If you pay close attention to these things, you know that the Catholic Church has something to say about almost every aspect of the American political debate. But while other organizations bend over backwards to fit inside our tidy boxes of liberalism and conservatism, the Church marches to its own drumbeat. Truth be told, it's political conservatism kind of begins and ends with s-e-x and its consequences (and variations, such as gender). On economic policy, the death penalty or amped-up militarism, Catholics leaders -- from the Vatican to our own shores -- often veer off into Michael Moore territory.
So how does one explain the likes of a Rick Santorum -- who speaks of how his political positions are deeply informed by his Catholic faith seconds before advocating policies that boost the rich and cripple the poor? Don't ask me -- I've never understood it.
It probably should be getting more attention, but the U.S. bishops are out with two letters criticizing the draconian budget cuts passed by House Republicans:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is criticizing the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan for cutting food stamps and other assistance programs for the poor.
In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain "moral criteria" by disproportionately cutting programs that "serve poor and vulnerable people."
A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The bishops called the credit "one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation."
Here in Philadelphia, we have a relatively new archbishop, Charles Chaput, who's given every sign that he will be the most politically minded Catholic leader this heavily Catholic city has ever seen. And when he opens his mouth about politics, which is a lot, there seems to be practically no daylight between Chaput and Santorum. For example, he has called gay marriage "the issue of our time" (did I mention he's against it?).
Since Chaput's arrival in the City of Brotherly Love, nothing he's done has made more noise thanhis loud campaign against President Obama, health care reform, and requirements for birth control coverage. He's led rallies and prayers against the Obama-backed policy, which even animated an e-bookthat Chaput recently published. He took to the pages of the Inquirer to write that "this administration is – to put it generously – tone deaf to people of faith."
The funny thing is, Chaput also does support those "liberal" church positions as well -- positions that frankly in same cases are actually to the left of our much-maligned 44th president. He opposes the death penalty, supports humane policies toward undocumented immigrants, and he told the National Catholic Reporter last July that "[i]f we don't love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we're going to go to Hell."
Which begs the question, is Archbishop Chaput -- who presumably doesn't want to go to hell -- going to do everything he can to promote his fellow bishops' message that Republican-led budget cuts to food stamps and other programs for the poor are immoral? Will he hold rallies. write pastoral letters, maybe dash off an op-ed or a new e-book? In November, just before his full-court press on contraception and religious liberty, Chaput didn't seem inclined to elevate the plight of the poor.
Last November, in fact, Archbishop Charles Chaput told Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats, that bishops just didn't have enough time at their annual meeting to discuss poverty. Besides, volunteered Chaput, he didn't think bishops should be commenting on complex economic matters.
Well, hey, that was six months ago. Maybe times have changed. Maybe Archbishop Chaput will crusade along with his fellow bishops about cutting food stamps with the same vim and vigor with which he took on the Obama administration over birth control.
Are you holding your breath for that?