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Saving Magisterial Truth

July 15, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Since the election of Donald Trump, officials at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have commended the president’s actions on six specific issues: religious liberty, the HHS mandate, UN abortion funding, Planned Parenthood funding, the Mexico City policy (regarding U.S. funding of international abortions), and “transgender” student regulations.
Since last November, USCCB officials have also attacked the president’s positions on over a dozen key issues, including health care, the travel ban, refugee policy, Cuba policy, the Paris Agreement, the death penalty, global warming, the environment, migration, immigration, foreign aid, sanctuary cities, deportations, and border security.
In both cases they have done this formally and publicly, citing the authority of Catholic social teaching and their authority as bishops.
What the reader might notice, and what the bishops don’t mention, is this: While all those positions commended by the bishops address magisterial issues involving objective goods and objective evils, all of the Trump policies condemned by the bishops entail what the Church calls “prudential issues.”
What’s the difference? Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church adopted at the Second Vatican Council, explains the difference between the two categories: First, in n. 12, we learn that, “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful, they [the faithful] show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.”
So in magisterial matters regarding religious liberty, marriage and the family, and the inalterable truths expressed in Humanae Vitae, our bishops and the faithful alike are “bound to adhere” to the teaching of the Church “in matters of faith and morals”; and therefore we are bound to commend the president’s policies that involve issues in the first category, since every one of them either inhibits an objective evil (abortion, contraception) or defends an objective good (the nature and dignity of the person, religious liberty).
In n. 37, Lumen Gentium addresses the second category, in which the bishops condemn a variety of specific prudential Republican initiatives. Regarding this category, the Church teaches us two vital principles:
First, these initiatives involve policy particulars on which good Catholics, and good people generally, have not only the right but the duty to exercise the authority bestowed upon us by God to act prudentially and faithfully in the social and political realm. We can even, in good faith, disagree on specifics, since many paths are often available to serve the common good.
Second, advocating particular approaches to such prudential issues is not the province of the clergy and the hierarchy, but precisely of the laity, “by reason of the knowledge, competence, or pre-eminence which they have.”
True, the hierarchy is often tempted to stray into the realm reserved to the laity; in fact, that temptation has proven so strong over the centuries that it has been repeatedly condemned by the Church (including Pope Francis) by its proper name, “clericalism.”

Planting The Seeds
Of Relativism

Today the errors spawned by clericalism are widespread in the American Church — and their spread has a history.
In the late 1970s, Mark Gallagher, the chief pro-life lobbyist at the USCCB, urged the bishops to defend the Church’s magisterial teaching, which was under ferocious assault after Roe v. Wade. Gallagher urged bishops specifically to “educate and correctly form the consciences of American Catholics” about the primacy of the sanctity of life in the pursuit of the Common Good. Specifically, he urged the bishops to make clear that “those candidates who refused to support the Common Good would be morally unacceptable for public office.”
(See crisismagazine.com, October 22, 2014.)

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However, Gallagher reports, the USCCB’s much larger “social justice” staff disagreed; after all, “their goals and prudential judgments were more reflected by the Democrats in Congress.”
The battle lines were drawn. Forty years ago a majority of pro-life Catholics were Democrats; the conference’s “social justice” staffers feared that, if the bishops put the pro-life issue in its proper preeminent place, many pro-lifers would become Republicans, given the radical pro-abortion stance quickly spreading among Democrat officeholders at the time.
The “social justice” advocates feared that “[t]his shift in the Catholic vote would necessarily hurt their legislative agenda,” Gallagher writes, thus reducing support for welfare-state programs in Congress. So these staffers convinced the bishops “to undertake a campaign to convince Catholics that there was justification to vote for pro-abortion candidates.”
Well, there you have it: At the headquarters of America’s bishops, the sanctity of life was sacrificed on the altar of “social justice.” But that altar was also strewn with other idols. After all, the bishops did not want to embarrass prominent pro-abortion Catholics, either — Catholics like Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Mario Cuomo, and other Democrats whose support was critical to continue the generous federal funding that was directed to the bishops’ own welfare agencies.
The result?
Welcome, dear reader, to the “Seamless Garment.”

Why The Silence?

“The bishops have continued on their failed course for forty years, with fateful, disastrous results,” Gallagher laments. Indeed, the USCCB “social justice” staffers have convinced two generations of bishops to act as though their welfare-state agenda is as magisterial as the sanctity of life — that the (increasingly radical and pro-abortion) platform of the Democrat Party is as binding on Catholics as Humanae Vitae.
This profoundly defective and destructive view abides to this day, as witnessed by a simple question which over a dozen major USCCB leaders have refused to answer for The Wanderer when asked about their advocacy of their partisan agendas:
“Your Excellency: am I ‘bound to adhere’ to your political opinion with the same ‘religious submission of mind’ with which I am required to adhere to the teaching of Humanae Vitae (viz. canon 753)?
“Or is the view you express merely your personal opinion, with which the laity have not only the right but often the duty to disagree (viz. Lumen Gentium, especially n. 37)?”
The bishops’ silence goes beyond their refusal to answer simple questions.
Unfortunately, most are also silent about the truths so beautifully illuminated in Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of Blessed Paul VI promulgated 49 years ago next week. Indeed, any honest review of the bishops’ advocacy in recent years will reveal that, as their political partisan advocacy has increased, their teaching of magisterial truths has decreased in inverse proportion.
As USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan admitted in 2012, most bishops have had “laryngitis” on Humanae Vitae — for fifty years!
And the silence has spread. Many of the most vocal anti-Trump bishops are represented in Congress or the Senate by pro-abortion Catholics. The Wanderer has contacted staff in the offices of Catholic politicians with 100 percent NARAL (pro-abortion) ratings in Newark, N.J.; Brownsville, Texas; Stockton and Los Angeles, Calif.; and Richmond, Va.; not one can find any record of their bishop having publicly condemned their boss’ pro-abortion position, by name, the way he has attacked the policies of Donald Trump.
Why the silence? At the recent convocation held in Orlando, USCCB President Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Houston unconsciously confirmed his conference’s failure to teach Lumen Gentium’s fundamental teaching.
“Way back when,” Cardinal DiNardo tells an interviewer, “I was chair of the Pro-Life Committee.” Conference staffers “were trying to figure out how we can deal, within the Church, with points of view that really should be complementary but sometimes are in tension . . . the pro-life and the social justice people, for instance.”
For the president of the USCCB, “social justice” and the sanctity of life are just two “points of view.” Pro-lifers apparently just haven’t yet gotten the bishops’ message, after forty years, that the Democrat Party welfare-state platform “really ought to be complementary” with their defense of life.
Humanae Vitae’s 49th birthday is July 25. Is your diocese going to celebrate it?

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