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?