Cowards and Pokers

That’s how Judie Brown and her friends at LifeSite interpret the variance among the bishops in their concrete approach to those twice or more removed from the moral issues of the day. You’re not going to get one of those interminable posts here. You know: them black, me red. Click the link and read Brown’s essay, then come back and comment here if you wish.

The reality is that we live in a society far more complex than a parent-child relationship. In the black and white world of conservative morality, an authority figure lays down the rules and the child obeys. Simple. There is no gray area. Except, perhaps, when it’s convenient to twist into contortions about just war, torture, or other aspects that indirectly support our Corporate Masters who want to maximize profits from oil.

Brown’s conclusion:

I mean no disrespect to Cardinal McCarrick, or to any of his peers who are frequently disinterested in enforcing Canon 915, but I have to say that they have created a most dreadful situation that has left far too many of us in a state of frustration, anxiety and sorrow. For example, when the news about Cardinal McCarrick’s most recent comments began to impact on others, one distressed friend of mine described the situation as “a poke in the eye to believers; a statement full of disdain and insouciance.” And perhaps that is the most deplorable aspect of this current predicament.

From a long line of similar disturbing remarks uttered from the mouths of Catholic bishops, it is becoming increasingly clear that every bright line defining who a Catholic is and what a Catholic believes is being blurred beyond recognition. Whether it is a McCarrick “style” or a Connecticut “explanation” or a San Francisco “apology,” the bottom line in all of this is the same: no guts. The clarity of what it means to be a Catholic is being distorted, dismantled and–ultimately, if we are not careful–destroyed. And that is the greatest tragedy of all: witnessing the decay from within the Church without the ability to fix it.

As a pro-life Catholic, I honestly feel for the situation of “frustration, anxiety, and sorrow” Brown expresses and claims for her friends and supporters. But we’re all adults. Responsibility for these qualities rests within us. Frequently I’ve said that when the negative emotions begin to overtake the good work being done by pro-lifers, maybe it’s time to take a break, bow out of the politics, go on retreat, get back to the trenches of talking friends out of abortions, or doing something constructive.

Donohue and Oprah and other media figures in the “helping” mode tell us to get in touch with our feelings. Feel the pain. All that jazz.

Well enough. We should do that. But then we keep moving because that’s just the first step. As much as they belittle and decry the msm for a negative effect on the culture, they themselves have often fallen into the trap so eloquently preached by its spokespersons. Why should we remain content in being victims of a careless clergy and a seemingly hopeless social situation? The simple answer is that there’s a way out. Simple, but not too easy.

No guts? That may well be true. But the rank-and-file Catholic Judie Brown describes as hungry for “leadership” has no less of a need for more intestine and bowels.

Grown-ups know there is precious little clarity in life. Religious people should look for it first from their God. If necessary, turn to leaders for guidance and the shape of the search. But don’t put more on bishops than they’re ready, willing, or able to handle. They’re just human beings: fallible like any of the rest of us. They’re also not responsible for our feelings.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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21 Responses to Cowards and Pokers

  1. John Heavrin says:

    Actually, your excerpt omitted her conclusion, which goes as follows:

    “…The Achilles heel is cowardice, my friends. It boils down to an unwillingness to battle the forces of evil, whether it is by confronting the media, the wayward politician or the persons who would dare to bring disdain into the house of God. If we cannot observe courage in our shepherds, what are we to think? If I had my way, I would focus attention on the bishops who have for so long been so steadfast in their leadership, their strong backbone and their holiness, and I would say to the rest of them,

    Please seek in fervent prayer and with all humility the gifts you need from God to develop the ability to never, ever step away from your responsibilities as bishops of the Catholic Church. For the sake of the preservation of the holy, Catholic Church you claim to serve, and all those souls the Lord has entrusted to your care, please show us the way to Christ and our eternal home….”

    You say “They’re not responsible for our feelings.” Well, I guess not; but I’m not sure what your point is; “hurt feelings” aren’t the point, but here’s my point: bishops are responsible, before God, for proclaiming the faith courageously and unmistakably, unto death, and for shepherding the flock. They are responsible for souls; I don’t believe any of the long laborious march of documents visited upon the faithful these past few decades have changed that (you’ll correct me if one has). They are not to throw up their hands at the ambiguity of the modern world; McCarrick’s good cop routine isn’t getting too far against the grave and persisting scandal of pro-choice Catholics in public office and other positions, is it? Todd, it’s disappointing to see you as an apologist for McCarrick on this one, or to counsel abandonment of the “politics,” imperfect an arena as that usually is. Unity among the bishops along Burke’s line would be a powerful asset in this fight. McCarrick’s approach reeks of resignation.

    I recommend the linked article; a fine and efficacious instance of, what is the phrase, “speaking truth to power.”? Please read it.

  2. Anne says:

    Put me down as a Catholic who cannot understand any good reason for denying communion. Doing so is being judgemental. There is no one who can see inside anothers’ heart and soul. I get frustrated, confused and often angry when I hear bishops and others talk about the Eucharist as if they were still in first grade, as if Jesus is a “thing”. Respecting Christ in the Eucharist is about relationship with God and the community. It’s nourishment for our journey. How can we, no matter who we are, make the journey to becoming faithful Christians who understand what God wants if we don’t eat and drink?

  3. John Heavrin says:

    “…I get frustrated, confused and often angry when I hear bishops and others talk about the Eucharist as if they were still in first grade…”

    Sounds like your negative emotions are taking over. Best to get over yourself and go do something constructive. Quit whining and realize that your feelings are your own problem. Accordingly, remember not to raise a peep of criticism about any of it.

    Right, Todd?

  4. Mike E. says:

    I am troubled by the willingness of people of all political stripe to use the Eucharist as a political club. Withholding the sacraments should always be an action of absolute last resort, and we should always err on the side of caution before doing so. Also, we should ask ourselves if any act we take will result in the change of heart of those with which we disagree. My contention is that denying any sacrament does nothing but anger and harden the heart of the person, thus virtually guaranteeing that there will be no change of heart. With no change of heart, all we have done by denying the Eucharist is deny the person some means of grace with which he or she might have been able to eventually achieve that change of heart.

    We must always strive to keep in mind this quote attributed to Augustine-
    “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
    That last one is forgotten in the course nature of the political debate of the date, both in the church and in the world. In trying to change unjust structures or laws, whether it be abortion, capital punishment, poverty, or war, we must always strive to do it a spirit of love of the other. As Chirstians, as Catholics we are called to something different than the “gotcha” culture of political debate of the world. When we fall into its trap, we have an obligation to withdraw for a bit and regain our perspective in the light of Jesus’love and compassion.

  5. Todd says:

    Wrong, John. Raise the criticism, certainly, but when it’s clear you’re not getting any results, move on to another issue. Anne’s on solid ground here, as are you.

    You and Anne are both welcome to gripe in the comboxes here. If I had a visitor for whom it was clear there was nothing ever offered but complaint, I might address it in a private e-mail. I often find that complainers do indeed maintain a productive activity in their parishes or elsewhere in the Church. Good for them and their spiritual and emotional health.

    I don’t mind complainers. I’m one myself. What I object to is people who complain and expect others to do the dirty work for them. That strikes me as Judie Brown’s tone. She’s welcome to come here and clarify that, if she cares to. But she used the feeling-words in her commentary, and associated them with the feelings of her friends and colleagues. That use of language, if true, tells the discerning reader quite a bit.

    Lay Catholics are frustrated at the seeming lack of progress on convincing other lay people, especially politicians, of the importance of ending abortion on demand. That I can empathize with. But I don’t look to anybody else to do the work I should be doing myself.

    I’m not counselling an end to politics in general. I’m counselling that people who have become embittered, angry, and ineffective should step aside. For their own good and the good of the cause.

    And I distrust Archbishop Burke’s approach. Denying Communion is a private matter. It’s not intended to give hope and cause for cheer among pro-lifers. When it does, I believe a sacrilege has been committed, regardless of the good intention of the bishop in question.

  6. John Heavrin says:

    “And I distrust Archbishop Burke’s approach. Denying Communion is a private matter. It’s not intended to give hope and cause for cheer among pro-lifers. When it does, I believe a sacrilege has been committed, regardless of the good intention of the bishop in question.”

    And do you believe a sacrilege has been committed when a politician who is Catholic and “pro-choice,” and therefore engaging in public scandal, is allowed to receive Holy Communion? I don’t see any way around that. We’re not talking about singling out Tom, Dick and Harriet for denial of Holy Communion because they’re pro-choice. We’re talking about individuals who, by defending legal abortion rights while in public office and in a position to concretely work against them, are in defiance of the Church. We’re talking about combatting public scandal in the only way possible — publicly. I read somewhere that Giuliani doesn’t present himself for Holy Communion (due to the remarriages outside the Church); good for him; my admittedly uncharitable wild guess is that, prior to running for President, he may not have been a regular Sunday Massgoer either. I do remember Kerry making a big deal about being Catholic, and the implication was that there was nothing incompatible between his proud, strident, pro-choice and pro-Roe position and being a Catholic. That’s wrong, and a bishop has a duty, the way I see it, to point that out, publicly, and to take action, publicly. Not for the benefit of cheering pro-lifers, not to piss off defiant pro-choicers, but because he has a duty to uphold the teachings of the church and prevent mockery of the Blessed Sacrament. The private counseling thing is a joke, given the obstinancy of the Kerrys, Kennedys, Bidens, Pelosis, etc…we all know the miserable list. Again, the problem is a PUBLIC problem, calling for a PUBLIC solution, when it comes to these PUBLIC people in PUBLIC office. The problem of “non-public” persons is a different one, which may or may not call for a denial of Holy Communion. That situation is nuanced. Rudy or Joe Biden? Not nuanced, not the way I see it.

    By the way, if you disagree with Burke’s approach, it’s one thing…to say that you “distrust” it is to call him a liar, is it not? Why would you do that?

  7. Anne says:

    Nope John…you’re wrong about me. I’m a very hopefull Catholic. I am not a whiner. I truly believe in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Eucharist heals, forgives sins and brings us peace. You do believe that John, don’t you? So I sometimes get angry and frustrated with the hierarchy. So what? I believe it’s healthy to question. I’m not one to follow blindly. That only gives me more of a desire and need for the Eucharist.

  8. FrMichael says:

    Anne, Mike, Todd, and Cardinal McCarrick have all proved that Archbishop Burke has constructed a superb argument that they can’t even attempt to challenge.

    Anne demonstrates her ignorance of the sanctity and purpose of the sacrament. I’m sure that if she explicated her cryptic sentence about Jesus as a “thing” we would be treated to some heretical understanding of the Real Presence. In the meantime, if she can’t understand Archbishop Burke’s article, maybe she should ask her parish priest to explain it to her.

    Mike fails to recognize that there are all kinds of good reasons to deny people Communion– unbaptized status being the main one– that don’t cause people to harden their hearts when can’t receive Communion. I’ve had hundreds of people come up to Communion who weren’t Catholic in my years as a priest: a quick Trinitarian blessing was received with gratefulness, not anger.

    Mike also needs to realize that avoiding the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament is an essential of the Faith. It is a severe offense against Christian charity to be a willing party to it.

    Todd, debunking your statement “Denying Communion is a private matter” is what Archbishop Burke’s statement was all about. If you find flaws in his argument, I’m all ears. More productive would be understanding how this should be applied in a parish setting, to avoid vigilanteeism among the extraordinary ministers. That is my only concern in the matter: how to apply canon law’s (and Tradition’s) clear precept to the praxis of the parish.

  9. Personally, it seems to me that we’re currently on a pendulum swing where we’re so “pastoral” that we’ve lost all concept of the Christian virtue of obedience: we assume that if someone is disciplined that will simply harden their heart and cause them to sin even more. It may — goodness knows that’s a standard reaction of pride, which we all have. But it may not.

    I’d like to see episcopal authority used to discipline a lot more, but I think that those who agitate for such (and generaly, I don’t agitate, I just wish) need to remember that back in the day when excommunication was explicitly used as a means of discipline quite frequently, there tended to be a lot of friendly fire and unnecessary suspicion/discipline. In a world where bishops routinely excommunicated politicans for being pro-choice, it would not necessarily surprise me if some with strong opinions felt quite free to excommunicate them over war, capital punishment, just wages, etc. Being a medieval sort of bloke, I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that (I’d disagree with the choice to do it, but not with the existence of such a climate) but one should be clear what one is wishing for.

  10. Todd says:

    FrMichael, you’re treading close to the edge on this one. You’ll do better to make your own argument in favor of Archbishop Burke and let the conversation continue from there. Watch the name-calling of other guests, please. Until you become an ecclesiastical court, the h-word and its variants are not welcome from your keypad or anyone else’s. Understand?

    For the moment, I’ll mention that public confrontation is never a liturgical ideal. People who persist in serious, unrepentant sin should not present themselves for Communion. Ideally, ministers would not be put upon to make choices at inappropriate times.

    That said, people do present themselves for Communion, and a less-than-ideal situation must be dealt with. But the matter of public confrontation over it has no place in the liturgy.

    If we paid more attention to our own state of sin and grace, and less to that of others, Catholic tempers, piety, and liturgy would be a lot better off.

    I’ll have another post later after I’ve had time to digest Archbishop Burke’s statement a bit more.

  11. Todd says:

    Let’s also keep in mind that this post is not about Archbishop Burke or his style, but Judie Brown’s essay. Feel free to drift off topic, but be assured you’ll have another thread to which to contribute in a day or two.

  12. Anne says:

    FrMichael…I certainly am not ignorant of the sanctity or purpose of the sacrament. Also, I am very much informed as to what the Real Presence is and means. No need to take a clerical attitude with me. Don’t go there. You will prove to be wrong. Peace.

  13. John Heavrin says:

    “…The Eucharist heals, forgives sins and brings us peace. You do believe that John, don’t you?…”

    If received in the state of grace, Holy Communion forgives venial sins, yes. If you have unconfessed mortal sin on your soul, that is, if you’re not in the state of grace, to receive Holy Communion is to commit sacrilege. You do believe that, Anne, don’t you? As a Catholic you have no choice.

    And, Todd, you wrote: “If we paid more attention to our own state of sin and grace, and less to that of others, Catholic tempers, piety, and liturgy would be a lot better off.”

    A bishop can’t hide behind this platitude when it comes to public scandal, which is what you have when you have public officials who profess to be Catholic and also to be in favor of legalized abortion. To be Catholic, pro-choice, and an elected official is not something that a bishop can just look the other way on…without giving scandal to the faithful.

    I often wonder if the McCarricks of the world aren’t intimidated by the Kennedys of the world. What could be more pathetic?

  14. Anne says:

    “To be catholic, pro-choice, and an elected official is not something that a bishop can just look the other way on…without giving scandal to the faithful.”

    Wait a minute!!!! Are we talking about the bishops who chose to look the other way on another huge scandal that to this day is not yet behind us? Our we talking about the same “shepherds”? Can you say “smokescreen”?

  15. Mike E. says:

    It seems as if this is getting out of hand. Perhaps it would do us all good to read and reflect upon the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday.

    Lk 18:9-14

    Jesus addressed this parable
    to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
    and despised everyone else.
    “Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
    one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
    The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
    ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
    greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
    I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
    But the tax collector stood off at a distance
    and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
    but beat his breast and prayed,
    ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
    I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
    for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
    and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Each of us knows times we have been both men in this parable. I believe it to be a parable of great relevance to our society today and can be instructive to us here, no matter our position.

  16. John Heavrin says:

    “…Wait a minute!!!! Are we talking about the bishops who chose to look the other way on another huge scandal that to this day is not yet behind us? Our we talking about the same “shepherds”?…”

    We certainly are talking about the same bishops, Anne. Many handled the scandal to which you refer atrociously, and many handle the scandal of pro-choice Catholic politicians equally atrociously. Are you noticing a pattern? Many shepherds don’t seem up to their jobs, and the sheep suffer.

  17. John Heavrin says:

    Mike E., rather than “getting out of hand,” discussions such as this thread are an attempt to get at the truth.

    If you take that parable to mean “Hey, we’re all sinners, so we should all shut up, live and let live,” I believe you’ve mistaken it. It doesn’t make you a Pharisee if you speak out against scandal; for a Bishop to remain publicly silent for this reason is tragic.

    Out of hand? That’s for Todd to say, anyway, not you.

  18. Todd says:

    I think we can take the temperature of this discussion down a few degrees. Vigor is a good thing, so long as we realize that respect for the other person, and to a lesser extent, some respect for the opposite argument is maintained.

    Some posters have attempted to make the other person’s argument so it can be shot down. Not a good way to make a convincing point.

  19. Pingback: Reasonable Expectations « Catholic Sensibility

  20. Marilyn says:

    And that is the greatest tragedy of all: witnessing the decay from within the Church without the ability to fix it. – Judie Brown

    No. The greatest tragedy of all is the legal slaughtering of pre-born infants and mutilation of their mothers for exploitive, profitable gain disguised as compassion! Any person who supports that law has blood on their hands. Bishops are accountable in how they vote and what they preach…I don’t think a retired Cardinal would make a decision of excommunication and speculate on how the shift from saving babies and caring for women was made to a frustration over needing to fix “decay in the church”… where there is decay, let it rot and get back on your mission!

  21. FrMichael says:

    To all: I apologize for my intemperate commments, blogged out of frustration.

    The reception of Communion is not something that is purely subjective or that we get to make up our own standards. The Church has clearly delineated what those standards are in canons 912-23.

    Among these, canon 915 clearly states that the Catholic Church has the right/duty to deny certain Catholics from receiving Communion. Archbishop Burke, a highly qualified canon lawyer, wrote a detailed article pointing out that fact.

    So opinions such as expressed in this thread that the Catholic Church doesn’t have the right to deny Communion or shouldn’t exercise it frustrate me greatly. Your opinion– and mine– doesn’t matter. This is not something that is decided at the parochial or the blog level: it is a universal law of the Church consonant with apostolic Tradition and Scripture.

    So, IMHO the far more productive activity on the blog level is how best this law is to be carried out at the diocesan and parochial level. That is within our competence as priests, liturgists, and other laity with a particular interest in the liturgy, which I assume is the readership of Catholic Sensibility.

    And yes, we are far away from Judie Brown’s article. My apologies again for helping to hijack the thread away from her commentary.

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