Your holidays and festivals I detest, they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds before my eyes; cease doing evil, learn to do good. Make justice your aim, redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Isaiah 1
In Catholic Church history, the period of time 1309 – 1377 is known as the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy.” Seven bishops of Rome reigned, not in Rome, but in Avignon, France where they were firmly under the thumb of the King of France. In the future, when sufficient time has passed that historians can reflect on this era, I think their judgment will be that during these critical and turbulent times, one of the great historical tragedies has been the “Republican Captivity” of the United States Catholic Bishops.
We are not lacking in evidence of this assertion. Consider the continued crusade of the Bishops against “gay marriage.” Let it be said that I am obedient to the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexual morality. When I read the Gospel, I see the call of Jesus to holiness — “Be ye therefore perfect, even as my Father in heaven is perfect.” But when I think about the proclamation of the Gospel, I recall the words of Paul to the church in Corinth:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
So it seems to me that walking in the footsteps of Jesus, our attitude towards those who disagree with us on moral issues should be a proclamation of the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, a love which should be as evident in our deeds as in our words. But instead of a loving proclamation of the Gospel towards gay people, our Bishops are running up and down the land crying out with loud voices that gay marriage is somehow a threat to the sacrament of marriage. The language of the bishops’ crusade is not the language of the Gospel. It is the dehumanizing political rhetoric of the Republican Party. Can it be that the Roman Catholic Bishops of these United States have forgotten what Christ said to Peter?
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18
That seems pretty clear to me. Nothing on this earth in the temporal realm, and no combination of demon hordes from Hell, can “threaten” the sacrament of marriage because it is part of the Deposit of Faith, an integral component of the Church, and it is protected by supernatural graces. To suggest that a secular political issue “threatens” a sacrament is hubris and shows a marked lack of faith. That in itself is disturbing coming from our own bishops.
Further, since when did we decide that the involvement of the State had something to do with the Sacrament of Marriage? We don’t get a Baptism License for our children, nor an Ordination license for our seminarians. And we don’t pay a tax to the State to go to Confession nor do we apply to a bureaucrat for the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Our confirmandi do not require state paperwork to receive Confirmation and we celebrate the Eucharist without the permission of the state authorities.
So why this weeping and wailing and much gnashing of teeth about state-issued marriage licenses and the sacrament of Marriage? In many other countries, the “legal” marriage is completely separate from the sacramental marriage. Couples do a “state marriage” before a magistrate and then go before a priest or deacon to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage.
If we want to talk about religious liberty and the Catholic Faith, perhaps we should begin by getting the State out of the business of “licensing” marriages, since the requirement to get a license from the State to contract a Catholic marriage seems to me to infringe upon our rights as Catholic Christians to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.
I do not doubt we have problems within and without the Catholic Church in regard to marriage. But those problems are not the fault of gay people and gay marriage has nothing to do with our marital problems. About 1/3 of Catholic marriages end in divorce. With only 6% of the world Catholic population, the diocesan courts of the United States grant 60%+ of the Catholic world’s annulments. By some estimates, American Catholic dioceses have annulled more marriages than the entire Church has done since its founding.
Small wonder, therefore, that Archbishop Vincenzo Fagiolo, head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, was moved to refer to the volume of annulments in the United States as a “grave scandal.” What God Has Joined Together: the annulment crisis in American Catholicism. Robert Vasoli, Oxford University Press, 1998.
But of course, let’s not talk about this gigantic I-beam proceeding out of the eyes of every Catholic bishop. Let’s ignore the catechetical failures of the Catholic clergy of these United States regarding marriage formation. Instead. . . let’s pick away at the specks in the eyes of others, over which we have no control, and sign up for a hysterical political agenda that conceals ulterior motives.
Why would we do this if not at the behest of our political master manipulators in the Republican Party?
This naked emperor should be publicly called out. The crusade against “gay marriage” is not about protecting marriage. It’s about getting votes for Republican politicians.
If it were a crusade to protect marriage, we would have started with a deep and thorough examination of conscience regarding the role of the clergy in the devastating problems of married families in these United States. We didn’t do that. The Bishops’ crusade, of course, is a great distraction from their own failures as pastors and teachers.
The Bishops also renewed their “Fortnight of Freedom for Religious Liberty.” Here again it is not hard to see the directing hand of the Republican magisterium. I am all in favor of religious liberty and I think the government should leave the Catholic Church alone when it comes to the issue of mandating contraception coverage in our insurance policies.
However . . . I must ask — where was our “Fortnight for Life” when the United States rolled into Iraq with a war that was condemned as unjust by the two most eminent moral authorities of the first decade of the 21st century? I am speaking of Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger, the cardinal-prefect of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith.
Over the last 14 years, I have written in excruciating detail about the moral relativism of the US bishops regarding unjust war. Where were these bishops and their talk about the non-negotiable right to life from the moment of conception to the time of natural death when the bombs rained down on the civilian population of Iraq and people died in their hundreds of thousands as a consequence of our unjust war? I’ll tell you where they were — they were sacrificing their moral authority on the altars of the false gods of Political Expediency and American Military Nationalism.
They praised the war with their very timid comments about it, they proceeded to say almost nothing about it for the rest of the war, and they remain silent today about our continued involvement with the unjust war in Afghanistan. There was no Fortnight for Peace or Fortnight for Life to remind the Catholic people of our teachings on unjust war. There was no bishops’ crusade up and down the land in defense of peace and life in the face of war. It was business as usual as the bishops abandoned the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and our own soldiers to the not-very-tender mercies of unjust war.
Why would the Bishops have become so “negotiable” on the “non-negotiable right to life” of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and our soldiers if not at the behest of the political magisterium of the Republican Party?
Nothing about this political captivity has benefited the Catholic Church. The Bishops have frittered away their authority and abandoned their authenticity to the point that people no longer see them as moral authorities. The clergy-led catechetical collapse continues its devolution of our faith. In an era when the signs of these times call us to renewed holiness and an orthodox praxis of our faith, the US Catholic Bishops remain stuck in a rut of political rhetoric that benefits no one but the powers that be in the Republican Party.
Thus, I think this reading from the third chapter of the book of Micah the prophet is an appropriate conclusion for this reflection.
And I said, Listen you leaders of Jacob, house of Israel! Is it not your duty to know what is right, you who hate what is good, and love evil? . . . When they cry to the Lord, he shall not answer them, rather shall God hide from them at that time, because of the evil they have done. Thus says the LORD regarding the prophets who lead my people astray. . .
Therefore you shall have night, not vision, darkness, not divination; The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be dark for them. Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem reduced to rubble, And the mount of the temple to a forest ridge.
P.S. See also my Open Letter to VP Biden.