When is the Catholic Church not playing defense? When it's not battling disturbing sex abuse cases, it's maintaining positions that seem far behind the times. And when those edicts are finally eased, as when Pope Benedict XVI said maybe condoms should be used to prevent the spread of AIDS, the public is more confused than happy. But despite all that, Tom Krattenmaker--who isn't Catholic--argues in USA Today that the Church is good for the country.

Noting that the Church draws fire from liberals for is social conservatism and from conservatives for its economic liberalism, Krattenmaker writes:

When it comes to politics, you can often judge the integrity of people and organizations by their willingness to say or do the inconvenient thing. Give credit to the Catholics on that score--even the conference of bishops that is so often the scourge of progressives. Just when they seem on the verge of finding permanent common cause with political conservatives, the bishops go and say something that sounds positively liberal, like reminding the politicians and public of the moral dimension to the debate over tax cuts. ... Whatever your stance on abortion, give the Catholics credit, too, for treating "pro life" as much more than an anti-abortion rallying cry. By creed and deed, they apply the sanctity-of-life principle all along the chain of human life--from "womb to tomb," as the saying goes--and to all manner of people, from death-row prisoners to collateral victims of war in enemy countries. ...

Yes, the church could use some changing. But what shouldn't change about this 2-millennia-old religious movement is its inconvenient refusal to forget the poor and vulnerable in these winner-take-all times. Catholicism is not alone in this; indeed, all religion at its best, and secularists, too, have a role and a say. But Catholicism, with its numbers and history and highly relevant teachings, has something unique to offer.