|Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)|
A wise prelate whose advice about
dialogue should have been heeded
Of course the whole situation arose in response and consequence to the American Bishops opposing mandatory coverage for contraceptives as part of the Health Care legislation. Had the bishops limited their argument to exempting Catholic institutions from having to provide coverage for those procedures to which Catholics—on moral grounds—object, the bishops may have had an argument, By broadening their attack on Health Care to argue that any employer should be exempted from having to provide coverage, however, the Church has lost in the court of public opinion where 83% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and even 42% of Republicans (a minority of Republicans but a remarkably high minority given this having become a partisan issue) believe that all employers (including Catholic Institutions) should have to provide contraceptives coverage. In a clumsy attempt to define this as a battle for religious liberty (which is one facet of the conundrum) the Republican controlled House of Representatives convoked a hearing led by Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa (R.CA) and invited a panel of religious leaders to testify. At the same time Issa refused to accept the credentials of Democratic witness, Sandra Fluke, claiming that she was “unqualified.” (The excuse was later defended by claiming that her name was submitted “too late” to the panel.) Just to make sure that injury was not unaccompanied by insult, Representative Issa referred to Ms. Fluke as “a college student.” Sandra Fluke is, in fact, a Third Year Georgetown University Law Student where she leads the “Law Students for Reproductive Justice.” Ms. Fluke had done her undergraduate degree at Cornell and before going to Law School she had worked for five years at “Sanctuary for Families,” a non-profit agency that assists victims of domestic violence. Seeing tapes of her she is extremely articulate, certainly far more articulate than Mr. Limbaugh. In fact, she is far more articulate than most bishops. And she is certainly as qualified—if not more so—to speak to the issue of women’s concerns about Reproductive Justice as well as the legal repercussions for women and families of the failure to provide contraceptive coverage as was the all-male panel of bishops, seminary professors, rabbis, and imams. Note: The all-male panel. This was the problem. What were the Republicans thinking when they convoked an all male panel for this issue? And what was Bridgeport CT Bishop William Lori thinking when he agreed to sit on it. S-T-U-P-I-D!!! Was Bishop Lori so struck by the glamor of a national spotlight (a “protégé” <and the quotes are deliberate> of the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, Lori is a “climber” <here the quotes are used to denote a colloquialism> of the first degree) that he had no foresight on how this would make the Church look. The hearing had no sooner begun and the good Bishop prattling away comparing making the Church pay for contraceptives to requiring a Kosher Deli to carry pork, when a Democrat member of the panel, Carolyn Maloney (D. NY) interrupted and asked the fatal question: “Where are the women?” What a disaster!!! When will our leadership (aka the Bishops) realize that they need to step out of the spotlight and put lay people—and in this case, women—there as the spokespersons? If the American Church survives the incompetence of its episcopal leadership it will be only by the grace of God. Let us hope that God doesn’t become so disgusted with their abysmal leadership that He doesn’t abanon them to their own ineptitude. Their narrow provincialism is making it increasingly embarrassing to be Catholic. And now, Rush Limbaugh weighs in adding ballast to their arguments. This is the last thing we need to have happen. I have always found a tone of anti-Catholicism in Limbaugh—I think he knows how dangerous the papal magisterium is to his conservative (read neo-nazi) stand on immigration, social justice, human dignity etc) and is no admirer of the Catholic Church. What a wonderful way to rob it of whatever shreds of credibility it has remaining but to come to its side in attacking a bright and articulate Law Student. Geez, what hole will we dig to fall into next?
Before his 1996 death from pancreatic cancer, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago had proposed a “Catholic Common Ground Initiative” to open dialogue with those who find themselves at odds with magisterial positions so that we might find the common ground on which we can build consensus. He was viciously attacked by such pillars of self-righteous authoritarianism as Cardinal Bernard Law (whose moral fiber became clear in the sex-abuse cover up scandals) and the omni-phobic Cardinal James Hickey (whose one-time secretary is the same William Lori who was testifying to this Congressional panel).
This current debacle only bears witness to the wisdom of Bernardin’s call. If the Church is not to lose all credibility we need to sit down to open dialogue with a number of groups in our society, foremost among them women. The bishops need to hear the needs and concerns of women. Yes the Church has its moral teachings. We are not disputing that. But women have legitimate concerns to which we need to be sensitized. Certainly not all women would agree with “the feminist agenda” nor allow that “radical feminists” speak for them, but our basic ignorance, as a Church, of the needs and concerns of the vast majority of women (not just Limbaugh’s “feminazis,” but of all women and especially of minority women) makes it impossible for us to bear effective witness of the Gospel to them in today’s societies. Maybe the bishops need to invite Sandra Fluke and listen to her—I am not saying agree, I am saying listen—voice telling them what she does know better than them. Maybe if the clergy began listening to the faithful, really listening, they would find that the Holy Spirit sings in more than one choir. And maybe the Church might begin to regain its credibility before it brings down the entire building on itself in one huge act of self-destruction. But then again, if the bishops are afraid of Elizabeth Johnson, Joan Chittester, and Sandra Schnieders—all nuns in their seventies—they certainly won’t want to be in the same room as a bright and articulate law student who is just over 30.