The penalty of isolation

Over at dotCommonweal, blogger Margaret O'Brien Steinfels offers this short post:
Apropos of the decision of Bishop D’Arcy to absent himself from the Notre Dame Commencement, the following lament was heard from an old friend in the clergy: “As for Bishop D’Arcy and his decision and many similar actions by hierarchs, I wish some bishop would stand up on the floor of the (Bishops') Conference and say, “Brothers, once when bishops leveled penalties, the effect was to isolate the miscreant from society. Now the effect seems to be to isolate us. Before we take that as a sign of how close to perdition everyone else is, perhaps we should think about our own inadequacies in dealing with the world around us.”
Now, if you've read my earlier posts on this issue, you know that I'm not supportive of ND's invitation to Obama. But that doesn't keep me from seeing some wisdom in Steinfels' friend's observation.

Without evaluating the bishops' statements and actions on any number of issues as right or wrong, it's certainly true that the voice of the Church no longer carries the weight it once did. That's not to suggest that the bishops should remain silent or hold back on what they believe to be the truth. It is to suggest, however; that they must be as sly as foxes in how their truth is communicated.

This is true for pastors, too.

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  1. That was quite the thread and one I had commented on myself.

    As someone who had a slow - steady, but slow conversion, I see this through a different eye. That said - I respect your position CP, as a pastor, priest and ND grad. Your perspective is always helpful and is fueled by wisdom and not vitriol.

    Given my slow approach to the table, I can't help but think about how a river very slowly but surely cuts through the earth.

    That is how I think of my own conversion, an ongoing event, of course. Life issues were a challenge for me, given the disjointed and post-modern outlook that I once held. Today, thanks to good teaching, community support, wisdom and grace, that is different.

    The manner of communications used in matters Catholic these days does appear to cry out for some scrutiny and perhaps more than a little metanoia.


  2. CP can you explain what you mean when you say, "they must be as sly as foxes in how their truth is communicated." Thanks

  3. One shouldn't need "bishops' statements" to know not to honor one who support baby killing.

  4. By that I mean that they need to discern the best way to communicate their message such that listeners/readers will be interested in learning to understand it. I don't think it's incumbent on the media or the general population to be schooled in theology. It is incumbent of the teaching Church to speak and write in a fashion that those not schooled in theology might understand.

  5. MD, is calling the right to abortion "baby killing" really in the spirit of respectful communication which is called for in the "Think before you right" paragraph on the main blog page? I find it offensive and disrespectful of the realities of the topic to which it refers.

  6. ...I think you meant, 'think before you WRITE', just another piskie, but maybe it was a kind of sub-conscious message... ?

  7. I think CP allowed this comment, because he believes MD was expressing their opinion without the intention of hurting others. We all know everyone has different ways of looking at abortion; and I think the term "baby killer" is bound to hurt some; especially those who have gone through the heart-wrenching ordeal of abortion by themselves or someone close to them.

  8. Michelle, I must plead fever muddling my fingers. And here I am a former English major!

    Emma, in addition to being hurtful, it's blatantly inaccurate and used solely to manipulate emotion. Abandonning reason is not helpful in discussions like the one around women's right to protect their bodies from control by religious or civic authority.

    Since MD gets to call abortion "baby killing," I will express my opinion with certaintly that fair play will allow this to be posted: Some day I think the movement against reproductive rights will be widely and rightly recognized as part of an overall movement which also encompasses clergy sexual abuse. Both are ultimately about abuse, specificially about (mostly) male nonconsentual control and use of the bodies of those with less power. That is, after all, what laws outlawing legal abortion and birth control are about.

  9. Church documents on life issues use a particular and fairly clinical vocabulary and while they oppose abortion, they do not use the term posted above.

    After doing a little research on this in preparing to comment here, I was surprised and disappointed to see that some Catholic bishops on their own have used such terms.

    As I think might be seen here, such
    terms may impede rather than advance the dialogue/debate.

  10. I believe that certain past actions or inactions by bishops
    (such as propogating the sexual abuse crisis by protecting offenders) may have reduced their credibility among the faithful, no matter what the subject. Not all bishops are among those guilty of the above-mentioned negligence, but humans tend to attribute the faults of one or several to others in the same position.

  11. Speaking of use of bodies without consent ... is there anyone more helpless, more innocent, more dependent and powerless than the baby in the womb? I don't see this is a male/female control issue at all. Concord Pastor, you use your comment time to criticize the bishops for name calling, talk about the church's clinical language, but do not respond to pinsky's point that says that opposition to "reproduction rights," that is, abortion, is equivalent to clergy sexual abuse.

    Perhaps I may point out that sexual abuse victims, traumatized as they are, are still alive.

    Irish Gal

  12. Irish Gal:

    For the record, I believe that the bishops' use of clinical language is a very wise choice - I was not being critical of it.

    I also believe that language like "baby killing" does not help the Church to advance its cause.

    Those who read (and commented on) my posts during the campaign leading up to the presidential election know that I am pro-life.

    Those who read my posts on Notre Dame's invitation to and honoring of Obama know that I disagree with that selection - and why.

    I do not set myself the task of responding to every comment I publish. As the sidebar notes, there are many things posted here with which I disagree.

    I understand but do not subscribe to Piskie's connecting the question of reproductive rights and clergy sexual abuse. Neither do you, Irish Gal, and I'm glad the combox is here for you to express your belief and your response.

  13. For the record, Father Fleming, I remember a sign in the parking lot banning any leafleting, for fear that pro-lifers might arrive on the scene (wasn't there an action alert from Catholics United?) Also an entire homily on "Respect Life" Sunday that failed to mention anything concerning Respecting Life. I remember "America" articles which argued against working to overturn Roe v. Wade.

    Surely, Father Fleming, even your biggest fans wouldn't argue that you "think with the mind of the Church" regarding life issues such as the sanctity of marriage.

  14. I am unfamiliar with any "action alert" from Catholics United.

    When I posted those signs, it was after a group had already leafleted cars in the parish parking lot without permission. The leafleting was done by a town political action group. The leaflets carried an endorsement of a particular candidate for public office.

    I trust that "anonymous" knows that archdiocesan and national Catholic Church policy forbids the endorsing of particular candidates by Catholic clergy or institutions.

    My parish prays every Sunday of the year in the Prayers of the Faithful for

    "respect and reverence for life in all its shapes and forms, for children waiting to be born and the mothers who carry them, and for children waiting to be adopted and the families who will receive them."

    Here's a link to my homily on Respect Life Sunday. Do the words "respect life" occur in it? No. The homily focuses on these words from the second reading:
    Think about these things: whatever is true… whatever is honorable… whatever is just… whatever is pure…
    whatever is lovely… whatever is gracious… whatever is of excellence and worthy of praise… think about these things...

    In just such categories are we invited to weigh the candidacies of
    Joseph Biden, John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin -- and their respective party’s platforms and policies.

    My purpose was to encourage people to take the scripture's admonition to heart and apply it when preparing to vote. There is more than one way to respect life and more than one way to preach that message.

    As noted on my sidebar, I do not agree with everything that is posted on my blog. There is debate among Catholics about how best to turn the tide of abortion. I make no apology for providing here what different groups are saying.

    Finally, I do think with the mind of the Church as I spend so much time meeting with and talking with people who have a wide variety of questions about, objections to and rejections of Church teaching.

  15. WOW...did this commentary get off the blog topic itself! John Allen (NCR) has an interesting column today wherein he talks about the Vatican's need to work on its communication with the media. I will give the gist of what he talked about. Decide what message is most important for today's news cycle. If need be, have handouts to distribute to back up your message, etc. Basically, anticipate what the news media will use as sound bites or catchy headlines and if that is not the message you want to convey, work harder to ensure that the message you want to convey will be the one that is conveyed. It seems to me this kind of advice would be appropriate for the bishops to use as well.

  16. Perhaps a problem with bishops communicating is that they don't speak with one voice. As one example, the withhold Eucharist faction vs. the not-withhold Eucharist faction. Each has his adherents, so on this issue there is no unanimity. There are many areas where individual bishops take different approaches to teaching about the moral issues of our day. While this perhaps for some people is difficult to accept, nonetheless life is rarely black and white, and the bishops reflect that diversity, perhaps not of the teaching itself but of the approach to teaching.


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