Sunday, September 06, 2009

Good Shepherds

Words from wise bishops... We still have some...

Here are the closing paragraph's from Cardinal Seán's O'Malley's blog post about his attendance at Ted Kennedy's funeral, and the controversy around it, of which he said "There are those who objected, in some cases vociferously, to the Church’s providing a Catholic funeral for the Senator. In the strongest terms I disagree with that position."
At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

President Obama and three former presidents attended Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with President Obama, to welcome him to the Basilica and to share with him that the bishops of the Catholic Church are anxious to support a plan for universal health care, but we will not support a plan that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future. The President was gracious in the short time we spoke, he listened intently to what I was saying.

Democrats and Republicans sat side by side in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, praying for Senator Kennedy and his family. It is my sincere hope that all people who long to promote the cause of life will pray and work together to change hearts, to bring about an increased respect for life, and to change laws so as to make America a safe place for all, including the unborn.
And in the latest issue of America, the "Obama at Notre Dame" controversy was revisited, with columns submitted by Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend (The Church and the University), and Archbishop Emeritus John R. Quinn of San Francisco (The Public Duty Of Bishops). Both articles made very good points, but I appreciated these from Archbishop Quinn in particular:
The great tragedy of American politics from a Catholic perspective is that party structures in the United States bisect the social teachings of the church, thus making it impossible for most citizens to identify and vote for a candidate who adequately embraces the spectrum of Catholic teaching on the common good. For instance, Republican candidates are, in general, more supportive of the church’s position on abortion and euthanasia, while Democratic candidates are generally stronger advocates for the Catholic vision on issues of poverty and world peace.

For most of our history, the American bishops have assiduously sought to avoid being identified with either political party and have made a conscious effort to be seen as transcending party considerations in the formulation of their teachings. The condemnation of President Obama and the wider policy shift that represents signal to many thoughtful persons that the bishops have now come down firmly on the Republican side in American politics. The bishops are believed to communicate that for all the promise the Obama administration has on issues of health care, immigration reform, global poverty and war and peace, the leadership of the church in the United States has strategically tilted in favor of an ongoing alliance with the Republican Party. A sign of this stance is seen to be the adoption of a policy of confrontation rather than a policy of engagement with the Obama administration.

Such a message is alienating to many in the Catholic community, especially those among the poor and the marginalized who feel that they do not have supportive representation within the Republican Party. The perception of partisanship on the part of the church is disturbing to many Catholics given the charge of Gaudium et Spes that the church must transcend every political structure and cannot sacrifice that transcendence, and the perception of transcendence, no matter how important the cause...

(There is a ) message that the bishops are ratifying the “culture war mentality,” which corrodes debate both in American politics and in the internal life of the church. Both poles of the American political spectrum see our society as enmeshed in a culture war over the issues of abortion, marriage, immigration rights and the death penalty. In such a war, they argue, the demonization of alternative viewpoints and of opposing leaders is not merely acceptable, but required. More intense tactics and language are automatically seen as more effective, as necessary and more in keeping with the importance of the issues being debated. The “culture war mentality” has also seeped into the life of the church, distorting the debate on vital issues and leading to campaigns against bishops for their efforts to proclaim the Gospel with charity rather than with antagonism.

The movement toward sanctions against public officials will be seen as ratifying this trajectory in our political, cultural and ecclesial life. Whatever our intention may be, the acceptance and employment of a strategy that deliberately moves beyond teaching and pointing up the moral dimensions of public issues to labeling those with whom we disagree, will inevitably embolden those who de-Christianize our public debate both within and outside the church.

...Perhaps the most difficult task we face, as teachers on the moral dimensions of public policy in the United States today, is emphasizing the pre-eminence of abortion as a moral issue while defending a holistic view of the rights intrinsic to the defense of the dignity of the human person. This task of balancing arises not only in the formulation of our policy statements, but also in the steps we as bishops take to achieve justice in the political order. The pathway of sanctions and personal condemnation will open every bishop to the charge that if we do not use the tactic of sanctions and condemnations on issues such as war and peace or global poverty, we are tacitly relegating those issues to a level of unimportance. And it would indeed be difficult to explain how it is appropriate for a Catholic university to honor those who authorize torture or initiate an unjust war or cut assistance to the world’s poor. To assert on the one hand that the tactics of sanction and personal condemnation are legitimate tools for episcopal action in the public order, while on the other hand refusing to employ those tactics for any issue other than abortion will only deepen the suspicions of those in American society who believe that we bishops of the church in the United States are myopic in our approach to Catholic social teaching...

As we confront the admittedly difficult task of balancing the need to uphold the sanctity of human life while avoiding the enormously destructive consequences of the strategy of sanction and condemnation, we bishops could profitably look to the example of the Holy See, which wrestles with these same complex issues of integrity of witness, fidelity to truth, civility in discourse, and political, national and racial sensitivities every day.

The approach of the Holy See might justly be characterized as a policy of cordiality. It proceeds from the conviction that the integrity of Catholic teaching can never be sacrificed. It reflects a deep desire to enshrine comity at the center of public discourse and relations with public officials. It is willing to speak the truth directly to earthly power.

Yet the Holy See shows great reluctance to publicly personalize disagreements with public officials on elements of church teaching. And the approach of the Holy See consistently favors engagement over confrontation. As Pope John Paul II put it, “The goal of the Church is to make of the adversary a brother.”

These principles of cordiality will not make our task as bishops in the public square an easy one. But they do provide the best anchor for insuring that our actions and statements remain faithful to the comprehensive and transcendent mission of the church, our ultimate mandate. Much of this is summed up in the council’s decree on bishops, Christus Dominus (No. 13):

The Church has to be on speaking terms with the human society in which it lives. It is therefore the duty of bishops especially to make an approach to people, seeking and promoting dialog with them. If truth is constantly to be accompanied by charity and understanding by love, in such salutary discussions they should present their positions in clear language, unagressively and diplomatically. Likewise they should show prudence combined with confidence, for this is what brings about union of minds by encouraging friendship.


Garpu said...

It is heartening to hear bishops speaking out about the ongoing divisions within the Church. I remember Maria's bishop wrote about how the Martinos of the USCCB were a minority. Have to wonder if a lot of division and strife couldn't have been averted, had they spoken out sooner.

Steve Bogner said...

'zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another' - the Cardinal nailed it on the head there. Sadly, I don't think many people will hear the bishops' words on all this. Many have tuned them out long ago.

shera10 said...

Steve: "I don't think many people will hear the bishops' words on all this" and so do I.

One example among many:
From Europe it is difficult to believe that this man is a priest and how his bishop allow him to blog in this harsh way.

Jeff delete my comment if is unappropriate

Liam said...

It is nice to be reminded that many bishops still have the capacity to be pastoral.

Christina -- that blog is amazing. Incredibly hateful. I also am amazed that a priest would have a little poster threatening gun use in his sidebar.

Jeff said...


I wonder sometimes, why we didn't hear more of those moderate voices during the election cycle. Makes for boring news copy, perhaps?


Tonight Anne was arguing that those in the middle just don't care enough or have the time and energy to argue about these things.

Cristina & Liam,

My reaction is a lot like yours... This guy is a priest?