of the USCC secretariat became indistinguishable from that of the American hierarchy.”
During these years, its liberal leadership under Bishops Bernardin and Rausch with their new advisor Fr. Bryan Hehir, endorsed a ‘new social ethic’ which “regarded all inequalities of wealth and power that were not immediately tied to some greater service for the common good, as oppressive….This new conception of justice banished the traditional notion of a natural social order and consequently, the older distinction between justice and charity.”
Doctrinal confusion that persuaded Catholics to vote for proabortion politicians seems to have been the brainchild of J. Bryan Hehir:
As the concept of social sin took hold, “some USCC statements implied that citizens participated in social sin without even knowing it.” Fr. Hehir “defined social sin as an organization or structure that systematically works to the detriment of groups or individuals….”
On the concept of ‘clerical activism,’ the USCC “called for political activism at all levels of the institutional Church.” Fr. Hehir “formally defended clerical activism in an article in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.” He held that “the weakness of pre-conciliar Catholic social teachings stemmed from its sketchy understanding of the distinction between the Church’s nature (or mission) and its social ministry.”
“Father Hehir publicly suggested that actions which would be sinful for the faithful could be publicly tolerated…if committed by non-Catholics. He advanced the argument that Paul VI’s ban on contraception in Humanae Vitae applied to personal morality not public policy and that the traditional natural law teaching had maintained a distinction between the two realms.” Although Fr. Hehir’s recommendations were not always implemented, Warner notes, “his concern that a strict application of Catholic sexual mores in matters of public policy would cost the Church valuable allies was echoed by the secretariat’s quiet efforts to ‘broaden’ the Bishops’ opposition to legalized abortion.” These efforts produced so much controversy in the Bishops’ Conferences, the “weary” leadership gradually “demoted abortion from its place as the most pressing public policy matter affecting American life.
Once the climate evolved to this position, Hehir and his allies in the USCCB began to redirect the Church’s opposition to abortion into class warfare and socioeconomic battles:
While “the secretariat succeeded in formulating social policies agreeable to mainstream liberalism, a challenge to Catholic activism had emerged with the legalization of abortion. The Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision entrenched in constitutional law the secularist argument that religion (or indeed, any conception of ultimate truth) is tangential to democratic government and potentially dangerous to it. Many Catholics…wanted the Church to discipline Catholic officials who supported legalized abortion…but most bishops and their advisors in the secretariat believed this course too drastic; they feared the loss of all influence and credibility in Washington…”
Warner continues, “USCC’s liberal leadership tried to minimize the friction with its secular allies by muting its own statements on what Fr. Hehir called ‘personal’ morality.” The USCC leadership in the 1970s tried “to convince influential prelates (such as NCCB president, Joseph Bernardin) that inequality and injustice…were the root of the problems like abortion and thus the real threat to life in the modern world.”
The “consistent ethic of life” with which Cardinal Bernardin “attempted to codify the internal logic of the new social teaching of the American Catholic Church” during the Reagan era had its origin in 1973 with Bishop Rausch. “Discomfited” by the intensity of the developing anti-abortion movement, Rausch introduced the notion of a “consistent theory of rights.” He stated “concern for the right to life of the unborn must be linked to…concern for the quality of life of the very poor, the aged, and the minority members of the American community.”
During the Jimmy Carter/Gerald Ford election, political strategy was rolled out.
After this quarrel abortion was effectively de-emphasized either by omission or as one among other issues.”
The NCCB 1976 pastoral letter, To Live In Christ Jesus, “called abortion an ‘unspeakable crime’ and mentioned it with seven other concerns, including housing, employment and discrimination.” This issue was not only downplayed in subsequent Bishops’ statements, they failed to “offer any concerned reaction when the Democrat Party reiterated and strengthened its pro-abortion platform plank in 1980.
Hehir’s social justice ideas and strategies that elected 40 years of proabortion politicians has ended the lives of 50 million children and has resurrected Karl Marx.
What was it about Hehir’s history, discretion and outcomes that attract Cardinal O’Malley to his ideas?