Of Penance and Pork Chops

by Fatima Center Staff
November 15, 2012

As of this writing, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Baltimore to consider whether it might be a good idea to reinstate meatless Fridays. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the man of the hour, beating the drum for penance, exhorting the bishops to live the Faith more deeply so they may be qualified to lead the laity to greater piety.

All this is occurring in the wake of a presidential election that underscored the irrelevance of the bishops — and the Catholic Faith — as a determining factor in how most Catholics vote — and presumably live. Meatless Fridays is indeed a fine idea, but in the present context, it’s not enough. The Catholic ship in the U.S. is sinking fast.

And while it takes on water, prelates such as the lionized Cardinal Dolan appear unaware of their role in furthering the disaster. Prior to the presidential election, Cardinal Dolan hosted Barack Obama at the annual Al Smith Dinner, thus demonstrating for all to see that abortion and the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare are issues not sufficiently important to ruin a good evening of wine and scripted wit.

And while no bishop said point blank that Catholics should not vote for Obama, progressive “Catholic” publications such as the Jesuit magazine America and the National Catholic Reporter expressed their enthusiasm for the re-election of Obama — the most anti-Catholic president in recent history.

Bishops who suggested, even obliquely, that Catholics had an obligation to vote in accord with Catholic moral principles were either denounced, sometimes by “Catholic” commentators, or were warned they were endangering the Church’s tax-exempt status, which supposedly requires silence on political matters, as though religion and life are wholly unconnected.

Most bishops played it safe and were silent. It would appear that the typical diocesan chancery is a place of administration, full of bureaucrats and bean counters, not leaders.

It must be said in our present-day circumstances, the bishops are not in a position to lead anyone. They have their offices, their privileges, their pectoral crosses, but they lack genuine moral authority, which cannot be formally conferred but must be earned by example. Of course, there are good bishops, but they are marginalized or ignored by the majority.

From the inception of this nation, the position of Catholics as citizens of an avowedly secular republic has been problematic. The historical and doctrinal position of the Church is to insist on the kingship of Jesus Christ, both in public and private life. The Church cannot accept in principle the separation of Church and state. She can tolerate it, when necessary, but the Church can never regard the relegation of the one true religion to a purely private status as anything but an aberration.

So long as the Catholic bishops long for a place at the tables of power in the secular state and show themselves willing to ignore or even repudiate the social kingship of Christ, they will continue to be irrelevant in the determination of public policy and in the way Catholics vote. Obama knew he could safely ignore the bishops’ rhetoric and protest against his contraceptive mandate. Obama was confident that he, not the bishops, controlled the Catholic vote.

And the bishops, in fact, appeared more upset over the encroachment of their authority than the violation of a moral teaching. Most of their outrage was about the threat Obamacare posed to religious liberty, i.e. Episcopal authority. Few words were spoken about the evil of contraception. The bishops, and the majority of American Catholics, are not greatly concerned about it.

So why should Catholics rally to protect the authority of their bishops in a matter in which the bishops have failed to exercise moral authority for several decades? If the pre- and post-election polls are accurate, they indicate most Catholics consider themselves “social justice Catholics”, which is a way of saying they are left-wing Democrats who look to government, not their bishops, to take the lead in the things they care about.

The USCCB will continue to meet, to issue unread pastoral letters, to vote on resolutions that few know or care about. The bishops will continue to think themselves important. Their big men, such as Cardinal Dolan, will continue to cultivate a public persona. But all the while, the ship is going down, the night is growing darker, and there is no sign of rescue on the horizon.

The Church in America — and many other places —, as a human institution, appears to have failed. It is the Church, as a Divine institution, that must come to the rescue. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

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