NEW YORK – Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano says for the church to inspire the world to live out the messages of Pope Francis, it first needs to fix its own fractures and come together.
“The church is fracturing. It reflects the political fracturing even here in the United States. We don’t speak with a common voice because everything the pope is suggesting we do in the public sphere we also have to do within our own church and we’re having difficulty doing that,” said Caggiano.
“Our immediate task is to apply what we’re talking about for the larger context in our own ecclesial life, and that will be difficult, but it has to be done.”
Caggiano made the comments Sept. 24 at a CAPP-USA and Fordham University event, “The Health of Nations: Pope Francis’ Call for Inclusion” where he and Sir Angus Deaton, professor emeritus of economics at Princeton University, spoke about the global crises of inclusion.
Caggiano argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has made people comfortable with an idea that society needs to change, which presents an opportunity to reevaluate economic, social and political constructs through Catholic social teaching that “respect the dignity of each human being and to foster inclusion for all.”
Francis has provided the roadmap to create that more inclusive world, he said, rooted in the fundamental principle of communion that is a “divine invitation.”
“The invitation is for all of us made in God’s image and likeness through the power of grace to enter into the very life of God, who is himself a communion in Christian revelation,” the bishop said. “That invitation reminds us of who we are and reminds us of the bond we share with everyone, of all races, of all religious traditions and it also reminds us of the obligation we have to sustain our common life, even in the respect and care for creation.”
Caggiano also cited factors of modern society that make creating a more inclusive reality difficult. One roadblock is social media. He noted that social media often fosters “tribes” that hide the realities of geographical communities.
“Online a local community is not a geographical reality, where I have to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly,” Caggiano said. “I now create a community of people with like minds that look like me, talk like me, believe what I believe and we become not a community but a tribe and in its worst possible form goes to war with other tribes and that is unfortunately what you see on social media.”
“I’m not condemning that, I’m just saying that tendency isolates the individual,” he said.
Another challenge is what Caggiano describes as people operating with “undefined definitions” of basic questions including what is human dignity? And what is community? Without anyone internally answering these questions, he argues “you could be in a room with all well-intended people and not come to any path forward, because we haven’t gone deeper.”
“The contribution of Pope Francis is he’s just asking us to go to the deeper level and ask more fundamental questions because then we should need strategies to address it,” Caggiano said.
Deaton argued there’s a two-tier society forming in the U.S. between people who have four-year college degrees and those who don’t. He cites data that shows drug overdoses, suicides and alcoholic liver disease have risen rapidly among those without four-year college degrees since the 1990’s. Life expectancy, marriage rates and church-going have also declined among this group.
The cause is a declining labor market, he said.
“The key here is that the labor market, jobs, for people without a four-year college degree has been vanishing, and this failing labor market has brought social dysfunction in many forms in many communities around America,” Deaton said.
On a global scale, the economist said the way that wealthier countries, particularly the U.S., provide aid to poor countries but don’t help such individuals develop does the people a disservice.
“You cannot get development without an internal social contract, without an internal commitment first, and whatever we do we should try to not destroy that,” Deaton said. “The lack of that sort of effective contract is really what’s true in most poor countries, so pouring money in is not going to help that.”
“In fact, it may undermine it because for instance if you provide health services, you undermine local health services, you take away the responsibility of the government for doing such things and you can make a lot of things worse,” he continued.
Alongside the fundamental principle of communion, Caggiano said human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity – what he described as “three cornerstones of Catholic social teaching” are crucial to creating a more inclusive world and Francis’ roadmap to get there.
“A call for inclusion to allow the health of individuals in their dignity and respect that is owed to them. In the health of nations and a common good that can be global,” Caggiano said. “You and I are being engaged by the successor of Peter to make this the centerpiece of our mission in the world.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg