When bishops urge dis-invitation or refuse Communion to pro-choice figures, they often use the word “scandal” if they make any public announcement.
In speaking of the Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, Archbishop Naumann recently referred to “the public scandal of her long-standing support for legalized abortion.”
When Archbishop Raymond Burke pulled himself off a hospital board last year over a Sheryl Crow benefit concert, he said, “As archbishop of St. Louis, I have a very serious responsibility to avoid giving scandal.”
Consider a definition from the Online dictionary:
scan·dal (skndl)n.1. A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society: a drug scandal that forced the mayor’s resignation.2. A person, thing, or circumstance that causes or ought to cause disgrace or outrage: a politician whose dishonesty is a scandal; considered the housing shortage a scandal.3. Damage to reputation or character caused by public disclosure of immoral or grossly improper behavior; disgrace.4. Talk that is damaging to one’s character; malicious gossip.
em·bar·rass (m-brs)tr.v. em·bar·rassed, em·bar·rass·ing, em·bar·rass·es1. To cause to feel self-conscious or ill at ease; disconcert: Meeting adults embarrassed the shy child.2. To involve in or hamper with financial difficulties.3. To hinder with obstacles or difficulties; impede.4. To complicate.5. To interfere with (a bodily function) or impede the function of (a body part).
We all acknowledge N’s accomplishments that have led to the bestowal of this honor. But many Catholics are troubled by N’s ambiguous support for human life before conception. What would make this recognition a cause for true celebration would be progress on the social justice front for the basic right to life.
Or something along those lines.
Getting back to vocabulary confusion, we see the phenomenon lots of places these days. Some Catholics say “heretic” when they mean “believer with whom we disagree.” Or they say “clericalist” when they really mean “priest who is a jerk.” Or “lay clericalism” when they mean “lay people who are jerks.”
I think the time is past when Catholic politicians supporting choice on abortion are a scandal. What they really are is an embarrassment and sign of impotence in the hierarchy. That may be nearly as serious a problem as a scandal, but I think we should strive for accuracy in language and meaning.
We should dispense with the notion that laity are poor dumb sheep. I see this theme extolled by many bloggers. My sense is that they are quite correct on their point. Legalized abortion is so much a part of the cultural landscape that a Catholic supporting the right to choose is no longer a scandal, a rarity, or a curiosity. When fence-sitting Catholics see Catholic politicians and celebrities advocating legal abortion, it is no longer morally offensive, outrageous, or damaging to reputation or character.
A prominent pro-lifer advocating for choice? That would be a scandal. A bishop? Ditto. Politicians? It might be sad, unfortunate, and frustrating as spit to some, but it’s not a scandal. Not anymore.
That’s why I think the definition for embarrassment fits the bill. Pro-choice Catholics disconcert pro-life Catholics. They hinder, impede, interfere with and complicate the pro-life effort. No doubt the Catholic voice would be stronger if we could stand together. But … we can’t.
What we can do is be clearer about our language and expectations. As long as bishops continue to oppose Catholic public figures with outdated, outmoded, and at times, methods that are frankly lazy, they will continue to be embarrassed (not scandalized) by a lack of progress. Avid pro-lifers in the laity will continue to get more frustrated.
Once we get straight on the language, I think we can better see a way to be more effective in the public sphere. Just saying.