Catholic Politicking

As many of you follow my commentaries on Church law, specifically Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted. I take issue with many things the Catholic bishops do, or in a few cases, fail to do. The absence of total unanimity regarding the enforcement of Canon 915 troubles me. But one thing is certain. I have always tried to do this with respect for the office of bishop and with the knowledge that my role is to remind them about the critical nature of Church law, particularly Canon 915, and the obligation to protect the body and blood of Christ from sacrilege.

We have followed Archbishop Raymond Burke's lead on this subject, and are very careful to take our guidance from our spiritual director, Father James Buckley, FSSP. There is a fine line between defending truth and being disrespectful toward Catholic bishops, and we certainly do our best to remain on the proper side of that line.

Clearly, not all bishops agree with our position on Canon 915, but we continue to persist while striving to be humbly and lovingly focused on this point. Some have seen our commentary as critical of the bishops, but in all honesty, expressing our hope that Canon 915 will be enforced is not disrespectful nor is it critical . . . It is the truth.

However, I have noticed something in the past few days that really troubles me. It has caused me to think aloud about our tone when dialoguing with Catholic bishops, and I have to tell you why. The comments I have seen reported by the news media are coming from someone who appears to have taken it upon himself to "instruct" the bishops regarding partisan politics and how they are to behave.

I am talking about Randall Terry, the 49-year-old founder of Operation Rescue and recent convert to Catholicism. In a press release he issued from St. Paul, Minnesota during the Republican National Convention, he explained to Catholic bishops how he felt they should deal with presidential candidates.

He told the bishops what their "inescapable duty" was, as if they did not realize how critical every election is when it comes to the fate of preborn children. He went on to inform the bishops that his followers would be handing out leaflets on Church property and went on to request that each bishop tell his priests, deacons and staff "to not interfere with our peaceful literature distribution. It is our duty, and our right."

Subsequently, at the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, literature was passed out by four pro-life Catholics. This literature was focused on a particular candidate, and having seen it, I found it clearly educational, but also terribly biased and undoubtedly partisan. At any rate, after a security guard, a sacristan and the pastor himself asked that those distributing the leaflets leave church property, two did depart and two remained. The two who remained were arrested for trespassing. Both have since been released.

What is important here is that, as a courtesy to the pastor, whether one thinks he is right or wrong, one has a duty to respect him as a representative of the Church and, of course, as pastor of the place where one is protesting. If that were not the case, two of the four Catholic protestors would not have left. Of that I am certain.

After the arrests, Mr. Terry issued another press release asking Catholics to call Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O'Brien "to demand that the charges against these men be dropped."  I will not second-guess the archbishop on this. He will do what is right; of that I am certain.

I say this because I know that Archbishop O'Brien is one of the strongest pro-life voices we have heard in the Church in a very long time, and his dedication to Church teaching is undeniable. As a matter of fact, he recently wrote one of the most erudite commentaries on "cafeteria Catholics" that I have ever read. In "How the Cafeteria Opened," he provides a stunningly accurate history of the dissent that occurred during the development of the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae. He introduces the subject with the following paragraph:

Last week's column [he wrote a series of three] waded into the controversial territory of contraception, the Church's firm, steady and – I would claim – infallible teaching on the openness to every marital act to both the unitive and procreative meaning that God wills for marital love. The occasion was the recent 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's landmark encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," in which the Holy Father addressed the crisis of marriage and the family in the modern world. The Church's teaching is as true today as it was then, and as it was for almost two millennia before – even though it is said that more than 90 percent of Catholics disagree with that teaching. The question I would pose on this anniversary is whether the teaching of "Humanae Vitae" was understood before it was rejected. Why was there such confusion when, after many years of discussion, "Humanae Vitae" appeared 40 years ago?

That statement alone is a courageous one to make these days. Archbishop O'Brien is a man of integrity and compassion. In light of all this, I would invite Mr. Terry to perhaps revisit his demands, his blanket instructions to Catholic bishops and his generally authoritative tone. Perhaps he could use a bit of charity himself. As someone who has had to learn this personally by eating a whole lot of humble pie, I know of what I speak.

Finally, whether we agree or not, the instructions given to all U.S. Catholic parishes by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (Office of the General Counsel) make it clear that Church property is private property and that free speech rights do not apply. The local Church officials have the right to remove individuals from that property when partisan political activity is witnessed.

Further, a second web site, Faithful Citizenship, which is part of the USCCB's educational effort,  states the following:

Do not authorize distribution of partisan political materials or biased voter education materials (those that support or oppose—or exhibit bias for or against—any candidate or party) on church property, in church publications, or at church activities. Authorization should be given only after materials have been approved by your diocesan attorney.

Perhaps the gentlemen in Maryland were not aware of this. Perhaps Mr. Terry should be instructing his grassroots activists on this matter.

Mr. Terry's assent to these guidelines is really not the issue here. The Church has spoken, and the Church, through the USCCB, has set forth the rules. Those who do not like the rules should use public property . . . At least, that is what I would advise.