On the first Sunday of Lent, the opinion pages of the New York Times carry a biting editorial comment by Russ Douthat — The End of a Catholic Moment :
The collapse in the churchâ€™s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, todayâ€™s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
Indeed, between Mitt Romneyâ€™s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White Houseâ€™s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.
This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive â€œCatholic momentâ€ (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectualÂ Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paulâ€™s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic â€œReagan Democratsâ€ into the Republican Party.
Note that Mr. Douthat is not a liberal critic of the Church, but an orthodox Catholic (cf Rod Dreher at “Goodbye Catholic Moment,” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/.)
The Catholic Bishops have no one to blame but themselves for this sad situation. Â They themselves started the barrel rolling with their toxic approach to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. First, with the connivance of the Vatican, they covered up the problem. Then, they denied it was a really bad problem. Finally, when they simply could not avoid reality, helped along no doubt by the successful prosecution of lawsuits costing them big money, they discovered that clergy sexual abuse was in fact a grave problem and they had better do something about it. Â “Doing something” of course most definitely did NOT include removing the bishops responsible for this evil, either in the dioceses or in Rome.
And now they wonder why people don’t trust them.
Close on the heels of the breakout of the clergy sexual abuse issue was their equally toxic handling of the American unjust war “problem.” Â They resolved that by preaching a gospel of moral relativism, as I have chronicled with excruciating detailÂ atÂ Â http://www.justpeace.org/warresponse.htm .Â Whatever the right to life means to them, it most emphatically does not include the right to life any of the civilian populations of Iraq and Afghanistan who get in the way of our greed for oil and minerals and imperial glory.
And now they wonder why no one is paying attention to their “Fortnight for Life.”
Where was their “Fortnight for Life” when our bombs and missiles were raining down with impunity on the civilian populations of Iraq and Afghanistan?
It was no where.
While civilians were slaughtered, the United States Catholic Bishops, with only a very small handful of exceptions, were busy praising the war by their faint condemnation of it and effectively advocating Â a doctrine of morale relativism regarding the participation of Catholics in unjust wars, even though eminent religious voices throughout the world were strongly against our recourse to war.
It bears repeating, even at this late date, that unjust war is an objective evil — it is always and under all circumstances morally wrong and thus participation in an unjust war is the moral equivalent of participation in abortion and murder.
Further, the Iraq and Afghan wars have Â an objective moral nature. Â They are either just wars or they are unjust wars. Â Both-and is not a condition that can be relevant to this case. Â It is an either-or situation. These wars are what they are, irrespective of our perception of their morality or immorality. A in fact is A. Â It is not B.
For further details about the moral theology involved with this, see the Lenten Declaration of Bishop Michael Botean, http://www.justpeace.org/botean.htmÂ of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio, and the essay, Moral Law and the Iraq War, by Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, Â http://www.justpeace.org/lent2007cwnews.htm#Moral%20LawÂ .
Let us recall the research I did in 2006:
Over the past month I conducted a review of the individual statements about Iraq of the bishops who are responsible for dioceses in the U.S. I searched the website of every diocese and did internet searches on the bishops’ names. Only 39 diocesan bishops made public statements calling for prayers for the people of Iraq. Twenty publicized or endorsed the various statements of the bishops’ conference on Iraq. Twenty-eight provided some sort of catechesis about just war teaching. One hundred forty-six of the bishops responsible for dioceses had nothing to say about Iraq since 2002 (that can be found on the Internet, retired and auxiliary bishop statements were not researched.)
Only one bishop responsible for a diocese issued a canonical declaration against involvement with the war in Iraq, Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic diocese of Canton, Ohio. With great moral clarity, he told his people that willing participation in the Iraq War was the moral equivalent of willing participation in an abortion. (at http://www.justpeace.org/nov132006.htm )
Since there are 195 dioceses in the United States, we can see from my research that 3/4ths of the United States Catholic bishops had nothing to say about the Iraq War.
If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, no one will go to battle.
Nearly all of our bishops are guilty of material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war. Â Many of them remain compromised by their willing facilitation of sexual crimes against children. The Vatican has provided little in the way of correction. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI maintained their confidence in Cardinal Law formerly of Boston and Cardinal Mahoney, formerly of Los Angeles, even though they are among the most egregious facilitators of the sexual abuse of children. Until recently, Cardinal Law was archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Maggiori in Rome, and has served on all of the Vatican committees and congregations having to do with bishops for many years. Â If even the Pope is going to embrace the facilitators of child molestors as his friends and closest collaborators, it is not hard to understand why people despair of change.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with our bishops.
What keeps me going is the understanding that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Â will have the last word and judgment on the behavior of these bishops. Â It may appear before the world that they have escaped the consequences of their poor decisions, but no one can escape the judgment of God, whose prophet wrote —
Hear, therefore, kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earthâ€™s expanse! Give ear, you who have power over multitudes and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!
Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you did not judge rightly, and did not keep the law, nor walk according to the will of God, Terribly and swiftly he shall come against you, because severe judgment awaits the exalted.Â For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test. For the Ruler of all shows no partiality, nor does he fear greatness, Because he himself made the great as well as the small, and provides for all alike;Â but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.
We aren’t the first generation to face the problem of what to do with bishops making bad decisions. Â Sure, we have our Cardinal Law’s and Mahoney’s. But we also have our Archbishop Romero of El Salvador and Helder Camara of Brazil, as well as Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of New York, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Franz Jaegerstatter of Austria, and others, too many to count, each one Â is an Epiphany of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ made manifest in flesh.
Given all this reality, we also know that the same water never flows under the bridge. Â Fundamental to Christianity is the praxis of forgiveness. It’s not hard to understand. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Yet, we are only ordinary human beings. As we extend to them our forgiveness for what they have done, if we think about it, we may find within ourselves a dawning understanding of Â the fundamental realities of this era: We the People, and the common good that serves us, are looted and then abandoned at will by elites in politics, religion, business, academia. Â We can forgive. We must forgive. But the vocation is also to resist, in every moral way possible, these demons who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
On this first day of Lent, please join me in prayer that our bishops will honestly and seriously examine their consciences, as individuals and as a collective body, and come to an understanding of their sins against God, against the Catholic faithful, in particular our children, and Â against the long-suffering people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us pray that this understanding will induce a profound conversion — a metanoia — among them so that they publicly confess their sins and start the process of making honest reparations for the damage, suffering, grief, and pain that they have caused to so many innocent people.
Let us also understand that our religious hierarchy will inevitably be influenced by who we are, as moral persons living and acting in the greater society which surrounds us. If we do not praxis what we preach, I think the Apostle Paul would say something along the lines of “You are no better than the pagans who surround you.” And maybe in fact worse. Â If we want better bishops, we probably need to start by being better Christians ourselves.
So let’s all give up the passive silence that is effectively agreement with the culture of death, and do something useful and real every day to overcome evil with good.
Novena to St. John Chrysostom on behalf of the United States Catholic Bishops.Â http://www.justpeace.org/stjohnchrysostom.htm