Commentary by Judie Brown, President of American Life League
October 19, 2007
Recent remarks by retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick are a reminder of the tragic situation that exists within the Catholic Church these days. It is as though we were living in a twilight zone where there is no right or wrong, no moral absolutes of any kind, no guiding principles that apply in every situation regardless of the persons involved.
In a recent statement, Cardinal McCarrick took aim at Archbishop Raymond Burke’s treatise on why every person who distributes Holy Communion must be prepared to deny the sacrament to any public figure that is Catholic and is also pro-abortion. He said of Archbishop Burke, “I very much respect his position. It’s not mine.”
What exactly does that mean? It occurs to me that it means that the cardinal does not take Church law seriously, but rather perceives a myriad of choices with regard to how a particular canon in church law should be implemented. I find that astounding, but also perfectly understandable in today’s relativistic atmosphere.
The canon law in question is not confusing, but states quite clearly that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” This particular canon is not any more debatable than one of the Ten Commandments or any of the other canon laws. In fact, the law in question is designed to accomplish two things: protect Christ from sacrilege and provide the errant Catholic with an example of how far he has strayed from Church teaching in the hope that the soul will repent and come back into the fold.
Cardinal McCarrick did go on to say that “pro-choice Catholic politicians” need to be persuaded that their position is wrong rather than denying them the body and blood of Christ. The precise reason why this thinking is flawed is perhaps best stated by Pope Benedict XVI, who while airborne in flight to Mexico a few months ago, told a group of reporters that the Mexican bishops’ threat of excommunication for Catholic politicians who voted in favor of the new abortion law “was not something arbitrary, but part of Church law. It’s based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going to communion with the body of Christ.”
The Holy Father’s words rang around the world, as one Catholic writer opined, and even moved evangelicals like Dr. James Dobson and Frank Pastore to hail his courageous statement. So why isn’t every single bishop, priest, deacon and Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church equally motivated and inspired by this pope?
I fear the answer to this question is that there is too much political posturing and not enough commitment to saving souls in far too many places within the Catholic Church these days. There was once a pope who, being quite similar in many ways to our current pope, gave stern warnings to the bishops of his day. His name was Gregory. He lived in the late sixth century and he once told his priests in a homily:
There is something about the life of the shepherd, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly – compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.
Such courageous words came – and indeed should come again – at a time when the Catholic Church’s bishops and priests truly need to do much more to consistently preach the truth, ignore the political or media consequences, and persist in saving the souls entrusted to them by God. After all, every single priest, bishop, cardinal and the pope himself have the wherewithal to do so, but apparently in far too many cases not the desire. And it is this that I believe is causing most of the difficulties we are seeing today.
A bishop is, at the very foundation of his calling, a physician of souls. He is the one to whom we should be able to look for moral certitude, passionate teaching and unequivocal guidance in those areas of our lives that often appear to be so muddled that we cannot see our way past the problem. Abortion has become such a condition for far too many in our midst. The majority of Catholics actually have no problem with abortion, and when they see pro-abortion public figures that are also Catholic getting away with scandalous behavior such as receiving Christ in Holy Communion, their inability to see the wrongness of the act of abortion becomes exacerbated.
Who is to blame for this? Is the physician of souls no longer making house calls? Unfortunately I think that is the case.
I mean no disrespect to Cardinal McCarrick, or to any of his peers who are frequently disinterested in enforcing Canon 915, but I have to say that they have created a most dreadful situation that has left far too many of us in a state of frustration, anxiety and sorrow. For example, when the news about Cardinal McCarrick’s most recent comments began to impact on others, one distressed friend of mine described the situation as “a poke in the eye to believers; a statement full of disdain and insouciance.” And perhaps that is the most deplorable aspect of this current predicament.
From a long line of similar disturbing remarks uttered from the mouths of Catholic bishops, it is becoming increasingly clear that every bright line defining who a Catholic is and what a Catholic believes is being blurred beyond recognition. Whether it is a McCarrick “style” or a Connecticut “explanation” or a San Francisco “apology,” the bottom line in all of this is the same: no guts. The clarity of what it means to be a Catholic is being distorted, dismantled and—ultimately, if we are not careful—destroyed. And that is the greatest tragedy of all: witnessing the decay from within the Church without the ability to fix it.
The Achilles heel is cowardice, my friends. It boils down to an unwillingness to battle the forces of evil, whether it is by confronting the media, the wayward politician or the persons who would dare to bring disdain into the house of God. If we cannot observe courage in our shepherds, what are we to think? If I had my way, I would focus attention on the bishops who have for so long been so steadfast in their leadership, their strong backbone and their holiness, and I would say to the rest of them,
Please seek in fervent prayer and with all humility the gifts you need from God to develop the ability to never, ever step away from your responsibilities as bishops of the Catholic Church. For the sake of the preservation of the holy, Catholic Church you claim to serve, and all those souls the Lord has entrusted to your care, please show us the way to Christ and our eternal home.