Notes from Across the Atlantic
David Mills FAITH Magazine November – December 2012
The Economist presents itself as a definitive source for news and interpretation, so it would help if it wasn't quite so tendentious when writing about the Catholic Church and was a little more careful to get its facts right. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, writing on the weblog of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a little vexed by a recent story titled "Earthly Concerns". The writers (the story carries no byline) claim "donations from the faithful are thought to have declined by as much as 20\%" and that "the scandals probably played a part in this". We like that "are thought" bit coming from professional reporters. Walsh, the USCCB's director of media relations, responds with "real data" (we told you she was vexed) taken from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in theApostolate. Its director, Mark Gray, notes that giving has actually "increased significantly" in the last few years and that "there is no evidence I know of that Catholic parish weekly collections have declined."
The magazine also claims that "local and federal government bankroll the Medicare and Medicaid of patients in Catholic hospitals, the cost of educating pupils in Catholic schools and loans to students attending Catholic universities". The good sister counters this one too, noting that in educating about two million students, the Church saves the government about $23 billion a year. That's a lot of money, $23 billion, even today. Walsh observes that "you could argue it's the Church subsidising the government (or 'bankrolling' it, if you wish to use The Economist's hyperbole), not vice versa."
We're as vexed as Sr Walsh. In paying for Medicare and Medicaid, the government is simply paying money it is obligated to pay for the care of individuals to the people who care for them. It's no more "bankrolling" Catholic hospitals than you bankroll the mechanic for "fixing your car" or the plumber for "fixing your pipes". If the government weren't paying Catholic hospitals, it would have to pay other hospitals.
Or maybe it wouldn't, or even couldn't. As The Economist itself reports, the 630 Catholic hospitals make up 11 percent of the nation's total, and the Church owns "a similar number of smaller health facilities". The Church doesn't have to provide these services, services needed by many people who are not Catholic. The implication behind that word "bankrolling" is that the government is doing the Church a favour (and violating the separation of church and state) when the reality is rather the other way round.
A reader writes suggesting we review a book arguing that the earth is the centre of the universe. We said no, because we don't see any point in denying well-established scientific findings that in no way deny anything the Church teaches. As Pope Benedict XV noted in 1921 in his encyclical on Dante, In Praeclara Summorum. If, he wrote, "the progress of science showed later that that conception of the world [that of Dante's age] rested on no sure foundation", still the fundamental principle remained that the universe, whatever be the order that sustains it in its parts, is the work of the creating and preserving sign of Omnipotent God, who moves and governs all, and whose glory risplende in una parte piu e meno altrove.
And, continues the pope, "though this earth on which we live may not be the centre of the universe as at one time was thought, it was the scene of the original happiness of our first ancestors, witness of their unhappy fall, as too of the Redemption of mankind through the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ". So the centre of the universe in another way.
We had never understood why such theories appeal to some people, but our reader suggests a reason. He explains (quoting someone else) that geocentrism "would destroy, in one mortal blow, the theories of evolution, paleontology, cosmology, cosmogony, relativity, and many other modern disciplines, placing them all on the dust heap of history. ... Copernicanism is the foundation for modern man's independence from God." Geocentrism is a kind of apologetical one-stop shopping. Win this one battle and you win the war against ideas you perceive to be un-Christian. To put it another way, it's an argumentative nuclear weapon. Why wage a long, tiring war you might not win when you can take out the enemy with one blow? The Church doesn't take the easy way out. She grants science its authority andundertakes the long, tiring work of understanding how revelation and science relate, to the glory of God and the betterment of man.
Admittedly, some people have tried to use the earth's place in the universe as evidence against God. Carl Sagan claimed that "we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe". But insignificant to whom? Forgotten by whom? Maybe, the religious believer will want to note, it's significant to and remembered by someone, or rather Someone.
David Mills is executive editor of First Things. We thank them for this syndicated column.