Bishops Turning A Corner?

As we get further into the new decade, I’ll be glad over the next few days as prognosticators turn their speeches and keystrokes less to the big stuff and more to the mundane. I have little temptation to try to guess where the world will be in another year or another decade. I’m really, really glad to be rid of the 00’s. I don’t mind shouting that from my snow-covered sub-zero rooftop if you pressed me.

Russell Shaw is a very interesting commentator. He blogs occasionally at Our Sunday Visitor, and he wonders about the bishops this past year, and if we’ll see more of this behavior, and if this is a good thing. Mr Shaw drew some conservative bile for associating handguns with porn last month. I didn’t get the attempted connection, but I do agree that fireaarms are more bane than blessing.

At any rate, his commentary on bishops is interesting. I’d like to hear from some of my readers for their take, especially on this thought:

The point is that (the bishops) put up a serious fight, thereby perhaps reflecting growing awareness that, absent resistance from them, the Church’s interests will only continue to take a beating. It’s impossible to imagine their predecessors of the 1970s and 1980s doing as much, and the new developments underline the fact that the hierarchy today is greatly different in membership and mindset from the hierarchy of those days.

Somehow, I’d have to put pastoral letters on peace and the economy in the category of “fighting.” It’s true the bishops of the 70’s and 80’s had their own problems: they were pre-conciliar clerics operating in a clerical culture of secrecy and privilege. (No matter what their politics might have seemed.) When it came to public teaching, persuasion, or issues, the bishops of thirty years ago struck me as more proactive than today’s crop.

Mr Shaw cites the opposition to Notre Dame’s rendering an honorary degree to the president as a “fighting” sign. Yet, we have Ex Corde Ecclesiae on the books, do we not? Twenty years of it. The USCCB has its own online commentary. Are these just words? Do they imply a rule by fiat from the episcopacy and everyone else trudges along in compliance? I get the sense that many bishops take a lazy approach to relations with Catholic universities. Let the schools do the work, if not the bishops’ bidding.

Notre Dame caught these eighty-some bishops by surprise. Everything that came after was a reaction to a threat to their authority. I think we all realized that offering an honorary degree to the president was a symbolic gesture–it changed nothing of the president’s commitment to politics or Notre Dame’s commitment to being a Catholic institution. It was seen as an “anti-pep rally” by pro-life loyalists. The most anti-life president ever? Please. Barack Obama stands behind the 37th and 42nd, at the very least.

Bishop D’Arcy had a very long term in the diocese in which Notre Dame is located. Doesn’t that mean anything? He sure got caught off guard by ND’s commencement. It’s clear that some bishops aren’t bothering with the mandate given to them in Christus Dominus or Ex Corde; cultivating relations with higher education.

I can’t say I’m impressed with the bishops in the 2009 political arena either. It’s more of the same: reaction rather than proactive teaching.

Some might say that in the 80’s, we had a nuclear threat and that the bishops were picking up on a theme of sorts that was already being debated in the public square. Fair enough. Today’s bishops are emerging from chanceries, it seems, only when push is coming to shove on these political issues. Do the bishops have an already-written teaching on these issues? End of life care? Funding abortion? Same-sex unions? I can’t say the Church, either universally or in national conferences, has actually wrestled with the three- and four- times removed concerns of grave morality. Who’s to say that Catholic involvement with those who advocate choice is any different from any vendor engaged by a diocese or parish that might feel likewise. And more than feel likewise–actually work for the “opposition,” as it were? Are bishops prepared to withdraw professionally from shipping agencies, private insurers, lawyers, or others who do business with people whose acts we might find morally repugnant?

If the bishops have turned a corner–and perhaps they have–will they have any significant following behind them on the new street? And if the new strident tone is part of the pilgrimage, are the bishops prepared when their own troops start biting and tearing at them?

In secular politics and the media, these are dangerous tools: the sniping, the sound bites, the highly-charged debates. Can they be handled with enough care in church circles? What do you think?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Bishops Turning A Corner?

  1. Liam says:

    The bishops’ credible authority remains weak due to their collective unwillingness to hold each other accountable for You Know What.

    That said, the current efforts at political pugilism by some bishops will need a Sister Souljah moment to butress their sagging credibility. Perhaps someone wanting to follow in the foosteps of Abp Burke and Bp Martino will, for example, take on the Coalition for Fog among certain Catholics in favor of a foggy application of the Church’s teaching on torture and human treatment of prisoners (the latter often being overlooked) with the vigor that Bp Tobin took on Rep Kennedy….

    But I am not holding my breath waiting for that day.

  2. Micha Elyi says:

    The bishops’ credible authority remains weak due to their collective unwillingness to hold each other accountable for becoming shills for the Democrat Party political agenda, including that party’s homosexual advocacy – that’s what.

    Still, I agree that more pro-active teaching from our bishops in matters of faith and morals – their special competence – would be A Good Thing. Bishop Tobin’s public stand contra Rep. Kennedy’s public nonsense was a good first step. The cafeteria door is closing slowly but it is closing, much to the chagrin of those who imagine that confinement to the comfy chair is ‘torture.’

  3. Tony says:

    Todd,

    You are conflating two separate issues. One, the “Catholic” label allowed to be worn by “Catholic” universities who pay lip service (if that at all) to revealed Catholic truth, and businsses who are invested in “shady” things.

    Notre Dame calls themself “Catholic” and the Bishops, for better or worse, are the final arbiters in their dioceses of what is “Catholic”.

    If Notre Dame wants to honor with a law degree a man who is using the force of law to kill millions of God’s new creations, then Notre Dame can just dispense with the label Catholic and go to “A University in the Catholic Tradition” like some of the others.

    But let’s not lead the college bound masses astray by fraudently implying that you’ll get a Catholic education by going to Notre Dame.

  4. Todd says:

    I hear you, Tony. But as for Catholic education, higher learning isn’t the only place where the wool, as it were, it being pulled over some eyes.

    I’d say that there are elements of an academic culture embraced by Catholic institutions that are at odds with faith, or at least, the priorities of faith.

    As for your description of President Obama, I’d say you’ve fallen into the trap of exuberant exaggeration. What the president is doing is to decline to use the power of his office to promote a constitutional amendment, or take other steps to curb abortion on demand. That’s far different from painting the man as being legislatively (wrong branch of government!) responsible for killing millions who would have otherwise not been killed.

    As leader of his party and nation, it’s to be expected the man would bear symbolic blame for abortion. The reality is that we are all complicit for living in a society in which so many millions of women feel the need to abort. And besides, neither Mr Reagan nor the two Bushes nor Mr Ford felt an obligation to put the heft of their presidency behind a constitutional amendment–likely the only solution short of people declinging to choose abortion.

    Inviting the president was a local tradition, and one clearly in dispute–far from a settled morally. Which isn’t to say the invitation didn’t have symbolic value. That would be where the important discussion might happen.

  5. Tony says:

    As for your description of President Obama, I’d say you’ve fallen into the trap of exuberant exaggeration. What the president is doing is to decline to use the power of his office to promote a constitutional amendment, or take other steps to curb abortion on demand. That’s far different from painting the man as being legislatively (wrong branch of government!) responsible for killing millions who would have otherwise not been killed.

    Todd, I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. President Obama, in his role as state Senator, used his committee power to block legislation designed to insure thatbabies who were born after a failed abortion attempt were given the appropriate care from an independent doctor (not the one who tried to kill her).

    One of his first actions as president was to reverse the Mexico City policy of not giving money to foreign medical venues that perform abortions. He has also been using his influence to make sure that any federalized health care includes coverage for abortion.

    He is the most pro-abortion presiden we have ever had.

  6. Todd says:

    “He is the most pro-abortion presiden we have ever had.”

    Well, I’d put him at number 3, behind Mr Nixon (for his SCOTUS) and Mr Clinton (for the rapidity of his executive actions).

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