Why else do we have bishops if not to chide Christians for lion baiting in the Coliseum? What an immense relief it is to find our prelates favor peace and that only nine of them voted for war. Defying a hostile press, going decisively against the zeitgeist, the bishops, with billowing spinnakers, voted to help the spread of peace beyond the borders of Afghanistan and Nicaragua. With a courage all the more noteworthy in the austere setting of the Palmer House, they proved willing to deliver up Europe to the tender ministrations of the Soviet Union, thereby stemming the notoriously imperialistic policies of their own country. Valor like this has not been seen since Cranmer.
Such flexing of pectorals stayed within the bounds of reason, let it be noted. Having come out for peace, there were some prelates who wanted to go on record in favor of motherhood as well, but they were persuaded by Archbishop Quinn that this was far too controversial a topic. Father Hehir prevented the Apple Pie contingent from even getting the floor. The proposal that the Sandinistas sit down and negotiate with the insurgents was greeted with the derision it deserved. It was imperative that bishops not be drawn into merely political considerations.
In keeping with this resolve to stick to the theological high road, the bishops were instructed by their staffs to get ready for draft pastorals on ecology, social security and the deregulation of natural gas. The moral dimensions of these topics are evident and it is highly desirable that votes on them be taken before the Democratic national convention.
The gains from this courageous and corporate episcopal stand — remember, only nine bishops voted in favor of war — are many and multi-faceted. Most notably, it is an oblique answer to those benighted lay people who have been complaining about the quality of religious education in parishes at least nominally under the jurisdiction of ordinaries. Chicago has made it clear that the identification of religious education with the mouthing of liberal slogans is not the aberration of lower echelon dissidents but is indeed the public policy of the Catholic Church in the United States.
So too those who have observed that shenanigans in the seminaries corroborate the juicier charges of classical anti-Catholicism are, if not answered, at least rendered speechless by the way the bishops kept their eye on the ball in the ballroom of the Palmer House. We may end up with no priests, only bishops, a situation analogous to the general-heavy Latin American armies that make the ice cubes rattle with rage in the hospitality rooms along the carpeted corridors.
Likewise, those pathetic throwbacks who have wondered at the episcopal tolerance for theological dissent can now see that there is no enmity possible between those who have shown disdain for the hierarchy in matters of faith and morals and a hierarchy which steers clear of such dangerous narrows. Foreign policy beckons, a trendy anti-Americanism and a borrowed expertise on distant places — these are far more rewarding from a public relations point of view.
Happily lost in all the resultant clamor is any concern about the new code of canon law and its implications for the Church in the United States. Such intramural matters are of little interest to the working press and can be allowed to slide off the episcopal agenda into oblivion. These boring churchy concerns can scarcely expect to claim the attention of our episcopal statesmen.
Some concessions had to be made to the liturgical freaks. There was talk in the Palmer House of permanent acolytes
Not all was sunny, however. There were those who worried that the laity might apply the Hunthausen tax plan to church contributions, declining to pay for the Washington bureaucracies, the luxury hotels, the sybaritic lifestyle of our empurpled spokesmen for the poor and downtrodden. But such fears were lost in the scramble to be interviewed.