Here I’m Not, Lord

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Today, readers, we interrupt revisiting the Seven Deadly Sins to raise a question of great significance during this eventful week. Why did Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the highest-ranking Catholic eminence in the Washington, D.C. area, attend Wednesday’s ostentatiously diverse, mega-denominational prayer service at the National Cathedral for President Obama?

Granted, the fanfare was impressive – seats for 3,200 distinguished guests, twenty especially prominent religious leaders, heart-rending bursts of song, and a liturgy ranging from the latest rewritings of the Book of Common Prayer to “Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Cherokee sources, among others,” as The Washington Post put it. It’s also true that the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington traditionally leads a prayer at these august proceedings – which may for some observers render his presence there beyond question.

But the unique visibility of this event – which was presumably foremost in the minds of the archdiocesan officials who signed on to yesterday’s arrangements – also cuts another, more radical way. It means that a non-attending Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington would be missed, were he somehow to decline to appear. And that is exactly the point. He could have.

Why? As readers of TCT know well, our new president is the most unyielding, ideologically determined, and dogmatically pro-abortion leader yet to have assumed the highest office in our land. Our new vice-president is perhaps the most conspicuous practicing Catholic in the land, certainly such by his own repeated insistence, and is almost as conspicuous as our new president in his fidelity to the metaphysics of Roe vs. Wade.

The revamped White House website already boasts of the new administration’s arguably unrivalled support of Roe’s legacy, noting for example that Obama “has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Administration.” Nothing apparently interferes with this president’s dedication to this peculiar institution – not even the impressive datum that African-Americans are aborted at rates far higher even than whites.

In sum, the president’s support for abortion on demand is among the most consistent features of his relatively short political record, as is the vice-president’s stance a consistent feature of his own, much longer one.

So once again: why should the Archdiocese of Washington send its highest representative to Wednesday’s prayer service for this president and vice-president, thereby submitting to the new administration yet more evidence that our newly elected leaders will apparently exact no public penalty whatsoever – from anyone – as they labor to keep abortion safe, legal, and ubiquitous?

For even as the religious pageantry unrolled under a crisp blue sky and against the backdrop of the gorgeous National Cathedral (replete with “rabbis in yarmulkes, Catholic bishops in magenta vestments, Protestant pastors in suits, and female Hindu and Muslim leaders in colorful garb,” as the Post put it); even as diversity-conscious organizers painstakingly included representatives of almost every religious persuasion (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints inexplicably excepted, along with the apparently overlooked Buddhists and Sikhs); even as all that methodically implemented religious open-mindedness may have yielded a historic first, i.e., “many prayers mentioning no deity in particular”; even as all this transpired in the nave, a different pageant unfolding in downtown D.C. might also have benefited from a few second thoughts within the archdiocese.

Across the frozen countryside, in a January ritual that does not become less moving the more one sees of it, thousands of school buses from hither and yon were en route to D.C. that same morning. They arrived as they do each year for the pro-life march, of course – as the wit P.J. O’Rourke once remarked, the one and only protest on the National Mall whose members rally for a cause that is not in their own self-interest.

And what a “teachable moment” it might have been, had anyone at the youth gathering Thursday morning been able to make the point that pro-life religious leaders were standing up already to the new pro-abortion administration – say, by pointedly refusing to take part in ceremonies where their absence might teach more than their presence. Couldn’t someone have then spun a lesson that those adolescents, Catholic or not, would never forget?

Yes, we live in an increasingly secular, neo-pagan, even a-religious age. But since when does that mean that the Church is reduced always and everywhere to what Jeane Kirkpatrick once called (in another context) “pre-emptive capitulation”?

We don’t want to retreat from the public square or to engage in needless confrontation. But any number of monsignors or parish priests chosen at random, for example, would have been perfectly able to carry out the social and religious duties expected on Wednesday at the National Cathedral. Surely, any one of them could have answered well and truly when asked why no one higher up was in attendance. In short, absence as well as presence can be a sign. You might even call it a sign of contradiction – and one that this nation, both Catholic and otherwise, badly needs right this very moment.

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and monthly columnist for The Catholic Thing.

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  • Mark

    The March
    This was a great article, Mary! As a March participant, the Archbishop’s presence surely would have been inspiring and it is more than a little irritating to think that he was at the National Cathedral. As this new administration progresses, I hope the Archbishop will do more than quietly ring his hands. He is a good man and I hope he acts as such.

  • Thomas Hart

    Isnt about time for the bishops to go nuclear, or to use what I call the Becket option, and excommunicate some of the pols? Let Ted Kennedy enter eternal life already damned. Let Biden be refused the sacraments. Film the excommunication rituals, and let the film out over the internet.

    Either they’ll repent, or they’ll seek new churches. In either case the regular pew sitter will get the message that the Church means what it preaches.

  • ChrisB

    Archbishop Wuerl believes in the power of truth & persuasion to change people’s minds, which I am all for. He seems, however, less attuned to the dangers of scandal when it comes to pro-abortion rights politicians, especially those who are Catholic.

  • kiwikit

    I hope someone sends this to Pope Benedict! Disgraceful as are all so-called Catholics who voted for the Abortion-on-demand candidate!

  • William Dennis

    My! My! I am confused. What are the faithful to think? The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington celebratiing the inauguration of President Obama that icon of abortion and women’s choice. Does diversity now trump the truth in the public square? Perhaps it is a type political appeasement in hopes that the leopard will change his spots. Maybe speaker Nancy is correct in that there is no uniformity of Catholic opinion concerning life issues. I wonder what Thomas Becket and Thomas more would say

  • John Marshall

    Today, our religious leaders are better at attending or performing services than they are at presenting Jesus Christ to the world. You would think that they would know better. After all, the very earliest writing prophets, starting with Amos, crucified the prevailing religion and championed a religion that lived in the heart, justice rolling down like waters.

  • Celeste Dwyer

    BRAVO!!!!!! I wish our bishops had some spine!!! Our bishop in St. Louis, Bishop Hermann has beeen outspoken on abortion, and is a tremendous ally of the unborn.

  • Keith Toepfer

    LCDR, USN [ret.]

    What an opportunity for Christian witness simply discarded by Archbishop Wuerl. Sooner or later, our shepherds must cease equivocation on the issue.

  • Bill

    Well said, Mary. Perhaps the archbishop should take a cue from the
    Vatican, which would typically send a much lower ranking official to
    participate in questionable state functions. That in itself sends a strong

  • Bob

    You are correct; the Archbishop was not the correct representative to send to that gathering. He did nothing but send a mixed message and an incorrect signal. I hope someone is able to get through to him so that he will understand and not make the same mistake twice. By doing what he did, he signaled that maybe the Church is negoitiable on the abortion issue. Clearly, the Church is NOT (because God is not), and can never be.

  • eric

    1. Are they ‘teachable’
    2, Out of sight, already out of mind.
    3. We cannot disappear.
    4. Should we dis a president.
    Actually I wish all the Bishops were there, ‘in his face’. OOPS, they’d be someone else’s Bishops then.

  • Petr Stemkowski

    “…even as diversity-conscious organizers painstakingly included representatives of almost every religious persuasion (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints inexplicably excepted, along with the apparently overlooked Hindus and Sikhs)” But surely, Mary, the Mormons are persona non grata, what with their leading role in the successful outcome of the Prop 8 buggery-marriage issue in California, no? (Would that the DC prelate had joined the LDSers in their absence, per your point.)

  • Dan

    We need men of faith and courage in the U.S. Episcopate…and they need to be supported by men and women of faith and courage. The recent election (finally) showed that we have some….we need more. Do not despair. The winds of “Change” may indeed bring change. That which we expect from the adminsitration…but also, sometimes it takes folks being just plain “fed up” to mobilize. Let us surround our strong and clear thinking religious with our prayers and support and fight on!!

  • TruthTales

    “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”….I believe that’s ALSO a “teachable moment.”

  • Pádraig Ó Braonáin

    Retired Educator
    I sympatise with much of the comment made. I did, however, remember that the Man I love and whose Way I hopefully follow sat and even dined with sinners, tax collectors and the like. He did not apologise for doing so. Those of us who must socialise with those who favour abortion will have the opportunity to deal with their values and reveal our own. Recently one friend, on such an occassion, gave me the old one ” its not a person, eh). I asked him where he was five months before be was born.

  • Charlie

    I agree we have to make some more noise about abortion. Last night, Obama signed an executive order releasing massive funds for abortions abroad. No big public show of it, which is usually his style. Instead, he released a short press release on a Friday night. We have to make some noise about this.

  • Fred

    Mere Catholic layman
    Excellent. Abp Wuerl was afraid to confront Pelosi and is afraid to confront Biden when Biden conspicuously receives Communion in Wuerl’s archdiocese. We badly need more bishops of courage who are willing to be countercultural and to teach by action (or, in this case, by refusal to appear).

  • dr. de la flor

    A matter of balls!
    Being all-inclusive does not being saying everything is OK! As a family doctor I do have all-type of patients. I do treat each of them with as much respect and affection as I can. Often, friends and patients asked about issues such as euthanasia, abortion, … on that I try to have BALLS and respond as if JESUS would be right next to me. Most of our representatives, DO NOT HAVE BALLS but go to balls! Most do not practice the very same things they were ordained to do! No guts, no balls!

  • Roman

    I’d love to see what a priest from the FSSP would do if he were in that position. I think the answer is obvious.

  • Bob, the Big L

    Cathoilkic Repreentative?
    It is somewhat revealing that while my wife, grandson and I along with almost 300,000 others were in Washington DC outside the government buildings to demonstrate for the unborn children, two days before AB Weurl was inside representing the Catholic Church at a love-feast for the most virulent pro-abortion president we have ever experienced in our history. Either the good bishop is taken in by Obama’s rhetoric or he wants to represent the 54% of Catholics who voted for Hussein Obama.

  • Blue Shoe

    Not that Denver isn’t important, but I wish we could send Archbishop Chaput to D.C., where his courage and intelligence would make a huge difference.

  • martin

    Thanks Mary, I’m sick of timorous Bishops too.