Curmudgeon, Wolftracker, in rereading Part 1, I realized I skipped over an important preliminary fact; i.e., how many people were there? I'd never make it as a journalist, obviously (not that journalists ever estimate a crowd well). The organizers had a very large room reserved, with about 28 large round banquet tables (the kind that would seat 10 people at a larger function) with six chairs arranged around them so nobody would have his back to the podium. The were set up for about 170 people, but the morning started with only 80-90 folks in attendance. Several tables were empty, and there were empty seats at a lot of the tables towards the back of the room. Over the course of the conference, another 10 or 15 people came in, and at Gov. Sebelius's speech, they let in another fifty people or so. I'm guessing that the majority of those in attendance were liberal Catholics, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I saw two men wearing clerical attire (one was with a woman I judged to be his wife—hopefully a protestant minister; the other I couldn't tell), and I recognized the retired pastor Our Lady of Sorrows in KCMO in lay dress. I was really surprised at the attendance; I honestly expected more folks to be there.
Sister Jeanne Christiansen RSM
Anyways, back to the panel discussion. Next came Sister Jeanne Christiansen, whom I didn't recognize on the dais in her short hair and pantsuit, and who started off quickly by pointing out the typo on the screen: she was an "RSM," or a "Religious Sister of Mercy," instead of an "RSN" or "Religious Sister of Nonsense." She made an allusion to her leaving the Kansas City, Missouri chancery office with the change of Bishops, and talked about how Catholics in the Missouri diocese were forming a new organization to "fill the gap" created by the new Bishop's apparent lack of interest in liberal lawmaking. She talked about her work on past elections in the Kansas City, Missouri, chancery, and said how wonderful the USCCB-produced voter information materials had been in the past (at the same time expressing concern about how they might change in the future do to changes at the USCCB). She also held up a "little blue book produced by some group in California" which I couldn't see, but which I assume was Karl Keating's and Catholic Answers' "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics." She said the California group's book "drove us crazy" and popped up all over the place. She said that the people in the room should read "the little blue book" so they'd know how Keating's group (which she never named) was distorting Catholic teaching, but she emphasized that when talking to Catholics about which guide to rely upon, point out that one of the guides came from "the bishops," and the other came from "some group in California."
My thoughts on this so far: Once again, we saw a speaker talking up the USCCB functionaries as "the Bishops," as if the rank-and-file Bishops of the United States really have much input into such publications, and as if the USCCB's political orientation has some magisterial significance. And like most trads, I'm not a big Catholic Answers fan, but if Keating's little blue book is driving people like Sr. Jeanne crazy, it's doing some good, for sure.
Christiansen quoted extensively from the documents on Catholics in Political Life, of course skipping over the inconvenient parts that Archbishop Kelleher incorporated into his recent Leaven column. She then said that it was important for people of faith to be political, but not partisan, and gave some examples of how they could walk that line, including avoiding "slanted" activities inviting a spectrum of candidates to speak at events (notice, though, that the only candidate to speak today is Sebelius). She then talked about recruiting candidates, and seemed to lament the fact that she could not, as a religious woman, run for office.
At this point she started using the buzzword "common good," and made a couple of references to (and apparent quotes from) "Catholic Teaching" about social justice-type stuff. I'm not sure what Christiansen meant by "Catholic Teaching." She didn't cite any documents, so I don't know if she was quoting magisterial authority or USCCB political stuff or just some unofficial, private theologian or moralist, or just some author who happened to write a book or an article entitled "Catholic Teaching." But Christiansen was very careful to remind us, over and over, that she was reading "Catholic Teaching." One of the things that came from "Catholic Teaching" was a statement on the formation of conscience, in which she stated that official Church teaching was a FACTOR in forming one's conscience, as was the consultation with "wise people." Here, I couldn't help but think she was quoting Bp. Tom Gumbleton's talk in Kansas City a while back, or that he was quoting Christiansen back then. I assume that her notion of "wise people" would be different than mine. Her point seemed to be that we shouldn't get hung up so much upon what the magisterium says, and that if "wise people" disagree, we can form our conscience around that disagreement. Christiansen made a reference to the new document put out by the Kansas Bishops (the KCC, I guess?), and said if fell between the USCCB "Faithful Citizenship" statement and the "little blue book."
Christiansen said that Catholics were to work for Charity AND Justice, and she gave her own gloss on "the bishops'" moral priorities for legislation:
1. Defend Human Life from conception to natural death (which, unsurprisingly, to Christiansen, means improving the QUALITY of life in all its
2. Supporting Family Life (by which she focused on education, health care, and parental something-or-other, instead of stuff like divorce, contraception, and other unfashionable stuff).
3. Social Justice (she said we "can't duck that one," but I may have some reflections on that if you don't).
4. "Practicing Global Solidarity" (by which I guess she means debt relief and more support to corrupt third world regimes and less military action, but I don't recall that she elaborated on this because she was running out of time).
Finally, she encouraged everyone to get involved, and spend some time reading about and researching other progressive Christian organizations. She urged everyone to visit sojourners.net and the ncr blog, and also, she promoted the kcolivebranch.org website. This was the group mentioned above that intends to "fill the gap" left by Bishop Finn, but when I checked it out after I got home, I found it to be far from the electronic behive of "social justice" activity Christiansen seemed to suggest it was. The site averages four hits per day.
The next talk was by Bert Braud. He's an employment lawyer, and his talk was apparently all about employment discrimination and the injustice of "at will" employment in Kansas. It just didn't seem to fit the program; it was too detailed, too specialized and to lawyerly, so I thought this was a good time to step out for a restroom break and for more coffee. During his talk, I spoke at some length to one of the two fellows who had tagged me as a right-wing mole. Most of it was private conversation, so no report on that is forthcoming, except to report that he said he wanted me to "feel welcome" at the conference.
As a late registrant, I didn't have a box lunch, and I had some errands to run, so I left the hotel for about 45 minutes while everyone else ate, but I got back in time to hear John Halpin of the "Center for American Progress," who spoke for about 30 minutes on the political polling data derived from a 1,000-sample poll and follow up focus groups. That was a fairly interesting talk, in which the folks in attendance got to see how they could best frame their agenda so as to play the public reflexes that have been conditioned by neo-con and evangelical rhetoric. He used the buzzword, "common good," a gazillion times. He flew through a bunch of slides, which he indicated were available on his organization's website for further study, and talked about how they could get people to break with the "radical individualism of the right" and the "national interests equated with the needs of the few" and the notion of an "ownership society." He emphasized the idea a public craving for "national service" (about which I have some passionate thoughts) and the need to emphasize a call for "ethical personal behavior" and a "just, peaceful, cooperative" military policy. He emphasized strongly that the people in the room needed to describe themselves as "progressives" and "moderates" because the term "liberal" was such a turnoff in polling. I haven't been to his organization's website, but it might be useful for people to visit it and see how the liberals seek to recast themselves.
There were two breakout sessions; one on the environment, run by the Sierra Club, and another on Health Care, Poverty & Social Justice, run by Robert Harder. I attended the latter. The session mostly discussed advocacy for home health services instead of more-expensive nursing home care, and other government programs to indoctrinate children. My notes from this segment are sketchy.
Of course, everybody wants to know what Kathleen Sebelius would have to say in a venue like this, especially given the Archbishop's recent challenge to her on her recent pro-abort veto and the rhetoric that surrounded it. However, I don't have time right now to wrap this up and get a full report to you on her speech. You'll have to wait another day or so. But don't wait with baited breath: I was disappointed that she dodged the Archbishop's direct challenge and stuck to her typical hollow "I'm personally opposed" rhetoric. I'll finish this in the next day or two. Sorry for the delay, Curmudgeon, but remember, you get what you pay for.
It turns out that my correspondent wasn't entirely alone at this conference. There was another person who drove by the Doubletree just to see what the attendance was like. He was kind enough to email me a gem of a photo from the parking lot and give me permission to use it above.