This is the state of the Roman Catholic Church in America today. A small group of very conservative bishops has hijacked the church, or at least the public voice of the church. They are playing the role of the authoritarian father. In case after case, their message to the Catholic faithful is â€œDo it because I say so.â€
Last week, in an orchestrated political maneuver, 43 Catholic entities â€” including the Archdiocese of Washington â€” filed a dozen suits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying that any mandate requiring religious organizations to provide contraceptive coverage to employees was a violation of religious liberty. So even though 82 percent of American Catholics believe that birth control is morally acceptable, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the lawsuits â€œa compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty.â€ (The USCCB is not a party to the suits.)
A much larger group of more moderate bishops has stayed mostly silent, fearful that to take a stand against their bishop brethren would be to lay bare intramural fissures. They play the role of the silent and frustrated mother.
The lawsuits are, in fact, very far from a â€œcompelling display of unity.â€ There are 194 dioceses in the country; only about dozen joined the suits. There are more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, and only a handful joined the suits. Notably missing from this so-called display of unity are the dioceses of Chicago and Los Angeles, both of which have prominent leadership and robust, vibrant Catholic communities. Also missing from the list of plaintiffs are some of the countryâ€™s most prominent Catholic educational institutions, notably Boston College and Georgetown University.
Only one brave bishop has so far explained his refusal to sign on with the authoritarian minority. Like a parent who prefers to work on marital disagreements in private, rather than expose the kids to disharmony and force them to choose sides, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., told America magazine Tuesday that he wanted the bishops to do more consensus building. If religious liberty is indeed the goal, then high-impact lawsuits with press releases arenâ€™t the best way to achieve it. â€œI think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and thatâ€™s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.â€
In the middle, of course, are the kids, who love their parents and want them to get along â€“ and hate, no matter where they stand on issues of sexual morality and religious liberty â€“ to see their relatives in the headlines day after day. Some, like Hilary Mantel, the British author of â€œWolf Hallâ€ and, more lately, â€œBring Up the Bodies,â€ simply leave the family and refuse to come back. â€œNowadays,â€ she told the Telegraph, â€œthe church is not an institution for respectable people.â€ [More]