Pope Benedict’s Gift to the Tradition of American Volunteerism

I commented ealier on the legacy that Pope Benedict would leave in regards to the defense of reason.  Again, although I am not Catholic, I am interested in the role that the Catholic Church plays in shaping western culture.  I came across an article in a Catholic online magazine entitled “Benedict’s Coming Revolution Over State-Funded Catholic Charity.”  I would highly recommend reading this article. Giving the sheer scope of Catholic charitable organizations in America, a change in the way they operate could have a striking effect on America’s non-profit sector overall.

The article refers to a Papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est in 2005 in which then Pope criticizes the direction of modern civilization from the perspective of ‘a “Christian anthropology,” a view which is threatened by the modern resuscitation of an “ancient material hedonism” that flows from “a purely horizontal and materialistic view of life.”’  The article then presented an example of such a view of life: ‘Witness the recent remarks of Mr. Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister, who said last month that old people on government-funded medical care should “hurry up and die.”’

Given this incompatibility with the Church’s view of life and modern materialism, what does the Pope propose to do?  One decision could have a long term effect on the American non-profit sector:

Of course, any finance minister should worry about money. But Benedict has noticed that many Catholic “charities” might be preoccupied with money too—even permitting financial need to give a back seat to what true Christian “Caritas” is all about. Hence, in 2012 he promulgated Intima Ecclesiae Natura, a law whose consequences will have a serious and lasting impact, especially in the United States.

In the next twenty years, we will witness one of the biggest shifts in Church’s educational and charitable activities. When Intima Ecclesiae Natura, is fully implemented, the Church will have to sever its ties with an increasingly hostile, even hedonistic, secular government, and cease accepting government funding for its charities, its educational institutions, and its hospitals. The results will be revolutionary—and liberating.

The long term impact of Catholic charitable organizations ending their dependency on government funding could very well indeed be revolutionary.  Catholic scholar and Hillsdale College History Professor Paul Rahe wrote an article last year entitled “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil,” in which he chronicled the faustian bargain the Catholic Church made by going on the government dole to begin with.  Thinkers like Rahe have always thought that Christian charity was compromised by accepting the strings that come with government funding.  Now, in the wake of the HHS mandate, a growing number of others have come to the same conclusion.

The Catholic Church was not alone in recoiling from the HHS mandate and it will not be alone in reconsidering the wisdom of tying its exercise of compassion to government funding.  The long term impact of such reconsiderations could very well revive the American spirit of volunteerism and rescue the  notion of social justice from its association with government funded dependency.