Busted Halo

Michael O’Loughlin looks at faith and politics.

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April 3rd, 2014
The role young adults can play in addressing the great challenges facing society today

U.S. bishops celebrate Mass at border fence in Nogales, Arizona. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

U.S. bishops celebrate Mass at border fence in Nogales, Arizona. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Last weekend, more than 100 students gathered at St. Clement Parish in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Representing Catholic campus ministry centers from colleges and universities throughout the United States — Catholic, private, and public — these students were wrapping up a year of leadership training and faith formation as participants in ESTEEM (Engaging Students to Enliven the Ecclesial Mission), a project of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management and the St. Thomas More Catholic Center at Yale University.

The students spend their ESTEEM year attending workshops, small group sessions, retreats, and engaged in service opportunities. They read church documents on a range of subjects in order to become familiar with how the church operates, from the structure of the Vatican, to how bishops run dioceses, to the role of parish councils. The idea is that when students graduate and leave their vibrant campus ministry centers, they should feel empowered to take on leadership positions in their parishes. As Kerry Robinson, my colleague at the Leadership Roundtable, says, students should feel ready to be the church they want to see.
When students were given the …

March 6th, 2014

The U.S. Capitol (CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters)

The U.S. Capitol (CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters)

This week in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president, the last time the event was held in March. It was the first of four inaugurations for FDR, the one during which he uttered the now famous “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself” line.
The next day, he declared a four-day banking holiday to prevent people from cashing out their accounts and convened a special session of Congress and launched the New Deal.

Eventually, New Deal legislation would unleash the bulk of the modern social safety net in the United States. The Works Progress Administration gave jobs to unemployed Americans to build post offices, bridges, parks, and schools. The National Labor Relations Board was established to give workers a voice in the halls of power. And the Social Security Act ensured Americans would not be destitute in their old age and provided unemployment insurance to those without jobs. Today, half of all Americans over 65 would live in poverty without Social Security.

The New Deal legacy endures today, but its core is under attack from all sides.

Rep. Paul Ryan introduced the GOP House budget this …

January 16th, 2014
Fifty years ago, LBJ challenged us to end poverty. Are we any closer?

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union address in which he declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” He challenged Americans to end the great injustice:

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the state and the local level and must be supported and directed by state and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

To mark the anniversary, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, penned a letter to Congress “to consider closely any legislation that begins to heal our broken …

December 5th, 2013

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis rocked the media again last week with the release of Evangelii Gaudium,” (The Joy of the Gospel) an apostolic exhortation laying out his vision for a well-run, joyful church and a more just world. America magazine’s James Martin, SJ, wrote that he was unable to “remember a papal document that was so thought-provoking, surprising, and invigorating. Frankly, reading it thrilled me.”

New York magazine’s Dan Amira had some fun with the document, publishing a quiz called, “It’s Time to Play ‘Bill de Blasio or the Pope?,’” in which he asks readers to guess if quotes are attributed to Francis or the ultra-liberal, populist mayor-elect of New York.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper wrote that Evangelli Gaudium “was a serendipitous Chanukah gift, that brought joy to the Jewish world.”

If you haven’t read the full text, a whopping 224-page PDF, you should. It’s accessible, inspiring, and thought provoking. The gist of it says that Christian joy can capture the imagination of the world, revitalize the Church, and compel Jesus’ followers to question the idolatry of the free market …

November 21st, 2013

Parents listen to their daughter during dinner in the family's home. (CNS photo illustration/Sid Hastings)

Parents listen to their daughter during dinner in the family’s home. (CNS photo illustration/Sid Hastings)

In New Hampshire this past weekend, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrat of Maryland, told more than 1,000 Democratic activists that pride in oneself and in one’s city is able to transform lives and communities. Speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Manchester, the Catholic O’Malley recalled his tenure as mayor of Baltimore in the early 2000s, which at that time was the most violent city in the United States. He highlighted a campaign he started to drive down crime and drive up pride. It was simple, he said, once residents believed things could be better. The program was called simply, Believe.

“Belief is important. Belief drives action. Now, like Baltimore in 1999, we, as Americans, are going through a cynical time of disbelief — a time, quite frankly, with a lot more excuses and ideology than cooperation or action,” he said.

O’Malley was introduced by a gauzy black and white video that many in the room considered a marketing test for a possible 2016 run for the White House. It highlighted the reduction in crime in Baltimore, as well as more recent accomplishments, …

November 7th, 2013

A man panhandling holds an American flag in San Francisco’s financial district. (CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters)

A man panhandling holds an American flag in San Francisco’s financial district. (CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters)

I had the pleasure of rereading Economic Justice for All earlier this week as I was researching another writing project. The first time I encountered this pastoral letter, written in 1986 by U.S. bishops, I was a senior in college, some time in 2007, completing an assignment for a Catholic social justice class. I remember being blown away, moved by the unequivocal words of support for the poor and middle class. This document stirred my passion for using politics for good, as a way to lift up the disenfranchised. It would not be an exaggeration to credit Economic Justice for All with inspiring me to work in the Catholic sector, seeking ways to tell the stories of those who feel left out.

The pastoral letter, written a year before I was born, was shockingly relevant to me even 20 years later. As I soaked it in again this week, it still reads like something that could be written today. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that the words have stood the test of time. Kudos to the bishops for their foresight. But in reality, …

October 17th, 2013
How the U.S. government shutdown impeded government’s good work

The statue of Grief and History stands near the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. (CNS photo/ Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

The statue of Grief and History stands near the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. (CNS photo/ Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

This past weekend, I ran the Chicago Marathon. I sometimes use my time running to think of ideas for columns, hashing out arguments and counter-arguments, and figuring out what I want to say, who I want to interview, and discern what people might find interesting or helpful. Knowing that my Church & State column would be due following the run, I decided to spend some time thinking about what’s going on in the world of government. Of course, with the government having been shut down for two weeks by race day, the answer was, not much.

The small but influential contingent of Tea Party Republicans that forced the government shutdown didn’t seem to have a single goal in mind. At first, they cited their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and claimed that they wanted to delay its implementation for a year and repeal the medical devices tax that would pay for part of it. When this tactic gained no traction, the talking points shifted. The problem, they said, was big government in general. So they moved on from …

October 3rd, 2013
What lessons could U.S. leaders learn from Pope Francis?

U.S. Capitol is photographed behind a chain fence in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. Capitol is photographed behind a chain fence in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

The U.S. government is shut down. Have you noticed? Probably not. Planes are still flying. Trains are still moving. The post office is open, Social Security checks are still being delivered, and the military remains on guard. For most Americans, the closing of the federal government doesn’t interfere with the daily grind. Now, this isn’t to diminish the very real problems that a government shutdown creates, especially for those who rely on government for their livelihood and services such as nutrition assistance. For them, the shutdown of the government is quite painful. Rather, it’s worth noting that by making the effects of a shutdown as minimal as possible for most people, the rage that Americans should feel toward their seemingly inept leaders is lessened, and we’re left with even less incentive for Congressional accountability.

So, how did all this happen? Driven by ideology, some Republicans in Congress have used procedural tricks and lawmaking loopholes to try to defund President Obama’s healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The law was passed in Congress, signed by the president, reviewed and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. Then …

September 19th, 2013

Children eat breakfast at the Baltimore Catholic Charities Head Start program in Edgewood, Maryland. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Children eat breakfast at the Baltimore Catholic Charities Head Start program in Edgewood, Maryland. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

First, a heartwarming story out of Boston.

Glen James, a homeless man in his 50s, was walking through a parking lot when he noticed a black bag. Curious, he opened it, and what he found was astonishing. According to the Boston Globe, inside was $2,400 in cash, $40,000 in traveler’s checks, a passport, and some personal papers. James could have used the money to find a place to live or buy the essentials that many of us take for granted. Instead, he did what all of us should do: He turned the bag over to the police.

“Even if I were desperate for money, I would not have kept even a penny of the money found,” he said Monday in a handwritten statement. “God has always very well looked after me.”

The Boston Police Department took note, and James was honored with a citation. Commissioner Ed Davis highlighted his “extraordinary show of character and honesty.” And, according to NPR, an online fund has raised more than $64,000 for James as a sort of reward for his altruism. The missing money, by the …

September 5th, 2013

Pope Francis caught even BuzzFeed’s attention over the weekend when expressing his views on possible foreign intervention in Syria via Twitter:

War never again! Never again war!

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

We want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace.

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake.

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

And to hammer home the point that the Catholic Church is against launching missiles into Syria, bishops here in the United States have launched a campaign of sorts against a possible war. In an e-mail blast, bishops implored Catholics to:

Contact your two U.S. Senators and your Representative and urge them to vote against a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. Instead, ask them to support U.S. leadership, in collaboration with the international community, for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and serious, inclusive negotiations for peace.

So, what’s actually going in Syria?

If you have some time, check out this breakdown from the Washington Post, but here’s the gist. The ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is …

August 22nd, 2013

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, lamented that some Christians in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations claim “persecution” whenever they don’t get their way.

At the Edinburg International Book Festival, Williams said:

Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up. You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society. But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.

The brutality that Williams referenced is on full display …

July 25th, 2013

President Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin case at the White House. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

President Barack Obama talks about the Trayvon Martin case at the White House. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

I was at a restaurant in the H Street corridor, a so-called up-and-coming neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C., a couple weekends ago. Edison bulbs hung from the ceiling. Diners enjoyed 12- and 14-dollar artisanal drinks. Much of the menu consisted of organic, farm-to-table ingredients. At the bar, a group of three white men were drinking when the local Fox affiliate interrupted the Nationals baseball game. The jury in the George Zimmerman trial had reached a verdict. As it was announced that Zimmerman had been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the three white guys erupted into cheers. My friend and I paid our bill and left the restaurant. On the walk back to our car, the contrast between the scene inside the restaurant, a mostly white crowd enjoying fairly expensive meals, to the still transitioning neighborhood, home to mainly low-income minorities, was stark.

Over the past several days, the response to the Zimmerman verdict has included protests in major U.S. cities, countless editorials and blog posts, and even a reflection by President Obama. …

June 27th, 2013

A man holds a program and U.S. flag during the opening Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom observance at the Baltimore basilica. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

A man holds a program and U.S. flag during the opening Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom observance at the Baltimore basilica. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

This summer, Catholic bishops in this country are again devoting the 14 days prior to the Fourth of July to their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. These two weeks, they said, will be spent educating Americans about what they see as the government’s infringement on the freedom of religion. As such, it’s also a good time to reexamine how we, as Catholics, contribute to the public square. How do we, as disciples of Jesus, live our faith today?

The campaign, now in its second iteration, is the result of what the bishops view as government involvement into what counts, from an IRS perspective, as ministry. The bishops believe that hospitals, schools, and other church-affiliated social service industries are ministries in themselves. The government has a seemingly more narrow view of ministry, and, for tax and regulatory purposes, has deemed such institutions as ancillary to ministry.

What caused the standoff?

Framing the debate

Part of Obamacare, the term preferred by Democrats over the more sterile “health insurance reform,” includes a mandate that employers, through …

June 13th, 2013
Working with others to do good.

Ad promotes Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CNS photo/courtesy of CCHD)

Ad promotes Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CNS photo/courtesy of CCHD)

Pope Francis was the fifth most discussed topic on Reddit a few weeks ago. Reddit is the online cool-kids-table, where it seems that everything we find entertaining online originates. BuzzFeed is described as last week’s Reddit. Reddit users tend to be trendy Millennials, who have a penchant for finding content that will go viral, paying particular attention to progressive issues. Oh, and most are agnostic or atheist.

So what was the pope doing there?

Francis had made headlines for an off-the-cuff homily in which he gave a shout-out to atheists:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” the pope told worshipers at morning Mass on Wednesday. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Some interpreted the pope’s remarks as opening the gates of heaven to all, including atheists. Others pushed back, suggesting that the pope was simply reaffirming Catholic teaching that all people have the potential to …

May 30th, 2013
Given recent violence, does the death penalty make sense?

People protest outside Georgia Capitol in support of death-row inmate Troy Davis before his Sept. 21, 2011 execution. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

People protest outside Georgia Capitol in support of death-row inmate Troy Davis before his Sept. 21, 2011 execution. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

I was talking to a friend last week when I asked, “You’re opposed to the death penalty right?” It was less of an inquiry than a way to transition to the next portion of our conversation. After all, she is in her 20s, Catholic, a Democrat, and more to the left of many issues than me. I began to tell the story I had in mind without really considering her answer when she interrupted me.

“Oh, not necessarily,” she said. “In some cases, I’m against it, sure, but sometimes it just seems fair.”

I was taken aback, surprised really. I decided to ask some more friends over the next few days. Again, almost all were in their 20s, shared a generally liberal outlook on politics, and were from faith traditions that oppose capital punishment. And yet, in nearly every instance, I heard the same answer: they were against seeking the death penalty in some cases, but they found it justified in others.

Earlier this month, Maryland abolished the death penalty through legislative action, joining 17 other states …

May 2nd, 2013

A fan holds a sign during a Boston Bruins hockey game after the marathon bombings. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

A fan holds a sign during a Boston Bruins hockey game after the marathon bombings. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

Tomorrow marks two weeks since law enforcement officials captured suspect number two, cowering in a boat, hidden by a tarp, and bleeding from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his neck. The night prior, the suspect’s older brother was killed in a firefight with police. With the suspects identified, captured, and in custody, Bostonians and Americans breathed a sigh of relief. The terror, anxiety, and fear that had consumed so many began to subside.

The reaction over the past two weeks has run the gamut and has touched on a number of seemingly divergent issues.

Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, told reporters that forgiveness is essential:

“Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred.”

But Elad Nehorai, a Hasidic Jew writing at the Huffington Post, said that forgiveness is the prerogative only of those who were directly victimized by the suspects:

For those that think that we should forgive: that’s not your place. You know who …

April 4th, 2013

An artist's rendering shows the U.S. Supreme Court in session for oral arguments in a case challenging California's Proposition 8. (CNS photo/Art Lien, Reuters)

An artist’s rendering shows the U.S. Supreme Court in session for oral arguments in a case challenging California’s Prop 8. (CNS photo/Art Lien, Reuters)

Notice a proliferation of red on Facebook last week?

Many of your friends, and perhaps you yourself, may have changed their profile pictures to a red equals sign, showing their support for same-sex marriage as the Supreme Court heard arguments in two pivotal cases. Tuesday, the justices listened to arguments surrounding California’s law that banned same-sex marriage there, known as Prop 8. The next day, they heard arguments challenging the constitutionality of the Clinton-era law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. A woman whose partner had died, resulting in a staggering estate tax bill of $362,000 that a heterosexual couple would not have been charged, brought the case to the court.

What struck me about the Facebook campaign was the diversity of my friends who changed their profile pics that day. Of course, my younger liberal friends showed support, but even my more center-right, orthodox Catholic friends got in on the action. I suppose I shouldn’t have been …

March 21st, 2013
People participate in an anti-gun violence rally in New York. (CNS photo/Eduardo Munoz, Reuters)

People participate in an anti-gun violence rally in New York. (CNS photo/Eduardo Munoz, Reuters)

Washington is in the midst of Cherry Blossom season. In the next few weeks, more than one million tourists and locals alike will flock to the area along the National Mall, especially around the tidal basin near the Jefferson Memorial, to take in a view of the white and pink blossoms that appear on thousands of trees each spring. In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo presented 3,000 cherry trees to the people of the United States as a symbol of peace and friendship between the two nations. Today, there is a 16-day festival complete with a 10-mile road race, elaborate parties, photo classes and allergies. Oh, the allergies.

Washington, so the saying goes, is built on a swamp (never mind that just a tiny portion of the city, down around the U.S. Capitol, is actually built on filled-in land), which accounts for the sweltering humidity in summertime and proliferation of all sorts of seasonal allergens in the springtime. So to celebrate the pending arrival of cherry blossoms, I found myself in line at a CVS last night to pick up some much needed Sudafed.

When …

February 28th, 2013

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

As Congress struggles with how to create a national budget, and with hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to the military, federal agencies, and social service programs looming, a group of religious leaders released a letter this week reminding elected officials of their duty to the poor and marginalized.

Calling themselves the “Circle of Protection,” the group drafted a letter to President Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, thanking them for their commitment to reducing the staggering national deficit, and also asking them to consider the poor by sparing social programs, whenever possible, during this process.

They write that there are legitimate debates to be held about how to run government most effectively, and the role that it should play in society, but they call for actions that prevent “a serious economic setback or push more people into poverty” and that will “advance the common good, ensure fairness, and defend the most vulnerable is good religion and good politics.”

Of note in the …

February 14th, 2013
How the new pope might engage the political world.

Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama during Obama's 2009 visit to the Vatican. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama during Obama’s 2009 visit to the Vatican. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

For the past 700 years or so, the election of a new Pope was always preceded by the death of another, and so it meant, presumably, that Catholics would spend some time mourning the loss of their spiritual leader before considering who might serve next. This time around, however, with Pope Benedict XVI’s startling announcement Monday, many Catholics are mourning the end of a papacy, perhaps, but also looking quite quickly to the future, eagerly wondering who will be elected to lead their church.

The election of a pope is most definitely spiritual business. Guided by the Holy Spirit, cardinals, men selected by a pope because of some immense contribution to the life of the Catholic Church, (in this case, all 117 eligible electors were made cardinals by either Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI) cloister themselves inside St. Peter’s Basilica and consider the traits they’d like in the man who will lead the world’s largest Christian church. This is done, we are told, with a profound sense of prayer and reflection, and it’s not a responsibility any one of …

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