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The Seitz Syndrome

August 19, 2017 Frontpage No Comments


The Wanderer reported last week that Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso treats pro-abortion Catholic politicians with kid gloves even as he harshly condemns pro-life officials who oppose Obama’s amnesty for illegal aliens. Within days of our report, the bishop doubled down, insisting that, since Jesus agrees with him, anyone who opposes amnesty “cannot call himself or herself Catholic” because they don’t express “the compassion of Jesus.”
On the other hand, seen through the complex lens of the Seitz Syndrome, the bishop’s congressman, state senator, and state representative can call themselves Catholic, even though they are 100 percent pro-abortion “rights.”
In Bishop Seitz’s alternate reality, supporters of abortion “express the compassion of Jesus,” but opponents of amnesty defy the love of our Lord and have no place in His Church.
Bishop Seitz has made his position clear. But does the Catholic Church agree?
When we asked, Bishop Seitz told us that he will no longer speak to The Wanderer. Nonetheless, our questions, based on Church teaching, canon law, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, the USCCB’s Faithful Citizenship directive, the Catholic Catechism, and the Ten Commandments are too important to put back on the shelf awaiting his change of heart.
Each of the fundamental Catholic teachings addressed in our questions merits consideration in its own right. After all, we have learned with chagrin that, while precious few bishops are brave enough to teach those elements of the faith, most prelates seem to treat them like a well-kept secret.
In coming weeks The Wanderer will address these fundamental questions, and, in doing so, shed light on the kaleidoscope meanderings of the Seitz Syndrome, a malady that has infected dioceses far beyond his own.
We begin with a simple question the bishop refused to address:
“In his May 18, 2011 letter to Cong. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.,), Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then-USCCB president, writes that ‘we bishops are very conscious that we are pastors, never politicians. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, it is the lay faithful who have the specific charism of political leadership and decision (Lumen Gentium, n. 31; Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 13).’
“Your Excellency: regarding your advocacy of President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program: Are the faithful ‘bound to adhere; to your view with the same ‘religious submission of mind’ as we required to adhere to the teaching of Humanae Vitae (viz. canon 753)?
“Or is your advocacy merely a personal opinion with which the laity have not only the right but often the duty to disagree (viz. Lumen Gentium, especially nn. 31-37)?”
Bishop Seitz’s lips are sealed, but his condemnations ring like a clanging cymbal.
They call to mind the words of Fr. George Rutler, prolific author, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in New York City, and possibly the most eloquent member of America’s Catholic clergy:
“In the margin of a public speaker’s manuscript was the notation: ‘Weak point. Shout’.”
Fr. Rutler intended his observation to be humorous. But the pseudo-biblical blast of Bishop Seitz is no joke. Like me, he grew up on Simon and Garfunkel: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” (The Boxer).
And there’s a lot of the “rest” that the bishop disregards.
Consider the fundamental distinction between magisterial truth and prudential opinion. Must Catholics support amnesty or leave the Church?
Addressing this point some time back, Fr. Rutler quietly pops the Border bishop’s balloon:
“Such is the rhetoric of those who place emotion over logic and make policy through gangs rather than parliaments. In Athens 2,400 years ago, Aristophanes described the demagogue as having ‘a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, cross-grained nature and the language of the marketplace.’ That marketplace today includes the biased media and the universities that have become daycare centers.
“The recent action of our government’s executive branch to protect our borders and enforce national security is based on Constitutional obligations (Art. 1 section 10 and Art. 4 section 4),” Fr. Rutler continues.
“It is a practical protection of the tranquility of order explained by St. Augustine when he saw the tranquillitas ordinis of Roman civilization threatened. St. Thomas Aquinas sanctioned border control (S. Th. I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3).
“These are facts ignored by demagogues who speak of tears running down the face of the Statue of Liberty. At issue is not immigration, but illegal immigration. It is certainly manipulative of reason to justify uncontrolled immigration by citing previous generations of immigrants to our shores, all of whom went through the legal process, mostly in the halls of Ellis Island. And it is close to blasphemy to invoke the Holy Family as antinomian refugees, for they went to Bethlehem in obedience to a civil decree requiring tax registration, and they violated no statutes when they sought protection in Egypt.”
In the narrative according to Bishop Seitz, we see tears running down the face of illegals — all of whom are quite legal in their home countries, by the way. And so are their extended families. In fact, candidates running for president of Mexico routinely campaign in the U.S. because all those of Mexican descent — even if they are U.S. citizens eligible to vote here — are also eligible to vote in Mexican elections. That’s Mexico’s law, not ours.
But these facts are elements of prudential analysis and argument, leading to a variety of conclusions on which good Catholics can, and often do, disagree. Cardinal Dolan did not opine on the merits of Cong. Ryan’s legislation. He acknowledged that such issues belonged in the realm of the laity. Good Catholics could agree with Ryan, and good Catholics could disagree.
Nor does Fr. Rutler insist that his position is the only Catholic one. He quietly acknowledges that good Catholics — even good bishops — can disagree. While their evasion of his arguments is not admirable, it is certainly permissible.
In fact, the last thing opponents of amnesty should wish for is that Bishop Seitz support them. Such an intrusion into the realm of the responsible laity would be most unwelcome and untoward.
But that’s an unlikely prospect. Bishop Seitz will not acknowledge that Catholics — or anyone of good will, for that matter — can disagree with him on amnesty and still be moral.
So we might ask: When he becomes aware of the above heresy propounded by Fr. Rutler, will the bishop demand that the good pastor cease calling himself a Catholic?
Will he even have the temerity to obey his own logic and condemn Cardinal Dolan as he condemned the pro-life Catholic state officials?
These questions address vital fundamentals of the faith, truths which Bishop Seitz does not convey, either to his flock or to the public at large. He admits that he was “angry.” But his studied intemperance, combined with his decision to remain silent, could well leave Hispanics with the unlovely notion that Americans who oppose unlimited illegal immigration “don’t love Jesus” and “can’t call themselves Catholic.”
After all, El Paso boasts countless legal Hispanic residents whose families have lived there for several generations. Should those among them who dare to oppose DACA head for the booming Bible megachurches because their bishop says they “can’t call themselves Catholic”?
And do these harsh, judgmental words befit a shepherd whom USCCB President Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Houston, has called on to join with his brother bishops to “work for unity and harmony in our country and in our Church”?
The Wanderer will continue to explore these questions, in the case of the bishop of El Paso and beyond.

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(Christopher Manion, Ph.D., writes from the Shenandoah Valley. He is a member of the Order of Malta and can be followed on Twitter @realchrismanion.)

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