Amid polarized discourse, we need Catholic voices of reason

To characterize today’s public discourse as lacking in civility is, to say the least, a monumental understatement. While discussions involving politics, culture, religion have always been contentious, today such discussion has degenerated to a frightening level of anger, hatred, and intolerance. Those who hold differing opinions are not just to be disagreed with; they are to be vilified, slandered—and ultimately silenced! Across the broad scope of our public discourse—among politicians, media outlets, activist groups, on social media, and now in our streets—there runs the arrogant conceit that no ideas different from one’s own are even worth listening to; and no expression of such ideas is to be tolerated.

This is the very antithesis of what public discourse should and must be in a pluralistic, free society. We cannot begin to address our seemingly intractable problems if we cannot even engage in civil discussion about their possible causes and solutions.

From a Catholic standpoint, of course, this breakdown in civility is deplorable not only from a practical, but also from a moral perspective. For not only does it limit our ability to freely consider all possible solutions to matters of human suffering and injustice; it also indulges an extreme judgmentalism that dehumanizes, even demonizes, anyone who dares to hold, let alone express, an opinion different from our own.  

As one who has spent the last quarter-century offering commentary from a Catholic perspective, I find this terribly disheartening. While I take a back seat to no one in stating my beliefs forcefully, I have always tried to do so respectfully, persuasively—anxious to hear and respond to opposing views, not shut them down.

I learned to do this years ago when I first became active in the pro-life movement. Filled with the fervor and idealism of youth—and not a little arrogance—I was convinced that I was right, and couldn’t wait to put our opponents in their place. Veteran pro-lifers taught me that it is not enough to win arguments—that our goal is to change minds and hearts, and that is seldom done by insulting others, demeaning their views, or silencing them.

Better, I learned, if we want a fair hearing from those who disagree, to give them a fair hearing as well, and to respond effectively to their arguments if we hope to change their minds.  

I have always found, whatever the issue, that having my views challenged helped me to strengthen my arguments—or, on occasion, to find merit in a point made by a critic and thereby modify my own thinking, or at least gain a greater understanding of the perspectives and motivations of those who disagree with me.

And that is a critical point for those who, concerned with Catholic social teaching, hone in on one particular policy approach to a problem, and dismiss all who disagree as uncaring about the issue at hand—be it poverty, health care, the environment, or criminal justice, to name a few. This goes against the clear teaching of Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

That document states that, while one person’s “Christian vision will suggest a certain solution in some given situation,” it “happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that some of the faithful, with no less sincerity, will see the problem quite differently”; and that “in those cases no one is permitted to identify the authority of the Church exclusively with his own opinion.” Rather, Catholics in such instances should “try to guide each other by sincere dialogue in a spirit of mutual charity and with anxious interest above all in the common good.”

That is sage advice for everyone, not just Catholics, in our dangerously polarized current environment. It is what I will try to do with this blog site, as I tried to do in my years as editor of The Long Island Catholic: articulate and defend the teachings of the Church, through my own voice or, when warranted, by inviting the contributions of those more expert than myself; offer my own views, informed by Catholic moral and social teachings, on those matters that avail themselves of differing prudential judgments; and, in those cases, welcome the differing prudential judgments of others and engage them in discussion—always with a determination to remain civil, respectful, and non-judgmental, as truly befits a Catholic exchange of ideas.

I may also eventually try expand this site to offer coverage of hard news of interest to Catholics and the Church, particularly here on Long Island; news about critical issues and public policies, to be sure, but also, as we used to do with The Long Island Catholic newspaper, news about events and activities in our Catholic communities—our parishes, schools, diocesan agencies, Catholic lay organizations. Perhaps we can look forward to including audio and visual features, even a regular podcast. Time, and level of interest, will determine whether such expansion can happen.

For now, I look forward to rejoining the local conversation about matters impacting our Church and our world. I hope you will enjoy visiting this site, not only to read what I have to say, but to share your own responses and read those of others; and I hope you will spread the word, by sharing this post and future posts through your email, Facebook and other social media contacts.   

I remain convinced, especially in these terribly troubled times, that the teachings of our Catholic Church hold true and lasting answers to so many of the crises, moral and social, that afflict our culture. So let’s talk about those teachings and together, in our own small way, work to spread them, to offer them to a world that so desperately needs them, and to explore how they best apply to the critical issues of our time.

Together, let us “read the signs of the times,” as Vatican II called us to do, “interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

Please, let me hear your thoughts.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

18 thoughts on “Amid polarized discourse, we need Catholic voices of reason

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Gloria. Should you be interested, I would recommend reading Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the seminal encyclical on Catholic social thought; and Centesimus Annus, written 100 years later by Pope St. John Paul II. Both articulate the principles of Catholic social teaching, and make clear that this teaching is meant to define overriding moral principles, and should not be reduced to specific partisan or ideological policy preferences.
      — Rick

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  1. I. Who am I?

    I, John Peter Lando, am the author.

    I was born and raised in Roman Catholic environs. I attended Catholic elementary school and Catholic Diocesan High School, all before Vatican II. I received all my sacraments during the “Latin” era. My wife and I raised our children as Catholics. I am a lector in the parish church that I attend and try to live a good Christian life. I don’t believe Jesus actually wants, he can’t need, for us to become robots programmed to blindly follow documents like that issued by an individual Diocese. That is not to say that suggestions and reasonable guidelines aren’t welcome. Matters of “Faith and Morals” are still and always will be the province of the occupant of the Throne of Peter, the reigning Pontiff. Relaying such is the role of the individual diocese.

    II. Why am I Sharing?

    I am becoming more and more disillusioned with what I guess we are calling Holy Mother Church.

    I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ. I suppose I should also volunteer that I believe in the Holy Spirit, aka Holy Ghost.

    I accept that Jesus appointed Peter as the head of the church that He, Jesus, established. I accept that today’s pontiff, Pope Francis, is the legitimate resident of the throne of Peter.

    My personal concern is the evolution of Christ’s church and the deviation from the church of then to the institution of today.

    I don’t pretend to be a learned theologian or biblical scholar or to be particularly gifted or endowed with any special insight or assignment from higher powers or deity.

    I have subjected myself to a lot of multi syllabic jargon and biased promulgations by dedicated individuals who are positive that they are “right”. Each are sincere and convinced that their premises are correct based upon the sources they deem without error or fault to varying degrees.

    My faith, and I believe the faith of others, is a personal, individual thing. Religion, any religion and possibly all religions are a disciplined assemblage of practices adhered to by the proponents of that religion.

    What little I have read with regard to the histories of several dominant religions indicates that many of their practices, rituals and what I shall call utensils are patterned after, or are duplicates of, other sects or pseudo religions. Subsequent generations of followers often believe that such features of their religion are unique to what they term their faith. Again, I believe “Faith” is an individual relationship with the deity that, in my case, is the one and only, all powerful, all knowing God. My faith also includes the belief in the triune character of my god. In brief, I believe that Jesus is what Catholicism terms the second person of that triune god. Further, I believe that Jesus took human form and status (Incarnation) by being born to a virgin who was conceived free of original sin (Immaculate Conception).

    It is my belief and that of most people who call themselves “Christians” that Jesus, the Christ, came to redeem humanity and to instigate a particular relationship amongst all mankind/womankind. Jesus was born into a Jewish family unit and embraced Judaism. He openly acknowledged that some practitioners of Judaism had deviated from tenets espoused by the earliest proponents of that religion. Jesus assembled a group of individuals, (aka the apostles) that He promised that He, through the Holy Spirit (the third person of the triune God), would empower with certain capabilities. Among these apostles, one now referred to as Peter, was designated as the leader, known today as the Pontiff or Pope.

    With the probable exception of a couple of the apostles Jesus’ chosen emissaries were probably not particularly literate. It is agreed by most of the documents that I have been exposed to that their common conversational language was Aramaic. Latin existed and was used by Romans and the erudite of various nationality’s and populations. As a consequence of this, “ the last supper” dialogue was most assuredly Aramaic vernacular. A variety of conclaves, edicts, bulls, etc., etc. throughout the history of Catholicism precipitated a variety of rules and regimens that were emphatically visited upon the faithful. I posit that not all of these were divinely inspired and mandated by the Almighty. Although the Latin verbiage and “Roman” influence occurred probably more than two hundred years after the first Pentecost, aka the birthday of the church, it took strong hold of all things Catholic. The Latin Vulgate, the Council of Trent and a host of other oft cited events have been employed to reinforce the disciplines that selected factions of the leadership want and demand be unquestioned. Such individuals are mere men, like you and I, are fallible whether they accept it or not. I accept that Peter was designated by Jesus to lead His followers and that he, Peter, and his successors were endowed with infallibility, but only in decrees of issues concerning faith and morals. I also believe that just as various Pharisees in Judaism, before and during Jesus’ time, erred in edict and example, Catholic Church clergy and lay personnel in leadership positions also fell victim to their humanity.

    III. My View of History.

    After the first “few” hundred years from Jesus resurrection, the institution embraced Latin and became what was popularly called the “Holy Roman Church”.

    Even today, individual parishes are identified as Saint so-and-so RC church. The Latin Vulgate, the Roman Missal and a plethora of church documents incorporate Latin language and the prefix “Roman” or “Latin”. This exists for well over a thousand years.

    Neither Jesus nor the great majority of his early followers were Roman and consequently they didn’t converse in Latin.

    The early church didn’t have or employ any of the trappings that have become today’s traditions. Unfortunately, humans have a penchant for incorporating and perpetuating practices of the past. We are the inheritors of over two thousand years of modification by absorption. Our monotheistic church, like it’s Hebrew predecessor, employed many of the practices of the contemporary pagan worshipers. Specific structures, houses of worship, were built and incorporated features, “and faults” of the preceding generations. Altars, including sacrificial altars, were included, as were special enclosures, e.g. Holy of Holies, Tabernacles, Inner Sanctums, etc,. Priests, High Priests, Rabbis and all kinds of clergy had to be distinguished by garments and headwear. Implements and tools had to be created and ultimately had to be fabricated of special materials, some ultimately of precious metals.

    Meanwhile, let us remember that Jesus didn’t dictate anything like this. He reclined at the available table and used the pewter or clay objects of the time and assumedly used local wine and bread for dining and ultimately for providing us the Eucharist.

    Our church, the church of Christ through Peter, seems to have departed from the practices of Jesus and to have embraced the historical trappings of the predecessor pagan Roman Empire. Edict rather than empathy is the modus operandi. We have an organization and physical structures dictated and regulated.

    We had finally migrated away from a dead language to a community understandable vernacular while still clinging to having gymnastics exercises of moving people and functions to different sides of the altar which we ultimately managed to get turned around. We are still mandated to use special vessels and enclosures and to trifold altar linens. We are expected to adhere to a variety of dictums about colors of cloth trappings, presence of flowers and other items of decor. Our bishoprics seem more involved and more concerned with environmental concerns than spiritual and with structures than with souls. Whole organizations of ordained clergy are occupied with physical concerns while parishes go without priests and the flock is unattended.

    The Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York, where I reside, has “An Office of Worship” that prepared and distributed a document entitled “LENT AND EASTER LITURGICAL NOTES” which dictates what parishes can and cannot do during this manufactured interval during a created religious season of a church defined calendar. Does anyone think or believe that this is divinely inspired by God? There is a place for tradition and pomp and circumstance if so desired but, must it be mandated, scheduled and imposed? Wouldn’t diocesan and parish resources be better spent on tending the flock rather than concern with it’s habitat?

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    1. John this is far, far afield of what I intend to be treating in this blog site, which is more geared toward the moral and social teachings of the Church, and how they apply to the critical issues of our time. That has always been more my field of commentary, understanding that as lay Catholics, we are called to bring the Gospel to “the earthly city” in the words of Vatican II. I do know that there is much more depth to the rubrics of the liturgy than you represent here, and much more depth to the faith of those who prefer the Latin Mass than you give them credit for. Others could explore these matters with far greater insight than I have (as Msgr. Joe DeGrocco did for years in his columns on the liturgy in The Long Island Catholic newspaper). Any more such in depth responses would be most welcome. In the meantime, John, thanks for writing, and for (hopefully) reading.
      — Rick

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    2. John, I understand your concerns about the Church’s propensity toward uniform procedures and liturgical details. On the other hand, I can imagine what would happen without such orderliness. A search of the internet reveals there are 30,000 different Christian “churches” all believing they have the true beliefs of Christianity. In the end, it turns out that the individual believers are left to form their own judgements and thus, anything goes. For example, there are those vehemently opposed to abortion while others accept it. I tend to conclude disorder in small matters like how rites are performed leads to confusion in large matters. Sort of like the “broken windows” theory relating to crime. Just my thought.

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      1. Walter, I did previously click on “Reply” and referenced your comments. I haven’t seen it posted on the site. Did you receive anything?

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      2. This was sent previously but was lost in the shuffle.
        Walter, I guess I failed to properly convey my premise. I am only addressing the Roman Catholic religion committed to the throne of Peter. Issues like the sanctity of life, from conception to unassisted death are precisely what I am saying are within the purview of the infallibility of the reigning Pontiff’s province on faith and morals. I suspect that most of those other Christian sects that you mention came into being over the past two thousand plus years of assumed orderliness. It is my contention that the evolved church has extended its control to areas, some good and some bad, other than faith and morals. Jesus was content with contemporary garb and vessels. He did address the need for proper attire, e,g. “the wedding garment”. I honestly believe that the ceremonial dress, the precious metal implements, the specially folded cloths, the mandated physical positions and postures, edicts on decorative cloths and flower arrangements and hosts of other rules and regulations have absolutely nothing to do with faith. I suspect that membership and participation in other endeavors like the military and sports have spilled over into organized religions. Uniforms, chains of command, trophies, postures and positions seem to have come “AC” like years -After Christ”.

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      3. Hi John,
        I am replying using an emailed link pointing to your comments about Church wealth, formalities & frills that bother you. All that doesn’t bother me much.
        I see the art and artifacts as a great contribution to culture that would not exist had the Church not promoted and procured them for centuries. When I visit Protestant churches, the bare walls and lack of religious artifacts is a disappointment to me.
        As for the rigid liturgies, again I applaud the orthodoxy that is lacking in the thousands of Protestant churches and I think contributes to the myriad of varying beliefs they express including supporting abortion.
        There’s also the thought that the riches could be sold to feed the poor. I don’t think that would erase poverty. When Jesus said “the poor will always be with us” my understanding is He was saying that to remind us that we need to always take care of those in need. There is no organization in the world that is more charitable than the Church.
        Peace be with us.

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      4. Walter, I am not focusing on the frills. My point is that it should not be the role of the Catholic Church to provide and maintain culture, arts etc. Resources spent on such should be spent on spreading the gospel. The past is the past. The throne of Peter should be tending souls and not artifacts. Many Christian institutions are similarly misguided. Not all Protestant churches are drab gathering places. Quite the contrary, the music liturgies and accompaniments in many such institutions is inspiring and uplifting. This is not to say that RC music like Gregorian Chant isn’t conducive to meditation. I have duplicated my Gregorian Chant library for several people of varying religions.

        Orthodoxy, or the lack it, is not necessarily contributory to the myriad of beliefs. Most of the pro-life activities that I have been associated with, going back to the pre Roe v Wade Rockefeller debacle, was less than orthodox. As I said, the past is past. If individuals are still desirous of pomp and Latin Masses, etc., there is no reason why they shouldn’t be available, depending upon the level of demand. However, I don’t believe they should be mandated or that they need to be a specified percentage of religious offerings in all venues.

        As to the riches that are the Vatican, again, the past is the past. The current role of the Vatican shouldn’t be curator of arts and artifacts for the world. There is no need for the Vatican to be housing letters written by England’s Henry VIII on non religious matters or any matters. Vatican City is a nation and as such requires financial resources. It doesn’t need to maintain and secure art for art’s sake. Revenue for evangelical and charitable enterprises could be obtained from all sorts of creative applications like lending, leasing, exhibiting etc. the existing treasure trove. The “BUSINESS “ of the church spreading the Gospel. Jesus, in His brief sojourn, didn’t promote many of the activities that the church is currently involved with. Aside from the need for “a wedding garment” I don’t recollect any prescribed need for accouterments that are today’s church. As I believe I said previously, “He reclined at the available table and used the pewter or clay objects of the time and assumedly used local wine and bread for dining and ultimately for providing us the Eucharist.” I wander what percent of the world’s precious metals are employed in religious artifacts and utensils. Christ’s final mortal act was on a cross made of raw wood while below, soldiers gambled for his minimal human garments.

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      5. John,
        You make good points but I stick with my opinions. With the Church housing many religious icons and paintings that people can see is a way of preaching the gospel. I think all one need do is imagine the world without them to see their value.
        i can’t speak for items like Henry VIII letters but perhaps they are meaningful to Church teaching in some way.
        Regarding Fr Martin, i didn’t see his “prayer” so I don’t know if his little pro-life line was put forth genuinely or just lost in the other lines of the prayer.
        I have nothing good to say about the sister and I left an honest but searing comment on the orders website.
        You have lots of points to ponder -Thanks for the dialogue!

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    3. The last sentence here poses an interesting question, and one that opens up a huge issue for the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, particularly in these troubling times where dioceses in the U.S. are filing for bankruptcy in large part due to an onslaught of lawsuits. The Vatican obviously has immense wealth, including priceless artworks, and even the dioceses around the U.S. hold valuable real estate portfolios. At what point should the need for impressive churches and cathedrals, and museums in Rome for tourists, give way to the need to keep schools open to educate future Catholics?

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  2. Hi Rick, Rob Schimenz passed along your blog site to me, and I shall look forward to reading it! I live in NH now, and have returned to the Catholic Church after sojourning over 35+ years first in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles, and then in Eastern Orthodoxy. I will say I have found my theological beliefs most closely align with Orthodox thought, and I love the beauty of letting what is mystery remain mystery (akin to “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Whitman). I left Eastern Orthodoxy because of lack of interest in study of Scripture and lack of outreach to community by the local parish, both of which I believe we are called to in the New Testament. The Catholic Church I attend had those things, and, pre-Covid, I was involved in both at the parish level. I appreciate the Catholic Church as the Western seat of orthodox belief, but also believe both East and West lost valuable balance by each other when they split. I have self-studied much of Church history, across denominations, and taught it alongside my children when we homeschooled, so have some knowledge, but not of RC doctrines as you cite above… will get there 🙂 I am especially concerned for the lost moral compass in society today, and value the RC Church holding to Scriptural teaching. I am very thankful for increased transparency within the Church, and think Scripture calls us to fight for equality of treatment across ethnicities, races, and sexes, a la Galatians 3:28, without all the screed and divisiveness in discourse today. Thanks for letting me read along!

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  3. With regard to Danielle’s (So glad you found you way back to the Church) concern about society’s fading “moral compass”, that same concern for me extends to the Church itself. I love and respect Cardinal Dolan but sometimes wonder about his shepherding. His statements about Catholic politicians who persistently support abortion is an example. Here’s what he said about denying Holy Communion to Joe Biden as reported by CNA (Catholic News Agency):

    When asked if priests could refusing other people communion because of their sins, Dolan said that communion is intended for sinners.

    “If only saints could receive Holy Communion, we wouldn’t have anybody at Mass, including myself, alright?” Dolan said.

    “So sinners are who Holy Communion is for, it’s medicine for the soul, it’s an act of mercy, so it’s intended for sinners…but sinners who want to, who are sorry and want to repent. Then anybody’s welcome, come on up,” he added.

    I am truly confused. I understand mortal sin needs to be forgiven in the sacrament of Reconciliation and the person must be repentant and vow to not commit this sin any longer. This is clearly not the case for Biden and for Gov Cuomo. It seems Cardinal Dolan is saying someone who has committed mortal sin can receive Communion.
    Hope someone can explain.

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  4. Catholic “Voices of Reason”, part of this blog’s premise are discouraged when controversial items mysteriously disappear. Case in point: the following item in the Long Island Catholic weekly goes to the ubiquitous 404 error. It was available early on. I won’t copy the text here.

    Detroit priest’s invalid baptism had ripple effect, archdiocese says
    Aug 25, 2020 09:01 pm
    The archbishop apologized for the “human error” that led to the disruption of the sacramental life of some of the faithful and pledged to rectify the situation.

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