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The Catholic bishops embarrassed themselves in Baltimore

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You've got to feel a little sorry for the Catholic bishops.

They declared that the Obama administration was making war on religion and not only was the president reelected but Catholics were the only Christian religious body to vote for him. To make matters worse, after devoting much talk and treasure to combatting the rising tide of same-sex marriage, they got their butts kicked from coast to coast by a populace that voted the other way.

No wonder Cardinal Dolan made penance the theme of his presidential address to the USCCB during their semi-annual fling in Baltimore this week. The problem was, no one was prepared to point the penitential finger at Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, whose continuance in office after being convicted of failing to report a sexually abusive priest makes a mockery of the USCCB's claims to have addressed the cover-up scandal.  

Equally embarrassing was the fate of a letter on poverty that +Dolan pushed to at least get the bishops on the record in re: the recession that started four years ago. The letter did everything in its power to skate over the tradition of advocacy embedded in Catholic social teaching, failing even to mention American bishops' own 1986 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All."

It was a document more in tune with Rep. Paul Ryan than Pope Leo XIII--one that sought to fulfill the church's preferential option for the poor via such subsidiary institutions as one-man-one-woman marriage and voucherized schooling. After being roundly denounced by retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and some other episcopal old-timers, the letter failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote and was pronounced DOA by +Dolan.

The bishops then unanimously decided that this would be a good time to proceed with the canonization of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement who famously declared, "Do not call me a saint." As a devout anarchist, Day was not a fan of big government social programs--but she had no use whatsoever for the kind of laissez-faire subsidiarity advocated by Ryan & Co. She loved organized labor, bosses not so much. As she wrote after a visit to the farm workers in California:

What I saw when I visited Stockton in December was the problem of the land. How much land does a man need? Surely not the tens of thousands of acres owned by the California Packing Company, the Southern Pacific, the Pacific Gas and Electric, the Bank of America, in addition to some individuals whose families administer their holdings like medieval barons, ruling over vast territories and treating their laborers like serfs. These corporations and individuals make up the Associated Farmers.

Reflecting on Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre's efforts to squelch the civil rights movement in his city, Day had this comment about the relationship of the laity to episcopal authority:

The way I have felt about Los Angeles is that the lay people had to go ahead and form their groups, "Catholics for interracial justice," form their picket lines, as they are only now doing, and make their complaints directly, to priest and cardinal, demanding the leadership, the moral example they are entitled to.

You figure Day would have preferred it if the USCCB spent less time promoting her cause and more time paying attention to what she had to say.

Topics: Ethics


  1. I don’t feel a bit sorry for the Bishop’s. They are failures as pastors and leaders. They should collectively be sacked. We would be better off if the laity elected the Bishop’s as was done by the early Church.

  2. Why feel sorry for a bunch who makes a mockery of what they supposedly stand for… Tax them!

  3. Hooray! Anything that brings Dorothy Day’s philosophy to prominence is wonderful. Perhaps this is a case of disasters having some good results.

  4. The bishops have moved so far off the teachings of Christ, and away from the people and the real world we live in that they have reversed progress. The more they alienate women in the church and support political powers that vilify and demean women, the less Christ like they become, and the more they endanger the church tax exempt status. There are quite a few of us who think the church has overstepped the bounds that separate church and state, and should therefore be subject to the taxes of state and federal nature for being nothing more than a political superpac.

  5. I think it rather telling that Dorothy Day has been chosen as a candidate for canonization in the wake of an apparent crisis of confidence between lay Catholics and clergy.

    If the results of this election are proof enough, the public morals that are of the greatest concern to voting Catholics across the country seem to be woefully out of synch with the priorities of major Catholic bishops. While big wigs like Dolan have attempted to keep Catholics in line with the conservative-minded economics of Paul Ryan and his ilk (see his letter on poverty), many lay Catholics have moved in the opposite direction on Catholic social teaching. The fact that this is becoming a serious moral issue at all within the fold, shifting Catholic attention away from concerns over same-sex marriage and abortion, is striking enough.

    Perhaps this is just the cynic in me, but I have a feeling that the canonization of Day may have more to do with co-opting her ideas into the position taken by Church hierarchs than actually formally embracing her philosophy. If there really is a deepening divide between the clergy and laity on issues of social justice, it’s quite the wise (although Machiavellian) move for the clergy to formally honor the figure who could be philosophical standard for morally conscious laity to rally around. By tacking her to the Church authority through canonization, Day loses something of her potency as the emblematic lay Catholic who said the laity should “make their complaints directly, to priest and cardinal, demanding the leadership, the moral example they are entitled to.”

  6. Silk writes, “To make matters worse, after devoting much talk and treasure to combatting the rising tide of same-sex marriage, they got their butts kicked from coast to coast by a populace that voted the other way.”

    Maybe yes; may be no, depends on how ones views it; but it was no where near as bad as Christ being crucified for what he taught. Ultimately, teachings of Jesus and His Church will prevail.

  7. They did not embarrass themselves.  They spoke the truth.  The world citizens, and many of them Catholics, have gone completely to pot.  They have chosen the easy and sinful route in their lifestyles and why should they change.  Salacious movies and television has become the norm for many catholics.  There was a ‘supposed’ sit-com on the other evening which spent 30 minutes on the subject of a man considering circumcision and whether or not his wife wanted it.  We have such shows as “Happily Divorced” which celebrates it in comedy and humor.  I don’t think it is funny.  Many Catholics have changed their morality and given in to much of it and also find it authenticated in late-night show humor.  These shows don’t even bring a smile to my lips, but does to many (not all Catholics).  These are the ones who control the votes and the Church suffers for it.  Remember Cardinals, do not be embarrassed for your teachings, be embarrassed for those members of your flock who insult those teachings and you by now becoming a part of the group who think these things are right.  Please also know that there are many of us out here who are NOT a part of that group, but we are not counted in the vote.  My God help our beloved Catholic Church

  8. When the Bishops quote the Bible, ” Male and Female He created them. ” They should remember God only created Adam and Eve. That is Two in all. So, same sex marriage was not a problem or an option!

  9. Timothy, in the second Genesis narrative, the LORD God created only Adam and Eve, directly. But in the first Genesis narrative, God created male and female, lots of males and lots of females, with no mention of how that relates to marriage.

  10. The bishops and other church hierarchy are intelligent and ambitious people. With that sometimes deadly combination they tried a cheap joyride on Republican extremism and bet on an ideological victory in the form of a reversal of Roe v. Wade that the GOP seemed to promise. It was a foolhardy cul de sac issue. The greater good would have been urging Catholic voters to support candidates who support social justice a la Vatican II. It appears the hierarchy erred on the side of the greater harm versus the lesser. The GOP would have seriously damaged the support systems that people need in tough times but the church leaders were too ensconced in a single issue advocacy to figure that out. Myopic leadership.

  11. Actually I’ve been enjoying the schadenfreude and not feeling particularly sorry for the Catholic bishops. Their histrionics over the HHS mandate after similar state mandates existed for a decade annoyed me.

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