Bishops and Losses

I saw the press release of Archbishop Dolan’s congratulations to the president. Gracious, yet firm, and striking for one point:

We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.

Does this mean the USCCB Prez plans to sit on Bishop Jenky and others who have been, say, less respectful and charitable in their public pronouncements.

The bishops placed their bets on the cards they were dealt. Doubtless they saw hope in what lay in front of them: electoral gains by the Tea Party and GOP in 2010, dismay over the HHS mandate in liberal circles, and a weakened president dogged by a stubborn economy. But practically everyone sees them as big losers today. It didn’t need to be so. But when you play politics, you will win some and lose some. Some losses will hurt deeply. And doubtless, many of my conservative brothers and sisters in America took this loss very hard.

Russell Shaw on it:

… the outcome is a bitter setback for Church leadership even so, considering that a number of bishops made pre-election statements saying or strongly implying that a Catholic could not vote in conscience for a pro-abortion candidate like Obama.

Yes indeed. The president blundered badly on the HHS mandate. That Mr Shaw can’t get his head around the rhetoric (If you’re not for us, you’re against us) suggests that the whole political dilemma on abortion has been tragically misdiagnosed by anti-abortion Catholics.

Along which much else, the result also is a blow to the bishops’ religious liberty campaign, which was launched last year with the aim of focusing attention on threats to the First Amendment rights of religious institutions as well as the right of the Church to have a voice on matters of public policy.

This too. Except when Americans ponder the forced exodus of Christians from the Middle East, and Christian suffering in Nigeria or China or Vietnam, and consider that enlightened Muslims like Malala Yousafzai get shot for advocating for something as basic as education, somehow being sucked into a vortex of insurance sin over sex seems like a very Felix Unger kind of thing. Over a century ago the Knights of Columbus allowed Catholic men life insurance and did much good to marshal the resources of an immigrant community. You can’t tell me that between them, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic doctors and nurses in private practice they couldn’t come up with an expanded health care system done the way we’d want it. And why not: invite anybody else in who needed it.

The campaign presumably will continue, but the Church’s ability to withstand a re-energized secularist assault on its institutions by a newly re-elected president and his administration and allies appears in doubt.

Have the bishops painted themselves into a corner? The president may be generous in offering mercy on the mandate. And then it becomes very FOCA-like. The bishops will seem even more like Chicken Littles. And the whole effort could cave in. Is this what Mr Shaw is suggesting? Retreat, surrender, and concession?

Among the lessons of 2012 is that election year statements by bishops that seem to favor one candidate over another probably don’t do much good and may in fact do harm to the Church’s interests by alienating people.

Well, doh. The bishops didn’t have a lot of political capital among their own anyway. I already saw criticisms of Maine and Maryland Catholics that their bishops and clergy didn’t do enough to stem the tide of millions of same-sex people who want to take over the bedrooms of America. I’m sure that politicos opposing the Church’s stances on various items were praying the bishops took part. “Please oppose us,” some had to be begging.

What’s needed instead appears to be a long-term, well prepared, continuing program of education and public information, carried out under Church auspices and focusing on the content of Catholic moral teaching and its application to public life.

As always, the meme turns to who’s smart and who’s stupid. Not only are the 50% immoral, but they’re ignorant as well. Education and information will save the day. Like that hasn’t been tried already.

I’ll clue in the conservatives: the fifty percent might just be more concerned with virtues like compassion, hope, or even love:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-2)

I think many fine Catholics have comprehension of much knowledge. And knowledge–don’t get me wrong–is a good thing. But many of our bishops and conservative Catholic leaders have lost their chips and have nothing. It’s time to consider Cardinal Dolan’s urging for more civility, and for conservatives to start widening their discussions to others for fresh ideas and new approaches. They seem too disheartened to go this alone.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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12 Responses to Bishops and Losses

  1. John McGrath says:

    In the 1800′s the Pope and Bishops opposed democracy as being against Natural Law and divine order. But Catholics in Europe went for democracy anyway.

    I cannot see what is so rational about the Catholic theory and interpretation of what it calls Natural Law. It seems to be just a logical construct from dubious assumptions. Perhaps it’s time to focus on the Gospels and sacraments.

  2. John Donaghy says:

    I think it might be helpful to look at the one case where a Catholic-led effort succeeded – Massachusetts did not go for assisted-suicide. Perhaps the firm but compassionate style of Cardinal Seán O’Malley made a difference, as well as his willingness to seek allies in the campaign.

  3. Jen says:

    I was just going to bring up the Question 2 issue. There was a lot of listening on both sides, I think, and it helped that those opposed didn’t shout at those for it.

  4. crystal says:

    “Education and information will save the day.”

    I think this ties in with what Fr. K has posted at dotCommonweal. It’s as if the church thinks the reason people disagree with church doctrine is because they just haven’t been well enough educated in it. But most people don’t need to read all of Aquinas’ TS to make a thoughtful and differing choice on contraception or same-sex marriage. They don’t disagree because they’re uneducated dopes but because they find the church’s teaching unconvincing.

    • John McGrath says:

      There is no way more education is going to convince anyone that contraception is morally wrong, or a form of early abortion. Quite the opposite.

  5. John McGrath says:

    On abortion: even many secularists and atheists have a problem with late term abortion. In the UK there is a consensus that biological life – like cells growing inside a woman’s body that will normally form a baby – is different from human life, with the view that human life starts with brain waves, towards the end of the first trimester. Abortions are available – for free – up to the 26th week. The official Catholic view is seen as unscientific, merely asserted from unproven premises such as asserting that growing foetal cells are automatically human life.

  6. FrMichael says:

    “You can’t tell me that between them, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic doctors and nurses in private practice they couldn’t come up with an expanded health care system done the way we’d want it. And why not: invite anybody else in who needed it.”

    Of course, such a system is illegal under the ACA if it fails to offer contraception, abortion, and volutary sterilization to its members, subject to crushing fines.

    Just because our troubles are small compared to Egypt, Iraq, and Syria doesn’t mean that they aren’t real.

    • Todd says:

      Of course, such a system, if implemented in 1994 instead of thumb-twiddling, would be a model today. It may well be too late. I think the US bishops lack the creativity, courage, and thoughtfulness to implement such a plan today. These are company men, used to safe obedience and the subtleties of ecclesiastical jostling for a bigger city, a cushier overseas assignment, and the shadings from purple to red.

      If seventy million Catholics were happy with a health system that combined prevention, care, insurance, cost controls, and reasonable compensation for providers, I suspect that would be a fairly powerful political force. And the bishops would be doing something.

      As for paying fines, d’oh. Why would a bishop voluntarily write such a check? I would rather support a bishop going to jail for doing something rather than doing nothing.

  7. FrMichael says:

    “As for paying fines, d’oh. Why would a bishop voluntarily write such a check? I would rather support a bishop going to jail for doing something rather than doing nothing.”

    I’ve guess you’ve never heard of the government seizing assets for non-payment of taxes and fines.

    “Of course, such a system, if implemented in 1994 instead of thumb-twiddling, would be a model today. It may well be too late.”

    This and the succeeding paragraph I’m in full agreement with. Several of us priests locally were advocating an integrated Catholic health network for Northern California for years, given our large number of Catholic hospitals. As it is, we don’t even integrate diocesan health insurance (a large multi-diocese self-insurance plan called Reta) with the many Catholic hospitals of our area. And it wasn’t just the bishops not wanting to think outside the box: Catholic Healthcare West was satisfied with the status quo. Having failed to hang together, we will now hang separately.

    • Todd says:

      “I’ve guess you’ve never heard of the government seizing assets for non-payment of taxes and fines.”

      Never heard of the US government seizing 20,000 parishes.

      “Having failed to hang together, we will now hang separately.”

      The fruits of the impoverished leadership of JPII, I’m afraid.

      • FrMichael says:

        “Never heard of the US government seizing 20,000 parishes.”

        Not yet, anyhow. Besides, it appears the parishes are safe. It is (to a lesser extent) parochial schools, independent and religious-owned high schools (to a greater extent) at risk, never mind the Catholic colleges, hospitals, and social services that are fully at risk. These are much fewer than the thousands of parishes.

        Not that I expect many to be be seized for non-payment of taxes. I’m of the opinion most will roll over and pay, and if necessary secularize themselves.

        “The fruits of the impoverished leadership of JPII, I’m afraid.”

        Is the Bishop of Rome responsible for organizing American health care networks?

        Or were you alluding to the appointment of bishops? Most of ours of that era were Paul VI and even a pair of JPI bishops in NorCal.

      • John McGrath says:

        More weird right wing hysteria. Delusions of persecution.

        If JFK were running today he would have to admit that a Catholic politician must take his orders from the pope, not the American people or the US Constitution?

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