Charles Camosy, PhD, is a professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx and author of the brand-new book Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. He will be the featured speaker at the first Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Lecture (Monday, May 11, 7:00 pm, Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, Mullica Hill, free admission), where he will discuss the Catholic vision of justice that extends protection to all human beings, from the moment of conception until natural death, including every moment in between.
A fabulous teacher, Dr. Camosy makes complex theological concepts accessible to all, and he has contributed essays to USA Today, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
He took the time to answer a few questions for The Ampersand. Learn more about the lecture and register to attend here.
MJL: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed written just after the 2013 verdict against abortion-provider Kermit Gosnell, Dan Henninger wrote, “No other public policy has divided the people of the United States for so long and so deeply. Abortion is America’s second civil war.” Why do you think this is true?
CC: It radically divides everything from our families, to our parishes, to our political process. It and goes to the heart of two very fundamental values in our culture: (1) the equal standing of women in our culture and (2) the protecting of vulnerable prenatal children from death. When the stakes are understand to be so high, one can see why the debate turns out this way.
MJL: In another interview you did, you said this: “I think every prenatal child, regardless of how she was conceived, is a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law. Period. That’s simply what justice requires.” Many people would disagree with you on that, obviously, and digging in to the argument would take far more space than we have. But can you lay out the core reasoning behind your argument that every prenatal child has a right to life?
CC: Well, before going to the prenatal child, I like to think about intuitions about the neonatal child — the newborn. Should the newborn child, “regardless of how she was conceived, [also be considered] a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law”? Absolutely. We would think someone a monster who thought differently.
But notice that it is really difficult to explain why a newborn child is a person without saying that a prenatal child is also a person. Both are living organisms, members of the Homo sapiens family. Both are neither actually rational, self-aware, capable of moral choice, or anything else that makes humans more significant than pigs or dogs. But both have the potential for such things that other animals do not have.
Indeed, sometimes when a baby is born prematurely she is less developed than a baby who is still inside her mother. (Interestingly, secular philosophers like Peter Singer are increasingly more confident in arguing that the right to abortion also implies the right to infanticide because they too see the connection between reasoning about prenatal and neonatal human life.) What we say of one we ought to say about the other, and if newborn children have a right to life as a matter of justice, then so do unborn children.
MJL: Some critics say that pro-life advocates don’t do enough to support mothers, fathers, and children after birth. What can Catholics do to respond to those who say that pro-lifers are only “pro-birth” and not really pro-life?
CC: The first response is that such critics are correct. We don’t do enough. Many people do great things, but we absolutely don’t do enough. Every parish with a pro-life ministry, for instance, should also have a ministry to pregnant women and single mothers in difficult circumstances. That same organization should be putting hard core pressure on local politicians to increase social supports for women. Jesus commands Christians not only to be nonviolent, but to actively support those most vulnerable and least among us.
MJL: In your just-released book, you discuss statistics that surprise some people: In many surveys, women are more likely than men to support abortion restrictions. Why do you think that is?
CC: It is complex, but part of the reason is that women understand better than men that abortion does not lead to women’s social equality. In fact, paradoxically, it could lead to more inequality. One reason why our culture doesn’t give women mandatory paid maternity leave and other supports for having children is, frankly, because we believe they could have had an abortion. Our patriarchal culture insists that equality for women means that they basically have to remain non-pregnant; that is, they have to be like men. Pro-lifers know that true social equality for women means–not abortion–but giving women the resources necessary to choose to not kill their child.
MJL: Often in the Church, one can find painful divides between “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” You suggest a both/and approach. What are some signs of hope for you that progress toward the both/and can be made?
CC: Fifty percent of Millennials refuse to identify as either Republican or Democrat. They support “liberal” causes like health care reform and paid maternity leave, but they also support the “conservative” pro-life position in favor of protecting prenatal children. This is true also of Hispanics. Both demographics are the future of this country, and this future looks to be a very different and more hopeful one.
MJL: As a scholar, what interests you most about coming out to a parish and sharing your work with a non-academic audience?
CC: Far too often, academics are interested in having inside baseball conversations among themselves, but my work in bioethics and moral theology really does connect with the concerns of people outside the ivory tower. Indeed, if it didn’t, I’m not sure I could justify my time in working on these issues. Theologians are working for the Church, not just the academy, and this means reaching outside ourselves and engaging with other audiences. Indeed, my experience is that these audiences have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them.
Learn more about Dr. Camosy’s lecture and register to attend here.
This is the third in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, the Ampersand interviews Brian Crook, director of missions at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, about parish-based justice work. Brian was one of two fantastic guest speakers at the diocesan “Rebuilt” event last month, along with Fr. Michael White, pastor of Nativity and co-author of the smash-hit book.
What is the role of missions within the parish? Why is it essential for our parishes to be reaching out to those living on society’s margins?
We are all called to be missionaries. The Church, the Body of Christ, exists for people outside of the church, and as members of the Body we share in that mission. Church isn’t ever just about one thing. It’s a movement, a movement that is ever-evolving and ever-expanding. It’s been said that a parish should always be going “deeper and wider” — that is “deeper” in the faith of its members and at the same time “wider” in its reach to outsiders. Both are necessary. Both are essential.
In my experience, service activities can be great igniters of faith for people. Why do you think that is?
Seeing God at work is inspiring. Even more so, experiencing God at work first-hand and being a part of that in the world is precisely what we’re made for. I think you’re absolutely right: by it’s very nature Missions ignites faith. We can’t just come to church for an hour each week and expect to experience all that God intends for us. We have to get involved and take responsibility for our faith, and when we do, we learn about who God is, who He has created us to be, and our purpose in the world. That’s exciting.
What are some practical tips you’d have for parishes looking to deepen their engagement in service and justice work?
Do fewer. That’s not good English, but my point is not to “do less” but to “focus more.” So many parishes I know simply have way too many social justice ministries and outreach programs. As a result their efforts get spread too thin and a significant impact is never made. We’re called to do something, but not everything. By narrowing the focus of your parish’s service and justice work, you can actually accomplish more. Think of it this way: when someone asks what your parish does for Missions, try to answer them in once sentence.
Why do you feel called to the work you do?
My story has revolved around Church of the Nativity for many years. I know God because of this local church. More than serving as the Director of Missions, I feel called to serve the kingdom movement that God is unfolding in Timonium. I would say though that my Jesuit education and past experiences with service trips have ingrained in me the importance of Missions. I am most passionate about Missions work because by serving others, it has helped me understand how desperately I need of God in my own heart and in my own life.
Any favorite Scripture passage that inspires your missions work? Any favorite quote from Catholic social teaching?
I love Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I love these verses because it drives home for me that Missions overflows from the freedom we’ve received in Christ. It’s not an obligation, it’s not a duty, it’s an honor. It’s an honor, and it’s simple, so simple that it could be summed up by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you use social media, you’ve probably taken a BuzzFeed quiz. (Or 20.)
If you haven’t participated, the gist is simple: you answer a series of multiple choice questions on a particular topic (choose a color, pick a relaxing activity, etc.) and the popular website BuzzFeed will tell you which Bill Murray character you are, or what you should eat for lunch, or what decade you actually belong in. You share your answer on Facebook.
Recently, I’ve noticed a spike in these quizzes’ popularity among my Catholic Facebook friends. Two in particular have been everywhere: “Which One Of Jesus’ Disciples Are You?” and “Which Biblical Heroine Are You?”
Unsurprisingly, the same BuzzFeed reporter, Ellie Hall, is behind both quizzes, bringing a dash of religion into the world of viral web content.
What goes in to writing one of your religion-themed BuzzFeed quizzes? Could you describe the process?
It’s always tricky! I tend to spend at least 2 or 3 days thinking about the possible results and coming up with the questions and answers. I reread Bible and Torah passages that mention the men and women in question and try to get a sense about their personalities and how they’ve been portrayed throughout history. It sounds silly considering that I’m making a quiz, but I try to be as accurate as possible. For example, in the “Which Biblical Heroine Are You?” quiz, I made sure that the “Pick a Flower” question included all the flowers that have been traditionally associated with each woman. So Esther’s flower was a myrtle, a nod to her birth name, Hadassah. Overall, I just try to be thoughtful and make a smart quiz that I would want to take.
They stand out among the “What Muppet are you?”-style quizzes, and they always go viral among my Catholic Facebook friends. Why do you think they’ve gotten such an energetic response?
I think it’s really fun to put the men and women that we’ve heard stories about in church and Sunday School since we were little into a modern context, which is what I’m trying to do with these quizzes. I also think people are surprised to see a site like BuzzFeed publishing fun religious-themed content! But why not, if we do it the right way? It’s really amazing to see so many people enjoying them.
You’ve also written a few things about Pope Francis, who continues to dominate the media. What about him do you think draws people in?
I think that Pope Francis is very good at demonstrating the qualities that people associate with the best of Catholicism and religion in general. He seems approachable and humble — characteristics that aren’t usually associated with parish priests as opposed to the head of the Church. I think that’s the main reason why people, not just the media, love him.
Speaking of Pope Francis: If he took the “Which one of Jesus’ disciples are you?” quiz, who do you think he’d get, and why?
Ha! I think he’d probably get St. John. He has a very warm and comforting presence and I could easily see him having a lot in common with the “Beloved Disciple.”
If the Vatican brought you in as a media consultant, what advice would you give them?
I think I’d encourage them to branch out a little more on social media and interact more with their followers. Not through the @pontifex account, obviously, but maybe set up a few more Twitter accounts and a Facebook page that shows more behind-the-scenes moments from the Vatican. “Open Doors.” I’d want to call it something like “Open Doors.VA” and have an internet-savvy team that would interact with people and show a different side of the Holy See. Humanize it, a bit. Demystify it. I don’t know, but I’d really like to see more of the spontaneous moments that have made Pope Francis such a media darling.
What was your first experience advocating on Capitol Hill like? What surprised you? What is something you’ll remember about the experience?
Visiting Capitol Hill for the first time was a little intimidating, and just like civic engagement in Camden, we experienced our share of curve balls. However, the staffers that we visited with were fairly responsive to what we had to say and seemed to respect that we were speaking on behalf of their constituents. The most memorable part of the visits was witnessing each Hill Staffer’s reaction to Mr. David Jallah’s story (third from left in above photo) of his experience as a refugee and his account of the refugees he now helps to resettle. Their jaws dropped. It seemed to be the most honest account they’d heard in a while, and it shook them out of the hubub of politics to clearly see the impact of their legislative choices.
What is one message you’d like elected leaders to hear from your experience serving at St. Anthony’s?
I would hope that they get to know their constituents in Camden who are so hard-working and that they would understand that the policies they enact determine what we pass on to the next generation. They play a very important role in choosing whether we pass on poverty or the chance to break the cycle of poverty in their district.
What was your favorite part of attending the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering?
I loved meeting so many people who are involved in social justice ministry throughout the country and hearing their stories. It was also very encouraging to see that, in the efforts to become, as Pope Francis said, “a Church that is poor and for the poor,” that St. Anthony of Padua and many other CamdenChurches seem to be on the right track.
Why do you think people of faith are called to take political action?
As baptized people, we believe that we are the Body of Christ and, Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Christ proclaimed, in the words of Isaiah, that he was called to change the world saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
If we truly believe we are the hands and feet of the Lord in our world, then this call from Isaiah is ours too, in all levels of relationships; within our neighborhoods and parishes, within our city and through using our voice to support policies that will protect the poor and vulnerable.
During his visit to the diocese last week, Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministries sat down with me for a conversation about St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis, and how their examples can inspire us today.
Listen for Jack’s four examples of how Pope Francis is living St. Francis’ legacy. (Closeness with those who are poor, simple living, care for creation, interfaith understanding.)
Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, a great friend of the Ampersand, has partnered with the Mural Arts Program to create a mural on a wall of the Center’s South Philly campus. There was a community paint day this past Saturday, and my wife Gen and I headed over to check it out. We thought we’d be up on ladders, but the process is, thankfully, a lot easier and safer. The artist behind the mural, Delia King, drew the outline of the shapes in the mural with a black marker on huge panels of fabric and numbered all the sections. About 140 volunteers showed up to “paint by number.” Delia will clean it up a bit and the panels will then be rolled onto the wall. Here’s a shot of the process:
It’ll look something like this digital mock-up:
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, where the Center is based, is home to an extremely diverse community of Catholics, including folks who are Vietnamese, Indonesian, Latino, Filipino, Anglo, and more. Fabric patterns from the different cultures come together to compose the mural. Delia talks about the process in an interview here.
One of the first painters we saw when we arrived was our friend KellySue Fitzharris. Kelly lives in Blackwood and teaches Spanish and religion at St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights. She’s all-around fantastic. We joined her at the panel she was working on and caught up.
After the day, I shot Kelly a few questions about her experience.
Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?
A: Well, aside from the overall coolness of participating in painting an inner city mural which I had never done before, I think the idea of partaking in a creative effort among various cultures to beautify and unite the community was just awesome.
Q: Meet any inspiring people?
A: YES! One young adult who I was painting with had recently returned from two years in China with the Peace Corps. She was stationed in a super rural part of the country and chose to live there with only one fellow Peace Corps volunteer so as to immerse herself more fully in the culture. Being passionate about other cultures myself, I thought her intentions and experiences sounded inspiring!
Q: What is the coolest thing about a mural at Aquinas Center?
A: Well, the mural itself is vibrantly colorful and beautiful with various symbols of the distinct cultures that make up the surrounding community. It has many coolness factors: It is rich and loud, delicate and deep. I think it will fill the onlooker with awe and intrigue, hopefully draw in the passerby and continue to stand as a sign of the beautiful paradox of cultural diversity and unity, a little beacon hope and light right there in South Philly.
As mentioned here on Friday, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent and CNN’s Vatican correspondent John Allen was the keynote speaker at the Diocese of Camden’s Justice for All Dinner last week. John is one of the most respected Church observers, and he provided invaluable coverage throughout Pope Benedict’s resignation and all that followed.
At the end of his talk here, John said he hoped the evening would just be the start of a conversation. I took him up on the offer, and emailed him some Life & Justice questions connected to his areas of expertise: the papacy and the ongoing transformation of the Catholic Church. He kindly replied despite his incredibly full schedule.
MJL: You mentioned at the Justice for All Dinner Pope Francis’ line that he wants a church that is “poor and for the poor.” How have you seen this commitment lived out already early in his papacy? How do you think it might develop in the future?
JA: There’s the obvious: shunning the papal limo as much as possible, living in the Casa Santa Marta rather than the papal apartment, and so on. I visited his sister’s home in Buenos Aires, and it gives new meaning to the term “simple”! More deeply, it’s clear based on the trajectory of this pope’s life that the poor are at the heart of his pastoral vision. My suspicion is that Francis will nudge Catholicism towards a simpler, more evangelical style of life, and towards greater solidarity with the poor at all levels.
MJL: The vision of Life & Justice Ministries in Camden is to promote a consistent ethic of life, from conception until natural death and every moment in between. Pope Francis seems to embrace this both/and philosophy, resisting the barriers that sometimes divide “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” Do you see this “both/and” vision in Francis’ thinking?
JA: Very much so, but I saw it in Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well. We Catholics are often creatures of our culture, and the political culture in the States does a terrific job pitting these two dimensions of Catholic social teaching against one another. If we’re going to overcome that, it will require a deeply counter-cultural commitment from us, not just once-and-for-all but every day. Papal vision can help, but ultimately it’s up to us.
MJL: As the Catholic Church’s population center continues shifting toward the Global South, what can we in the United States do to stand in solidarity with our Catholic sisters and brothers who are not from the West?
JA: Most deeply, we can accept the premise that American Catholics are just six percent of the global Catholic population, so membership in this global family of faith means that we can’t always have things our own way and that the welfare and perspectives of Catholics in other parts of the world matters too. Everything else flows from that.
What was one of the most powerful things your saw or learned during your recent visit to Cardinal Bergoglio’s hometown of Buenos Aires?
I visited one of the villas miserias, the slums in Buenos Aires, where then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent enormous amounts of time and where his pastoral vision of a “poor church for the poor” came alive. Talking to the often abandoned people who live there, it was clear that politics and the media may have forgotten about them, but the Church under Bergoglio had not.
JA: First an earthquake, then a hurricane.