Speaker examines ‘crisis’ in American public life


CAMDEN — “Where are the rosaries on the sidewalks for America’s poor?” asked Stephen Schneck.

Schneck, who gave the 12th annual Romero lecture March 23 at the campus of Rutgers University here, was not criticizing the work or devotion of pro-life activists who pray the rosary outside of abortion clinics. The assault on human life — “breath-taking in its evil” — he put at the top of his list of symptoms that make up what he described as a crisis in American public life.

But he wanted to make up other “symptoms”: unjust immigration policies, the resurgence of racism, threats to the environment. They all add up to “hyper-individualism, a dog-eat-dog version of humanity,” he said.

The cure, he argued, is Catholic social teaching, which stresses the common good. The current crisis, a law of the jungle approach to society, he said, is “shockingly and profoundly at odds with our faith.”

The starting point, Schneck said, is outlined by St. Paul who saw the interconnectedness of communities, describing individuals as part of a corporate whole, connected to the mystical body of Christ. “We need to preach this in the pulpits, teach it in schools,” he said.

Schneck is director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington. The topic of the Romero Lecture Series this year was “Politics & the Pews: Your Faith, Your Vote & the 2012 Election.”

Schneck, nonetheless, steered clear of election politics. A member of Democrats for Life, he was equally critical of both political parties, saying neither provided a conscience-free home for faithful Catholics.

The names of only two politicians came up during his keynote address and the question-and-answer session that followed: “our president,” who Schneck criticized for not having the “guts” to talk about the poor in an election year (and he implied the same criticism of Republican candidates), and Lyndon Johnson, who he praised for his anti-poverty and civil rights accomplishments.

Asked to name individuals who embody the thinking he encouraged, Schneck named not politicians but social activists, such as Dorothy Day and Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House in Chicago.

“If we cannot take our faith seriously enough to raise it in the public square, maybe we need to find a new religion,” he said.

The daylong event included a presentation titled “Media as Faithful Citizenship”; workshops on how to live Faithful Citizenship through community organizing, prayer, advocacy and voting; and the presentation of two awards. Bishop Joseph Galante was the recipient of the Faith and Justice Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Child Development Center, Camden, received the Community Partnership Award. For information on the Romero Center go to www.romero-center.org