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“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.

– Pope Francis (emphasis mine), in an interview with the Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

Res ipsa loquitur…

Much has been made about how this doesn’t actually change any doctrine, but the shift in tone and priorities is seismic, incredible, undeniable, and profoundly awe-inspiring.  He has also done something previously thought impossible: made me a fan and admirer of a (the) leader of the Catholic church.

It turns out that the North Carolina Republican Party’s attempt to declare an official state religion – about which I re-blogged about a week ago – was just the most abhorrent tip of a very large opportunistic iceberg. From Corey Hutchins writing for the Columbia Journalism Review (emphasis mine):

Maybe you’ve seen some of the eye-catching headlines bouncing out of North Carolina’s capitol over the last couple months. Stories about legislative measures like the one that would have made it possible to create an official state religion, or another that would mandate a two-year waiting period for a divorce.

It’s the first time in more than a century that Republicans have control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature. And they haven’t wasted any time in trying to drastically reshape North Carolina’s political, social, and economic landscape, unfurling a wave of bills on matters ranging from the relatively mundane to the momentous. Legislation has been proposed that would dole out prison sentences to women who go topless in public, allow public high schools to offer Bible study as an elective, and restrict access to abortions. A dozen years after the industry was outlawed amid concerns over predatory practices, there’s push to bring back payday lenders. Other measures would end teacher tenureeliminate green energy rulesresume executions, and restrict the power of local government, especially in the state’s largest cities. Unemployment benefits have been cut amid persistent high joblessness, and there’s a proposal that would turn the state’s corporate income tax from the highest in the Southeast to the lowest. There’s a Voter ID bill, and another one that would penalize families whose college-age children register to vote at their campus location. There are proposals to allow hunting on Sundays―something that hasn’t been permitted since 1868―and to raise the maximum speed limit for school bus drivers, and a group of GOP lawmakers recently tried to make North Carolina’s state marsupial the Virginia opossum. Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle even did a gag bit in which he challenged passers-by on the street to “name the fake bill” (most folks could not distinguish the made-up measure from the real ones).

A greater right-wing wish list has never existed. One reason for this is the “egregious” gerrymandering allowed during North Carolina’s redistricting after the 2010 census.

Republican state legislators tasked with redistricting frequently visited and consulted with the mapping team, according to depositions. Even Art Pope, the most influential conservative donor in the state, was appointed “co-counsel” to the legislative leadership and allowed in the room to give direct instructions to the technician.

So how has our traditionally centrist state, one that has gone “decidedly purple” in presidential elections – “narrowly for Obama in 2008, narrowly for Romney in 2012” – skewed so decidedly rightward in recent times (let’s not forget the gay marriage amendment of May 2012, which received national attention and remains a dark, ugly blemish on NC’s outward appearance)?

This question is not so much unexplored as contested. In national media―among both left-leaning and mainstream outlets―the focus is on big money and gerrymandering. Back in 2011, Jane Mayer wrote a detailed New Yorker piece headlined “State for Sale” that portrayed wealthy and politically-connected businessman Art Pope as a kind of man-behind-the-curtain whose deep pocks supported a network of think tanks, policy groups, and electoral campaigns to advance a right-wing agenda in North Carolina. (Pope is now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.) Writing this month in The Nation, Ari Berman identified Pope as a key funder behind the “takeover of the North Carolina legislature” who had backed candidates for office and also a post-2010 redistricting effort that tilted the map drastically in the GOP’s favor. Meanwhile, the investigative muckraking newsroom ProPublica has focused on the “dark money”―that is, undisclosed donors―who funded North Carolina’s gerrymandering effort.

So its an open question whether this is truly the result of a realignment of social values on the part of the voters, or if the voters are being drastically misrepresented, with available evidence leaning toward the latter. North Carolinian’s need to be made aware of this as the midterm elections approach.

Abortion, at least, was a platform on which President Reagan and Koop seemed to think as one. So when Reagan asked Koop to prepare a report on the psychological effects of abortion, conservatives finally felt certain of the result. After all, this was the man who had compared abortion to the killing of Jews at Auschwitz. Koop took to the road and met with hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue and reviewed hundreds of scientific publications. Then, for a while, there was silence. One day a member of his staff called me and said that Koop had decided to issue no report.

“Huh?” I said. “How can that be?” Simple, I was told. Koop was unable to say whether, with any scientific certainty, an abortion was always more damaging than the alternative. He refused to issue the report, because, as he told the President, there weren’t enough data to support either “the preconceived notions of those pro life or those pro choice.” The Administration, once again, was shocked.

– From a short post by Michael Specter, writing for the New Yorker, in regards to the recent passing of C. Everett Koop, Ronald Reagan’s controversial Surgeon General. Known for his conservative views, particularly on abortion, the right rejoiced when he was appointed to his post in 1982, only to end up considering him a traitor as Koop repeatedly placed his faith in – and acted on behalf of – science, rather than ideology. I felt this excerpt was important to note because it seems such a rare moment when an strong ideologue, of either party, sets aside personal partisanship and chooses to represent the facts over his belief, the truth over what is expected – particularly in this situation, when so much could have been gained, politically, had Koop put out the report his party wanted.

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