Letters 12.16.12

Declining Democracy

"Democracy: Dying From Within?" (NCRegister.com, Nov. 1) raises a provocative question, yet misses the premise and answer.

While omitting key characteristics of America’s constitutional republic, I believe the column falsely states that two primary causes of democracy’s decline are "core values: personal freedom and equality." To understand the decline in democracy, morality and virtue, one must consider political science/politics, untainted history and the Constitution.

Moreover, one must understand the role of government vs. the Church vs. the citizens’ role and responsibilities.

Few would argue that we are seeing a flagrant loss of virtue with an ever-rising acceptance of deviance. While attempting to understand this behavior, I believe the article falls prey to the influences of political scientists who attempt to divide Americans.

Partisan political schemes are meant to elicit contempt, while encouraging tolerance and compassion for immoral behavior under the guise of freedom, civil rights and equality.

I think Mother Angelica noted it best, describing such tolerance as "misguided compassion."

Campaign rhetoric and special-interest promotions evoke the notion that the opposition is selfish, poorly raised and emotionally immature, as author Frank Cronin notes, "like spoiled children."

Americans often respond with anger, fear and hopelessness, questioning whether self-governing is plausible. Cronin overlooks this powerful influence. Thus, when he describes the ideal virtuous society, he mistakenly confuses the role of government/democracy with the role of the Church and the citizens.

The Church provides the moral compass, while the responsibility of individuals is commitment. It’s the duty of government to adhere to the Constitution and rule of law, which are based on Christian principles.

The role of the federal government is to protect and preserve our unalienable rights, nothing more.

The author’s point — "Culture distorts freedom, denying the evaluation of all free-will acts" — portrays a consenting collective to which neither he nor his readers belong. Further, I think he confuses freedom and liberty. "Liberty is the freedom to do what one ought" (Archbishop Fulton Sheen). Although I agree with his plea to evangelize our faith, Cronin’s argument — "We must persuade them that their beliefs are bereft of real truth" — is the same argument of Muslim extremists supporting sharia (Islamic) law.

This is one reason why such discussions must remain within a specific framework, while avoiding political influence. Catholics discuss faith within the framework of Church history, doctrine and the word of God.

Americans must structure discussions within the framework of untainted history, our Constitution and rule of law; anything less disregards solutions within the Constitution and the states.

Patricia Price

Ijamsville, Maryland


Frank Cronin responds:

The essence of the article dealt with the ideas and values, the philosophy and morality that permeate our national culture. Some of your criticism arises from limiting the scope of democracy. My article addresses the broad sweep of democracy: its culture, its daily life, its politics, its morality, its governance. And the ideas I cited were just two of several distorted ideas propelling our decline.

Surely you have noticed similar symptoms, though you seem to attribute this state of affairs to distortions in constitutional interpretation. While I agree in measure, the distortions arise first from distortions of ideas. The real root causes have everything to do with philosophy and morality, how we think and what we think.

Democracy began as ideas in the hearts and minds of our nation’s founders and their followers. These ideas led to our independence and a government based on the ideas of freedom, equality and an empowered citizenry. It was all about ideas, before, during and after the Revolution. So it is now.

And, when it comes to democracy, it depends on culture and participatory government. Democracy in its essence is an amalgam of culture and government, ideas and application. Surely a representative government relies on a measure of consent from the governed. And when the governed begin to get things wrong, begin to deviate from real truth and real morality, our culture and our government becomes infected with these distorted ideas. This is why ideas are so crucial: They are the absolute foundation, the ground zero of our culture and our government. And that is why we have to get the right ideas right. That was the article’s essence.

To make the ideas clear and central, I intentionally avoided the quagmire of political labels and preconceptions by omitting any reference to political parties and particular politicians. I did so to situate politics in its proper subordinate place. In addition, unity cannot come at the expense of truth or morality. If it does, it is not compromise and cooperation. It is complicit collusion. Unity must come from a shared commitment to truth, morality and proper valuing. For unity is an effect. If it becomes a goal, truth is often the first casualty.


Social Justice Hijacked

Modern popular culture tells us only our own personal plans are what count — even in matters of life and death. The new human life growing within a mother’s womb is only a blob of protoplasm, an unwanted growth, until she decides she wants to give it birth.

Our faith tells us every human life is created by God, in his image, a gift never to be duplicated. The Blessed Mother had a plan, too — she was preparing for marriage. But when the angel appeared, she immediately put that plan in jeopardy and even her own life in danger when she declared herself "the handmaid of the Lord."

The Health and Human Services’ mandate imposes pop-culture values upon us, over and above our own faith and even forces the Catholic Church, through her social-service programs, to sponsor it, support it and pay it obeisance.

Abortion is now called "preventive reproductive health care," seen as essential for all women and mandated coverage in all health plans.

Catholic social-service programs must join in offering it and paying for it, so the "service" can be provided to all women free of charge (otherwise, war is being launched on them). In this action, the concept of social justice — developed over many centuries of scriptural scholarship and holy Revelation from the saints — has been stolen and put to the service of the state.

It is stripped of all scriptural content and purged of all sense of the sacred in human life, freed from all fidelity to the Lord. This is the new social justice.

The choice is put to Catholics: Whose brand of social justice will we now embrace?

Thomas B. Collins

Alma, Michigan


Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy

The following is a response to the editorial "The Challenge for Catholics" (Opinion, Nov. 18 issue):

The editorial states, "The election results have outlined clearly the great challenge of the New Evangelization. It’s a positive challenge, first identified 50 years ago by the Second Vatican Council, to re-evangelize the world." First of all, the Church’s mission to evangelize the world began with Our Lord’s command: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Whatever the intention of the Second Vatican Council may have been, there can be little denying how weakened the Church has become over the last 50 years.

Rather than the light of truth shining out into the world, it would seem that much of the darkness of the world crept into the Church. This might not sit well with optimists, but it’s a reality that can’t be denied when one looks at things like the numbers of those who go regularly to Mass and reconciliation, vocations shortages, the number of divorced and remarried Catholics, the number of Catholics who contracept and cohabitate, and the deterioration of the typical Novus Ordo Mass, just to name a few.

If there’s one thing this election has made clear, it’s the fact that we have a divided Church. It’s divided between faithful orthodoxy on the one hand and rampant heterodoxy (and, yes, even heresy) on the other. How can a Church so filled with those who have little to no understanding of what the faith really is be expected to evangelize the world?

The editorial goes on to state, "We have all been inspired by the courageous labors of our bishops, pastors and laypeople ... over a tough, hard-fought election year."

Inspired? Not really. Where was the unified voice of our bishops instructing the faithful that a vote for a candidate whose policies are so blatantly hostile to the Church and her teachings cannot be reconciled with calling oneself a Catholic? I’m no political expert, but it seems plausible that, had Catholics voted in accordance with Church teaching, the election result may very well have been different.

The editorial concludes with a quote conveying the Holy Father’s "hope that the ideals of freedom and justice, which guided the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, may continue to shine out as the nation progresses."

With all due reverence to the Holy Father, it may be worth noting that the ideals of "freedom and justice" within the context of the American experiment are not wholly compatible (arguably even wholly incompatible) with the true understanding of what these things really mean.

The true understanding of "freedom" and "justice" can only come from the Church established by Christ — not from the likes of Jefferson or Madison.

Michael Thomas Cibenko

Branchville, New Jersey