Monday, April 6, 2009

A Stunning Display of Episcopal Unity

I have been stunned by the reaction to the invitation of the infanticidal President Obama to be honored at the Notre Dame graduation. Bishop after bishop has spoken out against it. It is right that they do so, since, after all, they are bishops. A bishop is an episcopos, literally an overseer, making sure that the gospel is proclaimed in fidelity to the truth. Thus it is entirely appropriate that they do this.

Nevertheless, it is surprising. What has happened? I think that what has happened is that they have been shocked to discover how disregarded they are. No one likes to be ignored or thought useless, but that is how most Catholics have thought of them. In 2004, they issued a document on Catholics in political life which was really rather weak, giving plenty of cover to those who wanted to continue to vote for pro-choice candidates. If they could find enough proportionate reasons--probably by misunderstanding the nature of proportionate reasons--they could pat themselves on the back as being broad-minded, non-single-issue voters, and not worry. That has been the effect of the document. Nevertheless, there was one strong part: Catholic institutions were not to honor pro-choice politicans.

A sop. A morsel. The merest hint of a concession to the sensibilities of those of us who believe that human life ought to be protected. A person's a person, no matter how small, after all. The bishops gave us a little--at least we wouldn't be heartbroken again, seeing Catholic institutions honoring those who oppose us. But, lo and behold, the University of Notre Dame, the pre-eminent Catholic institution in the land (just ask, they'll tell you so), says "nuts to you, bishops!"

No one likes to be superfluous. I think the reaction from so many bishops is driven by this realization, that if they don't respond strongly this time, there won't be a next time. No one will ever even ask what they think, and the Catholic Church in America will become just another social club, sort of a low-church Anglicanism with worse hymns.

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