Even I was surprised a few weeks ago at the strength of the positive response to asking, “Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party?” There’s considerable unrest among faithful Catholics who differ with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on some of its major policy positions, as well as its mistakes in funding pro-abortion groups through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Part of the turmoil stems from a basic misunderstanding on the part of the Catholic laity concerning the lobbying efforts of the USCCB. Many Catholics assume they’re obliged to support the specific legislative recommendations of the USCCB, whether they agree with them or not.
Many Catholics do not realize that these recommendations — with the exception of those on non-negotiable life issues — require respectful consideration rather than obedient acceptance. Frustration follows for Catholics who don’t realize they are free to differ, and to say so.
Unfortunately, there are clergy who not only contribute to the misunderstanding but also treat respectful disagreement with condescension. The following e-mail was passed along to me by an acquaintance who wrote to his parish priest to question the wisdom of placing the nation’s health-care system in the hands of the federal government. (I’ve edited the e-mail to protect the identity of its author.) The priest’s response:
It is so unfortunate that you have such a myopic vision and have made the conscious decision to NOT learn anything about Social Justice, that you would rather listen and believe the words of Hannity and Limbaugh rather than [local bishop’s name] or any Roman Catholic authority on the teachings of the Catholic Church especially in the area of Social Justice and the Social gospel.
I was contacted by Bishop _____ and [another bishop’s] Secretary. They both were disappointed in your mindset and your refusal to learn what the Catholic Church actually teaches. I pray that someday you will spend the time and effort to learn, understand and comprehend the Church’s view on Health Care Reform, Immigration Reform, and the understanding that the Body of Christ isn’t made up of only those people you believe to be given the recognition. With that being said, I do not want you to send me any E-Mails or forward any articles that are contrary to the teachings of the Church. I pray that God may have mercy on you (emphasis added).
The lack of pastoral courtesy requires little comment, except to say that this sort of demeaning clerical tone pushes the suppliant further away and exacerbates the discontent.
More disturbing is the false claim that there is a “Church’s view on health care [and] immigration reform.” To substitute “Church” for the USCCB is to infuse legislative priorities with the aura of episcopal authority about the teaching of faith and morals.
Catholics need to realize there is no “Church view” on the present health-care bill, but there is a position being taken by the bishops’ conference. The Church teaching Catholics are obliged to consider comes in the form of moral principles that must be applied prudentially to the legislation under consideration.
Catholic leadership at all levels could help stem the mounting concern over the USCCB by clarifying the mission of the conference and the ecclesial rationale of its role as a Catholic lobby to the U.S. Congress.