Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Archbishop Speaks Out: Archbishop Sheehan on Catholic Isolationism Due to Single-Issue Politics

I wrote yesterday that the monomaniacal focus of key American Catholic leaders on the single issue of abortion is marginalizing the American Catholic church when it comes to important ethical and political discussions. I noted that this monomaniacal focus has issued in tactics of bullying, shouting, and sloganizing that bring the Catholic church into disrepute in the public arena.

And I was happy to read later in the day that at least one U.S. Catholic bishop has recently made statements that seem to parallel my analysis of where American Catholicism has been heading for some time now. This is Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe.

On 12 August, Archbishop Sheehan gave an interview to National Catholic Reporter editor Tom Roberts. In the interview, the archbishop talks about what he told his brother bishops at the last USCCB meeting, at which the invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame was discussed. Readers will recall that this invitation precipitated a firestorm, with a number of U.S. Catholic bishops denouncing Notre Dame for issuing the invitation.

Roberts reports:

In the Aug. 12 interview, Sheehan said the Catholic community risks isolating itself from the rest of the country and that refusing to talk to a politician or refusing communion because of a difference on a single issue was counterproductive. He described such actions as a “hysterical” reaction.

And Archbishop Sheehan went on to say,

“We’d be like the Amish, you know, kind of isolated from society, if we kept pulling back because of a single issue.”
He acknowledged the loudest voices were creating what appeared to be the Catholic position for the general public.
“Of course. I mean that’s always been the case,” he said. “That’s news, you know.”

Archbishop Sheehan is right, in my view. Meanwhile, if you want evidence of where American Catholicism has headed in some influential sectors—the shouting, sloganizing, and bullying around the single issue of abortion—check out these HuffPo and Joe.My.God videos of Catholic anti-abortion activist Terry Randall at Representative Jim Moran’s recent town-hall meeting about health care reform in Reston, Virginia (and see here).

If that’s the public face of American Catholicism nowadays (and it is, to a large extent), and if that’s what we have to offer to serious public discussions of an important moral issue like health care reform (and it is, to a great extent), then we’re in a heap of trouble.

And we’re in this state because the silent majority of U.S. Catholic bishops about whom Archbishop Sheehan speaks in this article have been unwilling to speak out loudly and clearly against the handful of bishops (Archbishop Chaput of Denver comes immediately to mind) who energize this screaming, belligerent minority. The bishops themselves have let these folks claim the center.

They did so during the campaign when these same activists shouted for blood at Sarah Palin’s rallies. And the bishops remained silent.

They did so when Randall Terry pushed around buggies full of dolls covered in fake blood for weeks before the president came to Notre Dame. And as a body, the bishops kept their silence—except for the loud, war-mongering minority who slammed Notre Dame for issuing an invitation to the president.

And they continue to keep silence, as a body, when Randall Terry and his cohorts disrupt town-hall meetings with screams about baby killers and black-face skits showing Mr. Obama whipping the elderly. This silence is shameful.

And the bishops will one day have to answer for it at the judgment bar of history, as well as of God.