Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Need to Keep a Cool Head Beneath the Mitre

Would someone tell His Grace
of Baltimore that we use wine,
not Kool Aid for Holy Communion
 A friend of mine, a layman, had dinner the other evening with his bishop.  He and the bishop are close personal friends and Michael says that it is a break in the prelate’s cycle of loneliness to have a few drinks and supper with him.  I am sure it is.  This friend is a warm and sensitive fellow and I would guess that the bishop gets the personal affirmation that is often lacking or, is suspect when it comes from the clergy.  Being a bishop is a lonely career.   I gather from Michael’s remarks to me today that the topic of conversation was much to do about the “crisis” of religious freedom.  This particular bishop is a good man but—and maybe because he is a good man—simple, even naive.  I don’t mean to say that he isn’t intelligent; he is bright enough but he lacks a critical analytical mind.  And I know from some of the statements he has made in talks and in the diocesan newspaper that he has drunk the Kool-Aid being served out by Archbishop Lori and a few others about how our religious freedoms are under attack by the current administration.  I do think that we need to be vigilant about our freedoms but I am enough of a historian to know how in the past demagogues have fanned prudence into paranoia and good citizenship into totalitarian regimes.  (I am currently re-reading William L. Shirer’s classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.)  
The following article appeared in the news a week or two back. 
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A southeastern Pennsylvania Church and a youth pastor are facing criminal charges for a mock kidnapping of a youth group  that was meant to be a lesson in religious persecution.   
The Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown and 28-year-old Andrew David Jordan  of Elizabethtown were charged Friday with false imprisonment and simple assault, said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marisco 
The church staged the event in March. Mock kidnappers covered the teenagers' heads, put them in a van and interrogated them. Neither the young people nor their parents were told beforehand that it wasn't real. The mother of a 14-year-old girl filed a complaint with police.
"This is a sad case for all those involved," Marisco said, adding that while the church's and Jordan's intentions were not necessarily harmful, "they in essence terrorized several children."
What is this fascination with religious persecution?  Whether it is a misguided youth minister trying to impress on his church’s young folk that they may have to stand up for their faith someday or an entire conference of Catholic Bishops sounding the tocsin that our liberties are being stripped away by the Obama administration because employees of Catholic institutions are being given access to contraceptives we need to dial back on the paranoia.  I am not saying that we should not be vigilant about our liberties but I am saying that it is nothing less than criminal (not to mention seriously sinful) to yell “fire” in a crowded theater just because the concession-booth lady turned up the flame under the tea kettle.   Our society is losing all rationality as it continues to polarize into two opposing factions and the Church’s mission is to reconcile the divisions not compound the panic by exaggerated and unfounded accusations.  There was a day in American history when the Protestant citizenry believed with all their heart that we Catholics were out to rob them of their religious liberties and impose Catholicism on them against their will.  Their fears were not without basis as until 1965 Catholic doctrine did indeed teach that when we Catholics became the political majority we had an obligation to establish the Catholic Church as the official religion of the American people and proscribe other worship.  But American Catholics were good citizens who disregarded their Church’s demands on them to overturn the civil liberties granted by our Constitution and confined the authority of the Church to its proper sphere—faith and morals.  We knew that the magisterium was wrong when it came to the question of religious liberty and, indeed, at Vatican II with the Decree Dignitatis Humanae the magisterium came around and corrected its mistaken view.  And today too we need to use our own prudential judgment in political matters.  While we must agree with the Church on questions of doctrine and moral values, and while our politics need to be rooted in our moral principles, we must insist on the sovereignty of the individual conscience in how those values are applied to concrete political decisions. While we do that, however, we should not portray situations with exaggerated claims that we are being “persecuted” when the civil law is not being tailored to our views.        

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