Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oscar Romero to the U.S. Catholic Bishops: Now is the Time to Recover Your Consciences

Today is the anniversary of Oscar Romero’s martyrdom.  And I am thinking of the words he spoke in his final homily the day before he was shot at the altar, saying Mass in the chapel of the hospital of Divine Providence. 

In his final homily, Romero pleaded with the soldiers of El Salvador, addressing them as brothers, reminding them that they came from the same people they were murdering at the commands of their superiors.  He asked them finally to find their consciences, saying,

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

Those words ring in my ears today as I think about the role that the U.S. Catholic bishops played in the recent health care debate in this country—a shameful role, one for which history will judge them severely.

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

From the beginning, the bishops as a body (and I know there are individual exceptions to my assessment of the bishops as a group) did everything possible to subvert health care reform, refusing to speak out publicly, intervening in the initial adoption of a health care bill only at the final moment, furtively—shamefully—through a last-minute amendment they put before Congress through Representative Stupak. 

No debate.  No discussion.  No attempt to gather the faithful together and develop a shared lay-episcopal approach to the significant issue of health care, based on lay-episcopal dialogue and shared governance of the church.

No pastoral guidance.  No attempt to teach the values of life or exemplify the values of life through their behavior—the values inherent in a consistent ethic of life that runs through all of our moral choices about the manifold issues inherent in a consistent approach to life.

Only no.

No abortion.  No money for abortion.  No other issue counts.

No trust in Democratic-dominated governments to fulfill promises not to fund abortions, but abundant trust of Republican-dominated governments to serve the interests of the church, even when the policies of such a government militate in every way possible against pro-life stances.

Only no. 

Only standing athwart history and shouting no. 

When the gospel is yes—yes to life, to love, to a future in which more citizens of the earth have access to more of the basic goods of the earth.

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

The bishops as a body have overtly allied themselves with the party that can only shout no, only stand athwart history and seek to halt movement towards a world in which more of the world’s citizens have access to more of the basic goods of the earth.

Even Mr. Stupak, who worked with them as glove works with hand throughout the deliberations about health care reform, is now speaking out* and telling us that the bishops are hypocrites who were using the pro-life issue (their limited and mendacious formulation of that issue, that is) only to stop health care reform.

If this is true—and who knows the bishops and their political mind better than Mr. Stupak—then how do the bishops hope to redeem themselves now, when they have been willing to wager the lives of 38 million brothers and sisters who have access to no ongoing health care in a faustian partisan bargain to promote the agenda of a single political party?

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

If the credibility of the U.S. Catholic bishops was already in shambles due to their handling of clerical sexual abuse, what word can describe the state of their credibility now?

No pastoral guidance in a serious, protracted national debate about an issue of burning moral significance.  No attempt to shape consciences, to explain the meaning of a consistent ethic of life.  No dialogue.  No listening to the laity or to religious women, who founded the majority of the Catholic hospitals that provide health care around the nation.

Only no.  Only partisan tactics designed to stop the necessary forward movement of history.

Only eyes and a voice for the rich and powerful.  Eyes shut and mouth clamped tight when the needs of the wretched of the earth are under consideration.

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

Oscar Romero was before anything else a pastor.  Where he walked, the people of El Salvador walked as well.  He walked among the people he shepherded.  The church he pastored had open doors, through which the least of our brothers and sisters flooded, knowing that they were welcome in the house of God if nowhere else in the world.

When Oscar Romero was murdered, the cathedral of San Salvador overflowed with mourners, with the poor, downtrodden people of Latin America, who wanted to touch the body of this good shepherd who had waked among them.  Who risked their lives, as it turned out, to pay their final respects to the body of the saint.

Oscar Romero was murdered at the altar saying Mass, facing the people on whom he refused to turn his back.  His blood poured over the altar just after he had lifted the chalice.  The people in the church (the picture for this posting shows them) rushed forward to be with him as he lay dead at the altar.  To shout in horror and to cry with grief.  To cradle the body of their murdered shepherd in their arms.

To our great chagrin, we American Catholics have pastors at this point in history that can only be called abysmal.  In their official interface with the public through their national office, a majority of our bishops utterly abandoned their pastoral role. 

We ask for bread and they offer us stones, seeking to undermine a government trying to offer health care to more citizens, while repeating teachings about sexuality and marriage—teachings that are all about no and not about yes—that a majority of their flock have long since rejected as inadequate.  As inattentive to the gospels.

There is one way and one way alone for the bishops to recover their credibility.  It is to look to models like St. Oscar Romero and to learn to be pastors again—to walk among their people like real shepherds, not to closet themselves in backrooms only with rich and powerful men. 

To exemplify love and the values of life by how they life and how they interact with the people of God.  To stop the game-playing and wheeling and dealing, the destruction of the flock they are charged to shepherd, through their neglect and their assault on the dignity of our consciences.

Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia.

I ask the prayers of this servant of God today for his brother bishops in the church of the U.S.  We desperately need Oscar Romero’s intercession for our church at this point in its history.

H/t to Grant Gallicho at Commonweal blog.