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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Church and state: life and the physics of the Gospel

What should the state do when an archbishop complains about government policies?

According to many in America today, the Church should be silent. This is the refrain we hear over and again when discussing federally mandated insurance for artificial contraception and abortifacients.

But one wonders if this refrain is being sung – and if so, by whom – about an archbishop in the Philippines who has been a harsh critic of his government's environmental practices, especially related to mining.

Here’s some of a report from, a Philippine publication: 
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The highest official of the Roman Catholic Church here has reiterated his call early Monday night for a moratorium on mining activities even as he hit claims that mining has not contributed to the devastation wrought by Typhoon Sendong last December.
Mayor Vicente Emano said that he had issued “special permits” to mine several hectares in the city’s hinterlands and had not suspended these operations despite snowballing calls for him to halt theses operations. Most members of the City Council here have supported the mayor’s stance.
“I admit I have granted special permits; the law allows me to do that. But [the mining operations] must not destroy the ecology,” Emano said, adding that he will only order the stop of all mining operations in the city if a study conducted immediately “shows that mining operations have destroyed the environment.”
“Only then will we immediately order the cancellation of the permits,” he said.
Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, DD, a long and staunch defender of the environment, has repeatedly called for a stop to all mining operations in the city and in the country and has scored the seeming “business as usual” stance of city government officials following the devastation caused by Sendong.
“It is unconscionable for city officials to adopt a ‘business as usual’ attitude for mining permits to continue,” Ledesma said in his homily during the early Monday night Eucharistic celebration at the St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral marking the opening of the “DCM and Bishops’ Forum on Typhoon Sendong and its challenges for Mindanao” as well as a thanksgiving celebration for the 60th anniversary of the archdiocese. 
I would imagine that many on the eco-left would praise the archbishop for his moxie. But here in America, many on the left are excoriating the Church for its fight against artificial birth control mandates and other “progressive” government activities.

Some would rightfully say that the issues of mining and contraceptive coverage are wildly different. But they also have much in common. Both have adherents that speak of freedom and the livelihoods of those who have little. Both have detractors who claim that no good can justify an evil. To this, the adherents of both issues tell us that there really are no evils, and that in such matter detractors like the Church should mind their manners and say nothing.

I do not wish to oversimplify complex matters. Chemically induced abortions and contraception are deeply pastoral matters that affect people in drastic, intricate, and permanent ways. Much can be said of the balance between jobs, the public well-being, and the protection of the natural world.

But there is this simple point: Those who disagree with the Church on a particular matter would rather she be silent and not speak against dearly held views, whereas those who agree with the Church delight when she finds her voice.

Here, we should call to mind an issue we can all agree on: the desegregation of schools. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans was ahead of the national curve as he fought to desegregate Catholic schools – that is, as he sought to realign the cultural views of his flock with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This fight escalated until he had no choice but to declare as excommunicate a number of local officials for their resistance to Church teachings. Was that a wanton entrance into secular affairs by the Church, or was it just the right thing to do?

No one should underestimate the Gospel’s power to inconvenience, and to do so in differing ways. Indeed, the truths of the Gospel are like the physical laws that saturate the cosmos. They do not appear only when called. They simply exist, and we must adapt to them.

And so, just as no one should debate a physicist about the laws of gravity when one’s mishandled tea cup shatters on the floor – or debate an ecologist when toxins poison your liver or the countryside yonder – so it is unhelpful to debate a bishop when he simply states that the laws of the human cosmos cannot be violated without causing harm, and that it is wrong to force people to bring about the damage.

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