The Bishops: the Election’s Biggest Losers

The biggest losers in the 2012 Election were the American Catholic bishops. 

After a full court press the bishops were unsuccessful in their attempt to frame the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate as a violation of religious freedom. The Mandate being imposed by the Obama Administration is forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their health-care plans; all of which are violations of Catholic morality. Tellingly, the election data indicate that President Obama retained the Catholic vote 50-48 percent. The bishops also failed in their strong effort to block legalizing “Gay Marriage” in Maryland, Maine and Washington State.  According to polls, solid majorities of Catholics support same sex marriage. And, in Florida, voters turned down two Amendments, strongly encouraged by the States’ bishops, which would limit abortion and provide funding for Faith Based Organizations (FBO).

Why did this happen? And, what can be done?

First, it is obvious that most Catholics see no problem with contraception, in any form. This can be laid at the feet of the bishops and the lower clergy. The majority of Catholics do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. This is because at least two generations have rarely if ever, heard the Church’s position preached or taught in Church or in Catholic schools.

 

The solution is that bishops should mandate a strong catechesis on Humanae Vitae (1968).  In this encyclical Pope Paul VI articulated the Church’s non-fallible teaching regarding procreation and the evils of contraception.  This instruction must be included in a series of Sunday sermons and be part of the school curriculum throughout all levels of Catholic education.

Secondly, polls indicate that Catholics are on par with most Americans (59%) believing that abortion should remain legal. This attitude can be directly traced to the bishops’ inconsistent application of Canon 915 which allows them to bar Catholic pro-choice politicians from receiving Communion. Also, great confusion has been caused in the minds of Catholics when bishops permit huge Funeral Masses for politicians and judges who promoted abortion by their legislation and judicial opinions.  Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral and that of Justice William Brennan are cases in point.

To ameliorate the above, bishops must apply Canon 915 more consistently and more often. They should also appeal to the Vatican for a revision in the Code of Canon Law to make it easier for them to excommunicate notorious pro-choice public figures. Funerals, for pro-choice politicians if they are not excommunicated, should be small and private family affairs.

Thirdly, many Catholic colleges and universities have been notorious in their failure to teach Catholic morality. Often professors openly disagree with the Church on vital areas regarding human sexuality.   Some schools also fail to enforce Catholic values on campuses.  Needless to say, honoring President Obama at Notre Dame, in 2009, and having HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, at Georgetown, as a Graduation Speaker in 2012, sent out the wrong message.

To clear up the moral ambiguity as to what is “Catholic”, and what is not, bishops must enforce Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990). This Vatican document allows them to remove the name Catholic from offending institutions of higher learning. Not to do so makes them complicit in the false teaching now being presented at these schools as morally acceptable or viable Catholic life-style alternatives. Also, pro-choice politicians should be banned from Catholic campuses.

Fourthly, many FBOs have little relationship to the Church, other than administratively, although they bear the name Catholic.  These agencies simply use Catholic structures to deliver social services. Studies show that few people who use these FBOs identify them as being in any way religious. They are seen, for the most part, as being no different from any other governmental agency. As a matter of fact, some FBOs are run and staffed by uncatechized Catholics and non-Catholics who have little or no understanding of Catholic morality or ethics.

To protect the Catholic brand the bishops need to be humble enough to downsize these extra-ecclesial organizations and refuse government funding. Because, as the old saying goes, “Once you accept Caesar’s coin, Caesar owns you”.  Charity should be charity freely given and not a façade for the distribution of services paid for by forced taxes. Sociologists have found that local charity by churches makes a difference in people’s lives, not government funded programs.

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Fr. Michael P. Orsi

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Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at www.avemarialaw.edu].

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