FrMichael brought up the notion that it is bad for a bishop to forbid priests and seminarians a public voice in protest. Presumably it is good for their involvement in the secular sphere, persuading, lobbying, or even being confrontative. St John Paul II dissented from that view. In a widely quoted bit, he suggested clergy are not political or social leaders.
Much was made of left-leaning clergy in public office in the 70’s and into the 80’s. I wasn’t very aware of it as I lived through those years. I did recall a priest, Robert Drinan, served in Congress. But he complied with the pope’s insistence not to serve in the US government, and withdrew from his congressional campaign.
I would largely agree with this. Public office is something for lay people. Only by way of an extreme exception could I imagine a priest serving in a way best reserved for a lay person.
Protesting at abortion clinics, military bases, G8 gatherings, Occupy, and other such efforts isn’t exactly the same as serving in public office. But it’s not too different either. In some of those settings, clergy are viewed by participants as leaders.
I’m sure Fr Frank Pavone would object, but my pastoral sense is that he and other clergy are better placed as pastors, and prepared to receive people who find their involvement on one or another side of the abortion issue to be morally problematic. A person who is protesting is in less of a position to offer counsel. And it’s not that a priest needs to be explicitly neutral on a political issue with moral consequences. I see it as the nature of the role and ministry in the Church.
The Father of Luke 15 waited at home. He was prepared to receive either of his sons. For someone who has returned home, or who hasn’t left farther than the front porch, the priest is called as a minister of accompaniment.
Protesters feel confident and supported, if not emboldened, by the presence and support of their bishops and priests. But the various issues of the day, from Occupy and the Tea Party to clinic protests are not primarily about the comfort level of those involved. And like it or not, clergy are pastors of people on both sides of the abortion issue. Their duty to reconcile offenders rather overrides any personal sense of involvement in protesting against those same offenders. Even if the likelihood of such an encounter is small, it must be something for which a minister is prepared.