Thursday, May 07, 2009

Most Catholics Are Not Listening to U.S. Bishops--For a Bunch of Good Reasons

Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, former editor of America (a Catholic weekly magazine) and currently Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center in Washington D.C., posted an excellent commentary on the Washington Post website May 5th on why few Catholics are listening to the U.S. bishops.

Reese writes that "part of the problem is that the bishops stopped listening and teaching and started ordering and condemning. With an educated laity it no longer works to simply say, 'it is the teaching of the church.' This is the equivalent of a parent shouting, 'Because I said so.'

"The bishops must persuade and convince with arguments not by turning up the volume. When they resort to commanding and threatening punishments, people are turned off. Banning speakers, denying Communion, silencing theologians is a sign of weakness not strength. Censorship and violations of academic freedom come across as admissions that their arguments are not convincing and therefore the opposition must be silenced."

He also notes that conservative U.S. bishops are being egged on by conservative Republicans who are still smarting at losing to Barack Obama so badly. "They want the Catholic Church to be the Republican Party at prayer. Some bishops are falling for this."

Unlike them, however, the Vatican is maintaining very cordial relations with Obama--to the point that a recent article in the Vatican daily newspaper "stated that the first 100 days of the Obama administration have not confirmed the Catholic Church's worst fears about radical policy changes in ethical areas."

Connecting this with the recent conservative opposition to Notre Dame inviting pro-choice Obama to its graduation, Reese notes that the Vatican position is much closer to that of the 50% of U.S. Catholics who say it was right to invite Obama, than the 28% who say it was wrong.

Reese concludes: "The bishops who oppose the President's presence at Notre Dame are going to be embarrassed by the warm welcome he receives from the commencement audience. Every round of applause will be a repudiation of their condemnations.

"The bishops will also be embarrassed when Pope Benedict welcomes President Obama at the Vatican, or are all these people going to tell the Pope that he cannot talk to a pro-choice President?"

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