Monday, April 27, 2009

An Appeal to the Catholic Bishops to Denounce Violence: Dennis O'Brien Writes Cardinal George

Calls for the U.S. Catholic bishops to repudiate rhetoric that fuels violence in American political discourse and culture (here) have not ended with the presidential election. On the Commonweal blog yesterday (here), Margaret O’Brien Steinfels published a recent letter of Dennis O’Brien to Cardinal Francis George, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

O’Brien calls on Cardinal George, as head of the bishops’ conference, to “publically and unequivocally denounce anything that even hints at a ‘hate Obama’ movement.” O’Brien concludes, “As Christians we never endorse hatred but in the statements and stance of many bishops, legitimacy is being lent to hatred.”

I am, frankly, sickened by the faint, ambivalent response of many of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center-right to the real possibility of violence that the bishops’ injudicious language about abortion and courting of extremist anti-abortion groups elicits. I am sickened by the quibbling, dismissive references to Godwin’s law among some of the respondents to O’Brien’s letter at the Commonweal thread—as if any reference to the Nazi period and what led up to it, no matter how pertinent, is illicit in discussions of potential violence in our society today, and as if Godwin’s law is about suppressing such discussion rather than a wry observation about the statistical probability of Nazi references in political discussions.

I’m disheartened by the way in which so many of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center seem to keep missing the point: that we can’t talk about a commitment to life and resistance to violence while engaging in rhetorical maneuvers that inflame violence; that we have lost moral credibility through our fanatical, blind devotion to a single political party, which has caused us to be totally silent about the serious moral shortcomings of that party’s platform and its leaders; and that our jabber among ourselves about these issues, and the morally obtuse intellectual parsing that goes on in this intramural discussion, places us in a curious, irrelevant ghetto position when it comes to many of the most significant moral and political discussions of the day.

We’ve worked long and hard to put ourselves in that position.

And as we parse and parse these issues and fume and fret about Notre Dame and Mr. Obama, nary word from any of our bishops about torture. It’s no wonder what we have to say to the culture at large is regarded as insignificant today. We have earned our insignificance, in spades.