Catholic schizophrenia

Not long ago, I received an email from Dr. Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and … Continued

Not long ago, I received an email from Dr. Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), supporting my view that nuclear disarmament is a pro-life issue. This position repeated a long-standing, but seldom repeated 1983 statement of the bishops, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, placing peace issues alongside abortion in the Catholic conscience.

A little more than a week later, I received a more lengthy communication from Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee in Washington taking me to task for a column I wrote about the bishops’ concerns about the place of abortion in health-care reform legislation.

The different points of view and tone from two offices in Washington advocating *Catholic teaching suggest to me that the USCCB suffers from bureaucratic schizophrenia. I hope I am wrong.

Schizophrenia is the technical word, often equated with a split personality. It is a mental condition in which there is no cohesive integration – or even awareness – of what the other personality is saying or doing.

For some time now, the bureaucracies that coordinate the work of the U.S. Catholic Church have divided most political outreach between offices that deal with Justice and Peace and offices that concern Right to Life issues. This is an administrative decision that does not in itself represent a rejection of the “seamless garment” that weaves together the social justice vision of Catholicism. But in practical terms, I think the division of these two tasks into two different offices has become the Solomonic decision to “cut the baby into half.” While such a division may assuage internal bureaucratic needs, I think it often invites “Cafeteria Catholicism“.

Unfortunately, this separation of the concerns starts in the Vatican and is imitated in Washington and in countless dioceses and even in parishes. The result is bifurcated attention to the issues with political applications. Justice and Peace include disarmament, immigration reform, opposition to war and torture, labor protections, living wage and human services in hospitals and clinics. Right to Life is centered on abortion and stem cell research. Not incidentally, the division between Justice and Peace on one side and Right to Life on the other corresponds to supporting Democrats or Republicans. (While both sides are honored in official pronouncements, it does seem that Right to Life gets the lion’s share of funding and attention in the places I have lived.)

There is also a different approach to the laity in this bureaucratic division. Right to Life communications tend to be letters with instructions on how to take urgent action in the political forum. Justice and Peace efforts are usually centered on workshops and program study guides, intended to inform and invite deeper thinking on the topics.

Talking with ordinary Catholic lay persons in the pews, however, does not justify this bureaucratic schizophrenia. While some of us have higher levels of awareness or commitment to one side or the other of the partisan divide, most people in Catholic America want peace and justice as much as they want the right to life. Catholics look to our Church for unity in the things that matter and expect our clergy to help us think clearly about moral issues when deciding things politically – but not make those decisions for us.

I await lay reaction to the letter on health care legislation that is supposed to be inserted into all parish bulletins in November of 2009. To its credit, the letter calls the pending health-care reform “needful,” although most of the message is about clarification of abortion funding. At least the bishops did not repeat what Mr. Johnson wrote to me, calling the Obama Administration’s position a “hoax” and stating that President Obama is malevolently conducting “an exercise in misdirection, intended to snooker the gullible, and to satisfy those who are looking for an easy answer and who can be trusted not to look too closely at the matter.”

This bureaucratic schizophrenia is a long-standing problem that will not be solved by 700 words in this column. But the attention directed this way by important advocates of the USCCB’s teaching renders moot the question from concerned lay persons, “Can you hear me now?”

*Note: The National Right to Life Committee was founded by Msgr. McHugh in 1973 and was located in the offices of the then NCCB. It is legally separate from the Catholic Church today, which allows it to lobby Washington.

  • usapdx

    How many even listen any more?

  • lkeenerl

    Schizophrenia is NOT split personality disorder. As defined by Merriam Webster schizophrenia is “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as delusions), perception (as hallucinations), and behavior —called also dementia praecox — compare.”Split personality disorder is a mental illness all its own. Since 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from Schizophrenia I believe it is important not to further misinformation about a serious disease.

  • pinecone

    Boy, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo, are you confused. Besides the fact that schizophrenia is not the same as multiple personality disorder (as correctly noted above), there is the fact that Douglas Johnson does NOT work for the USCCB and that the National Right to Life Committee is NOT part of the USCCB but is its own entity in another part of Washington. The bishops’ office is located at 3211 4th Street, N.E., while the NRLC is located at 512 10th St. NW.Your comments are usually not worth reading in the first place. Not getting basic facts correct makes you totally ignorable.

  • ccnl1

    “DescriptionThe course of schizophrenia in adults can be divided into three phases or stages. In the acute phase, the patient has an overt loss of contact with reality (psychotic episode) that requires intervention and treatment. In the second or stabilization phase, the initial psychotic symptoms have been brought under control but the patient is at risk for relapse if treatment is interrupted. In the third or maintenance phase, the patient is relatively stable and can be kept indefinitely on antipsychotic medications. Even in the maintenance phase, however, relapses are not unusual and patients do not always return to full functioning.The term schizophrenia comes from two Greek words that mean “split mind.” It was observed around 1908, by a Swiss doctor named Eugen Bleuler, to describe the splitting apart of mental functions that he regarded as the central characteristic of schizophrenia.Recently, some psychotherapists have begun to use a classification of schizophrenia based on two main types. People with Type I, or positive schizophrenia, have a rapid (acute) onset of symptoms and tend to respond well to drugs. They also tend to suffer more from the “positive” symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations. People with Type II, or negative schizophrenia, are usually described as poorly adjusted before their schizophrenia slowly overtakes them. They have predominantly “negative” symptoms, such as withdrawal from others and a slowing of mental and physical reactions (psychomotor retardation).”See more at

  • SteveofCaley

    ’nuff said about your dabbling into the diagnosis of the major mental disorders.  The popular term ‘schizophrenia’ is about as outdated as it gets.The principle question, though, is admirable – WHAT PART OF THE CULTURE OF LIFE IS THE CULTURE OF LIFE?  Answer – all of it!  The US lacks much respect for life in all aspects of culture, and a worthy thing it would be to raise respect for life, here of all places – in the Republic which claims its entire existence upon the individual; is that not why we are here?

  • coloradodog

    How does one explain the paradox of believing in a god of unconditional love who is at the same time punitive and judgmental and eternally fries his babies in hell?How does one explain those who are singly focused on rights of the unborn and at the same time regard education and health care of the already born as socialism?How doe one explain a religious leader condemning gays while at the same time hiding pedophile colleges?Sounds like split personality disorder to me.

  • coloradodog

    oops, typocolleagues