Election post-mortem for the Catholic bishops - an open letter
Your Eminences and Excellencies:
I write today about yesterday's election where, given some of the statements coming from your body due to their reading of Faithful Citizenship, you did not do well in getting your point across. This is not surprising to many of us who simply disregarded much of what was written in many letters to the faithful printed in diocesan newspapers and church bulletins and the excerpts read from pulpits and included in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass this past Sunday (I received both these messages in Alexandria, but I am sure they were nationwide from Washington, DC, where you are located, to Washington State).
This is not simply a matter, as the polls say, of a difference between those who attend Mass weekly and those who do not, for many weekly attenders also dissent from what has been said, largely in our names. I ask you to consider that the problem is that you may have a fundamental misunderstanding of both the issues which you say are "non-negotiable" and of your current power to move the faithful to action at the polls. Let us take each point individually.
The first non-negotiable is abortion. Let me suggest that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why abortion is illegal in the United States. While certain states did enact liberal abortion laws prior to Roe v. Wade, the current state of abortion law is constitutional rather than legislative. As such it is untouchable, even with six Roman Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court. As you well know, if you were to thereaten any Justice with the denial of the Sacraments for not adhering to your position on abortion, they would be forced to recuse themselves as a group and the status quo would not change. Given this fact, holding elected officials to any standard having to do with the appointment or approval of Justices is merely divisive, since if the justice cannot be forced, the appointing official's action is irrelevant. Indeed, in the most recent landmark abortion case, Gonzalez v. Carhart, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined Justice Kennedy in not overturning Roe and instead justified the law based on the Commerce Clause.
Nor should Roe be overturned judicially in such a way as to return the country to the pre-Roe status quo, where abortion was regulated as a medical procedure rather than the taking of a life. Doing so by sending the matter back to the states would also end federal supremacy on equal protection law and privacy law. While you may not like the result, doing so would essentially enshrine the tyranny of the mob. Even a Catholic mob is still a mob and it cannot be countenanced in a country committed to constitutional rule and the rule of law.
There is still the possiblitiy of a Human Life Amendment, but when it is mentioned, I suggest you hide your wallets because there are at least thirteen states which would never ratify it. When a fundraiser says he supports the amendment and asks you for a donation, tell him donations are down and never give money collected from Lenten Appeals, as most of your donors would not approve, since such activities are more for Republican Party building than protecting the unborn.
A simple law granting personhood under the sovereign power of the legislature over citizenship, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment's enforcement provisions, would work just as well as an amendment. The problem with such laws, however, is that they would actually grant personhood and doing so in the first trimester gives the same personhood rights to embryos doomed to miscarry naturally. No family greiving such a loss wants anything to do with an investigation into the event, especially when the Church offers little comfort to such families. Any serious legislation on first trimester personhood must deal with the equal protection issues having to do with miscarriage, as well as with penalizing abortion providers and not mothers (which is constitutionally impossible). If any such bill is devised, Catholic legislators and voters would have to support it. Until such a bill is offered, however, ABORTION IS NOT AN ISSUE and should certainly not be used to deny Eucharist to any Catholic politician or voter. Indeed, supporting the pro-life movement in the manner which you do is actually participating in a fraud because there is no real bill on the table. Such fraud is mortally sinful, even if urged by the USCCB.
The second absolute is the contraception mandate, which as you have likely heard by now, has already been in force since December of 2000 when the EEOC ordered all third party insurance plans who provide preventative coverage to include it. While not a constitutionalized issue, it is still dependent on a civil rights finding and is long established. The only change is the fact that the administration is attempting to carve exemptions for the Church in limited areas and in that co-payments are eliminated. Granted, the President's political advisors picked a fight with you on this issue, but you did not have to join it. Indeed, doing so hurt your credibility, which is already damaged on this issue due to your misunderstanding of why contraception is wrong.
The only argument against contraception that carries weight is that families should be paid a living wage supported by tax policy so that they need not control their fecundity for economic reasons, especially if there are racial or ethnic considerations on who has the right to breed. The other arguments for avoiding contraception are simply wrong, as those of us who are married will not take advice on the quality of our marital love from celibates who still believe that Continence is necessary for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Additionally, life begins at gastrulation, not fertilization, as this is when the unique life energy that ends at death first appears. Before this point, maternal DNA controls the development (and therefore provides the life energy or soul) of the zygote. There are many of us who understand the biological and interpersonal relationship issues better than you do and you should heed our counsel. Failing to do so has caused many to leave the Church, which is tragic. Many are about to die without its comfort and it is not their fault that they did not have the moral courage to listen to their own consciences on this issue.
The third non-negotiable is marriage equality. It is only resisted by bad proof texting worthy of Martin Luther, not bishops of the Catholic Church. When the Lord quoted the Genesis myth in the Gospels, he was not defending heterosexuality. Rather, he was defending both equality in marriage and its indisoluability because both parties have left their families and become one flesh. To deny gay and lesbian couples this right is to permanently infantalize them by depriving them of the right to chose to form a new union, locking them legally into their families of origin. Indeed, the actions of Catholic hospitals in not honoring these unions and vainly attempting to get gays and lesbians to repent from what is likely innate and therefore not sinful by denying them access to their families of choice has caused this issue to fester in the first place. It is time to end this lack of charity and not only recognize the marriages contracted civilly by your employees and parishoners, but begin to celebrate them in a church setting, as the families of those of us with a gay or lesbian member deeply desire. Legalizing such unions is also, in the end, a matter of constitutional law rather than legislation. Indeed, the Canon Law of marriage requires functionality rather than fecundity for a valid union and states that the couple makes the marriage, with the Church merely witnessing for the community. Simply apply the same standards. While I realize this may cause you trouble in recruiting priests among gay Catholic men, perhaps rethinking gay marriage would be a good time to rethink both the married priesthood, priestly countenance and the female priesthood, as the harvest is big but the workers are few.
The final matter has to do with the USCCB speaking for the faithful on political issues. In ancient times, this would not have been a problem, because the Overseer (which I would translate instead as Sheppard or Pastor, not Bishop) was chosen by election of the city church (which was often less populated than a modern parish). If we were to return to such a model, there would be no difficulty in allowing the order of bishops to speak for the entire faithful. As this is not the case, however, if you wish to speak in the name of a largely educated order of the faithful, you need to listen to us first, particularly on these issues. In the days before Catholics were largely college educated, they followed your lead on these matters. That is no longer the case, nor should it be. We have knowledge which you could use and yet you surround yourselves with counselors and legal counsel that put respect for your position over the truth. That bit of hubris is dangerous and I suggest you cast a wider net before speaking further on these issues of state.
Yours in Chirst
Michael Gerard Bindner