DeMarco: Bishops move to sever the tie that binds

The Op-Ed Page


By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

You would think that American Christians, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, would be rejoicing that there was a faithful occupant of the White House.

Although white evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Biden’s predecessor and cheered many of his policies, Trump rarely attended church and seemed unfamiliar with the Bible (once referring, during a campaign speech at Liberty University, to the book Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” a mistake that any child with a year of Sunday school would avoid).

Most Christians believe that corporate worship is essential to a complete and thriving relationship with their Creator. Biden’s desire to join weekly with other Catholics and remember who they are and to whom they owe their most important allegiance should be reassuring to those of every faith and no faith. However, some of the bishops are disquieted by the highly publicized gap between Biden’s abortion stance and Catholic teaching (he personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights policy). At an assembly of the bishops last week, there was enough concern that three-quarters of them approved drafting a document examining the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.” Some of the bishops clearly have Biden in mind with their vote, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, who has said unequivocally that Biden “should not receive Holy Communion” for his abortion stance.

Catholics are obligated to attend Mass weekly and expected to take Communion. Although I married into the Methodist church, I was raised as a Catholic and understand the centrality of Communion to Catholics, who believe that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.

Refusing Communion to any Christian who comes to a house of worship is an affront. The bishops’ desire to deny Biden the Eucharist put me in mind of an experience I had over two decades ago while I was visiting with a Catholic family member. During the visit, our families went to Mass together. Although I am no longer Catholic and technically should not partake, I always accept Communion when it is offered. Methodists have an open table. The invitation is to “all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.” So, no matter who is offering Communion, I feel invited.

When I rose from the pew, my children, who were still in elementary school, naturally followed. I knew this might be a problem since this was a large church in which one stood before the Eucharistic minister, received the wafer in cupped hands, and the took a sip of wine from a common chalice. In our home church, we kneel at the altar rail and take juice in tiny individual cups. I didn’t have time to give them any instructions except, “Watch me.” I chose one of the side aisles thinking that a modestly dressed nun might be less imposing to them than a tall, portly priest arrayed king-like in his vestments. They were both nervous and the nun deduced by their hesitation that they had not received the strict instruction Catholic children get when they prepare for their first Communion. Thankfully, she did not withhold the elements from them, but she gave me a look of displeasure I will never forget.

I understand the bind that faith leaders are in. If there is no dogma, then they worry “What do we stand for?” and “How do we distinguish ourselves from the secular world?” And I also understand the moral urgency that the bishops feel toward abortion. Lives hang in the balance. I think their denunciation of abortion is defensible, as is Biden’s position.

Unfortunately, and Brad can disagree with me here, the Catholic Church is expert at inducing guilt. The majority of bishops feel so strongly about Biden’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage that they feel a public shaming is in order. I saw both the positives and the negatives of the church’s robust adherence to dogma in my parents, whose educations through high school were entirely in Catholic schools. They both are highly motivated, disciplined, honest and smart. The nuns who taught them expected, even demanded, that they excel. But there was a downside. Eventually the weight of those rigid expectations and a perceived dearth of compassion drove them, as adults, to the Episcopal church (the Catholic teachings barring women from the priesthood or from using birth control also played a major role).

I can see nothing to be gained by the bishops denying Biden Communion. It will satisfy no one but a group of authoritarian Catholics. Biden is the kind of faithful man that any church should want. There are very few Catholics (or adherents of any faith, for that matter) who accept every one of their church’s precepts. For example, more than half of Catholics surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2019 agree with Joe and support abortion in all or most cases.

And what disastrous evangelism. At a time when U.S. Catholic affiliation is dropping (along with most other denominations) the bishops’ desire to rebuke Biden will only serve to repel potential converts and may push some teetering Catholics out of the flock.

The Catholic faith needs some good news. It will take decades for the reverberations of the sex abuse scandal to dampen. Still, as Brad reminds us, Catholicism is the oldest and largest (by far) of the Christian denominations. It offers its followers a connection through time and space that is rivalled only by Islam. Even though I’m no longer Catholic, I experienced that connection one morning in February 2020 in Africa. I travelled there for a two-week mission in a hospital in Mbeya, Tanzania, with the USC School of Medicine. The leader of the trip was a Catholic physician who took me to an early morning Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua Cathedral. It was one of the most moving worship services I have ever experienced. A group of nuns chanted and sang accompanied by shakers and drums giving the service a unique energy and rhythm. Even though I understood almost nothing except “Yesu Kristo” and “Mungu” (“Jesus Christ” and “God” in Swahili) I felt the connection that Brad has described.

The bishops would do better focusing on our commonalties as human beings and what binds us rather than trying to humiliate the President.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

44 thoughts on “DeMarco: Bishops move to sever the tie that binds

    1. Carol Smith

      I have many dear Catholic friends and I have to believe that they were dismayed and disgusted by Trump’s lack of care for the living more than his supposed care for the unborn. I will never understand how anyone who believes in Jesus could not be relieved that the least Christ-like president in the history of our country was defeated. We also should be equally pleased that a good man, like Biden, who is being led by his faith and values leads the USA.

  1. Scout

    I am Methodist. I have always respected and had no problem with the Catholic church. But I agree this is a very offputting move. Probably I’m biased being raised Methodist, but anybody stepping in to deny anyone communion seems just totally wrong and terribly presumptuous to me. It does not seem very Biblical. Certainly an overarching message of the new testament is that all are welcome – gentiles, lepers, social outcasts, etc. We are not to judge. Yet these Bishops think they can speak for Jesus, I guess? They are judging another human being and denying him what Jesus offered to all. Perhaps they also would not speak to the lady at the well that Jesus did or heal a leper on the Sabbath. I have maintained respect for the Catholic church through a lot, but they have lost me now.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Responding to Scout…

      Yes, it’s an “off-putting move.” Which is fully intended, and is what is mainly wrong with what they’ve done.

      They’re not wrong on the Church’s teaching on abortion. And they’re not wrong in believing, as I think they do, that it is their duty to make that teaching clear. And I agree with them that when the most prominent Catholic in the land is clearly not following that teaching, it is their responsibility as bishops to make clear to everyone else that he is in error. (For that reason, I’ll quibble with Scout’s interpretation of the action as “terribly presumptuous.” Ours is a hierarchical church. We don’t vote on teachings to see which one is more popular at the moment. The bishops have a duty to carry out the magisterium function. So the problem is not presumption; it’s that they’re doing it all wrong.)

      Of course, they could make this clear to everyone from the pulpit. Or they could see that his pastor, or more likely in this case his bishop, counsel with Biden privately on the subject, as he would do with any other of the flock.

      They are doing it this way to make a public point, and it is not a helpful thing — in fact, it’s enormously harmful — to do it this way.

      As the pope has let them know. So think about that for a moment: As bishops, they feel the need to assert authority over Biden in this matter. But in so doing, they are flouting the authority of Rome…

      1. Ken

        None of my born-and-bred Catholic in-laws approve legally banning abortion.

        It is not necessarily “in error” to hold that what the church declares “contrary to moral law” is not necessarily best addressed by banning it in law. Not if the focus is placed on moral suasion and balancing social goods.

        On balance, the common good is better served with than without abortion remaining a legal option.

  2. Mark W Huguley

    There is much with which to agree in Paul’s observations. I was raised in the Methodist Church, but became Catholic partly due to the influence of my Catholic wife and John Paul II. I like the universality of the Catholic church. I embraced being a Catholic, even becoming a Eucharistic minister. The bishops have driven me away. To be blunt, the majority of the US Catholic bishops are disgustingly hypocritical with their poorly disguised partiality for opposing abortion while turning a blind eye to capital punishment. Both positions are taken by men whose credibility is near zero because of doing nothing about sex abuses by priests. The bishop of the Charleston Diocese came to St. Peters to speak about the sex abuses and I attended. I told the bishop the lack of action against those committing the atrocities for so long left me feeling complicit. Did they feel the same? I wonder still. I have not yet formally joined another church to be deliberate about such an important decision. Earlier, I wrote to the priest who denied Biden communion in Florence to state my disappointment. He did not reply. Later, I wrote the bishop to say his communication on the then pending presidential election was clearly not impartial. Instead, it was a fallacious description intended to manipulate Catholic voters. The bishop replied we must agree to disagree. At an earlier point in my life I was taught to identify fallacy in argumentation. I will not support denying the Eucharist for political purposes. It is a fallacy. That is the purpose of the bishops and it is wrong. There is a distinct arrogance among the bishops that is offensive to Christianity.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Mark, thanks for weighing in and sharing your personal story.

      Mark had shared this with me before privately, after I had reached out to him (and his wife Sally, my former colleague and another regular contributor), with some deep concerns I had about what I was seeing from some of me fellow Catholics — both laypeople and some clergy. This was back during the election, and the discussions I had with Mark and Sally were within the context of what I eventually wrote back here.

      I had reached out to Mark and Sally not only because I greatly respect both of them, and have for many years, but because we were all members of the same parish — St. Peter’s — and because I knew that, like me, they were big Joe Biden fans.

      I was very sad when I learned that Mark — after his sincere, earnest and courageous attempts to address his concerns with the bishop and others turned out to be of no avail — had left the church. (By the way, this video will show you what Mark was responding to when he, as he said, “wrote the bishop to say his communication on the then pending presidential election was clearly not impartial.” Of course, that was only part of it. There was also a print piece connected to the diocese that was quite indefensible. But I think the video was the main thing.)

      I don’t know how Bishop Guglielmone voted the other day, or even whether he was there. I do know that he is retiring. This provides the Pope with an opportunity to choose someone who would NOT have voted with that three-quarters who voted to draft the document. There are plenty of clergy who fit that description, men who actually listen to their pontiff and understand that there’s a great deal to the term “pro-life” in addition to our stance on abortion. Clergy who understand that erroneously giving the world the impression that they only care about one aspect of our respect for human life is terribly damaging to the faith.

      I don’t know where all that stands. I don’t know whether Rome has chosen a replacement yet. I just hope that when they do, it’s a good choice…

      Anyway, thanks again, Mark!

  3. Barry

    As a Baptist, we view communion a bit differently but when we have communion, every pastor I’ve ever had always invites all believers to participate. That’s it. No other qualifications or barriers.

    During the blessing, the pastor will implore everyone to search their heart for their own sin. But he doesn’t single out particular sins as a greater problem than others.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Hey, y’all. FYI, Paul and I have made a slight change to the copy, reflecting a question I asked him after I posted it. Normally, I would have gotten it straight ahead of time, but I’ve got such a bad track record lately of waiting to post Paul’s stuff that I just posted it, then asked.

    Here’s what he had said originally:

    Not so with three-quarters of the US bishops who believe that Biden’s abortion position (he personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights policy) disqualifies him from receiving the sacrament.

    I had questioned it because his description of what the bishops did did not match what was said in the story he had linked, or in the WashPost story I had originally read on the subject: They said that that many of the bishops had voted in favor of drafting “a ‘teaching document’ that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians… for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.”

    That matters because while the motivation behind what’s happening seems clear (that is, the motivation of the bishops pushing the vote), if you look at what they actually DID, you don’t know precisely what the document will say, or how many of them will vote for it once it’s drafted.

    So Paul changed to this, more accurate, language:

    However, some of the bishops are disquieted by the highly publicized gap between Biden’s
    abortion policy and Catholic teaching (he personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights policy). At an assembly of the bishops last week, there was enough concern that three-quarters of them approved drafting a document examining the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.” Some of the bishops clearly have Biden in mind with their vote, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver who has said unequivocally that Biden “should not receive Holy Communion” for his abortion stance.

    That was much better. I changed “Biden’s abortion policy” to “Biden’s abortion stance,” which seems to describe it better, and inserted the passage in place of the old language. I also added a comma.

    Of course, none of this changes the thrust of what Paul is saying in the piece, or what I think about it myself. But now the specific description of what they did is accurate…

  5. Paul V DeMarco

    It’s as if some time in the distant past Brad was an editor…can’t even get a misplaced comma past him. And whether we agree or disagree with Brad, the world would be a better place if he was still an editor. Facebook and Twitter and the like have allowed us unprecedented ability to communicate with one another and to share opinions. Early on I was hopeful that the democratization of media would be a completely salutary advance for society. But I neglected to consider that the new paradigm eliminated the restraining, prioritizing, questioning, and sharpening influence of editors. Back in the day, when I turned to the editorial page, I knew the content had been curated by thoughtful minds, Today, we have great freedom of expression, but so much of what we say is biased, false, mean, or harmful. Our public dialogue has been immeasurably coarsened because we no longer must submit ourselves to the watchful eye and careful direction of a good editor.

    1. Barry

      My lessons from cable news and right wing talk radio…

      1) We now live in a world where one’s disagreements must be strong, forceful, unambiguous and uncompromising or one is seen as a weak, unprincipled individual with no moral fiber.

      2) As a result, my disagreements are usually strong, forceful, unambiguous and uncompromising.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Don’t you think it would be far better NOT to pattern one’s modes of expression upon the style of “cable news and right wing talk radio?”

        Don’t you think it would be better, and a far higher calling that could have a positive effect on a troubled world, to find other, better, more rational and fair-minded ways to express what one has to say?

        1. Barry


          Cable news and talk radio information is how a large segment of the involved voting electorate make decisions on how to 1) treat other people 2) make decisions at the ballot box.

          The reality is that many, many of our fellow citizens are taking marching orders from Fox News and right wing radio.

          An overwhelming and constant theme of their propaganda to their cult is that people that don’t subscribe to right wing ideology are without conviction, don’t really believe what they say, aren’t willing to fight for their beliefs, and are unprincipled and will cave in at the first notion of pushback. So their charge to their cult members is to never back down and “stick it” to those “other people who aren’t really real Americans anyway”

          So I take the approach that I will make sure they understand I’m willing to state my beliefs and opinions and will stand by them and won’t back down no matter how much they whine about it. Does that sound weak kneed to you? Does that sound like I am not willing to stand up for my opinion? Nah.

          Last night, a school board meeting in Virginia dissolved into huge mess of fights, screaming, shouting, anger and ARRESTS because of fears related to Critical Race Theory- something that is expressly not taught in Virginia public schools.

          Last week, a cable news watchdog reported Fox News devoted 30 news segments to Critical Race Theory across 4 of their programs before the noon eastern hour. Of course those segments were devoted to telling their cult members who CRT- something they never really explain- is the end to civil society as we know it.

          This week, two Columbia talk radio stations devoted various segments to Critical Race Theory- one informing the audience that CRT was Marxist and everyone should “get upset and get involved today” to stop it despite the fact that public secondary schools in South Carolina do not teach CRT nor do they discuss it. The person stating it was a Marxist was an elected official who was a guest on the talk radio show. That elected official couldn’t explain Marxism or CRT if their life depended on it. But of course he didn’t have to explain it- and the host of the show didn’t ask him to explain it;.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, I agree that:

            Cable news and talk radio information is how a large segment of the involved voting electorate make decisions on how to 1) treat other people 2) make decisions at the ballot box.

            And that is precisely why we should all rise above that standard, and model a better one.

            That’s always been one of my motivations in maintaining this blog — so there can be at least one forum for civil, rational discussions. It’s a drop in the bucket, sure, but one does what one can.

            And as soon as I decide it’s hopeless to try, you won’t hear from me again. I’ll turn my back on all of it…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              When I started the blog, it was simply about providing a civil alternative to all the bitter partisanship we were experiencing in the couple of decades BEFORE Trump.

              Now, the situation is far more dire, and the need to try to foster rational, civilized dialogue more alarmingly urgent than ever. The very last thing a rational person with a conscience should do is descend to the level of the madness…

              1. Barry

                Your efforts at civility are less than a drop in the bucket Brad.

                Millions tune into Fox And right wing talk radio each day to get marching orders.

                It’s like saying you aren’t going to drive this weekend because you are going to teach the nation how driving is messing everything up. No one would care.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Each person does what he can. If we don’t, what good are we to the world?

                  The world definitely doesn’t need me adding my own invective to the towering pile of garbage out there…

                  1. Barry

                    I’m not going to play a game with my hands tied behind my back when the other side doesn’t care.

                    It’s like watching another man slap my wife and children while I pat him on the back hoping we can still be friends.

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I didn’t know we were playing a game.

                      In any case, this blog is not a place to play it. You can find that sort of thing anywhere else you go. This forum is for NOT doing that…

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      And when I’m not stopping by in such a hurry to approve y’all’s comments, I suppose I’ll remember just to not approve ones that don’t model civility…

                2. Scout

                  I don’t think it is like that, Barry. I think we can drive better and get farther and maybe sometimes they will notice.

                  I probably shouldn’t but I tend to engage in conversations with some of these people on facebook occasionally. I try to keep it factual and keep emotion out of it and keep bringing it back to the point which they keep trying to evade. Their key strategies are to laugh at your comments or to insult. Sometimes if you persistently point out that that is all they can do and that they refuse to answer the question that you keep bringing back – they will eventually try to actually address the issue. Every now and then it feels like a few of them move a little bit or see a slightly different perspective. Sometimes they delete the entire conversation, which I also personally take as a win.

                  It probably doesn’t make much difference, but at least I feel like I’ve tried to fight it.

                  1. Barry

                    I respect your view but I’ve personally been accused of being “un-american” and “against the bible” more times than I can count.

                    Me- someone that flies the American flag on my fencepost beside my house every day- and someone that has been an active church member (active as in teaching kids, volunteering, serving on committees, taking kids to week long church camp numerous times) for almost 30 years (and I’m a lot older than 30).

                    Recently, I had numerous people accusing me of being a “communist/Marxist” because I don’t believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election. One of those people was a talk show host that has thousands of people that believe every word he says and who is pretty active in GOP politics in South Carolina.”

                    As I told Brad, I’m not going to play naive and nice and act like I’m above it all when people are slamming a concrete slab into my skull.

                    and CONTRARY to what Brad posted – I’m not talking about being crude to people on this blog. I’m talking about my private life when people accuse me of terrible things simply because I refuse to believe in a buffoon like Donald Trump.

                    I’ve lost numerous lifelong close friends (more than a handful) because I refused to follow Donald Trump around like a puppy.

                    Just not happening.

    2. Scout

      On Point on NPR did a very good interview yesterday with Jonathan Rauch who has written “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth” that addresses this very point. Basically the internet world has evolved faster than the institutions, such as editors and peer review and checks and balances, that we develop to regulate information to make sure truth arises. When it is a free for all without rules, truth does not arise, and there are always manipulators around like Donald Trump ready to take full advantage of that.

      Here is a link to that story:

  6. bud

    My disdain for the Catholic Church is well established on this blog. In particular it holds horrendous positions on abortion and birth control. However, given the fact that the church holds these positions, they absolutely should take whatever actions they feel are appropriate to discipline members who take positions that are out of line with church doctrine. The bishops are standing on principle. As they should.

  7. Randle

    This is a appalling decision from a corrupt church. I was born and raised a Catholic, my father and mother were converts, and my father, especially, was quite devout; theology was a common dinnertime discussion. Priests were frequent visitors. We attended Catholic schools, where social justice issues were front and center from an early age. The church I knew bears little resemblance to this pedophilia-enabling bunch of hypocrites. Who also condemn homosexuality while turning a blind eye to it in their own ranks. And who support a corrupt political party and its vile leaders, who crave power above all things. And will squash the church like a cockroach if it stops delivering the goods.
    And now, the American bishops are going to punish Joe Biden for purely political reasons. As if abortion is the only mortal sin in the world, and while other politicians who are flagrant in their violations of Catholic teachings get a pass.
    I think Biden’s stance on abortion is the correct one. He opposes them nor has he helped anyone else get one — something we cannot say for the person these creeps supported for president. He also recognizes that this is a secular society, and other people are not bound by his religious beliefs.
    Biden espouses the Catholic theology I grew up with in almost all of, if not all of his speeches. I have been encouraged to hear these values once again introduced and emphasized in the public sphere. The bishops, on the other hand, are Federalist Society hacks, desperate to
    maintain their already disappearing authority. Their silence on the social justice issues tearing this country apart speaks volumes about their lack of Christian leadership.
    If they want to purify their church, I suggest they deny communion to all Catholics who fail to adhere to their teachings, including people who use birth control, support abortion rights, are divorced and remarried, support capital punishment, gay marriage and engage in pre-marital sex, for starters.
    I left the church some years ago because I could not, in good conscience, continue to support spiritually or financially a religious organization that enabled and excused priests who preyed on children, destroyed their lives, and moved onto another parish, to continue their depravity. I waited more than a decade for the church to regain its moral compass; it never has. After a thorough examination of conscience, I walked away, relieved that I was no longer an enabler of such a fallen institution.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, we could talk about that (the sex-abuse scandal), of course, which is an enormous topic about which we would make a separate state of arguments.

      I think the communion vote only looks related to people who think there’s a clergy problem here.

      I don’t see it that way, except in one sense, which I’ll explain later if I remember.

      Since you have a hierarchical church here with a clergy that looks very different from the average person, a lot of folks focus on that.

      But that’s not the problem on the communion issue. At least, it’s not the larger problem. To the extent it’s a clergy problem, it’s that these bishops, who SHOULD be leading, are in fact doing something more like following. I mean that in the sense that they are part of a much, much bigger movement, made up overwhelmingly of laypeople.

      One way to get a sense of how big the problem is is to consider that 75 million people voted to re-elect Donald Trump last year — even after having seen his performance in the four years before (which is just mind-blowing). Of course, those people weren’t all Catholics. BUT, close to half of Catholics who voted did vote for Trump. They did this in spite of the fact that NO ONE who understands and believes in the teachings of the Church, including and even I would say especially in light of the Church’s reverence for human life, could possibly consider even for a second voting for Trump.

      Those bishops should be sounding the alarms and using their energy to explain that to all those people who voted that way. That’s what they should do as leaders of a hierarchical, catholic and apostolic church. And they’re instead doing more or less the opposite.

      Here’s the even larger problem. Once, people defined themselves in terms of their religious beliefs. And while unbelievers love to point to all the grief that has caused, between Christians and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, and so forth, we have something now that I find more troubling than that.

      And it is this: People gather in churches, but they define themselves first, within those churches, as “liberals” or “conservatives.” Mind you, I am NOT using those terms the way English speakers of the centuries usually employed them, but rather in the 21st-century sense of extreme political polarization. They say they are “liberals” or “conservatives” as away of stating which tribe they belong to in the ongoing civil wars.

      Some churches drift in one direction or another together. Southern Baptists generally define themselves as “conservative,” but even they have found ways to get at each other’s throats lately.

      But in the Catholic Church, the division between left and right is terribly bitter. It has been for quite some time now, and Cardinal Bernardin spent much of the last decade or so of his life trying to guide people back together. Lately, it’s gotten much, much worse.

      And bishops should be following the example of Cardinal Bernardin and reminding us of what he hold in common, rather than pouring gasoline on the fires of division that exist.

      This reminds me of the thing I said I’d get back to….

      Here’s how, in my mind, the sex-abuse scandal has something in common with this controversy.

      The most shocking thing I learned from the movie Spotlight is that the reporters found that a tendency to sexually abuse minors occurs as often among priests as among men in general. I think the incidence was about 6 percent of the male population (which I thought was extremely high for laymen, much less for priests). No, it is not more prevalent among priests (as so very many believe), but it’s just as bad. And that’s the awful thing. We should be able to expect priests to be better. And up until a couple of decades back, when the church started doing a better job of weeding out the problems, they were not.

      Similarly, with so much of the Catholic laity obsessed with partisan and ideological political identity, we should expect priests to be better, and rise above that, and lead us away from it. And we should expect even more from bishops.

      And that’s not what we got the other day. We seem to have gotten the opposite…

      1. bud

        Brad you’re trying to have it both ways. You seem to defend the Catholic Church for it’s principles. Yet condemn the majority of its leadership as though the are outsiders. But the bishops ARE a reflection of the Church. And this organization is fundamentally flawed. Why not just accept that reality and find another church. Perhaps Episcopal? Not sure how so many people stay affiliated with such a corrupt outfit.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You’ve made me smile at the idea of my becoming an Anglican. I deeply respect my Anglican friends and family members, but wow — to try to escape the supposed “corruption” of the church by joining an outfit that is basically the English Catholic Church, that isn’t Roman purely because the king wanted to dump his wife and marry another (whose head he later cut off)?

          As I say, it makes me smile. See? 🙂

          Of COURSE the bishops are “a reflection of the church.” I’d say they’re more than that. And I thought I had said so quite clearly, within the context of writing about the larger problems in the whole church, laypeople and clergy, and the even larger problems in the broader society that are acting upon them all.

          I suppose I wasn’t as clear as I’d meant to be…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, and yes, there is corruption in the Church. Just as there is corruption in all human institutions. You know why? Because they’re all made up of humans, born and prone to sin…

            We could have a perfect church if we could just keep all of the pesky humans out of it…

            1. Carol Smith

              LOL- Those pesky humans just mess up everything that could be perfect, including a “clean” family tree!

          2. Randle

            Henry Vlll was certainly a sack of syphilitic self-indulgence, but his break with Rome was a political move that was widely accepted by his countrymen, and not just because the well-connected wanted a share of the monasteries. You have to ask why the English, a religious people, would throw off the Catholic Church so readily. Because it was was riddled with abuses and the papacy was diminished in authority by centuries of scandals. And people were sick of paying for it. The transfer of power from pontiff to king did not alter the practices and beliefs of the church in England. Henry remained a conservative Catholic. And people were fine with all that. You can be a Catholic without being Roman.
            Today, the difference I see is that, on the institutional corruption scale, the Anglican Church gets a lower rating than the current church in Rome. I am not aware of any widespread, ongoing abuses, such as child rape and molestation, in the Anglican Church. Enlighten me, if you know of any.

            Just curious about your distinction between cradle Catholics and converts. Are you suggesting that converts have a deeper or better understanding of the church? Or that cradle Catholics do not freely choose to remain in the church but remain there because some invisible force compels them to stay? And are we dividing Catholics based on yet another tribal distinction? Seems like an ad hominem attack to me.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “Henry VIII was certainly a sack of syphilitic self-indulgence…” Ahhh! You have committed lese majeste on my blog, and I will be held responsible!

              But of course, you’re right.

              As for trying to divide Catholics, no, not at all. I was simply saying I’m Catholic deliberately, which means I started, almost 40 years ago, looking at the church from a different perspective from folks who were born into it. And I suppose that means I’m more likely to be somewhat more forgiving of the church as an institution, as a person who volunteered, from people who were drafted into it. (Other converts go far beyond that, as enthusiastic recruits. They become the most rigid traditionalists you’ll ever find, and probably more likely to think what the bishops just did was terrific. That’s not me, though…)

              It’s certainly not an ad hominem attack. If it was, I’m in a lot of trouble with my wife, my kids, and a whole lot of other people I love and respect…

              1. Randle

                Lucky for all of us in the colonies, we can, for the time being, say what we like, within certain limits, about our dear leaders, past and present. It would be nice if we would all rally around these notions of natural rights, instead of supporting those who are actively trying to undermine them. And not be distracted by their efforts from the crisis at hand.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, it would be nice if we could all rally around this decent man who is our president. He is a great blessing to this troubled country.

                  It would be especially nice if the whole church could rally behind the second Catholic president in our history — who is, near as I can tell, quite a bit more devout that the first one…

  8. Randle

    I think there’s a clergy problem. The hierarchical, clerical structure of the church is a source of its corruption. The early church was egalitarian and didn’t develop its current hierarchical structure until the 4th century. The consolidation of power and wealth it has engaged in since then has been a source of manifest corruption, with periodic attempts at course correction such as the Reformation. But the structure remains in place, as does its corrupting influence.
    I do not see the sex abuse scandal and this attempt to weaken Biden as unrelated issues. They spring from the same source — the church’s desire to hold onto its power and control. Whether it’s the hierarchy covering up the moral rot in its clergy or trying to stem the egalitarian tendencies of liberalism Biden represents and which threaten their hegemony, the impetus is the same: maintain the status quo.
    As far as politics go, this American clergy is not interested in leading its parishioners in a direction that might undermine its authority, no matter how venal the alternative. It’s a sad spectacle to watch, but it’s a repeat performance.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We’ll just have to disagree.

      This is a disagreement I have often with cradle Catholics, for a number of reasons — mostly related to the fact that they didn’t choose to be Catholic, and I did.

      We could argue all day over any of the points you just made. I’ll just cite one, but won’t get into it deeply because I don’t have the time today; things are pretty piled up on me (and will be for some days to come). I’ll just sketch out the difference.

      You say both the sex abuse scandal and this latest matter “spring from the same source — the church’s desire to hold onto its power and control.” I don’t see it that way at all.

      Let’s just take the sex-abuse scandal. I see it quite differently from the hierarchy’s harshest critics, whether they are Catholic or not. Your analysis is widely held, and it seems obvious to many people.

      And of course, if you are the leader of an organization, then you see it as your responsibility to protect that organization (which is natural), then wanting to protect it from scandal is not a surprising reaction at all. But I don’t see it as THE cause of the problem. Still less do I see it in terms of priests and bishops looking out for themselves or protecting their personal power and prerogatives (which is something completely different from protecting an institution that you love and have devoted your life to). If I saw it that way, as so many do, I suppose I would truly hate these men, and be just as condemnatory toward them as so many are.

      As I say, I think protection of the institution is one of a complex of factors involved, but there are others that I think have greater effect. One of them is this: The Church that I know (that all of us have known since the evil days of the Spanish Inquisition and other violent reactions to the Reformation and other factors) is as much as anything else a forgiveness machine. It is an institution that is ABOUT forgiving sins, one that has elaborate rituals and practices for doing just that. Furthermore, it is all about forgiving confessed sins in the strictest privacy between the sinner and his or her confessor.

      If you’ve seen Spotlight, think of the opening scene. You have the police and clergy “handling” a case of child sexual abuse. Here’s how Wikipedia describes that beginning:
      In 1976, at a Boston Police station, two policemen discuss the arrest of Fr. John Geoghan for child molestation. A high-ranking cleric talks to the mother of the children. The Assistant District Attorney then enters the precinct and tells the policemen not to let the press get wind of what has happened. The arrest is hushed up, and Geoghan is released.
      Actually, I’m surprised it was as late as that. I remembered the scene as looking like something from the ’50s. In any case, my point is that it is set in a time when all the authorities — the church hierarchy, the police and apparently even the victim’s mother — agreed to some extent (enough of an extent to follow through on it) that it was best to handle the matter discreetly. And when I say good for all, I include the victim. As near as I can recall, that would have been a widely-held belief at the time. (And while I was never the victim of such a thing, thank God, it seems to me likely that I would never have wanted to share it with anyone — even with my parents or the police. I don’t think my belief about that is unusual, which of course leads to an appalling assumption, which is that there were more victims than we know.)

      Today, we look at it differently. More than that, we know that this didn’t work. However contrite they may have been in a confessional, we know that child molesters are likely to molest again if given the opportunity. And of course, THIS is the evil for which the Church is most roundly condemned. It was a great failing. It was wrong. It was weak. It led to great evil. But no, I don’t believe this is something that arose primarily, much less solely, from some sort of desire to hold onto personal power — which many do believe.

      There are a lot of other things on my mind we could say about this one point, but I’ve got to get back to work now…

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, by the way, with regard to what I keep saying about this being a problem involving the entire Church (and the larger society), not just the bishops, I refer you to this piece from America, the Jesuit magazine, to which I now subscribe.

    An excerpt:

    Our ability to imagine the good intentions of other Catholics with whom we disagree has been in tragically short supply.



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