I think that the issue today for Catholics in America is Church or State, Religion or the Rule of Law. Not Church and State. Not Religion and the Rule of Law. But "or." That pesky word which separates bishops and archbishops and cardinals and surely the present pope and his predecessor from those of their colleagues who speak with "and." Or/ & And/High Priests.
Today,two extremely prominent Catholic lay persons, an Or/College Chaplain Priest, and an Or/High Priest won cherished publicity: www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.communion09jun09,0,7586458.story in The Baltimore Sun.
Don't Play Politics with Communion
By David O'Brien and Lisa Sowle Cahill
June 9, 2008
What do a former legal counsel for Ronald Reagan and a Democratic governor have in common? As you might expect, it's not the same politics. Douglas W. Kmiec, an esteemed constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University, is a pro-life Republican. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a moderate known for consensus-building. But these prominent Catholics are both the most recent targets of clergy who use Communion as a political weapon and effectively blacklist respected Catholic leaders. It's time for Catholics and all Americans to speak out against this spiritual McCarthyism.
When Mr. Kmiec endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, conservative Catholic blogs buzzed with outrage. How could a conservative known for his public opposition to abortion rights support a pro-choice liberal? In a recent Catholic Online column, Mr. Kmiec describes how he was declared "self-ex-communicated" by many fellow Catholics. He writes that at a recent Mass, an angry college chaplain denounced his "Obama heresy" from the pulpit and denied him Communion.
In Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has ordered Ms. Sebelius, also an Obama supporter, not to receive Communion after she vetoed abortion legislation riddled with constitutional red flags. The bill in question made it easier for prosecutors to search private medical records, allowed family members to seek court orders to stop abortions and failed to include exceptions to save the life of the mother. Along with many public officials, Ms. Sebelius recognizes the profound moral gravity of abortion. She has supported prudent public policies that have reduced abortions in Kansas by investing in adoption services, prenatal health care and social safety nets for families. But in his diocesan newspaper, the archbishop blasted the governor over her "spiritually lethal" message and her obligation to recognize the "legitimate authority within the Church."
The archbishop has a right and indeed an obligation to speak out against abortion. But he is on dangerous ground telling a democratically elected official - accountable to federal laws and a diverse citizenry - how to govern when it comes to the particulars of specific legislation. The proper application of moral principles in a pluralistic society rarely allows for absolutes.
Using a holy sacrament to punish Catholics has troubling political implications during an election year. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke warned Sen. John Kerry - a Catholic whose record reflects his faith's commitment to economic justice, universal health care and concern for the poor - not to receive Communion during the 2004 presidential race because of his support for abortion rights. In a New York Times interview just a month before the election, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver gave signals that Catholics who voted for a pro-choice candidate were cooperating in evil. Mr. Kerry narrowly lost the Catholic vote to President Bush.
Catholics make up a quarter of the American electorate and are swing voters in key battleground states that will play a decisive role in electing our next president. It's essential that these voters recognize Catholicism defies easy partisan labels and is not a single-issue faith.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warns in an election-year guide that particular issues must not be misused as a way of ignoring "other serious threats to human life and dignity." These threats identified by the bishops include racism, the death penalty, war, torture, lack of health care and an unjust immigration policy. These broad Catholic values challenge Democrats and Republicans alike to put the common good before narrow partisan agendas.
If we remain silent when respected Catholic leaders are publicly attacked and denied Communion, the proper role of faith in our public square is grossly distorted. This election year, let's have a better debate about faith and political responsibility that reclaims the vital role religion has often played in renewing our most cherished democratic values.
David O'Brien, the Loyola professor of Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross, has written books about the history of American Catholicism. Lisa Sowle Cahill is a professor of theology at Boston College and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. This article is distributed by Religion News Service.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
The Or/High Priest might well have proclaimed:
"Choose! Me or the Governor of the State of Kansas, whom I publicly condemn for her political maneuvering on abortion, and I order her not to receive Communion."
The Or/Chaplain might well have joined in:
"As priest of this parish I denounce our most honored conservative member, a law professor at Pepperdine, because he likes Obama, and Obama is pro choice. No communion for the evil professor."
These public condemnations are not Christ like, because Jesus' stern criticism was directed at high priests and not at people-people. These Or/High Priests duck accountability, dodge Jesus himself, abandon the kingdom of his father, and condemn people-people for not giving them, them, them, obeisance and obedience. These few and powerful hierarchs claim they speak with infallibility on moral issues like abortion, and they want a Roman Catholic totalitarian government in which they and they alone are executive, legislative and judicial authority. The members of their parish or diocese must obey the pronouncements. Otherwise, no Communion for those who disagree, refuse to accept such authority.
A legal aphorism states that silence may be construed as consent. And consent means acceptance. If we accept the high priest's "or," then either America must be overthrown or Roman Catholicism must be expunged from civilization. That is what "or" means. "Give me liberty or give me death." "My way or the highway." "Love me or I will kill you."
"And" means something else. It means being human together, with others, a community, receiving Communion though sinful, even a sinner, no saint, with freedom of and from religion, to be Buddhist, Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or none at all. It means being American, African, European, Asian, also. "And" includes; "or" excludes.
Now, because of the Kansas Governor and the Pepperdine Professor, I think we Catholics in America have come to the point of no return. Be we left, middle or right, we must now stand and declare ourselves. We cannot duck the issue of "and" versus "or" any longer, lest we drown in our own despicable cowardice and schizophrenia. We must declare ourselves now. Quietly. With conviction. Inspired or expired. Choose either - or.
1 -- High Priests who command and condemn.
2 -- Bishops who serve servants of God.
1 -- Knowing the ramifications, the consequences.
2 -- Do not choose blindly, without thought.
1 -- Roman Catholicism, old, very old and hanging in there, onto absolute power, using the New Testament only for quotes, commanding, condemning, excommunicating, denying the sacraments to the people of God.
2 -- Catholicism, whether old or new, and based on Jesus of the New Testament.
1 -- Remaining silent is not a choice.
2 -- Silent ones are unwilling to take sides, afraid to confront a bishop, be he a strong one who withholds Communion, or a weak one who urges us not to rock the boat.
1 -- If the Or/High Priests, then we choose treason eventually and have to overthrow American Democracy.
2 -- If the And/High Priests, we choose the abandonment of Roman Catholicism, which will vanish, consumed by its own lust for power, but we will save our country and our church, our Catholicism. Our God may save us. If our choice is correct.
1 -- The Or/High Priests do not want us to choose, nor to question, just to obey and, "Please, feel free to receive Our Lord in Communion." They do want us to keep the boat steady, don't rock it, obey.
2 -- The And/High Priests do not want us to choose either, because our questions are irksome and expose their hypocrisy in giving obeisance to the institution of Romanism and not to the Catholicism of us. They are more afraid than we are.
1 -- Which do we wish to follow.
2 -- If neither, then drop the charade, the masquerade, and admit that we believe and know there is not much of a church, not much of a country, both peopled with peasants bowed down before their lords.
1 -- Same. More of the same until we die and are judged.
2 -- Change. Renewal of country and church, as we live with integrity, die gratefully, and are judged by a merciful God.
Why do we let some bishops act the way they do, without accountability?
Why do we silently accept intolerance?
Why do we stay silent before injustice?
Why do we let them get away with it?
Why? Oh! God! Why?