There’s a fascinating article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post about the Catholic Church’s local efforts, via bus billboards and radio ads, among other public relations media, to get believers to go to confession. Timed to coincide with Lent, the Church’s traditional period for penance, the campaign is fighting a vast dropoff in the number of Catholics going into the booth on Saturday afternoons, or any other time.Michelle Boorstein’s piece on this subject tends to make it all about how Catholics seek psychological self-relief and self-fulfillment in and out of the confessional, but she doesn’t get into the sticks, as opposed to the carrots, that the Church used to deploy to get people to go to confession. The Big Stick was the tenet that taking communion while in a state of mortal sin–which included a fairly broad array of sins, including defiance of church teachings and just about any sexual transgression–was truly horrendous, perhaps even representing the scriptural “sin against the Holy Spirit” that could not be forgiven. Indeed, this holy terror of communion without confession helped produce a long period of rank-and-file Catholic reluctance to take communion, which endured from the Fourth Century A.D. until very recent times.The failure of the Big Stick of discouraging communion for those not immediately fresh from the confessional led to an big post-Vatican-II effort to get Catholics to take communion as a basic obligation of the faith. But this healthy eucharistic revival wasn’t accompanied by any enduring return to regular confession. And there’s not much doubt that this particular aspect of “cafeteria Catholicism,” in the U.S. at least, owed a lot to popular dissent against the Church’s moral theology, especially in matters of sex. Aside from the widespread practice of contraception among U.S. Catholics, there has been an even more widespread defiance of the Church’s ban on any sort of premarital sexual activity. Asked to choose between the injunction to take communion regularly and the warning to do so in a state of reconciliation with the Church, Catholics have largely taken the former route.It’s interesting that in the Archdiocese of Washington, at least, the Church has chosen to accentuate the positive aspects of confession. But in the long run, the disconnect between Church teachings and Catholic practice cannot help but undermine Catholic discipline, and keep the lines outside the confessional short.
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By Ed Kilgore
A lot of media outlets reported the unexpected defeat of the Farm Bill in the House this week. But there’s quite a significant backstory, which I wrote up at New York.
Back in the day, the Farm Bills enacted every five years to reauthorize major agriculture and nutrition programs were the model of bipartisanship. Indeed, the food stamp program (now called “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”) was first devised in part as a way to extend support for Farm Bills to include urban legislators who didn’t know a combine from a snowplow.
The defeat of the latest Farm Bill on the House floor shows how far the old formula has unraveled.
In more recent and ideologically driven Congresses, the bills have sometimes attracted heat from the right, involving both libertarian-ish objections to crop subsidies and hostility toward food stamps as “welfare” programs for those people. Indeed, in 2013 the whole enterprise nearly went down (and wasn’t finished until 2014) over SNAP funding, with House conservatives not thinking cuts went far enough and Senate Democrats thinking they went too far.
With Republicans now controlling both Houses, the big initial Farm Bill controversy has been over the GOP’s desire (lashed along by the Trump administration) to toughen SNAP’s already significant work requirements. Indeed, this became a signature cause for lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan, and a sort of shriveled booby prize for his frustrated plans to clobber entitlement programs and “welfare” before leaving Congress.
The SNAP provisions of the current Farm Bill guaranteed united House Democratic opposition, and also cost the votes of a few GOP “moderates.” But the bigger problem emerged when conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus looked at the overall dynamics and decided to take the bill hostage to their demands for an immediate House vote on the Goodlatte immigration bill — a measure more conservative than the president’s own in that it offers no permanent succor to Dreamers in exchange for the reductions in legal immigration and border wall funding. This in turn was a response to a very different maneuver by a group of endangered Republican moderates in blue- or heavily Latino districts to join with Democrats and force a vote on a bill that is significantly friendlier to Dreamers without all the nativist filler in the Goodlatte and presidential proposals.
In the end, all these problems were too much of a lift, and the bill went down decisively by a 198–213 margin, with 30 Republicans (actually 29, plus Ryan, who voted no to preserve the right to make a later motion for reconsideration) opposing it. As the GOP defectors keep pointing out, the program authorizations covered by the Farm Bill don’t run out until the end of September, so there’s time to work something out on both immigration and SNAP in time to avoid the mess that occurred last time around. But with so little else of substance on the House agenda this year (at least the Senate has confirmations to absorb its time), it’s entirely possible the Farm Bill will continue to attract hostage-takers until the end of the session….
Meanwhile, Paul Ryan’s desire for a little trophy he can take home to Wisconsin representing his desire to liberate poor people from the government’s help in making ends meet will be delayed one more time.