A Cautionary Tale for Catholic Bishops

by Edwin Faust
August 3, 2012

Every objective indicator points to the rapid decline and eventual demise of the Episcopal Church in America. From a membership of 3 million in 1970, the church now claims about 1 million adherents. And mind you, these are official figures. The number of Episcopalians regularly attending services and offering financial support may be much lower.

The Episcopal Church recently held its annual General Chapter, in which about 1000 members participated. The bishops — the upper house in the Chapter’s bicameral legislature — set the agenda and pretty much run the show, which by all accounts is more of a social gathering than a serious religious convocation.

So how did the bishops confront the alarming facts of the church’s rapidly shrinking membership? By tackling the issue head on? Hardly. The Chapter’s two principal decisions were addressed to the pressing matters of pet funerals and genetically modified foods.

You can now have your dog or cat interred with liturgical dignity, thanks to the Chapter’s bold action. And should you indulge in genetically engineered edibles, know that you ingest with the express disapproval of the Episcopal hierarchy.

The dereliction of the General Chapter in the face of the church’s imminent demise certainly appears ludicrous. It is also clear evidence of the leadership’s tacit acceptance of the church’s irrelevance as a serious religious institution. Of course, the human capacity for delusion ever amazes and it may be that the Chapter members imagined they were engaged in significant deliberations.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops should take note of developments in their “sister church”. After decades of issuing largely unread documents that endorse the progressive agenda of the Democratic Party, the USCCB has tried to assert itself as the champion of religious freedom by opposing the Obama Administration on the issue of mandatory health-insurance coverage for contraception.

But the bishops have been either largely mute on the issue of artificial contraception, or have in some instances called for a rethinking of the Catholic teaching. And as it is known that some Catholic institutions already cover the cost of contraception in their healthcare packages, the bishops’ opposition appears more of a turf war than a battle over moral principle.

Meanwhile, the progressives at the USCCB are carrying on business as usual, backing leftwing policies on social issues and being politically correct liberals. It is easy to see why the Obama Administration takes their protest on the healthcare mandate so lightly. It is impossible to imagine the USCCB backing a conservative political agenda. It has a deep-seated phobia of the Republican Party and has shown that it can accommodate “Catholic” officials who oppose Church teaching on abortion and an array of other doctrinal matters.

The next time the Catholic bishops meet, will they make an honest assessment of the state of the Church and begin to assert their moral authority in issues that matter, or will they take up the pressing question: Should we have funeral rites for Fido?

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