Anthony Stevens-Arroyo’s WaPo commentary on nuns, bus, bishops, and gas didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Granted, like him and the sisters, I’m concerned about religious freedom, even as my supervisors frame it. I think the bishops were the wrong guys to be the front line on F4F. I understand that they were the leaders and all. But except for their own dioceses, the average non-New York City Catholic doesn’t know Tim Dolan from her or his own diocesan social justice person. The latter is probably a bit more politically savvy than your average bishop, too. And the bishops are fighting against the perception that their leadership has been weak on protecting children.
apples and oranges beef and chicken:
In a sense, these two events that started in June and conclude on the nation’s birthday maximize the choices behind Catholic freedom. Paired together, they exhibit the full spectrum of Catholic commitments. Much like patrons of a cafeteria can choose either beef or chicken for lunch, Catholics have a varied menu this summer when engaged in social justice ministry. But if one chooses beef for oneself, that doesn’t mean that other Catholics in line are denied the choice of chicken.
This is not to deny a climate in which different sides try to make their definition of Catholicism the only one. The current cohort of bishops seems to be following the top-down non-accommodating model of Pope John Paul II when he was cardinal archbishop in Poland: keep all Catholics unified under the direct leadership of the hierarchy so that when these prelates negotiate with government they have the full power of an obedient and militant laity. I would not deny the bishops’ pastoral charge to preserve the unity of the church. However, that unity is not the same as uniformity with a bishop’s political preferences.
Don’t misunderstand my first paragraph. As citizens and members of the faithful, the US bishops have every right, if not the responsibility, to follow their consciences and speak out, as they see fit. My assessment is that the bishops were more effective as a unitive voice in the 1980′s–a similar situation in which some of the flock and some outside of it interpreted their teaching and actions as political and others walked in lockstep behind it. Of course, the 80′s bishops had the advantage of having consulted with the laity in advance. I remember participating in open forum sessions in my own diocese on peace, the economy, and on women. And today, of course, if the bishops consulted with us about the Fortnight, rather than just their staffs and lawyers and insurers, it would likely be after the 2012 election that we’d have a unitive voice on religious freedom issues.
If the bishops are okay going their way and expecting the faithful to line up behind them, they have the right, and as they see it, the duty to do so.
For my part, I can choose to identify the problems with this stance, and engage with the F4F as I see fit, which in my case, has been to offer a broader perspective on religious freedom and suggest that the institutional Church may not be the vox clara needed at this time.