The Catholic Thing
Dividing the Body? Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Sunday, 05 April 2009

Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George is probably the brainiest bishop ever appointed on these shores. He ranges easily over the whole Catholic tradition, from its earliest days to the very latest developments in modern Catholic thought. In addition, he has a Ph.D. from Tulane University, where he specialized in American philosophy – figures like James, Royce, and Peirce. The good cardinal also possesses a deep understanding of American culture and has made a special point of studying the difficult questions involved in enculturation of the faith.

In short, he is a man of considerable savoir faire, and also currently serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He made a passing reference at a conference last week about the “extreme embarrassment” caused by the invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame. Lots of attention has been paid to that invitation, but very little to the often quite ugly reaction by Catholics themselves to Church leaders who have spoken out, as happened after the cardinal’s casual remark. That lack of attention is unfortunate because thereby hangs an important tale.

It’s no secret that about two-thirds of American Catholics are such mostly in name only. Quite apart from questions of belief, they are almost entirely non-practicing. Some who are marginally more active seem to have learned about faith and morals from what the late comic Flip Wilson used to call the Church of What’s Happening Now, rather than from the Church of Rome or even Jesus Himself.

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a brief look at Kerry Kennedy’s Being Catholic Now, a highly touted book which, in a series of interviews with American Catholics, generally gives the impression that Jesus was a postmodern American. And that the hierarchy has been trying to keep us from finding out. She, too, is being honored this spring at several Catholic universities.

This is Holy Week, a time when we commemorate our Lord’s passion and death, about which the Church has always invoked the passage from Isaiah, “many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men.” Some Catholics, not content to leave poor Jesus or His bishops in peace two millennia later, are still at the old job of disfiguring his image.

In the past few days, Cardinal George had to endure theological instruction from William M. Daley – a businessman and political operative and, yes, a member of that famous Chicago Daley clan, who, like the Kennedys of Massachusetts, have sacrificed so much to spread a better public understanding of Catholicism in our land. Writing in The Chicago Tribune late last week under the headline “Cardinal George, you’re dividing your church,” this tireless worker in the vineyard issued a public reprimand: “I believe that Cardinal George’s stand is an embarrassment to Chicago Catholics, and furthers the divide between the church, its members and the rest of America.”

Since a Chicago Daley believes such a thing, how can the president of the Catholic bishops’ conference and those bishops, who have been trained in Catholic theology and issued a considered statement about honoring culture-of-death politicians, divide the body over matters of faith and morals?

Indeed, Daley points out, in case there was any doubt, that the cardinal and American bishops, in issuing such a restriction, show a “very narrow view of what constitutes morality.” Banning pro-abortion speakers at universities is an attempt to assure that “the students at Catholic universities would hear only from other Catholics – and, even then, only from those who agree with church doctrine on every subject.” Given the closed-minded orthodoxy that reigns at Notre Dame and other Catholic institutions in America, you can appreciate Daley’s point.

And then there’s the cardinal’s greatest sin: mixing religion with politics in commenting on a speaker at a Catholic university. Daley becomes so emotional at this point that he wanders off into a rhetorical thicket from which he emerges with the salutary reminder that America is not a theocracy.

As they say, you cannot make this stuff up.

It’s no great surprise when a political partisan himself divides the body in this way. Only a very simple soul could wander into such deep waters without realizing he’s way in over his head. What is truly astounding, however, is the number of people who wrote in to agree with Daley. Such people have been catechized by the culture to tell you, as if it has been always and everywhere held beyond any dispute, that God is love and therefore accepts everything that a postmodern American progressive accepts – though He is getting really tired of bishops and other Catholics who repeat His actual teachings.

One self-promoting commentator, who shall not get further publicity here, claimed that the reaction of Cardinal George and the other bishops has “more than amply shown how out of touch the bishops are with the culture in which they live.” If so, I say: may their tribe increase.

If Catholicism is to be measured – indeed, all but defined – by our current culture, then what is the point of it, for Catholics or anyone else? If you will not be part of the body, fine. But let’s not confuse the Church with those whose Sunday morning devotion is The New York Times.

Regrettable as such divisions may be for both the Church and the nation, we belong to a Church whose founder drew boundaries and once even said: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It’s not something, pace William M. Daley and many others, the Church hierarchy merely made up. No, you can actually look it up.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His latest book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (23)Add Comment
written by Liz, April 06, 2009
I believe it was Chesterton who said something to the effect that, Earth does not rule heaven, Heaven rules earth. I think people sometimes forget that Jesus, as God, knows all - even "back then" He saw what was to come - even in 2009, and in spite of all the so-called sophisticated, pseudo-intellectuals out there who think the Church isn't "with it" - He still gave us rules to live by that hold true, especially today. We must remember that God is not only Love and Mercy, but also Justice.
Spiritual Deciline
written by William Dennis, April 06, 2009
Yesteday, I heard of another Catholic institution in my area who invited Chris Matthews, a well known pro-abortion figure, for an honorary degree and commencement speech. I know of some of their alumni who are upset. People like Daly, the Kennedys, etc. must transmit this twisted Christianity to further their liberal agenda. Empty churches in Europe, 1/3 filled in America, and long communion lines and short or absent confession lines should alert one that fear God is diminished and so has Wisdom.
written by Madonna, April 06, 2009
I agree 100% with the article and found it not surprising that there are no Democrats who can fill an ambassador position at the Vatican because no one is pro-Life in that party. Mr. Daley is just another example.
written by MM, April 06, 2009
May the bishops wake up in the midst of this embarrassment and come to realize how we got here. Their entire Catholic education system is dominated by those who mock the Magisterium and promote moral relativism. This has been going on for 40 years and we now have 2 lost generations. Catholics have elected 2 presidents who are are advocates of the Culture of Death. We need leadership and shephering now. By the way, weren't Bill Clinton and Chris Matthews graduates of Georgetown?
written by Virginia Hoyns, April 06, 2009
Thank you for spelling it out! I am so annoyed with these politicians spreading incorrect information. They do so much damage. Much and all as excommunication is such a controversial way to go, but perhaps this is the only route for them to stop and consider the harm they are doing. There are people like myself who grateful to Cardinal George for his wisdom.
written by Mary, April 06, 2009
Thank you for your post and beautiful insight into this conflict. It is sad to see such public dissent from our dear shepherds here in the US. Let us continue to pray for the strength of our Bishops, and for humility in the situation. If ND continues down this path, history has proven ... it will destroy itself.
Heb 12:1-14
written by debby, April 06, 2009
Hebrews 12:1-14 was playing in my mind while reading your fine article. A soylent green version of Catholicism being lapped up by the masses. Didn't the disciples have the same problem, real faith vs.disfigured Pharisaical version? Wasn't it the disciples witness that converted the world? So lets persevere, keep eyes locked, remember His joy at the thought of us responding to His Salvation, even while we try to live His truth openly in the Hope that some will come to know Him.
YOU are helping us all
written by Ben, April 06, 2009
Lay off poor Bill Daley. He was only chosen, at the last minute, because those good Catholic families the Capones and Gottis were too busy with other projects to contribute an op-ed.
written by GTH, April 06, 2009
I myself am Anglican (Traditional). My denomination has already suffered through what the Catholic Church is seeing now. I hope the Bishops can get control but they need to want to get control. Don't worry about losses of parishioners by sticking to the core values. Get rid of priests who do not teach the faith. Close the schools that do not follow the teachings.
written by CHRIS VIDRINE, April 06, 2009
Sad to say
written by William Dennis, April 06, 2009
Clinton from Georgetown. Matthews from Holy Cross.
written by Jane, April 06, 2009
Interesting take on things, some good phrasing.
written by Carol, April 06, 2009
Facebook has a group called "You might be hardcore Catholic if..." started by two Catholic college students.It celebrates orthodoxy and has almost 25,000 members. Keep the faith.

P.S. Thanks for including the middle initial. No relation, honest.
written by Fred, April 06, 2009
Excellent commentary. Concise and on target. It is horrifying that the "culture" should teach the Church about the Church. Ridiculous. It's like asking the devil to preach the Gospel to you. Preposterous. And exactly when was it the Church's role to make itself acceptable to the "World?" Only those looking for the truth will hear the voice of the Church. The children of the lie will only revile her for being a killjoy.
written by D, April 06, 2009
I wholeheartedly agree with the views in this article. However, I think the American Bishops have brought this kind of blatant, public rebellion on themselves. They have failed to clearly and publicly discipline the likes of Daley, Kennedy, Dodd, and Biden. They even allow them to publicly receive the Precious Body and Blood during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. When open rebellion carries no consequences, why wouldn't they feel it's OK to be so disrespectful?
written by Ann, April 06, 2009
Quote "Banning pro-abortion speakers at universities is an attempt to assure that “the students at Catholic universities would hear only from other Catholics." So, only Catholics are anti-abortion? That's news to me!
He needs to get real, to see who the people are and what they believe, and the Truth. Then he needs to start following the Magisterium.
Prayers for the good Cardinal, and the faithful, and prayers for the so-called faithful, that they become truely faithful.
written by Tom Worth, April 06, 2009
Pragmatism has no place in the search for truth. Truth is never focused on the wants of the many over the needs of the few, it is not exploitative of tens of millions of innocent unborn lives, and it is never, ever impressed by any office or title or man, even if that man is Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America.
written by Maggie, April 06, 2009
I agree that we did lose two generations because of poor education in the church. Let's wake up before it's too late. I'm willing to help, are you?
time has come
written by charles smith, April 07, 2009
time has come to separate the wheat from the weeds.we need some Bishops to begin excommunicating "catholic' politicians who promote anti-life positions.or perhaps a Vatican III doctrinal council that will clarify the moral standing of the fetus, perhaps some "ex cathedra" pronouncements on the subject...also some clear pronouncements on Sunday Obligation,the Real Presence,Penance,Marriage......hopefully this would lead to an exodus of these nominal pseudo Catholics.....
written by A. Shadforth, April 07, 2009
President Obama, as an Illinois State Senator, voted for infanticide as a last resort of a failed abortion to rid a mother of a baby. Based on this fact I would side with Cardinal George over any member of the Daly Family or current pop cultural views or membership. It is a Fifth Commandment prospective of philosophy.
written by Ricky, April 07, 2009
Don'tcha kinda think that all of those letters written from Chicago to Cardinal George were the work of "community organizers" with the organization called ACORN?
written by Stan M., April 07, 2009
Mr. Obama would be well advised to re-read scripture. Perhaps, then, he would understand that infanticide is not a solution to any of our social woes, but serves as an impetus for deviant social behavior. What makes the matter all the worse is Obama telling everyone that it's all right to behave in this manner, and that it is acceptable to harvest the unborn for the purpose of pursuing the misguided theory that a dead infant is the key to restoring someones quality of life. How very sad.
written by Clusiana, April 07, 2009
The Bishops in America had better get on the stick and start catechizing the people. I'm lucky. After being away from the Church for a number of years, I'm back and educated. The scandal in all of this is the lack of reprimanding the "catholic politicos." Dump them. Help the rest of us get on with our faith. I'm sick and tired of being dicated to by the likes of Daley, Pelosi, Biden, Kerry. The road to hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops.

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