The number of agencies calling themselves big-C “Catholic” will shrink. That is the inevitable result of De Caritate Ministranda , delivered December 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI as a motu proprio (a decree from the pope himself). As analyzed by John L. Allen, Jr., this ecclesiastical legislation establishes new regulations for any charitable agency that wants to include “Catholic” in its name. Ironically, the papal mandate may play a role in deciding current court battles between the bishops and the Obama administration over the obligation to provide health insurance plans that include contraceptive services.
The motu proprio makes a local bishop the ultimate arbiter of organized Catholic social justice ministry. While Catholic individuals are still free to volunteer time and money to secular organizations, as for instance the Red Cross or the YMCA, sponsors of specifically Catholic relief efforts are not. The local bishop must now provide written authorization for any agency to dispense charity in the name of Catholicism. That authorization may be withheld or withdrawn if the organization fails in any of several areas.
For instance, the salaries of the agency’s personnel must be reviewed by the bishop to ensure that “they are in due proportion to analogous expenses of his diocesan Curia (Art. 10:4).” Moreover, the people working in the agency must behave like Catholics obedient to church teaching and ecclesiastical practices. This is a norm binding not only on Catholics but also on non-Catholics who must show “respect” for “the Catholic identity of these works
(Art. 7:1).” Moreover, the agency’s personnel must satisfy the bishop that they offer “an evangelical witness in the service of charity.” In other words, the bishop can strip the Catholic label from any organization if its employees, whether Catholic or not, fail to “give an example of Christian life and witness to a formation of heart which testifies to a faith working through charity” (Art. 7:2). The bishop is also to oblige “theological and pastoral formation” of personnel working in such an agency, mandating study of “suitable aids to the spiritual life.” I think this amounts to “catechism classes” for all staff.
The motu proprio’s most important stricture prevents funding “from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to the church’s teaching” or for “initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the church’s teaching (Art 10:3).” At present, I don’t know of any secular government that is always “in conformity with the church’s teaching,” and I find unconvincing the reasoning of the Vatican official cited by John Allen, Jr. that tax payer funding is permissible to Catholic organizations “since the government in itself promotes what is good and required for all the community and is entitled to do so by its very nature…”
I think De Caritate Ministranda creates problems for the bishops’ current lawsuits claiming religious persecution by the Obama administration because both pope and president shrink Catholic identity in parallel ways. The pontiff wants “Catholic” restricted to corporations that pursue the religious goals of church teaching and whose personnel embody Gospel witness. So does the HHS mandate that exempts such institutions from insurance plans covering contraception. The pope also forbids Catholic organizations’ acceptance of funds from institutions whose positions stand in variance with the church, a position generally embraced in Washington by refusing government funds to groups with specifically religious goals. Some have proposed a middle-ground where Catholic organizations simultaneously follow their faith teachings but also receiving public funds for civic good deeds: but this space no longer exists according to pope and president.
I imagine a “Perry Mason” court moment when an administration lawyer dramatically asks Cardinal Dolan if he agrees with the pope that Washington’s support for abortion and contraception rights are opposed to church teaching. Siding with the pope is, of course, a necessity, but agreement simultaneously endorses the HHS distinction between religious and non-religious organizations and precludes government funding for any specifically “Catholic” agency. With public funding over 50 percent of some institutional budgets, loss of such money spells operational doom. I predict many hospitals and colleges will drop the “Catholic” label in order to qualify for funding even if then obliged to pay for contraception coverage. In short, we are witness to the shrinking of the Catholic identity.