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November 14, 2012

The Enemy Within

 

From literature, television, film, and music, authors, originators, and producers have used the theme of “the enemy within” to describe problems within an institution, organization, or society caused by its own members rather than by externs. This is not to say that in all cases, the “the enemy within” was malicious or a traitor, but it was an opponent to something of importance that was associated with and held by the community with which it, the “enemy,” chose to associate itself. I am using the term “enemy” as it is defined by the OED as “one who opposes” something. The Church has found herself across salvation history to be such a community in which persons claiming to be members have challenged core beliefs of the Church arguing that these principles of faith were outdated, wrong, or flawed and in need of abandonment. The Church in the United States, which is a local church of the Universal Church, has been the target of such persons, the “enemy” (i.e., those who are opposed) for some time. Evidence of this is particularly palpable during the election seasons of the last several decades. The fact that I disagree with certain views expressed by others who use the descriptor “Catholic” to describe themselves does not mean that I hate them or want to fight them: it means that I disagree with them and am opposed to their views on issues where we have different, perhaps even diametrically opposite views.

There is for many of us a correlation between principles of Catholicism and matters that are at the forefront of public policy debates and disagreements of the day. Like those with whom I disagree on these matters, it is important to offer the perspectives I hold for the benefit and consideration of others. That is why I write today to express a difference of opinion with two fellow Catholics, one whom I know and one whom I do not. For purposes of my discussion, identity is not essential to my posting (although it will be known by anyone who chooses to click the hyperlink), but the positions they advance are. My disagreement is not personal; rather, my opposition is to their perspectives and contentions which I believe are flawed because their justifications for both are deficient and miss something that objective reason would indicate to be otherwise. So, here goes…

The first view [here] takes issue with those bishops who took a strong and public stand on various initiatives regarding the meaning of marriage and the legislative or other initiatives to recognize same-sex marriage. The fact that individual bishops, episcopal conferences, and the Holy See have “weighed in” on the matter and opposed these initiatives and pointed out that these initiatives, if successful, will lead to other problematic initiatives down the line does not make the bishops who made statements along these lines “sarcastic.” The use of analogy is important in public policy debate, and it is certainly an important element of practical legal reasoning. The issues raised by the bishops were done with serious intent in mind; they were not an attempt to be sarcastic. To consider the basis of this contention in a legal context, who would have thought that Griswold would have led to Eisentadt; who would have thought that Roe would have led to abortion-on-demand? To have raised the prospect of where landmark case progeny would travel might have also been viewed as “sarcastic,” but look what happened. If this author upon whose posting I am commenting had investigated further, he would know that there are proponents of other forms of marriage who are preparing to advance their causes once same-sex marriage takes deeper root.

Furthermore, to take to task Catholics who are opposed to the same-sex marriage initiatives by arguing that these persons are using precious resources “to combat marriage equality” gives a meaning to the important word “equality” that is not sustainable or durable. As I pointed out in my last posting a few days ago, there are profound reasons for agreeing that same-sex relations that might be called marriage are not the equal of opposite-sex relations. Yet, we live and toil in an age where the simple mention of the term “equality” is all that one needs to do to make his or her argument stick, or so it seems. Nonetheless, objective reason that is constituted by clear, careful, and critical thinking will demonstrate that the use of the term “equality” to advance to acceptability of same-sex marriage is a mistaken use of the term’s meaning. To argue that bishops and other members of society are engaged in problematic “combat” that will undermine “equality” is unreasonable. To argue that these members of the Church should abandon what some term as “culture war politics” does not grasp the reality of the situation nor the matters which are at stake. The sound bite culture may find attractive such a phrase to describe a position with which they disagree and which they wish to see eliminated from the public debate, but the phrase “culture war politics” does grave disservice to the robust duties that accompany the responsibilities and rights of citizenship.

The further justification offered by this writer that the efforts of bishops and many Catholics to oppose same-sex marriage will “push[] younger generations of Catholics out of the church [sic]” needs to be evaluated. This statement presupposes that “younger generations of Catholics” understand and accept the first principles of the faith with which they are associated. In fact, many, perhaps most, do not for reasons I explained in my last post:

 

more and more young people are being subjected to teachings which use the moniker “Catholic” but, in fact, are not. As the “More than a Monologue” initiative partly sponsored by Fordham and Fairfield Universities illustrated and which I have previously discussed on these pages, nominally Catholic institutions of higher education, which have an extraordinary influence on the young, are not teaching what the Church teaches; moreover, these institutions are not exploring why the Church teaches what she teaches in spite of assertions to the contrary. For the most part at many institutions that claim the moniker “Catholic”, students are being exposed to a shadow magisterium which is a corruption of rather than intellectual fidelity to Church teachings on the neuralgic issues of the day including marriage. While these young may be receiving a great deal of education, they are not receiving the wisdom of the Church; hence, their knowledge of what the Church teaches and why she teaches what she does is being eviscerated.

 

So, I don’t think it is the bishops and those faithful to the Magisterium who are pushing the younger generations of Catholics out of the Church.

The source relied upon by this author to make his point insists that “Younger Catholics don’t want our faith known for its involvement in divisive culture wars.” This assertion/justification is also in need of careful evaluation. What do these young people understand our faith to be about? If it is all about social justice as the strongest voices of contemporary culture explain that loaded term, something crucial is missing. Our faith certainly includes corporal works of mercy that are designed to serve “the poor and marginalized,” but first and last it is about salvation and repentance of sins. I think too many Catholics today, and not just the young, have little or no clue about this core tenet. If they young are being “push[ed]…out of the church,” the source for this has been misidentified.

I now come to the second perspective [here] that requires a response. It begins by stating that the U.S. Catholic bishops “took a beating at the polls” in last week’s election. I was surprised to learn that they were on any ballot as part of a legislative initiative or as candidates. It would be accurate to say that bishops supported various initiatives that were parts of closely contested contests in which the bishops had strong support amongst tens of millions of voters. I took solace in the fact that this perspective acknowledged the Constitutional rights of all persons (including bishops, priests, religious, and the lay faithful) to participate in the political process and to debate the issues even when it appears that one party or one candidate might favor particular issues and the other party or candidate may not. When all is said and done, it is the issues that are in the forefront; what the candidates support and do not support follows.

The critique of this second perspective was not the Constitutional right of the bishops and other Catholics but rather what is effective and prudent about the tactics or strategies the bishops and the allied faithful take. Considerations of prudence and effectiveness are always important considerations for those who participate in public life, but so is the truth and ensuring that the truth about the matter under discussion is not sacrificed. To suggest that those bishops who remained silent on the neuralgic issues for presumed reasons of prudence and effectiveness and those who spoke out as being “political bishops” does a grave disservice to the office of bishop. If we could ask him today, I think John Fisher would agree with my take.

One also has to ask the honest question: who is pushing the issues (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc.) that are being pushed? Is it the bishops, or is it those lobbies and political organizations that have taken on the crusade of making dramatic changes to society and its institutions? The truth of the matter is that the bishops have spoken out on many issues of great importance, including those dear to many Americans. However, when the bishops don’t concur with powerful political forces about particular issues, the shepherds are incorrectly labeled as “political”, i.e., meaning wrong, imprudent, and ineffective. While this writer asserted that he was not “challenging church teaching” but “questioning political strategy,” the rest of us have to consider the implications well understood by Thomas More of the legal expression “qui tacet consentire”—silence gives consent. By remaining silent (or prudent, if you prefer), would it appear to many fellow citizens that the bishops were condoning or approving positions on crucial issues that are, in fact, in manifest opposition to first principles of the faith? They need only look at the example of Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna in the late 1930s to answer the question.

To argue that parishes should be “free of partisan politics” inaccurately captures what is at stake: fidelity to Christ, His holy Church, and enduring principles of the faith. If the parish is only a gathering place for “social justice” and doing good on certain issues but not those bearing some controversy, the faith of such a parish is thin. The bishops who disagree with this proponent are chided as not listening; but, to whom should they be listening, to what should they be paying attention? I think they are listening, and I think they are paying attention. Moreover, they realize what is at stake, and a sufficient number of them have indicated their acceptance of the responsibilities of their teaching office so that they are speaking out and in a clear manner that is understandable by their fellow Americans and fellow Catholics.

The second writer seems to argue that if something is legal, e.g., abortion or same-sex marriage, the bishops should leave it alone and move on. Our nation and our world have experienced too many situations in which something was declared legal but was morally flawed and contrary to the first principles of the faith. This is why Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that he:

 

would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.

 

Should Archbishop Rummel have left alone what was legal when he confronted the evils of segregation that were legal, at least for a while? Surely bishops, clergy, religious, and the lay faithful must reasonably expect that their actions or tactics may “enrage their opponents,” and in Archbishop Rummel’s circumstance that was the case as it was with Dr. King. But neither of these witnesses to Christ let threats of public officials or the rage of some Catholics or other believers stop them from doing what the faith required. The fact that the bishops of Massachusetts opposed the move in that state to legalize same-sex marriage should not make us overlook the revenge taken by advocates for SSM who, as this author suggested, “fought exempting Catholic foster care and adoption services” on the grounds of “political payback.” It was revenge for being Catholic and fidelity to the faith that led to these consequences; moreover, the “political payback” was in reality intimidation designed to remove the Church from its proper role in the realm of matters dealing with public morality.

This is how tyrants operate; but tyranny should not stop any of the faithful from the call to and the responsibilities of discipleship. There fact that there are divisions within society should not preclude the truth about important matters from being spoken. The argument that there is no truth or different kinds of truth about the same issue is no argument at all; rather it is an exercise of a will unhitched from objective reason that wants to avoid truth and its objectivity and its beneficial meaning for the common good.

I beg to differ with this author when he suggested that the positions of the bishops on neuralgic issues “are so weak that they cannot allow students to hear their opponents.” Frankly this is not the issue. I don’t think any bishop would mind a program on a Catholic campus or at some other Catholic institution, such as a parish, where the faithful were fully informed of the issues and were given an accurate presentation of what the Church teaches and why she teaches what she teaches in opposition to the contrary positions of the day. Unfortunately we now live in a culture where all too often positions that are opposed to core Catholic beliefs are disguised as acceptable Catholic positions when, in fact, they are not. Bishops, pastors, Catholic educators, and any other person who is faithful to the Magisterium would see this as the case.

Finally, this second perspective argues for a different “political strategy” by the bishops. If that means that the bishops and any other faithful Catholic must sacrifice core teachings or remain silent, this is not a strategy but a capitulation to the first principles of Catholicism. While capitulation may be the safer course of action for the near future, it is not the faithful course; rather, fidelity to Christ and the teachings of His Church are.

 

RJA sj 

Posted by Robert John Araujo, SJ on November 14, 2012 at 03:32 PM in Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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