Catholic Bishops, Heroism And Vitriol

So much has arrived in my e-mail recently on the conflict between courageous preaching and the hate speech of those who find religion nauseating that I decided to write about it. What inspires me to do this is that it paints a clear picture of what we in the pro-life movement are up against when it comes to setting forth truth in a world intoxicated with nonsense.

For example, this morning, I received a feedback comment from our web site that stated the following:

I grew up Catholic back in the days of Dominus vobiscum [the Lord be with you], but am no longer involved with any religious activities. But I'm amazed at the number of people online over the past few years who verbally attack the hierarchy at any level for not acting as these lay people steeped in anger would have them act – i.e. rake politicians who have supported a woman's choice over reproduction over the coals for not rebuking them more harshly and/or deny them Corpus Christi [body of Christ]. The ordained can only do so much in this secular and diverse democratic Republic [sic]. It is no longer permissible to tie people to a stake over cords of wood and burn them alive.

The individual who wrote this is accusing American Life League of attacking the Catholic bishops because they will not act in a way consonant with our "steeped in anger" attitudes!

If I had been able to speak with this person, I might have said, "Good grief, man, get a life!"

Nobody at American Life League, including yours truly, is steeped in anything other than our humble request that ordained priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do their best to enforce Church law and thereby protect Christ from sacrilege. The medicinal attributes of enforcing Church law, in this case, Canon 915, are to provide the opportunity for the wayward Catholic public figure to see the error of his ways and return to the Church and her teaching with a repentant heart. I really don't consider that a form of anger, but rather a loving act toward those Catholics in public life who support the act of aborting innocent persons. "Choice over reproduction" should not include murder, after all.

But what is really most interesting about this fellow's comments is that I think he really believes that in America, a Catholic bishop or priest is no longer free to teach and preach the doctrine of the Church and expect that others in their care will follow it. However, the practice of the Catholic faith is not a political matter at all. In fact, some of the most heroic Catholics I have ever met, including Pope John Paul II, lived under oppressive regimes and proudly practiced their faith despite the threat to life and limb for doing so. Following Christ is not predicated on where we live, but rather on how much we love Christ.

And so, if this gentleman thinks that requiring adherence to Canon 915 is the equivalent of tying the offenders to the stake and lighting a match, I guess we need to pray for him. But his comments are really not all that unusual.

When a Catholic bishop does stand up in the midst of dissent and proclaim the truth, he is always attacked. A case in point is Sacramento, California's coadjutor bishop, Most Rev. Jaime Soto, who was invited to appear as a speaker at the recent meeting of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries.

During his speech, Bishop Soto declared,

Sexual relations between people of the same sex can be alluring for homosexuals, but it deviates from the true meaning of the act and distracts them from the true nature of love to which God has called us all. For this reason, it is sinful. Married love is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression.

In response to the bishop's remarks, which did nothing but reflect Catholic teaching, five members of the audience walked out and one of this group's board members apologized for what the bishop had said! Now who is steeped in anger in this picture?

Another faithful, courageous shepherd, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, responded within a day to the outrageous comments of state Representative John LaBruzzo, who proposed paying poor women to get sterilized. The archbishop was remarkable in his public statement, calling the proposal "an egregious affront to those targeted and blatantly anti-life." And he went on to say, "Our lawmakers would do better to focus on policies that promote education and achievement to counteract poverty and the bigotry of low expectations."

When the Times-Picayune reported on the archbishop's statement, I was astounded by the comments posted on the web site:

Here is one response:

"The Catholic Church opposes all forms of birth control. How is this news? The Church's position is very self serving."

What exactly is self-serving about acknowledging that the ability to conceive children is a gift from God, not from the state?

Another wrote, "Hughes is a devil and Maestri is his devil-lap dog. Who cares what he says?"

And yet another posted this:

Hughes takes his cues from the devil's bullhorn………..

I have to tell you, there are so many truly hateful comments posted in response to this news report that I am left with a saddened heart and sincere desire to get on my knees and say a prayer of thanks to God for the courage of these men, emboldened by truth and unafraid of proclaiming it.

It is, after all, bishops like Soto and Hughes who are reflecting Pope Benedict XVI's recent invitation to bishops:

"The example of the great apostle calls bishops to grow each day in a holy life, so as to have the same sentiments as Christ," Benedict XVI said. "The first apostolic and spiritual commitment of a bishop should be to progress in the life of evangelical perfection."

The [p]ope exhorted the bishops "to trust each day in the word of God, so as to be teachers of the faith and authentic educators of your faithful." Moreover, he entrusted the prelates to the [word] of God, "so that you will be faithful to the promises you have pronounced before God and the Church on the day of your episcopal consecration.

"Progressing along the path of sanctity, you will manifest that indispensable moral authority and prudent wisdom that is demanded of one who is at the head of the family of God," the Holy Father affirmed. "This authority is today more necessary than ever. Your ministry will be pastorally fruitful if it is supported on your sanctity of life."


Amen, Your Holiness, and alleluia!