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May 2001

ANNEXING THE FAITH

THE EDITOR

Beware Greeks bearing gifts!… There's no such thing as a free lunch!… You always pay the piper!… If you sup with the devil, use a long spoon!… These are just a few of the adages which every Catholic parish, apostolate and charitable body should have posted up in very large type, in very prominent places, very soon. With Western governments now turning their attention to church-based welfare, they will act as salient reminders to all concerned that accepting state aid is a precarious business, not least for Christians.

It seems that the endless merry-go-round of reinvention, opportunism and cliché that constitutes the modern political arena has latterly arrived at a startling conclusion: man does not live on bread alone. And having rediscovered this ancient Christian truth and its potential to ameliorate a bankrupt welfare state, bipartisan travellers along the "third way" - that supposed via media between stifling Socialism and unfettered Capitalism - have seized the opportunity to repackage and recycle it through the agency of the voluntary sector. Under empty umbrella labels like the "Compassionate Conservatism" of Republicans and Tories or New Labour's "Stakeholder Society," local churches are set to play an increasing role in the provision of government welfare services. At a Charities Aid Foundation conference in London last October, opposition leader William Hague, impressed by the "[George and Jeb] Bush emphasis on social policy that cares for the whole person and not just one immediate need," heralded future Tory policy: "We want to roll back the frontiers of the state and allow independent groups and charities the scope to play a bigger role in tackling social ills. It is time to denationalise compassion and create a genuine partnership between government and charities." Naturally, the lure for this charitable involvement in state welfare is hard cash, like the unprecedented 300 million pound five-year package for voluntary and community organisations unveiled by British Chancellor Gordon Brown early this year.

It is no bad thing, of course, that the likes of George Bush, William Hague, Tony Blair et. al. now recognise the value of a faith-based welfare provision motivated by Christian concern for the whole man rather than his belly alone. It might also be viewed as a positive, if fractional, move toward redressing the exaggerated separation of Church and State, especially in the U.S., which has long deprived Christians of just financial support simply for putting their religious beliefs into public practise.

Still, without being totally cynical, one retains a healthy scepticism about the real intentions and rectitude of politicians desperate to reign in suicidal welfare budgets (100billion a year in Mr Blair's case). We are entitled to wonder what really takes precedence in machiavellian minds that suddenly want to help the 'helpers': human concern, or the bottom line? party ideology, or the truth about man? Furthermore, our experience of the state sets alarm bells ringing. By offering purely materialistic welfare options and benefits, governments have managed to morally and spiritually devastate just about everyone and everything they have sought to help - destroying families, demeaning the value of work, undermining the sense of obligation and responsibility that binds communities. Why then should politicians who have failed so tragically by throwing unimaginable sums of money at social problems, now believe that they will succeed by tossing still more cash at faith-based institutions? From the overriding spiritual perspective, is it not more likely that any financial advantage accruing to Catholic charities under the social welfare umbrella will be negated by infecting them with that same materialistic spirit - or, at very least, by tarring them with the bureaucratic welfare brush in the eyes of Joe Public who already has difficulty distinguishing Christian charity from state handouts? As it stands, after years of lower level government funding and politicisation of the voluntary sector, people are already confused about whether they are giving to a charity or to the state, a situation reflected in the fact that charitable giving in Britain is presently down in all age groups except the over 60s, where it has risen only marginally.

As a spokesman for the charity Civitas put it during a BBC report: "Taking money from the state has problems." Just ask the frustrated Bishop of Arlington, Thomas J. Welsh, who recently suggested the time might have come for the Church in America to surrender its tax-exempt status, since it is out of fear of losing that government exemption that the Church is treading too softly in the political arena and staying on the margins of public debate. "Our message isn't getting out," he complained. Yet the most graphic illustration is the corrosive long-term impact of state aid on Catholic schools, which hard-won government funding was once hailed as a triumph for the Church and religious freedom. As John Hedley's following article reminds us, however, what followed in England as in Australia, the U.S. and throughout the West was not so much a liberation as a gross secularisation of Catholic education. In the English experience, the small print on the invitation to this not-so-free government lunch has, among much else, enabled left-liberal ecclesiastics in cahoots with their government paymasters to strip Catholic schools of the freedom to determine their own curricula, to admit and expel their own pupils and to appoint their own teachers.

Stephanie Block's ensuing expose of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is thus a further salutary warning in this regard: of how the church-based welfare initiative is the latest mechanism by which state aid is being utilised by recycled Marxists and ecclesiastical "useful idiots" to further secularise the religious spirit in general and Catholicism in particular. Already entrenched in the U.S., the IAF and its international affiliates are realising our worst instinctive fears about the nexus between state funding and the convergence of Church and State, whereby governments are effectively annexing the Catholic faith through an unholy alliance of liberation theology and Mammon.

What it all boils down to is this: short of the miraculous emergence of a truly Catholic "third way" based on the divine wisdom of the Church, as postulated in this issue by Anthony Cooney, overtures from via media politicians seeking "to create a genuine partnership between government and charities", though apparently laudable and generous, must be greeted with great circumspection. Which is not to say that we should develop a siege mentality in the matter of government handouts. It is, after all, our money - and it is not so much being handed out as handed back! Moreover, Catholics citizens everywhere are as entitled as anyone else to put their fair share of available tax funds to good use for the benefit of their fellow countrymen as their faith dictates. But while the potential for using that money to good effect for the glory of God and His souls is great, the following articles remind one and all of the real perils involved, especially at a time when rampant post-conciliar Modernism, having blurred all lines of doctrinal and moral demarcation, has left Catholics easy prey to the perennial temptation of viewing their apostolic activities through a materialistic lens. The faithful must ensure that they are not co-opted and corralled into doing the government's bidding on secular terms; not seduced by monetary incentives and Marxist facilitators into separating social justice from the Ten Commandments and the salvation of souls. On this responsibility of all Christian faiths to clearly set out the uncompromising moral and spiritual terms on which they will participate in church-based welfare, former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes recently summed it up this way:

If believers fail to insist on this respect for the integrity of their mission, then what ought to be a great opportunity for hope and renewal will instead become an opportunity for the corruption of the church and the addiction of faith-based institutions to a materialistic government structure that poisons the churches even as, in the past, it poisoned the vital institutions of social life like the family…

In such moments we need to understand that the first rule of faith is to do nothing without prayer. We should all pray that the heroic thousands of men and women whose faith has moved them to spend themselves in helping initiatives will have the wisdom and discernment to move forward in a way that reaches for the rose, but avoids the thorn. We should pray that they may truly offer help on terms that overflow with the richness of God's love and grace, lest they become part of that vast movement in this world today that seeks to deny Him, and His existence, and His will.

 

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