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October 21, 2008


Kevin J Jones

"The bishops are speaking out, and that's good. The other side can probably outspend them, though, and they've got the sympathetic media on their side."

The bishops also have the disadvantage of generalism. They not only have to put out political fires, they have to shepherd their dioceses, plus run the schools and charities.

These political partisans, by contrast, devote their entire workweek to pushing for their issues and to advancing their side.

While it is fortunate that such people are often counterbalanced by opposing partisans, these disputes and dissents undermine Catholic unity.


Who gets to say what is Catholic?

Apparently it's not that difficult. The scare quotes are a dead giveaway.

Tim J.

Here's a hint, Margarita; the Pope and the bishops get to say what is Catholic.

Radical groups who take that office on themselves very rightly get "irony quotes".


Apparently it's not that difficult. The scare quotes are a dead giveaway.

Heh. Of course, I never meant to imply that it was difficult. The scare quotes (or "irony quotes," thanks Tim J!) are certainly a dead giveaway for anyone willing to take my word for it, but of course I'm not the arbiter. I only meant to point out that (a) there is an arbiter, and (b) these groups aren't even trying to be in line with that arbiter.

Scott W.

Does anything, I don't know, stand out to you about that?

Yeah, Obama's policy description sounds like it was lifted right off his teleprompter. McCain's reads as if the writer is doing his best to restrain himself from writing, "and he's a doody-head."


What I would say for Biden (though it's certainly not enough to get me near the ticket) is that I think he's as much a Catholic as I am, though maybe I'm not much of one, either. His NARAL rating isn't perfect, but it's a good distance from 100%.

There is a tension, one I've not figured out how to resolve, about what makes someone "more" or "less" Catholic that I think can be important in principle, but I've never seen it very useful in practice.

The tension is between the idea that the Catholic Church is exclusive (One and True) and that it's universal (Catholic). Everyone in the Church is a sinner, and I would suspect that nearly everyone in the Church has held an error at some point in their life without knowing it, many of them stubbornly. And yet, we know some people are better Catholics than others, and it's not just a matter of things you sign off on but don't live.

In practice, this tension can rip apart peoples' faith, and can seem to lack in love. Is someone who isn't as good a Catholic less of a Catholic then someone else? Are there people who have "more full" communion?

I see Christ as the authority. We may speculate, but we may not judge individuals. And I imagine people who are "more" Catholic (or at least better Catholics) than I am supported Hitler, supported Slavery, supported all kinds of things I now see as terrible. And I'm also pretty sure that there are people who will vote for Obama who will be far better Catholics than I am, despite their lack of good prudential judgment in terms of that political decision. Although I see the same problem with McCain supporters.

General theological and moral topics are also true when brought to specific cases, but when applied as a standard of judgment to the Catholicity of individuals "seek not to know, unless you seek to be in error." (paraphrase of St. Augustine)

Brian Walden

Today I saw this Washington Post article, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/20/AR2008102002290.html?hpid=opinionsbox1 , which opened with this paragraph:

"It has become commonplace in American politics: Certain Roman Catholic bishops declare that the faithful should cast their ballots on the basis of a limited number of "nonnegotiable issues," notably opposition to abortion. Conservative Catholics cheer, more liberal Catholics howl. And that is usually the end of the story."

While the article itself proposes a wierd, opposite-world view of reality - this paragraph rings too true. This year we've seen dozens of bishops heroically and firmly speak out against abortion - something that even a year ago none of us would expected. Yet it seems that they're just preaching to the choir. Those who listen are those who have been calling for the bishops to preach such truth for years. And those who continue to dissent made up their minds years ago and refuse to let a few bishops or even the Pope sway them.

Let's face it, many (most?) Catholics don't think that the teachings of the Church have any more authority than the opinions Oprah. I think a big part of the problem is just a general confusion among Catholics, which is in no small part (but certainly not wholly) the fault of bishops who have let heterodoxy run wild for too long. Is it time that the bishops start disciplining dissenters to help get the attention of the average man and woman in the pew? Maybe seeing that rebelling against the Church has real consequences will help wake Catholics up to the fact that the Church is not just one voice among many.

Jeffrey G

So... What is Catholic?
Don't leave us in suspense.


I saw this story in my Diocese (Scranton) H/T The Black Biretta

The Bishop of Scranton addressed this specific issue two days ago by personally showing up at a Parish's political debate -- and then shutting them down in person. What I would have given to be there.

Brian Walden

Wow, what an event. From the article:

Martino, who arrived while the panelists were stating their viewpoints, took issue with the USCCB statement, which was handed out to everyone at the meeting, and also that his letter was not mentioned once at the forum
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
“The only relevant document ... is my letter,” he said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

Bishop Martino is right, he's the teaching authority within his diocese. And I think from the context, he's objecting to people twisting the words of the USCCB document to mean something contrary to the Magisterium and Martino's instructions to his own flock. But people are going to use this quote to make it seem as though Bishop Martino and the USCCB are in direct opposition with each other.

Scott W.

I mentioned this over at Shea's blog: Everything Biden says and does demonstrates that he believes the evilness of abortion is merely a subjective/circumstantial thing and not the intrinsic evil that it is. Thus, his being "personally opposed" to abortion is no more meaningful than my personal opposition to putting ketchup on a hot dog. The pervasive modern liberal error of subjectivism/consequentialism is utterly incompatible with Catholic Faith. No need to wrangle over definitions of good/bad less/more Catholic. The facts do just fine.


This year we've seen dozens of bishops heroically and firmly speak out against abortion - something that even a year ago none of us would expected. Yet it seems that they're just preaching to the choir.

"Thus the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, speak thus to your countrymen: When I bring the sword against a country, and the people of this country select one of their number to be their watchman, and the watchman, seeing the sword coming against the country, blows the trumpet to warn the people, anyone hearing but not heeding the warning of the trumpet and therefore slain by the sword that comes against him, shall be responsible for his own death. He heard the trumpet blast yet refused to take warning; he is responsible for his own death, for had he taken warning he would have escaped with his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and fails to blow the warning trumpet, so that the sword comes and takes anyone, I will hold the watchman responsible for that person's death, even though that person is taken because of his own sin. You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself."


I initially wanted to say that it is obvious that the bishops need to totally reform how Catholics are educated in their faith, but it occurred to me that what is really needed is profound conversion. We need far more people praying for this daily.

J.R. Stoodley

I think a part of the problem is some people seem to have this view that Catholicism is a cultural or even ethnic thing, that if you were "born and raised Catholic" you somehow have a sort of birthright to Catholic identity. Conversely, to most of us who are converts (all three regular posters and many combox contributers here) Catholicism is a faith, a set of ideas and an organized Church, a whole that one must commit oneself to in order to be Catholic. Not that there aren't plenty of Cradle Catholics who see it the latter way or some converts to Cafeteria Catholicism, but that's still a general pattern I see.

It's this sort of thing that sometimes makes me feel like an internal schism might actually be good for the Church, if it gets rid of Cafeteria Catholics with their sense of entitlement to Catholic identity. Of course in reality it would be a tragety and a scandal, but there would be a silver lining to it. A better and more plausible solution though is through education of the new generations of Catholics on what it really means to be Catholic, so that people raised Catholic understand that as they become adults they must make a conscious decision to either embrace the entirety of the Catholic faith and the full authority of the Church or voluntarily leave the Church out of honesty. However, more in line with what Kathy said, it has to be presented in terms of personal conversion and fidelity to Christ, not unthinking adherance to complicated doctrines and the authority of certain human beings.

The sacrament of Confirmation could possibly play a role here. In general I've leaned towards a return to the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation, which would mean earlier Confirmation and emphasis on it being the completion of baptism rather than this modern idea of it being the sacrament of Christian maturity. However, if we retain this idea of it being an adult committment maybe something could be done with that. The problem is people become ready to make an adult committment to their faith (or alternatively, an adult rejection of their faith) until relatively late in their life. Hmmm... lots of complications, but I still feel like there could be potential in the phenominon of Confirmation and preparation for it for addressing this crisis of Catholic identity.


Can I just say that as a student at a "Catholic, Jesuit" university, this is exactly what everyone's been saying for years? "You can't say I'm not a Catholic! Who are you to say I'm not Catholic? How do you define Catholic, anyway?"

And they then seem to think they've won the debate. Meanwhile, I and others like me are stuck with the problems that: yes, we are sinners as well; no, you can't sum up the Catechism in a ten word slogan that captures the whole of the faith; no, I'm not a theologian and so cannot really take on the religious studies department/the Jesuits/the priest saying those insane things from the pulpit. Welcome to the world of the trying to be faithful Catholic college student in a university that should feel like home. I'm continually astounding my parents and family members when I mention what we face here. Orwell knew exactly what he was talking about--mental reservation as the ongoing atmosphere in which we live. Take away the spirituality and the faith, and all that's left for the Jesuits is an incredibly potent political climate. Throw out Aquinas and the strictures of Latin, and obfuscation that would make Wither in That Hideous Strength look like an amateur comes billowing in like a noxious fog.

Dudley Sharp

What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do
By Fr. John De Celles, 9/1/2008
"Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is … a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … [I]t is therefore never licit to … "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it."
In other words: it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion.

Now, some will want to say that these bishops-and I- are crossing the line from Religion into to politics. But it was the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) who started this. The bishops, and I, are not crossing into politics; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine, And it's our job to try clean up their mess.

But there's something more than that here. On Sunday, before the whole nation, she claimed to be an "ardent, practicing Catholic." Imagine if someone came in here and said "I'm a mafia hit man and I'm proud of it." Or "I deal drugs to little children." Or "I think black people are animals and it's okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children's school."
Are these "ardent practicing Catholics"?  No, they are not."

And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her. Someone, for example, like a Catholic Speaker of the House, or a Catholic candidate for Vice President of the United States, or a Catholic senior Senator who is stands as the leading icon his political party. Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics."

But the reason I say all this is not because I want to embarrass them or even correct them — they’re not even here. It’s because of you. Because back in the 1850’s when Catholic bishops, priests, and politicians were either silent or on the wrong side of the slavery debate, they risked not only their souls, but the souls of every other Catholic they influenced. I cannot do that, and I won’t do that.

Some would say, well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too?

Simple answer: no. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself. Not all wars are unjust — and good Catholics can disagree on facts and judgments. Same thing with the other issues: facts are debatable, as are solutions to problems."
"What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do: Correcting Pelosi", National Review Online, 9/1/2008 6:00AM


Cardinals, Bishops and Congressmen Slam Pelosi on Abortion

New York Cardinal - Pelosi Not Worthy of "Providing Leadership in a Civilized Democracy"


So sad, many of my Catholic friends are pro-choice. Well, only 2 are still Catholics, the others have gone Prot. But they all are pro-choice.

Anyway - the refrain is 'who are you to say what is Catholic'? Charity and friendship prevents me from upbraiding them. I was an atheist for 25 years, and coming back to belief was hard. Becoming a Catholic was a tough choice too (except for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, of course). And yet, I know much more than any of them.

But I don't want to come across as the Church Obnoxious, to quote Fr. Scalia. There's such a defensiveness that I am loathe to address it head-on.

The yappings of these public officials really do create scandal in the traditional sense of the word.

Dan Hunter

A Catholic is a man who follows every single teaching of Christ as given us in the infallible teaching Magisterium of the Church.
That Magisterial teaching is contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and promulgated and taught by the bishops IN UNION WITH the Holy Father.
Anyone who does not follow the infallible Magisterial teaching authority of the Church is NOT a Catholic.
Nominal catholicism and cafeteria catholicism do not qualify as. Catholicism.
Ut Prosim.

Mike Petrik

I'm not sure that is right insomuch as it would seem to mean that the Catholic Church has no place for sinners. Perhaps "believe" would be a better word than "follow."

Dan Hunter

Following the Church and believing the Church are the same thing.
The two actions are complimentary.

Since all of us, except the Blessed Virgin, are sinners, it goes without saying that Catholics [sinners] are followers of everything that Christ teaches us through the Church.

Paul Rimmer

"Since all of us, except the Blessed Virgin, are sinners, it goes without saying that Catholics [sinners] are followers of everything that Christ teaches us through the Church."

I would qualify this, if I may by: "everything that Christ teaches us through the Church that they know about and know comes from Christ." Would you agree?

Sorry, couldn't resist


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