Notes From Across The Atlantic
Notes From Across The Atlantic

Notes From Across The Atlantic

Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine January-February 2006


Courage to Take a Stand

According to the civics textbooks, politicians campaign for office, get elected, and then spend their time on governing until it is time to campaign again. In reality, it is increasingly the case that the campaigning never stops. Within the permanent campaign, however, there is still a “campaign season” in which more people pay serious attention. In the 2004 season, much attention was paid to the minority of Catholic bishops who publicly challenged Catholic politicians who support the unlimited abortion license. Some said that such politicians should solemnly reconsider their relationship to the Church, others that they should refrain from receiving Communion, and yet others that they would be refused Communion. And there were bishops who did not disguise their unhappiness with bishopswho even raised such awkward questions. Now Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh is urging his fellow-bishops to get ready for the next campaign season, when the same questions will undoubtedly arise. In a very thoughtful essay, he notes that what a bishop does in one diocese can have a major impact on other dioceses, and can even shape a national debate affecting all bishops in all dioceses. While recognizing core Catholic teaching that a bishop is responsible for pastoral care and discipline in his diocese, which is the “local church”, Wuerl accents the affectus collegialis, or collegial spirit, that should be cultivated among bishops, also through the national bishops conference. Bishops should not rudely surprise other bishops with their pastoral decisions. There should at least be, hewrites, “an agreement among all of the bishops to refrain from making individual pastoral decisions that would impact upon all bishops until there was an opportunity for them to discuss the issue and the impact of a specific pastoral judgment”. While Bishop Wuerl’s concern for collegiality is undoubtedly legitimate, were such an agreement in place, it is almost certain that what many view as the courageous actions of a minority of bishops in 2004 would have been powerfully discouraged, and possibly stifled. The magisterial documents cited by Wuerl speak chiefly of episcopal unity in common doctrine and obedience to the Holy See. That unity is in no way questioned by bishops making different decisions about the pastoral application of doctrine. Against the ambitions of nationalconferences, Rome has strongly emphasized the responsibility of the bishop for the pastoral leadership of those in his care. In the 1998 apostolic letter Apostolos Suos, appropriately cited by Wuerl, John Paul II said that “bishops, whether individually or united in conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favour of the episcopal conference, and even less can they do so in favour one of its parts.” Bishop Wuerl is to be commended for urging his confreres to think ahead to the next campaign season, but what is urgently needed today, and has been needed for a very long time, is not greater coordination by the conference officialdom in the name of affectus collegialis. What is urgently needed is bishops who have the courage to be bishops, even if it ruffles thefeathers of the brethren. There are bishops who unselfconsciously refer to the episcopacy as “the club” and have no higher praise for a fellow member of the club than to say he is a “team player”. Collegiality is not to be confused with clerical clubbiness. As the National Review Board report of 2004 incisively noted, the failure of bishops to do their duty lest they disrupt episcopal business as usual was a big part of the toleration of sex abusers and the consequent scandal that erupted in January 2002. As long as they are clearly united in church teaching and adherence to the Holy See, there is no scandal in bishops making different pastoral judgments. The scandal is bishops who decline to be bishops.

On Virtue and Liberty

Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal writes under the headline, “America’s anti-Reagan Isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s Rick Santorum.” He is reviewing Senator Santorum’s new book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good (ISI, 464 pages, £14.36). In the American tradition, Rauch says, Goldwater and Reagan were with Madison and Jefferson in elevating freedom over virtue, while Santorum is with John Adams and Washington in reversing that order. Rauch’s argument is not entirely unpersuasive, and Santorum does seem to have more confidence in government interventions—big government, if you will—than may be warranted. But the same Reagan who said that government is not the solution but the problem also focused government attention on social problems, especially those affecting thefamily. Goldwater was very different. He was a libertarian, as witness his pro-abortion and pro-homosexuality positions of later years. “The bold new challenge to the Goldwater-Reagan tradition in American politics comes not from the Left but from the Right,” writes Rauch. This announcement comes a little late. The virtues-oriented base of the Republican Party, strongly assisted by Reagan, has been with us for a decade now. Senators Clinton and Santorum may agree on the importance of virtue, but they have very different understandings of virtue, as witness, for starters, their approach to the legal protection of unborn children and the irreplaceability of the traditional family. The philosophical argument over the relationship between liberty and virtue has been with us for a very longtime. And for a very long time, politically speaking, so has the shift belatedly discovered by Jonathan Rauch.

Changing the Focus on Human Rights

Rabbi Joshua Haberman of Washington, D.C., once observed that America’s Bible Belt is his safety belt. Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute agrees. Writing in Christianity Today, he tells Christians, and evangelical Christians in particular, that “you’ve become, beneath the radar screens of the national press, America’s most powerful force for human rights progress. And you’ve done it as Christians whose biblical commands have made your silence impossible in the face of slavery and genocide.” Although he doesn’t say so, Horowitz, a Jew, has played an invaluable part in recruiting evangelicals to the cause of human rights. As under Nazi and Soviet persecution those who defended Jews were defending all, so also, Horowitz writes: “The battle over worldwide Christian persecution is abattle for the freedom of all—all the more so because the explosive global spread of Christianity has made the paradigmatic Christian a poor and brown third-world female rather than the white middle-class Western male that your patronizing detractors paint you to be.” Horowitz also has words of advice. It is too easy to defeat the possible better in the quest for the impossible best. “You can get more support than you may imagine possible by avoiding utopian overreach; doing so can, without sacrifice of principle, broaden the support you can achieve. Take, for example, the hot-button issue of abortion. Many in the Christian community denounced the wise and shrewd leaders who conceived of the partial-birth abortion initiative. Its critics demeaned the initiative as barely half a slice ofthe full-loaf reform that was needed. They argued that the reform would have the overall effect of legitimising abortion even if it succeeded. Those critics were wrong. They did not understand that success has ripple effects. They did not understand how much more could be achieved by framing the issue to allow false caricatures of evangelicals to be shattered. Americans’ views of abortion have shifted by more than 20 percent since the onset of the partial-birth abortion debate and largely because of it. It has put the pro-abortion community on the defensive. And it all happened because wise Christian leaders picked a target that was winnable, and framed an issue that revealed abortion’s underlying nature. Those leaders may have wanted to pass more far-reaching anti-abortion legislation,but knew they couldn’t on both legal/constitutional and political grounds. They were tough-minded. They didn’t sacrifice principle. And, more than perhaps even they expected, they began to reach others not previously on their side as they began to change the terms of the abortion debate.” The goal of comprehensive legal protection for the unborn is not, I believe, an instance of “utopian overreach,” but Horowitz is right in saying that the focus on partial birth abortion played a powerful role in changing the terms of the continuing conflict over abortion. And he is right in understanding the ways in which the mobilisation of evangelicals—as explained by Allen Hertzke in “The Shame of Darfur” (First Things, October)—has transformed the never-ending campaign for human rights.

Seminary Visitation Under Way

Already underway is a major visitation to evaluate about 160 Catholic seminaries and houses of formation. The visitation began late September and is scheduled to be completed by the first week of May 2006. In some circles, there is considerable skepticism. There was a similar visitation in the 1980s and it apparently did not catch the problems related, however directly or indirectly, to the sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002 and continues to send shock waves through every level of the Church’s life. This visitation, we are assured, will be different. The most important difference is that Rome is unequivocally in charge. Reports from the visitation teams will go directly to the Congregation for Education in Rome without being vetted in advance by seminary rectors or local bishops. Thevisitors will look at everything being taught and done in the seminaries, with particular reference to moral theology as it relates to priestly formation, and with most particular reference to celibacy. Here, inescapably, homosexuality comes in for serious attention. No doubt some have exaggerated the incidence of homosexual orientation or activity among Catholic clergy, but more than 80 percent of the relatively small number of priests involved in sex abuse were involved with post-pubescent boys and young men. And there is no doubt about the hundreds of priests, seminarians and ex-seminarians who testify to the existence of “gay-friendly” institutions powerfully influenced, if not dominated, by “lavender mafias”. The visitors will include forty-five bishops, sixty priests, andtwenty-five lay experts and the whole thing is coordinated by Archbishop Edward O’Brien of the military vicariate. He will not be a part of the three- to five-member visiting teams but is working closely with Rome, and especially with Archbishop Michael Miller of the Congregation for Education, a widely and justly admired scholar who is thoroughly familiar with the American situation. The visiting teams will spend a week at each seminary, house of formation or theological union (such as those at Chicago and Berkeley), interviewing faculty and every student individually. Priests who have been ordained in the last three years and others who know the institution will also be invited to testify. Interviews will be sub secreto, meaning the participants are vowed to secrecy. It is alleged thatduring the visitation of the 1980s, some schools created Potemkin villages, putting on a front of fidelity to the magisterium and moral discipline, while carefully scripting in advance what students should tell the visitors. This time, we are told, the visitors will be alert to any such signs of dissembling. “This is not a witch hunt,” says one bishop involved. “Our entire purpose is to help these places be better. We understand that some faculties are fearful. They should not be. Except for those who have a reason to be afraid.” At this point, it seems to me, confidence in the visitation now underway is justified. The process has been carefully thought through, the determination of those in charge is manifest. The firm intention is that what is right will be reinforced, what is wrongwill be remedied and what is rotten will be removed. Perhaps most important, Rome is in charge and Rome is resolved to help get priestly formation in America back on course. Obviously, results are not guaranteed, but attentive hopefulness is fully warranted.


Faith Magazine

January - February 2006