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Do Catholic Laity Need Our Own Conference?

March 16, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


Back in the 1980s, writes Catholic author Robert Royal, “Michael Novak organized a group of us who presented alternatives to the bishops’ statements on nukes and the economy. But for me, the most memorable moment in all of those controversies was an exchange between a prominent Dutch philosopher and Fr. Brian Hehir [top adviser at the USCCB] at one of our meetings:
“ ‘Fr. Hehir, the work you have produced is quite serious. But I don’t see why the bishops should put their moral authority behind this particular set of proposals when there are a dozen others equally ethical. It would have been better to stick to moral and social principles.’
“ ‘Well, if we did that, it would have been a very short document,’ Fr. Hehir replied.”
If there’s one thing that America’s bishops have not been short on since Vatican II, it’s documents — especially “short” documents. In addition to Fr. Hehir’s endless admonitions regarding the economy and U.S. defense policy, post-Vatican II bishops have for years advocated for higher taxes, more foreign aid (including, under Obama, taxpayer financing of international abortion providers), the federal budget, immigration, sanctuary for criminal illegals, nationalized health care (including Obamacare, until they discovered that they’d been betrayed), federal financing of their Nongovernmental Organizations, refugee policy, and a host of other political issues large and small.
For every one of these proposals, there were “a dozen others equally ethical.” In every case, “it would have been better to stick to moral and social principles.”
Some ten years ago, I began writing the prelate-signatories on various USCCB press releases, letters to Congress, and other semi-authoritative documents that seem to flow incessantly. “Am I bound to ‘believe with divine and Catholic faith’ your views on (fill in the political blank here) with the same ‘religious submission of mind’ with which Canon Law requires that I adhere to Humanae Vitae?” I asked.
Out of the several dozen prelates I approached over the course of ten years, fewer than five replied. A couple actually admitted that I could disagree with them after prayerful reflection. “Then Your Excellency,” I replied, “all I ask is that you add that sentence at the end of every endorsement of a particular approach to prudential issues” where “there are a dozen others equally ethical.”
None did.

What Would A
National Conference
Of Catholic Laity Do?

Well, our shepherds are constantly proclaiming to the laity and the world the “Catholic” position on all sorts of prudential issues. If our beloved shepherds insist on telling the laity how to do our jobs as Catholics in the world, isn’t it proper for us to tell them how to do theirs?
For instance, consider the USCCB’s Prime Mandate, amnesty and sanctuary for illegal aliens. If bishops insist that their position is the “Catholic” one, why couldn’t the National Conference of Catholic Laity (NCCL) tell them to follow the Catechism’s instruction regarding immigration? Thus, “bishops must advise potential immigrants, legal and illegal, that they are bound to follow our laws, that they have ‘duties toward their country of adoption,’ that they ‘are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them,’ and that they are bound ‘to assist in carrying civic burdens’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2241.2)
And what if “potential immigrants” intend to break our laws, defy our country, remain loyal to their own, refuse to assimilate gratefully, exploit our material and spiritual heritage, and become a civic burden rather than carrying it?
The NCCL would demand that, bound by the Catechism’s teaching, the bishops must tell such potential immigrants to stay home. Tell them not to pay Coyote Drug Gangs thousands of dollars to come north, only to be robbed, assaulted, even raped by their captors. Advise them by all means not to break into our country illegally.
And if the immigrants are here already?
The NCCL might instruct the bishops to teach the Ten Commandments to immigrant communities, something they rarely, if ever, do: “Thou shalt not steal” from the dozens of welfare programs designed to aid disadvantaged Americans. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” to employers and government agencies, stealing Social Security numbers, using fake ID’s, and telling other lies and acting on them.
Every time the USCCB produces an “authoritative” document proclaiming a “binding” Catholic political teaching, the NCCL would respond with a charitable correction, which the bishops would no doubt cheerfully accept in the spirit of “Dialogue.”

Some Brave Bishops
Take The Lead

For over a hundred years, the USCCB has slowly grown from its temporary status during World War I as the “National Catholic War Council.” Today, it sports a mammoth budget and a bureaucracy to match. The National Conference of Catholic Laity need not mirror that lumbering monolith. Its work would be done much more efficiently, and its proclamations much more direct.
After all, if the bishops tell us how to vote, we can tell them whom to excommunicate. As Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker used to say, “That door swings both ways.”
For example: “The USCCB must terminate every contract it has with the U.S. Government. The billions it has received over the years have silenced our shepherds on the most pressing moral issues of our times. The bishops must tear off those golden handcuffs and do the job they were consecrated to do.”
Here the NCCL could cite Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly, who has observed that “the very men who are supposed to be the heroes, by their behavior, are the villains. The very people who are supposed to lead people to Christ are harming it.” (See related article on p. 1 of this week’s issue.)
Over the years, abortion is the single political issue on which the bishops have taken a magisterial position (they have been silent, alas, on contraception — for half a century). But the NCCL would advise them not only to speak, but to act with the authority which is uniquely theirs: “Every bishop must enforce Canon Law regarding politicians who scandalously support abortion and infanticide. Specifically, such politicians must be publicly named and barred from Communion.”
There, the NCCL can cite Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika, who in January said that he would consider excommunication for “any Catholic legislator under my jurisdiction who voted for the [New York Infanticide Bill] bill.”
And on the bishops’ dead-on-the-water “action” on McCarrick?
The NCCL would insist that the USCCB follow through on the promises of its leaders and commission an investigation into the McCarrick Machine, led by laity who are not attached to any chancery or USCCB body. The investigators must find Mr. McCarrick and debrief him fully, something our bishops have refused to do. Time is of the essence.
There the NCCL could cite Bishop Daly: “I voted [last November] to ask the Vatican to release everything on McCarrick,” he told the Inlander.
“We were accused by one bishop who stands up and accuses us of being disloyal to the Holy Father on this, he added. “It had nothing to do with disloyalty. We had to get to the bottom of this.”
“The very men who are supposed to be the heroes, by their behavior, are the villains,” he continued. “The very people who are supposed to lead people to Christ are harming it. . . . I believe the church is divided because we have people who want to compromise — and I’m talking about bishops — fundamental principles of morality that the church has remained very clear and steadfast on.”
Action, not words, are called for. And, echoing Fr. Hehir, the NCCL’s first statement would be “a very short document” indeed.
“Bishops, do your job!”

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Fr. James Schall passed away today. A Jesuit priest & Georgetown professor, he served as mentor & model to a numberless many (including me). With penetrating insight & wit, he pointed us to Christ & those great Catholic minds we mustn't forget.

Fr. Schall, requiescat in pace.

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