Herewith, some revisionist history, obviously fanciful, but perhaps worth thinking about these days.
Suppose Germany from the early 1930s through 1945 had remained the (democratic) Weimar Republic rather than become the Third Reich, a one-party dictatorship. Also suppose that many democratically elected representatives from various liberal and conservative parties had signed on to and advanced the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis and Hitler. Further suppose that even Catholic elected parliamentarians from the opposition parties joined with the Nazi Party and voted to advance the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish question, and publicly supported its implementation. Just suppose, for argument’s sake, that all of this was historical fact.
Now, let’s go further and suppose that the German bishops had taken no action to discipline those Catholic politicians, in whatever parties, either by excommunication or denying them the sacraments. (We know that disciplinary action has recently been enforced by German bishops for simply refusing to pay the Church tax by not registering as Catholics with the government.) But suppose no such disciplines were enforced back in those evil days, and suppose polls were taken showing that more and more German Catholics were either confused on this grave moral issue or actually had begun to support genocidal racial policies.
How do you think historians would judge those bishops and other Church leaders? Would anyone think that those German bishops had faithfully done their job in protecting the faith of the little ones – and of the Catholic politicians – without pressuring Catholic collaborators in the German parliament to defend innocent victims by doing all they could to stop the government’s atrocities? Would that local Church later have to repent and ask forgiveness, way beyond what the popes have apologized for in recent acknowledgements of past errors?
The Catholic laity, perhaps, might be judged to have been caught up in the zeitgeist and a mob mentality so shrewdly disseminated by the Nazi propaganda machine. And there would be some mitigation of their guilt because the laity might, understandably, have been confused when they saw important Catholic politicians escaping discipline from Church leaders, and publicly receiving Communion and other Sacraments, all the while declaring themselves to be faithful Catholics in good standing with their Church.
But back to reality and our world today. For the past fifty years, the Catholic laity in America have heard very clear condemnations of the monstrous crime of abortion from their bishops. But at the same time, they have witnessed prominent Catholic politicians openly supporting abortion rights and fighting efforts to restrict those rights – some even defending the outrages of Planned Parenthood, about which several bishops have spoken out, but done little else. Meanwhile, the dissenting politicians continue to call themselves faithful Catholics and receive Communion publicly, sometimes from the hands of their own bishops.
Over 55-million unborn human beings have been slaughtered over this time, which tops even the monstrous evil of the Third Reich. Meanwhile, over half of the Catholic population in this country has come to support abortion rights. Are we expected to see no connection between the bishops’ refusal to discipline Catholic politicians and that great falling away from Catholic truth and moral practice?
Indeed, the most pro-abortion politicians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, are often seen being publicly honored by Catholic institutions. Universities claiming to be Catholic employ personnel who are open dissenters from Catholic moral teaching, and again lay Catholics see that nothing happens from a disciplinary standpoint. Is it any surprise, then, that it is especially among the young adult Catholics that confusion over Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage is the most widespread? Will bishops accept responsibility for this loss of Catholic faith on the issues of abortion, marriage, euthanasia and other moral issues due to the lack of any public disciplining of Catholic politicians? Or of institutions, some of whose faculty members support these moral deviations?
How will history judge this generation of Church leaders when this human carnage finally ends? How will future generations of Catholics judge this generation’s spiritual leaders if they look back and see that that no Catholic leader was ever disciplined for voting for and positively supporting not only abortion, but now the perversion of the institution of marriage? The same Catholic politicos who have supported the right to terminate innocent lives of the unborn are now supporting the rights of homosexuals to marry and even calling on the Church to change her teaching. Undoubtedly, next will come euthanasia rights disguised as mercy.
It almost seems as if democracy has become an absolute that trumps all else. If abortion is voted in democratically, or legalized by judges functioning within a democracy, then Church leaders seem paralyzed when it comes to disciplining their own politicians or judges. If they are acting in a democracy, they get a pass. Is that it? We must never appear to be trying to undermine democracy by disciplining Catholics who vote even for the right to kill the innocent?
The Catholic abortionist is automatically excommunicated, but the Catholic politician who votes to allow the abortionist to murder gets a pass. If Justice Anthony Kennedy effectively trashes the Catholic teaching on marriage in his bizarre ruling in Obergefell, he too evidently gets a pass. Catholic politicians and judges can’t be touched by Church discipline because they have the cover of democracy, separation of Church and State, and all that. So Judge Kennedy is still an honorable man, and – even more – he can declare himself a good Catholic with no consequences.
I wonder if some future pope will not only verbally apologize for all this contemporary hesitation on the part Church leaders to lead by disciplinary action, and not just by words, but will he put on sack cloth and ashes to repent for the timid response of Church leaders when many tens of millions, young and old, were paying with their lives, partly because of the lack of disciplinary action by their shepherds?