Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Catholic lethargy in public square

Russell Shaw, a contributing editor at Our Sunday Visitor, writes incisively about the documents issued by our bishops and the Vatican, and how few of us read them or even know about them. For all the work that goes into preparing these documents and statements, the sad truth is that, for the average person in the pews, they do not exist.
I was reminded of this by news of a study showing only 16 percent of American Catholics recall even hearing about the most recent of the “political responsibility” statement published quadrennially by the American bishops. And three-quarters of those who’d heard of it said it had “no influence at all” how they voted in 2008.

Yes, a small number of professional Church watchers have been arguing about these documents ever since the bishops’ conference began publishing them in 1976. They have been, and to some extent still are, a big bone of contention between liberal and conservative Catholic activists. Whether that will be true of the version forthcoming for next year’s election remains to be seen.

But hold that argument for another day. The point I’m making now is that, except for the activists, very few Catholics have read or heeded these much-discussed documents.

It’s no surprise. As somebody who drafted many bishops’ statements some years ago and did media relations on behalf of many others, I have no hesitation about saying it’s been this way a long time. Not just with bishops’ documents either. The same is true of documents from the pope and Roman Curia. Catholics by and large don’t read them or know what they say.

There are several reasons. Church documents tend to be long and difficult for people without much practice reading them. These days they’re readily available on the Internet, but people still must make a small effort to access them — and they don’t. Priests rarely preach on them, and while Catholic papers faithfully report on them, many Catholics can’t be bothered to read the Catholic press to find out what’s going on.

Thus, what many Catholics know about the Church and the teaching of the magisterium comes to them largely (if it comes at all) from the reporting of the secular media. And secular media generally do a better job covering high school field hockey than reporting important statements by the bishops and the pope.

And that is one of the reasons we will be making an effort in coming days to make people more aware of this blog. We hope that it will be a place where people can come for a quick update on what is happening in the area of peace and justice, primarily from a Catholic perspective, but also with an awareness that there are others in the world with many good and wise things to add to the conversation.

We also will strive to be a resource, with links to the many other resources available on-line.

We will explain not just why the Church is involved in matters of peace and justice, but also will offer opportunities for our readers to get involved as well.

To begin, take another look at the top right-hand side of this page. There you will find links not only to the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, but also the New York State Catholic Conference and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also there is a link to The Busy Christian's Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, a fascinating, illustrated, easy-to-read presentation of teachings going back to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, issued in 1891.

We hope that you will explore what we have to offer, and that you will return often to see what we have added.