Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, writes in USA Today about parish closings nationwide and why this is of more than sectarian interest. He also argues why—despite the effect on all Americans, not just Catholics—this is not a matter for the courts to meddle in.
On the first point, he recalls the important contributions Catholics have made to America in the areas of education, healthcare, human rights, workers’ rights, care for the disabled and the elderly, and more. But there’s also a larger, more nebulous reason as well.
We might also care about the closings for slightly more abstract but no less important reasons. In a nutshell: It is important to a free society that non-government institutions thrive. Such institutions enrich and diversify what we call “civil society.” They are like bridges and buffers that mediate between the individual and the state. They are the necessary infrastructure for communities and relationships in which loyalties and values are formed and passed on and where persons develop and flourish.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike can appreciate the crucial role that these increasingly vulnerable “mediating associations” play in the lives of our cities. Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam and others have emphasized the importance of “social capital,” both to the health of political communities and to the development of engaged citizens. In America’s cities, it has long been true that neighborhood churches and schools have provided and nurtured this social capital by serving as places where connections and bonds of trust are formed and strengthened. As Joel Kotkin writes in his recent book, The City: A Global History, healthy cities are and must be “sacred, safe and busy.” If he is right, Catholic parishes, schools and hospitals help make America’s cities great.
Getting government off the churches’ backs
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