The Catholic Thing
The Bishops Go On Offense Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Sunday, 01 November 2009

A Notre Dame professor reminded me this week of an old football saying: offense sells seats, but defense wins games. Painfully true about the problems of the Irish this year, but I’ve never thought much of that proposition. Taken to its logical extreme, the most you could hope for relying solely on defense is 0-0 ties. Far preferable is the profound and incarnational wisdom of the coach who said that “prayers work better when the linemen are big.”

I’ll drop the football metaphors, not least because, in an odd way, the Church is also on the side of the other team’s players, though not their views. But the metaphors suggest truths about the Church in America. We’ve played defense too long; meanwhile the other side has run up the score. I’m happy to say, however, that, in recent weeks, some of the American hierarchy have gone beyond defense and onto cultural offense. You won’t hear much about it in the secular media, or find it characterized this way, but we are seeing a new generation of bishops with big enough shoulders not only to stand up for Catholicism but to try to move the ball forward in American culture.

First, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has become, as a body, rock-solid about opposing current healthcare proposals if they include abortion. They have warned Congress of that threat, despite the bishops’ long held view that healthcare is a “basic human right.” You don’t have to be a sophisticated theologian to see this as concrete living out of the belief that, as the bishops and Vatican have often said, the right to life is the basis of all other rights and therefore takes precedence over them. A high-placed prelate told me a few days ago that if coverage of abortion is not removed from the reform proposals, the bishops as a group will go on the attack “because we’ll have nothing to lose.”

That’s refreshing talk. Not that long ago, there might have been vocal resistance within the USCCB itself, but recent reforms of the conference have all but removed that possibility and enabled strong action. Note the bishops' healthcare petition drive, which began yesterday.

Individual bishops have been stepping up the offensive, too. Perhaps none more sharply than Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence. Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy (Ted Kennedy’s son) professed in October not to understand the Church: “You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is going to be denying those people life saving health care? I thought they [sic!] were pro-life?” Instead of the usual diplomatic response, Tobin called Kennedy an “embarrassment” to the Church, and continued “Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s statement about the Catholic Church’s position on health care reform is irresponsible and ignorant of the facts. . . .But the Congressman is correct in stating that 'he can't understand.' He got that part right."

Sad to say, Kennedy does seem to have been occupied at some celestial watering hole when they were passing out brains. But Tobin’s candor – and demand for an apology – may make other compromised Catholic politicians a bit more gun shy.

Similar scuffles have occurred internationally. I was in Rome in early October when Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput’s article appeared in the newspaper Il Foglio, rebutting an earlier piece by Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier, who defended Notre Dame’s invitation of President Obama. The cardinal had clearly been put up to the job by someone in America. In Italy, where political correctness is less evident than here, the headline to the Chaput article read, “The Redskin Bishop’s Tomahawk.” Chaput is part Native American, and you can read the article here and judge for yourself whether the archbishop went on the warpath.

Either way, though, another example of taking Catholic truth aggressively to the culture.

But maybe the best example of the trend is an op-ed submitted by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan last week to The New York Times. The Times declined to run his embarrassing evidence of media bias – not least by the NYT itself – against the Church. Dolan cites, by way of example, news stories in the Times about sexual abuse by rabbis in the Jewish community (forty last year alone) and by numerous teachers in NYC public schools. But neither of these regrettable abuses has drawn the public scolding and calls for investigation that Catholic lapses have. In fact, says the good archbishop, the Times just went out of its way to report a quarter-century-old story about a single Franciscan who had fathered a child, “above the fold” on the front page.

The bias is not limited to the news pages. The Times allows columnists like Maureen Dowd regular attacks on the Catholic Church, most recently over the visitation of women’s religious orders, about which Dowd and the Times know nothing. Dolan does not mince words, “But her prejudice, while maybe appropriate for the Know-Nothing newspaper of the 1850’s, the Menace, has no place in a major publication today.”

Somewhere Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes, one of Dolan’s nineteenth-century predecessors in New York, who a newspaper in his own day tried to ruffle by calling him “more a Roman gladiator than a devout follower of the meek founder of Christianity,” must have been smiling.

Don’t think these scuffles are just part and parcel of a vigorous American pluralism. They portend something far more sinister. The Washington Post just carried an interview with the militant atheist Richard Dawkins making utterly outrageous remarks about Catholicism in a regular column on faith. The Post would have taken great pains not to publish such slanders about any other religion. (Please read it. If your blood does not boil, consult your physician.)

So far, it’s all been only words, but words lead to deeds, and right now such words are everywhere. That’s why our bishops's turn to offense is not only encouraging. They are needed to ward off something much worse than words from developing in our culture.

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

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Comments (18)Add Comment
written by Rosalinda Lozano, November 02, 2009
God bless you!
written by Linda, November 02, 2009
Wonderful piece. It lifts us up to know that the Bishops are actually taking on the culture. It gives the rest of us more courage. I was disappointed that the link to the Dolan piece would not connect me to the text. Can you send another site where I might find it?
written by Robert Royal, November 02, 2009
Sorry, that link has been fixed now.
written by gini, November 02, 2009
Thank God our Bishops are finally spelling out the truth about the media, and finally we are hearing the teachings we need to make good moral decisions on these health care policies. Your article is superb. May our Bishops continue to have the courage they need!
Sleepers, Awake!
written by Ars Artium, November 02, 2009
I pray that we have not awakened too late.
Odium Fidei !
written by Willie, November 02, 2009
Good piece for having a salubrious effect on one's early morning digestion.So far we have been treated to " Christ in Urine, the Blessed Mother covered in dung and more recently an HBO program ' Curb Your Enthusiasm,' not known for its curb on vulgarity, viewing Larry David urinating on a picture of Christ." All of this claimed to be art or humor. I can just imagine the uproar if one urinated on the Koran. It is encouraging to see the bishops on the offensive The link to the Post doesn't work
written by Robert Royal, November 02, 2009
Sorry, we had a hiccup in the system on the links today. The Post link is live now.
The Big Game
written by Joseph, November 02, 2009
Robert, remember to never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Be comforted that the NY Times, now barely worthy to line your birdcage or wrap your fish, will someday land on the dung heap like so many other dailies that fell into mediocrity.

Dowd, Dawkins, and others who attack the Church would be incapable of resentment if God were only a myth, but the militant atheism they represent has gained ground. All the more reason for the Pope and Bishops to step up the offense.
written by Valerie, November 02, 2009
I thank God everday for this web site and pray for your continued success.
Finally the bishops are speaking up as they should have some time ago.
May the bishops be inspired by the Holy Spirit and supported by us.
written by Willie, November 02, 2009
Atheism is one thing but Dawkins and his ilk surely must have an agitated state of mind. Perhaps his failure to find peace incites him to lash out at today's favorite whipping boy,Catholicism. Perhaps he should review his history and find that the Catholic Church has long been the promoter of woman's rights. If he wants misogyny he should go back to ancient Greece, Rome, and the Semitic peoples and present day Sharia law. It is because of sanctioned clerical buggery that some Anglicans want out!
Thanks, I Guess
written by Michael Hebert, November 02, 2009
I don't know whether to thank you for the Dawkins link or not. Yes, it did make my blood boil. I can't figure out why Dawkins gets so much publicity. His arguments are so childish and ignorant it makes me wonder about the validity of his scientific research. The key to science is an open mind. That ought to include theological explanations of the universe. The truth is, Dawkins is getting old (well past 70) and I think the ramifications of nothingness after death are starting to warp his mind.
written by Robert Royal, November 02, 2009
Joseph, I appreciate your concern. But absent truth, even barrels of ink only make a lot of black marks on paper. In wordly terms, we're always outnumbered, but we have other resources and can't let the odds discourage us. That was what put us on defense alone for so long.
Pray for the Bishops
written by Martial Artist, November 02, 2009
May God richly bless with His strength those of our Bishops who have faithfully gone onto the offense. And may He also richly bless with his loving guidance those of our Bishops who need it through a call to spriitual battle.

Keith Töpfer
White coat for Dawkins?
written by Lisa Nicholas, Ph. D., November 02, 2009
I'm glad our bishops are beginning to stand up against the unceasing public attacks against the Church. I expect the men in white coats to come for Richard Dawkins any day now. How he can pretend to speak for scientific rationalism is beyond me -- the man is clearly teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown (or perhaps he is possessed?). Perhaps the most public haters of Christianity, such as Dawkins, will soon go so far that even the most "tolerant" will see their madness.
written by Dennis Larkin, November 02, 2009
If the bishops take Notre Dame to task too, they will be well on their way. It is ND that has given so much intellectual cover to the anti-Church around us. Ted Hesburgh got away with it for nearly 40 years, and John Jenkins' reelection as president of ND shows there's still a long way to go. But younger, orthodox bishops will surely prevail within the Church, if not in society.
written by Bangbang, November 03, 2009
Maybe so, but it would be nice to see the presence of a Hercules engaged in Labor #5 and diver the Potomac through the stables of the USCCB to clean out all the civilian staff together with their bosses who financed ACORN and the other perverted activities.
written by Vanessa, November 03, 2009
My blood boiled. If he had made that comment about any other religion the press would have made a huge commotion about it. And then they proceeded to mock Damian Thompson. Despicable.
Health care v the bishops
written by Dave, November 03, 2009
You say that health care is a 'basic human right.' We might asgree that this is true but can still disagree on the method of delivery. This horrible takeover of health care by this administration would result in loss of freedom on a giant scale. It is not redeemable - even if the pro-life concerns are alleviated. This bill cannot be allowed to pass. It will be a disaster. I cannot understand the bishops' desires in this respect.

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