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Scenes from Three Churches Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 03 March 2009

Scene 1. An old friend, a confirmed Catholic, a seasoned pro-lifer, exasperated with the Republican Party, endorsed Barack Obama during the last election. The news of his defection spread, and it just seemed all the worse when it became clear that Barack Obama was the most radical pro-abortion candidate who had ever run for president. At Mass, my friend went to the altar, and the priest simply gripped his hand. He would not give him Communion. For my friend, it was a jolt as severe as anything he had ever felt. What was taking place became evident to others waiting in line, and from a place further back, an older man spoke in indignation: “Father, are you judging this man?”

I was not told what, if anything, the priest said in response. Were I supplying the lines, I might have had him say, “Sir, are you in turn judging me?” But judging with this difference: The priest was offering a judgment springing from the central teachings of the Church. He was making a gesture of taking, as profoundly serious, the teaching of the Church on the direct, willful killing of the innocent in abortion. He was conveying, in a direct, personal way, the recognition of a man known as a serious Catholic suddenly – and quite publicly – becoming an accomplice in the project of supporting that killing. When the protestor sounded his reproach over “judging this man,” was he now offering as the paramount principle of the Church, “judge not that ye be not judged”? Was it the contention now that the principle of abjuring judgment was the trumping principle – the principle that would override all other principles and teaching of the Church? If so, it was a gesture that would dissolve, in a stroke, every teaching of the Church and make a nullity of the Church’s claim to teach on any matter of moral significance.

Scene 2. A Catholic obstetrician recalled recently a visit to his daughter and son-in-law in California. Returning from Mass, the son-in-law complained that the priest had raised the issue of abortion, and the son-in-law was rather irritated: The issue of abortion, he thought, was a political issue; it did not belong in church. When the Supreme Court proclaimed a constitutional right to abortion, it sought to remove the subject of abortion from the domain of legislatures. But if legislators could no longer deliberate on the question of just who is protected by the laws on homicide, then there was no occasion or need any longer for the people who elected those legislators to argue among themselves. For they could no longer elect legislators with the authority to decide anything on that question.

In this way, the issue of abortion would be removed from the arena of politics, where politicians and citizens carry out an argument in public. The line soon took hold that this was not in any way the “business” of politics and politicians; it was a matter reserved for judges and courts. In 1996, during the presidential election, I raised the issue of abortion in speeches in Amherst and in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and in both instances a person in the audience loudly protested that this was not a fit subject for public discussion. But the ban then spread from the public to the private sphere as well. It is a subject to be avoided now in mixed company – altogether too vexing. And so the final turn: it seems to be the height of bad manners to introduce such an ugly subject into the homilies and preaching in church as well. And that is the case even when the subject involves one of the most central moral principles that the Church seeks to teach. In this manner, the “faithful” in attendance become accomplices in the silencing of their own Church.

Scene 3. When Archbishop Timothy Dolan was appointed this past week as the new archishop of New York, The New York Times reported an incident that took place not long ago in Milwaukee. In a Mass at St. Benedict the Moor in Milwaukee, “a white haired parishioner, Chuck Boyle, 79, rose and challenged [Dolan] to rethink the Church’s opposition to ordaining women” – a remark that elicited “sustained applause” from the audience. Russell Hittinger once pointed out just how thoroughly the American people have come to absorb the premises of “positivism” – that law was made by the people who had the power to “posit” or enforce their judgments. That put aside the question of those principles of right and wrong by which we measure the rightness or justness of what the law commands.

But now, as Hittinger remarked, even Catholics have absorbed that notion: They assume that the pope, or the bishops, in authority in the Church, are free to change the “rules” on the ordination of women. It seems to be beyond comprehension now that the pope does not regard himself as free to change that doctrine on the ordination of women. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith once explained, that doctrine is anchored in the understanding of a priest standing in for a figure incarnated, made flesh, as a man. But that too seems to have slipped beyond the grasp even of the white-haired parishioners.

Hence the old joke: Half of the Church is in heresy, and other half doesn’t know enough to notice.


Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.


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Comments (18)Add Comment
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written by Megs, March 03, 2009
Disturbing. What bothers me the most is for how too many people, the political is all that seems to matter. Has politics become so engrossing that we see the Church in that light? Does Mr. Dolan think the bishop or the pope can come up with an executive order? Does the son-in-law think that the Supreme Court rule over the Church? Our faith can shape our politics but we should not let our politics shape our faith.
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written by debby, March 03, 2009
i have no idea if the same holds true in other countries, but even before i converted 27 years ago, i noticed that most American Catholics are American 1st & Catholic some where down the cafe line, after policial association, maybe before coffee shop preference. since my Catholic Faith cost me my family (raised extreme Scotch-Protestant), i hold Her truths dear. not one truth or convenient truth, All Truth. those who live otherwise are vacant souls missing out on the Abundant Life God gives.
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written by Mark Humphrey, March 03, 2009
Thanks for the article Hadley. Can you refer me to a good analysis leading to the conclusion that voting for Obama is per se a grave, wrongful act. I hear more conclusory remarks than good analysis behind it. The Bishops statements seem thin... or maybe i am just not getting it.
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written by Howard Kainz, March 03, 2009
It was heartening to hear that the subject of abortion came up in a church in California. I have lived in Milwaukee for over 40 years, and never heard the subject brought up in any of my parish churches.
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written by William Dennis, March 03, 2009
I am afraid we have become so intoxicated by political correctness in this post modern age that even the truth is relative. To be judgemental is the great fault of our society. Christ was certainly judgemental about money worship in the Temple! I recall the words of GK Chesterton when he was accused of being judgemental. HE replied that people who could not be judgemental had lost their principles. For some clergy this is surely the case.
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Selective Non-judgement
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 03, 2009
I only hear the command to not judge being invoked when the matter in question belongs to the canon of beliefs people have taken to calling politically correct. Who would criticize a priest who refused Communion to a holocaust denier? Who condemns those who condemn racism, sexism, homophobia, or torture? The abuse of the do-not-judge commandment is an insidious device used to silence dissent and make good men to nothing.
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written by Julie, March 03, 2009
Regarding the Scene 1 above - Priest are commissioned by Christ to make the judgement in John 20:21-23:
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
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written by Jski, March 03, 2009
There was a time that one would be able to take a step back and be humble enough not to recieve communion if there was any question as to personal worthyness. yes things have changed, but to present oneself with the full knowledge that defiance is factored into the equation to me is just arrogant.
There was a time that to be part of some group one had to respect and obey the rules of such. Why do some think the Church is exempt from such ?We are a people of God and ought to act like such.
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Consultant
written by Ed Duffy, March 03, 2009
I'm just perplexed why leading Catholic Congressmen/women in Washington support abortion, including Obama's HHS pick. Do you have any insights about this? How can they be Catholic and support pro-choice initiatives? Do they compromise their faith-based values because it's politically astute to do so?
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written by James the Least, March 04, 2009
The difficulty (for me,anyway) is that the Lord offered His consecrated Body and Blood to Judas after Judas had already resolved to betray Him and after the devil had entered into him. True enough, the actual act of betrayal had not been performed yet, and maybe in the end that's the only thing we need consider, but it was necessarily going to be performed and the Lord knew it. Thus, if one who intends to sin has already sinned, according to the word of Our Lord, this creates a problem.
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Pro Life
written by Paul Hanrahan, March 04, 2009
"If they have rejected me then they will reject you" - As a pro-lifer who has regularly attended vigils outside abortion mills for 15 years (in Australia) the line "judge not..." has become very cliche with those supporting abortion. It amazes me how poor the vocabulary of the pro-aborts is, and make no mistake those who use it most likely have some involvement with abortion whether their own child or someone close to them. Thank God for Bishops like Timothy Dolan and may more of them speak up.
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written by Gunnar Gundersen, March 04, 2009
Thank you Professor Arkes for an excellent analysis of the current situation in the Church. In a recent speech Archbishop Chaput seems to agree that the problem is poor teaching and clearly imparting the teachings of the Church is the solution.
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written by Gerry Hunter, March 04, 2009
Do not despair. Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, our parish priest gave a homily on sin. He didn't just mention it; he made it a major topic. And, it was well received.
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written by Bender, March 04, 2009
Howard Kainz said, "I have lived in Milwaukee for over 40 years, and never heard the subject brought up in any of my parish churches."
Thankfully, there are some dioceses, like ours (Arlington), where abortion is brought up frequently in homilies, not to mention in the intercessory prayers.
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Mr.
written by Allan Wafkowski, March 04, 2009
I am a member of Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Pequannock, NJ. It is a Latin Mass community under the auspices of the bishop of Paterson. The pro-life climate there is pulsating. I've not heard even one dissenting voice about the evils of abortion. So, are we a community of old people, straining to fill (and keep alive!) the church with octogenarians? No, Clamoring little monsters fill the pews, and we love it. Young people out number old and invigorate us all. It's the pro-life result.
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written by William H. Phelan, March 04, 2009
Forty years ago, the Church was going to "change" the teaching on contraception. Paul VI produced Humanae Vitae in 1968, and, the outcry was so ferocious, he never wrote another encyclical and he died in 1978. The Problem: the pastoral solution in the confessional? follow your own conscience. Today-no sin-ergo, no need for confession, ergo, no Hell. After all, you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
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Organic Tory
written by Stephen MacLean, March 05, 2009
Re Scene 3: Even if the parishioner were correct—and his deviation from orthodoxy proves not—Aquinas would still have reproved his open gesture: ‘Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect (Summa Theologiae, II-II.33.4, c)’; ‘one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully (ad 2).’
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written by Anthony D', March 10, 2009
All the result of protestantization of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II. We are reaping what has been sowed. Also, the wishy washy US Conference of Bishops before the election didn't help. It did nothing to help form consciences of Catholics.

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