Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Will I Be Punished If I Speak My Truth?

When the Archbishop of St. Louis announced that, in his Archdiocese, those self-identified , alleged Catholic politicians who, knowingly supported legislation antithetically opposed to Catholic teaching, would be denied the Eucharist, the prototypic howl of protest swept the land. He was called Fascist, overbearing, un-American, and even Conservative or Orthodox. (Heavens!) A group in Congress issued an indignant statement angry that their Catholicism should be questioned. They stridently pointed out their, at least occasional, Mass attendance as an index of the vitality and knowledge of their Faith. Severe ACLU-like criticism came from many non-Catholic quarters advising the Archbishop (and, by extension, all Catholic leaders) how to run the Catholic Church in the United States. On NPR the threatening axe was dangled: “Stay out of politics or give up your tax-exempt status.” And “Catholic Bishops should stay out of politics, clean up their own house……..” Another blog suggested that “the Church hierarchy’s meddling into electoral politics (has brought it) to a disturbingly new level…” The reaction was massive. There is, factually, enormous pressure to go with the tide. The not-so-subtle message is: Conform or else you will be punished in a way which we will devise.

Surprisingly, some criticism came from ostensibly impeccable Catholic sources. A priest acquaintance confidently assured me that statements such as that of the Archbishop were really useless and possibly even counter productive. He preferred that we “just go along” and make no trouble. He, not surprisingly, had a comfortable way of life which he apparently wished to be protected from any “rocking of the boat.” I wonder what “they” really could do or would do should our Leaders truly lead by speaking out. At the worst, we might ask ourselves: Is tax emption worth the loss of our very selves?

When a committed American Catholic considers the ugly list -- physician assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, legal pornography—it is difficult to understand the mindset of those who choose to look the “other way.” We have apparently forgotten the English observation of “The easiest way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Even a superficial knowledge of history indicates that evil penetrates “little by little.” The old Arabic parable of the Camel’s nose is always relevant. “Just a little bit”—“every one is doing it.”— “let us be practical.” Surprisingly soon, the Camel is inside the tent and the Rider is shivering in the outside cold.

Has the American Catholic Church succumbed? Have we, instead of accommodating to our culture, been converted to it? After all the high pressured “accommodation” we can still ask the practical questions: Are we Catholics (especially our leaders) any different in value judgments from our fellow citizens whom we allegedly commit to influence? Are we any braver? Wiser? Holier? Closer to God?

My concern is specifically the Catholic clergy and how consistent are we in our call to participate in Public Life? An immediate aspect of the priesthood, it seems to me, is that of the prophet. It is not to foresee and predict the future but to courageously point out in this moment in history the Will of God and any possible deviance from it. It seems to me that we have become timid and afraid. What ever happened to the idealism of Thomas More who, though not a priest, was more courageous and prophetic than any cleric? It is easy to recall his famous statement: “I love my King but I love my God more.” Where is the “in-your-face” directness of Ignatius the Martyr as he faced down the insults of the Roman Emperor? Where is that traditional Catholic bravery of the ages which scorned bootlicking and popularity for its own sake? Where are the Gregorys and the Bonifaces and the Pius Vlls? How I miss the “gorilla-like” thumping of the religious chest wherein those unapologetic preachers of my childhood bravely preached the Word of God as compared to the modern anemic homilists with their metaphors of waving wheat and shimmering mountain streams! Alas, political correctness has sneaked in everywhere—even into God’s own people!

While for the most part, American Bishops disappoint me[1] in their “rush” to please the liberal media, there are several leaders who do “draw the line”. Specifically, besides the gallant man mentioned above, the gentle, quiet Catholic leader of Boston, Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley, has, in effect, challenged the so-called party of the people (so-called because the only remnant of the true Democratic party is the name) on its acquiescence to become the party of abortion. Further, the Bishops had issued in 2007 a document called “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship” which addressed the political responsibility of Catholics citizens. One area of concern was Massachusetts where most Catholics support what the Catholic Eye calls the Abortocrat party[2] (i.e. Democratic party). So the Cardinal, as a member of the Bishops Conference, commented thusly: “I think, at times it (the Massachusetts situation) borders on scandal…” It, of course, caused a Boston uproar since Catholics have the power to transform the local politics.

I believe that there is a serious obligation to inform and not malform Catholic consciences. The liberal Catholic says: “I must follow my conscience.” We re told we must be “tolerant.” Part of the confusion stems, I think, from a misconception of the meaning of the world “Tolerance.” What does that word really mean? A popular Protestant preacher in Florida, James Kennedy, taught that “tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society.” This is perfectly true if tolerance means accepting anything anyone does without judgment or challenge. This clearly would lead to chaos and anarchy. The Catholic Church has been accused of “intolerance” in that we will not yield on matters of what we call Truth. Father Doctor William Martin holds that “Tolerance applies only to people, never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, never to people.” Father Joseph Kiturski S.J. says that we cannot simply pick our own Morality as we wish but rather that we must follow the morality as given by God. This is not a spiritual supermarket to shop randomly for “that which pleases.”

Are erring Catholic politicians punished for following “their” truth? Certainly not in this world or day…but there is another day and another world—i.e. that in which one faces God. There is objectively[3] no freedom for these pols to disagree with and even work against their Church’s teaching through an appeal to “conscience.” We believe that there is a right and duty that the Church through Bishops is the authoritative interpreter of moral principles for the formation of conscience.

A Director of Religious Education in a Catholic parish in New Hampshire wrote: “……..I work for the Church…I balance my freedom as an American to vote. I choose my own decisions. I don’t vote the way someone tells me…” It is important to reply to this misperception. The Bishops had no intention to tell anyone how to vote. They said: “...in today’s political environment...Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death…”

However, they are telling us that the issue is not so much whom we vote for as to why we vote for him. They are telling us that there is a moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience. With such a foundation, a Catholic would not fall prey to braggarts like John Kerry who during that presidential campaign proclaimed himself an authority on Church doctrine, contending that he (and hence Catholic voters) could support abortion and all the other evils mentioned above. The Bishops had no choice but to denounce this catechetical calumny. This is not meddling in politics. This is teaching the Catholic Faith. To let this pass without challenge would be monstrous and cowardly.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a memorandum to Cardinal McCarrick called “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion” in which he stated, to the dismay of “liberal” Catholics, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.” The seamless garment disciples have gone a bit bananas since they heard that “…….the destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception to natural death is always wrong and not just one issue among many…” So they dismissed it all as “political rhetoric.”

The noble American notion of free speech guaranteed to every man coupled with fair listening goes somewhat out of the window when it comes to abortion. Raging attacks, personal smears, harmful innuendos, mockery, shunning, and the like are all to be expected. There are no rules except to destroy the outspoken ones. The great Congressman Henry Hyde, champion of the innocent unborn, was, in his old age, the victim of a vicious whispering campaign. In his twenties, he indulged in a “youthful indiscretion” (one “count”). In his eighties, when he advocated compassion for the unborn, he was reminded publicly of this mistake of his youth. Was it mere coincidence that he was, at the time, defending the right to life of soon- to- be- born infants?

Can I speak out against the modern cultural machine which aims at de-toothing my Religion? Oh yes, I surely can but I, alas, must face the music of some form of punishment. Am I up to it? Am I too afraid and timid? God help me and all those disenfranchised ones who are threatened by the mask of smiling Evil which is so calculating and shrewd.

[1] I am pleased with the release of the USBC’s statement on conscience of Nov. 14, ’07. More of this is needed.
[2] Nov.30, ’07 #262
[3] How God judges a soul is not easy to ascertain. This is beyond the ken of the human mind.

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