Let me preface this by saying that obviously, I’m not a bishop. I’m not in any position of hierarchical authority in the Church. I’m a laywoman. A convert. A wife. A student of theology. But I am a devout Catholic. I love my faith and made the decision to convert five years ago because I became utterly convicted that Christ is who He says He is in the Eucharist, and the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus Christ founded.
None of that has changed. But I am sick, sick, with grief over the current state of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Of late, I have been particularly distraught and disturbed by New York’s new abortion laws, passed just a few days ago around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As Abby Johnson noted in a Facebook post, NY’s new laws really aren’t that new. Many states have similar laws on the books, New York is just the most recent one to be added to the list. In sum, new legislation allows abortions up until 24 weeks, and through all nine months for loosely defined reasons pertaining to the “health of the mother,”; non-doctors can perform abortions; no protections for babies that survive abortions and are born alive. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo (who is apparently Catholic?) approved this legislation and also ordered the One World Trade Center lit up pink in “celebration.”
I’m of course upset over the terms of this legislation, but I’m really steamed about a few things in particular. One, of course, is the fact that social justice warriors (esp. some Catholics) in this country clamor for the rights of immigrants — which is a truly noble and just thing to do, and something that we as Catholics should do — yet are silent or strangely belligerent when it comes to defending the unborn. We should demand that all are treated with the dignity inherent to them as human beings. But it is so strange to hear and see some folks advocating so vigorously for immigration issues, yet be silent on abortion. The weakest and most vulnerable, whether the world wants to hear it or not, are those in the womb. If we view them as disposable, as mere “clumps of tissue” as some like to say, or just as “yet another” human rights issue among many, then HOW on Earth do you think that we’ll ever cultivate a culture in the U.S. that views the rest of humanity with dignity, including the immigrant and the refugee? There are many, many human rights issues out there, but the right to life is *THE* human rights issue.
Secondly, what is perhaps even more upsetting is the deafening silence from those who are supposed to be shepherds of souls. Governor Cuomo is a self-identified *Catholic*. Nancy Pelosi is a self-identified *Catholic*. As are dozens of others who publicly and open advocate for abortion and who, like Cuomo, joined in celebrating the passage of this legislation.
Where are the bishops on this one, and where are they every other time that some heinous blow is dealt to the sanctity of life? Cardinal Dolan wrote about this most recent legislation, and I appreciate that. It’s better than nothing. But in this day and age when the evil of abortion and its consequences are so pervasive in our culture, a bishop’s editorial or blog post is simply not enough.
I Wish the Bishops Would Deny Communion to Pro-Choice Politicians
There are souls at stake here — and not just those of the babies who will inevitably be aborted. I’m talking about the souls of pro-choice Catholic politicians. I wish the bishops would talk more about sin and how it’s real and how it has consequences. I wish the bishops would speak more frankly about just how much danger your soul is in if you openly support and publicly advocate for something so diametrically and fundamentally opposed to the faith in the Lord of Life you claim to profess, and then present yourself to receive Holy Communion. It’s not judgement, it’s not condemnation, it’s the truth to say that your soul is in peril of eternal fire when you profane the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by receiving communion in a state of mortal sin.
For the good of Andrew Cuomo’s soul, I wish the bishops would make this clearer. I wish they would deny him communion, or state publicly that for the good of his soul, that he and others should think seriously about approaching communion while publicly promoting and actively encouraging abortion. Denying communion wouldn’t be a “mean” thing to do — it would not only be protecting the Eucharist from profanation, but it would also being doing Cuomo’s soul a favor. It would, truly, be the merciful thing.
I Wish the Bishops Would Realize the Church’s Moral Authority is at Stake
I’m no canon lawyer so I don’t know the ins and outs of excommunication, but let’s be honest. If the Church won’t excommunicate McCarrick for his crimes, what WILL the church excommunicate for? A few excommunications would, I think, serve the faithful well. In short, excommunication is a severe penalty given out by the church for just this sort of case — grave sins for which an individual is unrepentant, during which the person is still technically “Catholic” and retains their baptism, but is denied the sacraments except the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is, of course, reversible — it can serve as a “wake up call” and just as the denial of communion, I think it can actually be a merciful thing. We must love souls enough to say, “What you’re doing is putting your soul and the souls of others in severe danger. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
The Church is not a social club where you can come to make yourself feel warm and fuzzy, where you can pat yourself on the back for “not being that bad of a person” — it is the body of Christ. It is the narrow way that God gave us to seek eternal union in Heaven with Him. He is not messing around, and His commandments are not suggestions. Christ’s Church instructs us in how to live not to be a tyrant, but because Christ wants to spend eternity with us in Heaven; the commands of His Church are given in order to help us get there.
So the tenets of our faith mean something. Where are the bishops to say, forcefully: “You must not use your position of authority to perpetuate death and lead others to sin, and then profane the body of Christ”? Doing so won’t be popular, and the Church will of course be accused of “not being inclusive” but who exactly are we trying to please? Are we serious about the salvation of souls or are we trying to be popular and well-liked in the world?
Before I go any further, I am anticipating the objection that I’m only calling out the sins of pro-choice politicians. Understand that I’m obviously not saying that pro-life politicians don’t sin. But abortion is literally a crime against humanity, one that “cries out to heaven for vengeance,” and if you claim the title of “Catholic” yet willingly perpetuate something so diabolical and antithetical to your own faith, it is the *obligation* of the Church to call you out for it.
I Wish the Bishops Would Emulate their Heroic Predecessors
I wish the bishops would think about the bishops who came before them, the ones who risked and then suffered persecution and death just to lead their flocks. Oscar Romero. John Fisher. St. Peter himself.
We are living in a time of great moral decay and that requires heroic sanctity. Not pithy, well-crafted tweets or eloquent speeches or a rock-solid PR team. Our age demands that our shepherds get in the trenches and face the demons with us. Our age demands that we have shepherds living the faith and leading souls in a way that will likely make the secular world hate, loathe, and despise the Church and Catholics for how contrary she is to the secular culture. But the mission of a bishop is to lead the faithful. To be an example of speaking for the weakest and most vulnerable, and not just when it makes a popular political point.
It means calling out members of the faithful who hold positions of public office and have a great deal of social and political influence for the good of their souls, barring them from communion or excommunicating them if necessary, or at the very least demanding that they think long and hard before approaching communion not in a state of grace.
Where is the moral outrage in our bishops? Where is the righteous anger? Especially with news constantly breaking regarding the sex abuse crisis, most statements you read from diocesan communications offices sound like carefully crafted statements right out of a slick PR department. Working in a curia, I understand that there’s a certain decorum expected and I’m not denying that many bishops have done great things, demanded accountability, and spoken for the dignity of life, and are sincerely pained by what is going on in our world and in our church.
I just wish that a majority of the bishops in the U.S. would be a little more vocal about it. A little more human about it. If you’re mad as hell, let’s see it. If you consider yourself a shepherd of souls, then start shepherding souls even when its really damn difficult.
Until then, I pray for courage for the bishops, the clergy, and the laity. That we keep our eyes on the cross, and that we pray for those who choose to make a mockery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection by profaning His body and blood. And that all will keep in mind the words of St. Catherine of Siena, famous not only for her holiness but also for calling out the priests, cardinals, and pope of her time from complacency to heroic sanctity:
“I tell you in the name of Christ crucified that you must use your authority. … You are in charge of the garden of the holy Church. So [first of all] uproot from that garden the stinking weeds filled of impurity and avarice, and bloated with pride (I mean the evil pastors and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden). … Use your authority, you who are in charge of us! Uproot these weeds and throw them out where they will have nothing to administer! Tell them to tend to administering themselves by a good holy life. Plant fragrant flowers in this garden for us, pastors and administrators who will be true servants of Jesus Christ crucified, who will seek only God’s honor and the salvation of souls, who will be fathers to the poor.”