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A must-read that appeared in the Aug/Sept 2014 issue of The Catholic Worker!

By Susan Wilcox, CSJ

Sunday morning , I watched the CBS Sunday Morning show highlighting, Portugal as the first sea power. This segment is obviously being broadcast because Monday is Columbus Day. Prior to watching, I had just returned from Sunday Mass in which we heard once again about the healing power of love as embodied and preached by Jesus.  As I watched the show I found myself feeling anger. The copy writing for the show used phrases like “height of power” and “Portugal’s Golden Era”. There were self-satisfied responses elicited in the interviews such as “maps meant power!”

For those who are Portuguese or of Portuguese descent, seeing this would easily lead to a flush of pride as Columbus does for Italians.  I am also part of this group being of pre-revolutionary European descent.  This is part of the history that brings me to where I am now and  yet  I find it totally disgusting.  Disgust at both the holy genocide of the continent’s First People, culture and wisdom and the vane attachment to a history that puts violence and domination at the center.

Trying to recognize this sin, The National Council of Churches with a wide Christin presence created a resolution which termed the entry of Europeans to the New World, “invasion that resulted in slavery and genocide of Native Peoples”. So what is there to be prideful about on Columbus Day? How can we separate the pure hearted spirit of adventure and discovery from exploration which seeks supremacy financed by entities of  extraction, power and domination?  How do we separate our desire to share the Gospel of Jesus from it’s global spread through an evangelization tactic of declare or die.

Jesus teaches us that love is what triumphs and yet we still are urged even in our churches to rejoice in a  power through domination as if it were righteous.  This Columbus Day, need we be reminded once again that the early explorers were there to seek riches for the Christian 1% in Europe exporting not Jesus message but one of dehumanizing profit?  Is it an accident that CBS which aired the show is the Columbia Broadcast Network? Columbia being a name borrowed from Columbus.  Was the segment it’s way of showing it’s pride?  The Council of Churches in it’s resolution on the 500th anniversary in 1992 asked that year  serve as a year of “reflection and repentance”.  How about every year on Columbus Day?

From The Wilmington Journal, about Occupy Catholic Fr. Paul Mayer:



By Cash Michaels

Rev. Eugene Templeton (center) seen here in February, 1971 with Rev. Ben Chavis (to his immediate left) and his wife, Donna, was the white pastor who allowed black students to use his church, Gregory Congregational in Wilmington, to plan nonviolent protests. Templeton says amid violent attacks on the church, there were no weapons there, and the Wilmington Ten were falsely convicted. Inset (Father Paul Mayer)


They are two men of GOD, both white, both of whom became deeply involved with the African-American community in the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies.

Their paths would intersect at the case of the Wilmington Ten, and history records their vital footprints in the forty-year struggle for justice for the ten innocent civil rights activists.

Until now, and until this very story, Father Paul Mayer, a veteran climate-peace-and Occupy Movement activist, has never before identified himself as the author of the historic 1976 report by Amnesty International (AI) that first declared the Wilmington Ten to be “political prisoners.”

Indeed, the authors of AI reports – the highly regarded, nongovernmental international human rights organization based in London that chronicles human rights abuses worldwide – are rarely identified for their own safety, making Fr. Mayer’s first and exclusive recollections about his investigation – which he writes about in his yet-to-be-published memoir, Wrestling with Angels – and how he met Rev. Eugene Templeton, the white former pastor of predominately-black Gregory Congregational Church in Wilmington – which was at the center of the Wilmington Ten controversy – all the more compelling.

Mayer, an East Orange, NJ resident, is a Catholic priest of 55 years who served as a Benedictine monk for 18 years. He has traveled the world, advocating for the poor in Latin America; standing against nuclear proliferation, and demanding equal rights for all global citizens.

As a young child, Mayer fled Nazi Germany with his parents as the Jews were being persecuted. As a result, the religious leader has a particular disdain for injustice.

While in the seminary, Mayer traveled to Selma, Alabama in 1965 to meet and march with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his drive for voting rights.

“That was a life-changing experience,” Mayer, 81, who has been a part of many of the peace and social justice movements of the last half-century, including Occupy, says today.

Fr. Mayer says he did not attend any of the 1972 Wilmington Ten trial proceedings, instead following developments from New York. However, when the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, a young, veteran civil rights activist Mayer knew and had worked with in his association with the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the rest of the Wilmington Ten, had been falsely convicted of conspiracy in the 1971 firebombing of a white-owned grocery store, the activist priest knew he had to get involved.

“The outrageousness of this case really had an impact on me,” Fr. Mayer recalls. “I saw such a perversion of justice. This was a case of Southern racism.”

Chavis had been sent to Wilmington by the UCC in Feb. 1971 to assist black students there who had boycotted New Hanover County public schools because of racial discrimination. Racial violence ensued, though there is no evidence that Chavis had anything to do with it.

In fact, Rev. Chavis, an Oxford, NC native, was sent to ensure that the striking black students, who were headquartered at Gregory Congregational Church, only employed the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent confrontation with Wilmington’s white power structure over their grievances.

But it wasn’t long before Chavis and the students became targets at the church, with trucks of marauding members of a white supremacist group riding by nightly, shooting at the church and surrounding black community.

Fr. Mayer decided that he would investigate the Wilmington Ten case, and reached out to Amnesty International to allow him to write a report.

Normally AI would only assign investigators who lived outside of the country they were reporting on, but in Paul Mayer’s case, AI made an exception, he says.

“I think they respected my credentials and my history,” Fr. Mayer says.

Recalling the AI process for vetting human rights abuse investigations as “excruciatingly thorough and demanding.”

“They take nothing for granted,” Mayer, who dealt directly with AI’s London headquarters, said. “Being declared a “prisoner of conscience”(which, according to AI, refers to anyone imprisoned because of their race, religious or political views) is a big deal, a major step. And at that time, they were more [stringent] than they are today.”

AI issued a list of criteria Mayer had to follow during his probe, he recalls. Using his people skills, the Catholic priest began months of intense examination of the Wilmington Ten case.

Based on his investigation, Mayer determined that the crux of North Carolina’s case against Chavis and his nine co-defendants was that they were holed up in Pastor Templeton’s Gregory Congregational Church in Wilmington, carrying out “an armed struggle,” meaning, according to their charges, that they had weapons in that church, and were firing them at firefighters and police personnel who were responding to the firebombing of Mike’s Grocery on the night of February 6, 1971.

To this day, Dr. Chavis and the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten deny the charges. Several of the Ten, like Willie Earl Vereen, James McKoy and the late Connie Tindall, say that in fact, they were nowhere near Gregory Church or Mike’s Grocery at the time of the arson and sniper fire.

Mayer knew that finding Rev. Templeton, who had gone into hiding for fear of his life years after the convictions, was the key to determining the answer to the burning question, “Did Ben Chavis and the black students who were under attack at Gregory Church have guns there to fight back with?”

New Hanover County prosecutor Jay Stroud maintained they did, and had Chavis and company falsely convicted, and sentenced to a combined 282 years in prison, some of which they all served.

One of the reasons why Stroud was able to convict – beyond stacking the jury of ten whites and two blacks in the second trial with “KKK and Uncle Tom-types,” in addition to a pro-prosecution judge, Stroud’s own infamous notes showed forty years later – is because the defense’s prime witness, Pastor Eugene Templeton, was threatened by white supremacists and did not testify.

Templeton was the best witness because he was in the church the entire week of the conflict, especially the evening of Feb. 6th, 1971 when Mike’s Grocery was firebombed. He knew who was there and who wasn’t. He knew where Ben Chavis was the entire time and what he was doing.

The fact that the lives of Templeton and his wife, Donna, had been threatened to keep his testimony from being heard in court, was significant to Fr. Mayer.

He had to find Rev. Templeton, and have him reveal what he wasn’t allowed to tell a court of law when it counted the most.

After months of searching, Mayer tracked Rev. Templeton down to Morristown, NJ, serving as a hospital chaplain. And even after locating him, it would be weeks before Templeton would return Mayer’s phone calls, and finally agreed, under certain conditions (no tape recording being one) to share what would have been his testimony years earlier.

“I appealed to his conscience that this, perhaps, could save [the Wilmington Ten’s] lives,” Mayer said, indicating that all of the defendants were still in prison at the time.

“[Templeton] was terrified, and when I met him, close to a year [after contacting him], he was still a very frightened man. It took a lot of therapy on my part, and a lot of counseling, and as we Christians say, fellowship, [to] convince him that I was not a charlatan, and I was going to respect his confidentiality in whatever form he wanted me to.”

Fr. Mayer also told Templeton that his AI report designating the Wilmington ten as political prisoners could lead to an international campaign for their freedom, which is ultimately what happened.

Rev. Templeton began to talk, and, according to Father Mayer, his most salient point was that despite all of the violence happening outside of Gregory Congregational Church that first week in February 1971, there were no guns inside of his church, and no one was firing weapons from the church, as had been alleged by state prosecutors.

Not only was having guns there against all that Rev. Templeton believed in, but it would have also been against the rules set down by Gregory Church’s Deacon Board, which voted to allow the black students to use the church for their rallies and classes.

If anyone affiliated with the church knew of any weapons there, Chavis and the students would have been kicked out immediately!

However, the jury in the Wilmington Ten trial never heard any of that.

“[Rev. Templeton was very clear on this point,” Fr. Mayer recalls. “He had no doubt…these people had no guns.”

“That completely destroys the state’s case against [the Wilmington Ten].”

Mayer is convinced that Templeton’s testimony to him about there not being any weapons, the “centerpiece” of his 30-page handwritten report, convinced the officials at AI to publish Fr. Mayer’s findings in 1976, designating the Wilmington Ten as “political prisoners.”

The report, which sparked a worldwide campaign, embarrassed not only North Carolina, but also then-President Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t long before fifty-five members of Congress urged the US Justice Dept. to investigate. The CBS television newsmagazine “60 Minutes” did an hour-long broadcast revealing that the evidence against the Wilmington Ten had been fabricated, and the three state’s witnesses had committed perjury.

The worldwide pressure for the convictions to be thrown out forced then NC Gov. James B. Hunt to get on statewide television and announce that he would not pardon the Wilmington Ten, but at least commute their sentences.

And in December 1980, after several appeals in North Carolina courts failed, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. – perhaps one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the nation thanks to NC Sen. Jesse Helms – overturned all of the convictions of the Wilmington Ten, citing gross prosecutorial misconduct.

The Fourth Circuit effectively told North Carolina that if it had any real evidence against the Ten, then to please commence with a third trial. If not, then dismiss all charges.

But nothing happened. The Fourth Circuit’s decision was never appealed to the US Supreme Court; no third trial ever took place; and none of the charges were ever dismissed, even thirty-two years later.

Today, the man who started it all, Father Paul Mayer, says it’s time for North Carolina to finally deal with the reality of the Wilmington Ten case, and the injustice that has been forty years in the making.

He, like many others across North Carolina and the nation, want Gov. Beverly Perdue to take a hard, honest look at all that’s happened, and then do justice by granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.

“I feel deeply about this,” Father Mayer said. “I give thanks to GOD that I was a humble instrument. Even though it was years ago, I still feel that it was a major racist miscarriage of justice, and these people were maligned, defamed, and I’m sure it hurt their lives in many ways.”

“We know that racism is alive and well in America, and [granting pardons of innocence] would be a significant step in rectifying one more racist miscarriage of justice,” Father Mayer said.

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, who hasn’t seen Paul Mayer in many years, had kind words for his friend.

“The Reverend Paul Mayer is a lifelong colleague in the civil rights movement,” Dr. Chavis said in a statement. “Rev. Mayer’s ministry continues to provide the fulfillment of what it means to be an effective and globally respected disciple of the God of equal justice and freedom for all people. Rev. Mayer is a research scholar and a transformative social visionary.”

  1. OccupyCatholic
    We were told that 40000 e signatures won’t impress the cardinal. How about 40000 occupying #StPatricks in prayer? @catholicsunited
  2. catholicsunited
    Hey @CardinalDolan Our friends at @OccupyCatholic come in peace! Can’t your staff be nice to them? 40,000 signatures is alot!
  3. OccupyCatholic
    Fr Paul was just asked to bless a medal a woman just bought at the #StPatricks gift shop. We’re not protesting, we’re advertising love.
  4. OccupyCatholic
    Last weekend an @OccupyCatholic was kicked out of #StPatricks for having an #occupycatholics patch on his backpack. Why, @cardinaldolan?
  5. LettingSmokeOut
    @catholicsunited @cardinaldolan @occupycatholic Because they are not “faithful” but dissident. The opinions of non-Catholics are irrelevant.
  6. OccupyCatholic
    .@LettingSmokeOut @catholicsunited @cardinaldolan Our church’s history should make us cautious to question the faith of faithful dissidents
  7. OccupyCatholic
    @LettingSmokeOut @catholicsunited @cardinaldolan how many saints were kicked out of cathedrals by the directors of operations?
  1. OccupyCatholic
    Our NYC General Assembly on Freedoms is only a few days away. Keep spreading the word and praying your prayers!
  2. OccupyCatholic
    @sr_simone We’ll be praying for you at tomorrow’s General Assembly on Freedoms at St. Pat’s in NYC: #prayforus
  3. OccupyCatholic
    @bexxbissell We’re not pleading to the Catholic Church; we are the church, and we love our church, and right now the church needs to speak.
  4. OccupyCatholic
    A little boy just tried to reach through the #nypd barricades surrounding St Patricks cathedral to touch a bird. #OWS #repression
  5. OccupyCatholic
    Any @OccupyWallStNYC reinforcements want to join our overnight encampment at st Patrick’s cathedral? all night. #OWS 51st and 5th
  6. OccupyCatholic
    “@melisheath: @OccupyCatholic hey, y’all are awesome. have a great night! #Occupy #OWS” thanks! Pray for us!
  7. UnderempAmerica
    @OccupyCatholic thank you for what your doing on this very hot night. It’s actions like yours bringing Catholics back to the faith.
  8. OccupyCatholic
    Friendly non-Catholic #OWS #bikebloc just found us a nearby 24-hour restroom! @OccupyWallStNYC join us all night 50th and 5th.

The following interview is reprinted from Subversive Thomism ( –Joan

* * *

It is an honor to present this interview with Eugene McCarraher, who kindly agreed to respond to three questions about freedom: in relation to political economy, Catholicism, and the recent bishops’ declaration.

The interview adds to the growing grassroots discussion of “freedom” leading up to the Occupy Catholics General Assembly on Freedoms set for this Thursday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In response to a controversial call by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a ”Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4, lay Catholics and others are turning to a discussion of the meaning and dimensions of freedom in contemporary society, transcending the narrow confines of the contraception coverage debate and in many cases seeking a more radical (in the sense of “going to the root”) approach to the question of freedom.

Dr. Eugene McCarraher is Associate Professor of History at Villanova University. He is author of Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse of Modern American Social Thought and has written for Commonweal, The Nation, In These Times, and many other publications. He is currently working on The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.

* * *

ST: When we think of “freedom,” one of the first things that comes to mind is the idea of the “free market.” Is the free market really “free”?

McCarraher: No, the “free market” isn’t really free. Or, to make the point somewhat differently, the freedom of the free market is like someone pointing a gun at your head and offering you the choice of your money or your life. You do have the freedom to choose to get shot.

That’s not an unfair or outlandish analogy. When people use the phrase “free market” (or a kindred term such as “free enterprise” or “economic freedom”) what they really mean is capitalism. Capitalism is one of the most mis-defined words in the language, so it’s crucial to define it correctly in order to explain why the “free market” isn’t free. Let me start by talking about what capitalism isn’t. It’s not the same thing as profit-taking or “the market” — even people on the left often use these terms very sloppily. Profits and markets have been around for at least two millennia, and as David Graeber points out in his invaluable book Debt, the earliest markets were instituted in antiquity by states bent on raising money for military purposes. So the notion that markets emerge “naturally” is just a piece of fiction trotted out by Adam Smith and other economists. (Graeber also does a magnificent job of demolishing the idea that barter characterized the earliest economies. Again, a nice story, but the problem is there isn’t a shred of anthropological or historical evidence.) Capitalism is also not “the accumulation of wealth”: all societies have accumulated wealth beyond the point of subsistence, as will, I think, any imaginable society in the future. Capitalism also isn’t “greed” or “avarice”: yes, it’s fueled by greed or avarice, but greed or avarice have bedeviled us for ages, well before capitalism.

Capitalism is also not just “private property,” and that consideration takes us to the heart of what capitalism is. Capitalism is first, last, and foremost a system of property relations between producers and appropriators. Throughout history, property relations have entailed producers and appropriators, or classes: those who make goods and services and those who control the production and distribution of those goods and services, either by owning the means of production or by enlisting overt means of coercion. Under the property or class relations of pre-capitalist economies, masters or overlords used superior political and military power to force producers to surrender some part of their surplus labor and production. The differences in these forms of coercion mark the differences in economies: in chattel slavery, for instance, producers themselves were owned by masters, while in feudalism, nobles coerced serfs to perform labor on some part of the manor and surrender a portion of their own production. Under capitalist property relations, the dominant form of appropriation is based on legally free producers who are completely dispossessed from the means of production. Slaves were owned; serfs and peasants had direct access to their own means of production (they could walk out the door of the hut and start working any time they wanted, so long as the lord got his due). In capitalism, owners determine access to the means of production; even if they wanted to, workers can’t just stroll in to the factory or the office. Unlike chattel slaves or serfs, producers under capitalism are legally free, and their surplus labor and production is appropriated by the capitalist owner by purely economic means – that is, there’s no overt compulsion in the relationship between producer and appropriator. Because direct producers are propertyless, their only access to the means of production, even to the means of their own labor, is the sale of their capacity to labor to owners in exchange for a wage. The worker has something to sell as dearly as possible, namely his capacity to labor, which the capitalist wants to purchase as cheaply as possible so as to have the maximum left over for investment.

This unique relation between propertyless producers and propertied appropriators is mediated by the market. Capitalism follows certain laws of motion that distinguish it from other forms of economic life: the imperatives of competition and profit-maximization; a necessity to reinvest surpluses in production; and a systematic requirement to improve labor productivity and to develop technology. These laws of motion are enforced primarily by the market, which serves a distinctive and historically unprecedented function in capitalism: it mediates access, not only to ordinary goods, but to the means of production themselves. Almost everything in capitalism is produced for the market; both capitalists and laborers are utterly dependent on the market for the most basic conditions of life. Workers depend on the market to sell their capacity to labor as a commodity; capitalists depend on the market to buy this capacity to labor, to purchase means of production, and to realize profits by selling the goods or services produced by workers. Thus, capitalism is by nature an inherently unstable, dynamic, and conflictual system; and thus, class struggle is endemic to it, rooted in the very nature and logic of capitalist property. It isn’t some Big Misunderstanding, or the product of envy or resentment on the part of workers. Ask Warren Buffett, who once breezily informed the New York Times that “of course there’s a class struggle, and my side is winning.”

I want to underline two aspects of capitalism here: the coercive nature of its property relations, and the competitive character of the social life it generates. The mythology of capitalism abounds in the language of freedom: we speak of “the free market,” the creation of “opportunity,” the proliferation of “choices,” the “opening” of countries to trade. Yet we also speak of “market forces,” and forces are about compulsion. What I think needs to be clarified is that the distinctive and dominant characteristic of the capitalist market is not opportunity or choice but, on the contrary, compulsion. Despite the appearance of freedom and equality in the wage bargain, for instance – the worker is “free” to choose or reject the terms of employment offered by the owner – the owner’s complete control over access to and use of the means of production puts him at a decisive advantage. Under slavery, your master chose you; under capitalism, you choose your master. (There was a reason why workers in the 19th century referred to wage labor as “wage slavery.” It’s a language we need to speak again.) By the same token, the capitalist imperatives of competition, accumulation, and profit-maximization mandate that owners acquire and seek to enlarge their control, not only over the means of production, but over workers themselves. No matter how affable or cultivated they are, they must resist or break unions; they must utilize technologies that render workers either obsolete, cheaper, or more pliable; they must oppose any effort on the part of the state to regulate the conditions under which they extract as much surplus as they can out of workers, regardless of how inhumane, socially irresponsible, or ecologically destructive those activities are. The only justice and equity that workers have ever achieved in capitalist nations have been acquired, painfully and often against great violence, through unions, left-wing parties, and a generous welfare state. They have not been granted by tender-hearted capitalists, which is why “socially responsible capitalism” is pure ideological twaddle.

It’s essential to point out that capitalism did not appear in history as the free decision of uncoerced men and women. The history of capitalism is a long and ongoing tale of dispossession and violence, beginning with the confiscation and sale of monasteries in the 16th century; the enclosure of commons, meaning the eviction of peasants from land, in the 17th and 18th centuries; the imperialist invasion and forcible transformation of numerous societies, beginning with Ireland in the 16th century. The creation of American capitalism required the removal and destruction of native American tribes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the trade in African slaves provided considerable start-up capital for North Atlantic manufacturing, and plantation labor serviced the commodity markets in London and Amsterdam.

Understanding capitalism as a system of imperatives also helps explain why, far from being some sort of anomaly or perversion, our current economic turbulence is a textbook case of capitalism being capitalism. The media focus on the Bernie Madoffs and Jamie Dimonds of the world obscures the fact that this is not a “financial” crisis or the result of “bad apples,” but rather a systemic tremor that’s been in the making for the last four decades. Beginning in the 1970s, corporate capital remade the system in a way that landed us in the mess we’re in. Rising energy costs and increased international competition both forced and enabled corporations to do something they’d wanted to do all along: dismantle the New Deal arrangements which had characterized the U. S. economy since 1945, and which had contributed to the longest and most equitable expansion of productivity growth in the history of capitalism. The introduction of computerized production and communication technologies enabled management to accelerate automation and introduced more intensive labor practices. New management and production practices emphasized the “flexibility” of labor – i.e., weaker or non-existent unions. The result? In the 1990s, productivity per worker hour rose four times as fast as the average hourly wage – in manufacturing, twenty times as fast. With weak unions and strong bosses, productivity growth showed up in the pockets of executives, stockholders, and bank creditors. Meanwhile, mutual fund directors and other institutional investors virulently reasserted stockholder claims; mergers and acquisitions put financial over productive prowess; financiers acquired a historically unprecedented role in corporate governance.

So the “free market” is really a latticework of coercions that operate under the name of “freedom.”

ST: Should “freedom” be an important value for Catholics? It seems like an Enlightenment ideal: is that okay?

McCarraher:  The fact that “freedom” under capitalism is really about a network of coercions makes the answer to your second question a tricky issue. Yes, freedom should be an important value for Catholics — certainly in the traditional Catholic, Aristotelian sense, which I understand to be the ability to fulfill one’s nature, to pursue one’s telos. I would emphasize that, by that teleological standard, capitalism actually stands in the way of full human flourishing by defining freedom in terms of property ownership and market competition. If our telos involves, as Aquinas understood it, friendship and beatitude, then the imperatives of capitalist property relations are almost perfectly designed to thwart these ends.

If you look at the matter in historical terms, the notion of freedom that we have in liberal capitalist societies derives, in large measure, from Roman law. The English word “free” stems from the Germanic word fremden, or friend. Hence, to be free, in this view, is to be able to make friends and live in community. But the way we understand freedom is more akin to Roman jurisprudential notions of dominium and libertas, both of which entailed the right to do anything with anything that one possessed. Freedom, in this understanding, is simply more or less unfettered power.

All of which is to say that the question of whether or not Catholics — or Christians in general — should seek to value and preserve liberal freedom has to have a complicated, ambivalent answer. Has liberal democracy, for instance, been a great step forward? Obviously yes — when liberalism was born, whole groups of people were excluded from genuine participation in political life. Liberalism has also cultivated respect for individuality and an iconoclastic attitude toward authority, both of which are invaluable and I hope imperishable contributions to human flourishing. So, in my view, Christians need to cherish and affirm many features of liberalism and liberal democracy. I must say that I’m troubled by an increasing tendency among Catholics, especially but not exclusively among our more conservative brethren, to vilify liberalism, the Enlightenment, and modernity as though they were the spawn of Satan. Most Christians who wail and lament about liberalism and modernity have only the most notional and sentimental conceptions of what life was like for most people before modern technology, modern communications, representative democracy, freedom of speech and religion, feminism, etc. — all of those and more, defining features of modernity.

But I also think that we have to see liberal democracy and liberal freedom in historical, contingent terms — in other words, they were necessary moments, but not sufficient for human flourishing. We have to realize that liberal democracy is, in the end, a more or less regulated struggle for power, a contest of wills. In liberal societies, what matters first and foremost is not what you will, but that you will. That’s why the liberal nation-state can’t really claim to be a polis, or a community, or even a democracy. As Chuck Mathewes once pointed out, liberalism is really profoundly anti-political: if you define a political community or polis as a group of people who seek a common good, liberal democracy is by definition not about a common good but about the clash and orchestration of individual goods. (That’s why liberal democracy inevitably tends, I think, to plutocracy. Reform movements such as the New Deal inexorably succumb to the logic of capital and the ideology of the unfettered individual.) Does that mean we should seek something other than liberal democracy? In the end, yes — contrary to what Americans believe, liberal democracy does not exhaust the meaning of democracy. We’re not going to achieve anything approaching a genuinely democratic polis — and therefore achieve the genuine freedom of living among friends in community — until we both nurture a different understanding of “freedom” (one that preserves the best in the liberal tradition) and create a new, post-capitalist economy. As the wonderful Dominican socialist Herbert McCabe once put it, our model for society and freedom should be friendship, not a competitive market.

ST: One thing that struck me about the USCCB statement “Our Most Cherished Liberty” ( is that it calls Pope Benedict XVI “a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom.” Some might read this statement to be implying that defending America with military force amounts to defending “freedom.” Would that be problematic?

McCarraher: It certainly would be “problematic” — indeed, such an enlistment of the Pope “in defense of freedom” would be insidious.

First, let me just say “Our Most Cherished Liberty” is problematic on a number of levels. First, it’s understanding of religious liberty in America is historically challenged. The common conception of the history of religion in the U. S. is that because we’ve had a legal disestablishment of religion, that therefore religious liberty has reigned. This simply isn’t true. As David Sehat demonstrates in his indispensable book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Christianity has always enjoyed a de facto cultural establishment which has had enormous legal and political implications. All kinds of religious groups have suffered discrimination and violence in this country’s history — I would offer native Americans as an example, but since we have a Mormon running for President, I’ll instance the Latter-Day Saints. There’s no way you can read their history without being struck by the overt and violent attempts of the U. S. government — aided and abetted by ordinary citizens — to repress and destroy the Mormons. You’ll never hear Mitt Romney talk about any of this, of course, because he and most other Mormons embrace the “exceptionalist” nonsense that other Americans believe, including the bishops.

Given all that, I think that “Our Most Cherished Liberty” is, among other things, a cri de coeur from Catholic bishops who, along with other paranoid Christian leaders, are witnessing the slow cultural disestablishment of Christianity. They used to receive the immediate and uncritical deference of their flock and of others, and now they don’t — for a host of reasons, many of them traceable to their own duplicity, authoritarianism, and moral mediocrity.

The mediocrity is evident in the phrase you cite: “friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom.” Jesus, this is the state of Christian eloquence? They sound like President Obama, delivering yet another one of his sonorous banalities before he orders the next round of drone strikes. Speaking of which, have you heard of any of our courageous shepherds expressing outrage at the practice, or at the revelation that the President has a “kill list”? Of course not, and you won’t at any time in the near future. By and large, the Catholic bishops, like most other religious leaders in this country, have been bought and paid for — they are, as Mike Budde once termed them, the imperial chaplains. They earnestly desire, as they say very clearly in the very first paragraph, to align our identities as Catholics with our identities as Americans. I’m sure that, much of the time, there’s no problem there. But to the extent that “American” means the idealization of liberal capitalism and the sanctioning of military force to “defend” our essentially Roman, capitalist romance of freedom — well then, we do have a problem.

“Freedom! America! Roman Catholic!”

The USCCB has called for a Fortnight for Freedom to be celebrated from 21 June to 4 July.  They have also developed a political advertisement about American Catholics voting for values this November.  Finally, they have written a Statement of Religious Freedom that asserts that “we are Catholic and we are American.”  All of these statements are poorly veiled calls to vote Republican in the fall.  The political advertisement that asks us to vote for values occurs in a political culture in which “values” are associated with the Republican party, and the cry for a Fortnight for Freedom stresses the value of freedom of religious liberty — a negative freedom, not a positive one — the state will not interfere with our religious freedom.

The USCCB makes its primary mistake, however, in identifying themselves as Catholics and Americans!  Today’s America is not Christian, much less Catholic.  People in the US idolize the dollar and death.  So when the bishops state that we have values other than gas prices or a faltering economy they miss the point.  They are fighting over dollars not over life.

For true freedom — Catholic freedom — insists, not only on a protection of the right to non-interference in my life, but to protection of a positive right to life.  Freedom is essential to that positive right to life — but it is not simply a freedom from; it is a freedom, in the words of Paul VI, “To do more, to learn more, to have more.”

I say, let us join with the USCCB — let us rejoice in freedom, but let’s be Catholic about our freedom.  We should have freedom

  • of conscience — which means, not only the freedom to follow my conscience no matter what as the Catachsim demands, but freedom to form my conscience through a quality education supported by taxes.
  • “On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.”  The Catechism of the Catholic church, quoting from Vatican II’s “Gaudium et Spes,” notes, ”Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (1795).
  • of self-determination — which means, not only non-interference, but freedom to learn who I am through education and freedom to pursue who I am through progressive taxation.
  • of love — which means, not only non-interference in living a loving life, but freedom learn to love in a culture that does not condemn me for who I love.

Those are truly Catholic freedoms, but they require us to reject American society, to reject a culture of death, and to reject political parties which do not honor all of our freedoms.  The right to life is the fundamental right.  Anything that demeans or degrades or unfairly treat that life violates that fundamental right.  Justice is not something separate but something integral to the right to life, and until Catholics — bishops and priests, religious and lay — embrace tat integrity we will forever be divided and un-Catholic and, much more sadly, un-Christ-like.

Originally published at Subversive Thomism.

6 p.m. at 60 Wall St. Atrium

Report Backs

Nathan reports on the People’s Prayer Breakfast put on by Occupy DC

Debate on the rosary slips, leafleting, and especially sidewalk chalking

Susan on the Good Friday “prayer walk”:

  • Station 13: Joseph of Arimathea
  • Reflection: story and lesson
  • Location: 42nd St. between 7th & 8th
  • Prayers of the faithful
  • John Mullin suggests using a variation of the Occupy “Auctioneer” song
  • Theme: “There is room for all at the table”

Lots of excitement about making armbands and T-shirts and stuff

Do an event at St. Francis Xavier? A general assembly?


How do we talk about ourselves as Occupy Catholics?

  • Horizontalism and Vatican II?
  • We should have an open, public GA, perhaps at Xavier, in order to discuss overlap between Occupy and church

New Action Ideas

Truth Commission planning is underway in Occupy Faith

Home foreclosure actions—how to get Catholic parishes involved?

An event at Maryhouse: a general assembly? Loren wants to arrange that.

Something at St. Paul the Apostle: perhaps the student mass?

Occupy Lent? Social media outreach and prayers for the movement, incorporating Lenten themes. (Nathan and Betsy, and perhaps Richard)

Holy Week Occupy Faith participation. Steve will speak with Michael Ellick at Occupy Faith. Feb 15 is the next Occupy Faith meeting

Immigration/May Day—Betsy is interested. Mentions Archbishop Romero’s death anniversary in March

Make sure to do PR and press releases for all public events to get media

Next meeting is Sunday January 19th at 5 p.m.

Going to Occupy Congress this week in DC? Meet fellow Catholic Occupiers and discuss building the movement. A “Communion Breakfast” has been organized for 9am on Tuesday (January 17) at Bartholdi Park (on Independence Avenue SW and First Street SW) in Washington, DC. (There’s also a Facebook event.) All are welcome; hope to see you then!