|What it means for New York's Bishops and the working moms they employ|
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, New York|
(Posted March 17, 2008 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) WHEN THE NEW YORK CATHOLIC BISHOPS went to Albany Tuesday, March 11, to oppose Governor Eliot Spitzer's abortion bill and the legalization of civil unions, they brought with them a list of troubling policies they are lobbying NY lawmakers to support: more government-funded health care, "essential services" for illegal immigrants, the reduction of green-house gases in the form of a gas tax, and, most troubling in my opinion, increased access to public-funded child day-care for working families.
On their official website is a page-long document detailing the Bishops' desire that the NY State government "expand the availability and use of quality, affordable, subsidized child care opportunities to meet the needs and demands of families transitioning out of public assistance, as well as other low income families." They are asking for "increased funding" and "expanded subsidies" for a variety of areas, including the training and management of day care workers, especially for those moving from public assistance to work in the child care industry, tax credits for after-school care and care of sick children, more funding for early childhood development programs, and more funding to increase the salaries of day care workers.1
The NY Catholic bishops’ active and enthusiastic support of government day-care programs causes one to wonder why the bishops have wandered so far from the Church's traditional esteem for the full-time mother and homemaker to their current position which not only tolerates the phenomenon of working mothers, but eagerly advocates its continued existence and expansion.
It's not just the bishops of New York; the conservative National Catholic Register, for example, featured a glowing article in their business section last week praising the CEO of a large business firm who was also a mother of three young children.
Come to think of it, I don't believe I've ever heard a Catholic priest or bishop encouraging mothers to stay at home full-time. On the contrary, working moms are widely accepted and accommodated in the typical Catholic parish and school. Catholic working moms, I venture to state, have actually become the sine qua non, the indispensable element without which the average diocesan mechanism cannot exist.
They staff the chanceries, rectories, and Catholic hospitals; they teach in the schools, and, most importantly for the schools, their second income provides the tuition without which the schools could not exist. I know many Catholic moms who stayed at home until their children reached school age, but, because they wanted their children to attend Catholic schools, were forced to go out to work in order to afford the tuition, especially the exorbitant cost of Catholic high school, now an average of $7,000/year in our diocese.
Of course, this deplorable situation came about in large part because of the mass exodus of teaching nuns from the Catholic schools a few decades ago. Lay women took up the slack and tuition costs rose accordingly since the Church could no longer depend on the voluntary services of the nuns. Working moms, the bishops discovered, were a handy solution to the crisis caused by the sudden lack of religious vocations.
The great difficulty with the present symbiotic relationship between Catholic bishops and working moms is that it has not worked to the advantage of either party. The Catholic schools, staffed largely by laywomen, who are well-meaning and dedicated, but unfortunately poorly trained in the Catholic faith, are not producing well-formed Catholic young people. The results are indisputable: the hundreds of thousands of Catholic high school graduates churned out in the last few decades, regardless of years of Catholic education, are not remaining in the Church.
Moreover, it is a disturbing fact that our Catholic schools are closing at a rapid rate despite the omnipresence of working moms in them, due to the simple fact that working moms are not reproducing in large enough numbers to maintain the Catholic population levels of the past. Also, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are still in steep decline—the once-large orders of teaching nuns now almost non-existent. The present system has clearly not been a viable solution to the dire problem the exit of the teaching nuns caused to the Catholic Church in America.
The lack of vocations and the general loss of faith cannot be discussed without connecting it to the high incidence of contraceptive use among Catholic women, necessary to maintain the working-mom lifestyle. I'm afraid that the two-child Catholic couples we see in Catholic parishes and schools may mostly be using artificial birth control, the use of periodic abstinence being most unlikely given the fact that only 3% of Catholic married couples use Natural Family Planning.
Fr. Paul Marx, the founder of Human Life International, often lamented the high use of contraception among Catholics and insisted that contracepting women could not pass on the Catholic faith or foster vocations, in his ever timely article, “The Collapse of Religious and Priestly Vocations:” "Nor will contracepting, sterilized teachers in "Catholic" schools and CCD classes inspire the young into religious life."2
The only way Fr. Marx could see out of this downward spiral was the return of the traditional family. If this cannot be done without some economic sacrifice, so much the better, as far as he was concerned. The comfortable, affluent lifestyle Americans have become accustomed to and think is essential for their children, is deadly for vocations, he maintained.
The great pro-life crusader was not completely discouraged by the grim prospect. The potential he discovered for vocations in the traditional Catholic families he encountered cheered him immensely:
I put great hope in sacrificing, one-income, home-schooling families to produce young people more ready to offer their lives to God in religion. There are one million home-schooled in such families; the number is growing fast, as are independent private Catholic schools maintained by parents.3
The encouragement of one-income traditional families is what Catholic bishops ought to be proclaiming, instead of the ill-considered path they are pursuing now. Taking their cue from the perennial teachings of the Popes, they should be insisting instead on a living wage for heads of families and the promotion of legislation to keep mothers of young children home to rear their children, helping to sustain the family-friendly environment necessary for vocations to thrive again. Using working moms to replace the Catholic teaching nun, that long-missing but essential cog in the life of the Church, has been a disastrous, stop-gap experiment by our bishops. Correcting the situation will not be easy or quick, but it is essential for the future well-being of our Church.
The bishops should surely take heart before declaring this crusade in defense of traditional families. After all, the sudden and dramatic fashion in which Eliot Spitzer’s star fell on the very day the NY Catholic Conference planned to protest the gimlet-eyed governor’s horrendous abortion bill was no coincidence.
Spitzer’s radical Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection bill, which he was all set to ram through the NY State Assembly, has been described as attempting to establish a "right" to abortion in NY beyond what was established in Roe v. Wade, and if passed, would have forced Catholic hospitals to perform abortions.
The implications of this proposed bill are so frightening that the normally passive NY Catholic Conference of Bishops was actually stirred into action against it. As Dennis Poust, director of communications for the Conference, explained, "We generally don’t prioritize our issues, but this bill is so repugnant that we have no choice but to go out in force on it."4 Cardinal Egan and the NY Bishops decided a month ago that March 11 would be Public Policy Day, and an intense public information campaign began, educating NY Catholics on the disastrous ramifications of the proposed RHAPP bill. In our diocese, the Respect Life Office created an informative DVD explaining the bill and describing it as "misguided, immoral, and radical," strong words rarely heard in official Catholic statements. Released on YouTube, the DVD has been quite successful, with over 10,000 views to date already.
In an astonishing turn of events, on Monday, March 10, Cardinal Egan and several other Catholic bishops planned to meet privately with Spitzer to declare their strong opposition to his abortion bill. Instead, the Cardinal was informed that the governor had a “scheduling conflict and probably wouldn’t be able to meet with him or the state’s bishops that day. Later, the cardinal received word that instead of Spitzer, the lieutenant governor would meet with them, but eventually that meeting also was canceled.”5
At 11:00 a.m., Monday morning, the hapless governor, once hailed by Time as ‘Crusader of the Year” for his aggressive efforts to clean up corruption in Albany, was otherwise engaged. At the same time he was supposed to be meeting with the Catholic bishops, he was at the podium, in the glare of flashbulbs, the center of international attention, publicly apologizing to his family and the state of New York for his own sordid tale of corruption. Two days later he had resigned after admitting his frequent patronage of a high-priced call-girl network.