Extremist Bishops’ Misguided War

There is a group of noisy extremists in the body of American Catholic bishops.  They are not adding anything to the bishops’ credibility these days - something that has already been greatly tarnished. Their immoderate stance in the abortion debate will not strengthen a pro-life agenda. Unfortunately great opportunities for moral leadership are lost. Of course abortion is an important issue, but the approach of certain bishops has been misguided and counter-productive.

Let’s be clear.  I am pro-life. Cardinal Bernardin best expressed life issues as a seamless garment – from the womb to the tomb. That’s where I stand.

These ultra conservatives’ fallacy, however, is the assumption that those Catholics who voted for Democrats are champions of abortion and do not share the bishops' moral concern. They are dead wrong.

Catholics of good conscience who have weighed the broad spectrum of life issues have decided that, in the final analysis, the Democratic party is more in line with Catholic social teaching.  These Catholic voters considered the dismal record of the incumbent party on a host of life issues and other aspects of Catholic social doctrine and opted for the party whose overall agenda hopefully will do more to address the root causes leading to abortion.

Those extremist bishops of whom I speak need to address the following questions:

- What has the Republican administration done in the last eight years to promote life and address the social issues that lead to abortion? 

- How have the years of an illegal and immoral Iraq war, as condemned by two popes and costing thousands of lives, promoted life?

- When have they railed against this war, torture, capital punishment and other life issues with the same vehemence while they focused exclusively on abortion?

- Would these rigid bishops deny communion to those many bishops around the world who disagree with them?

As to this last question, note that there are moderate bishops around the world who do not agree with the tunnel vision of their extremist colleagues.

Bishop Steib of Memphis flatly stated, “It is not my duty, nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.” What is the best way to address such an issue?According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to ‘discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.’ "

Likewise Auxiliary Bishop Zavala of Los Angeles has said that his fellow bishops have long insisted that “we are not a one-issue church….there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives.”

From across the world, Archbishop Onaiyekan,  past president of the African bishop’s conference who is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa, wrote,  “Those who are against abortion should be consistent….If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death …It’s a whole package”

Pope Benedict XVI himself stated in Deus Caritas Est, “The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice ... The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.”

Although the US bishops in the “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” clearly and forthrightly stated at the outset “We do not tell Catholics how to vote,” it appears that this is exactly what a few bishops are doing when one considers their recent statements and actions.

Their approach reminds one of the administration’s policy of saber rattling and resorting to a military rather than a diplomatic approach to the problems we face around the world.  For the church as well there is a better way to address compassionately the moral dilemmas people face. Moral persuasion in a pluralistic society is the pastoral approach in addressing this issue; changing minds and hearts, rather than legalistic attempts that are futile.
Threats, intimidation, and denying believers their place at the Lord’s table are not the way to deal with honest dissent.  Extremist pastors may not believe it, but there are Catholics with an informed conscience who see life issues in their totality.   They need to know that people of God are not stupid and wayward sheep.

Richard Cross


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