Catholics in Public Life
As a young convert I was very much intrigued by the ongoing discussion between Richard J. Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico — and their critics, ranging from David Schindler (editor of Communio) to Tracey Rowland and Alisdair MacIntyre. This has sometimes been described as a debate between ‘Catholic neocons’ and ‘Catholic paleocons’; ‘Whig-Thomists’ vs. ‘Augustinian Thomists’ (the latter by Tracey Roland in a famous two-part interview with Zenit).
The discussion was centered on such questions as:
One of my chief sparring partners online was David Jones, founder of the blog la nouvelle theologie. While my time of late has been preoccupied with readings in other subjects (and other pursuits), David has kept up with new developments in this ongoing discussion. Among them, the recent exchanges between Catholic-traditionalist-turned-libertarian Dr. Thomas Woods and his chief critics, Thomas Storck and Christopher Ferrara (of The Remnant)– about which David would like to offer the following remarks in a guest post:
An actor, a faithful Catholic, willing to lose a role in a TV series because he won’t do sex scenes? Surely not in this day and age? Guess again!
Neal McDonough is a marvelous actor who elevates every role he plays, whether it’s in Band of Brothers or Desperate Housewives. So when he was suddenly replaced with David James Elliott 3 days into the filming on ABC’s new series Scoundrels earlier this week, there had to be a story behind the story. The move was officially explained as a casting change. But, in fact, McDonough was sacked because of his refusal to do some heated love scenes with babelicious star (and Botox pitchwoman) Virginia Madsen. The reason? He’s a family man and a Catholic, and he’s always made it clear that he won’t do sex scenes. And ABC knew that. Because he also didn’t get into action with Nicolette Sheridan on the network’s Desperate Housewives when he played her psycho husband during Season 5. And he also didn’t do love scenes with his on-air girlfriend in his previous series, NBC’s Boomtown, or that network’s Medical Investigation.
If you saw someone who was going to jump off a cliff… would you stop them? Assume that you would prevent them from physical death. I think you would probably try to stop them.
Now assume you are an Archbishop, and you know of Catholics who are advocating very publicly for grave sin, and that this itself is a grave sin. Unrepented grave sin, as you know as an Archbishop, brings spiritual death. You know in your heart that spiritual death is eternal, and is God’s most hated thing. You also know that this spiritual death is very real, and very dangerous: infinitely more dangerous than mere physical death. Would you not, as an Archbishop, care enough about your fellow Brother or Sister in Christ to do everything in your power to prevent further spiritual death?
And you would also know, as an Archbishop, that someone who is manifestly and publicly in a state of grave sin ought to refrain from receiving Communion, for their own sake, since receiving Communion unworthily is yet another grave sin that further wounds their soul.
And it would probably strike you, as an Archbishop, that this particular sin is a sin with a pedagogical dimension (public advocacy of sin teaches sin). Would your counsel to this person not also have a public dimension, to correct those who may have been misinformed by this person’s very public advocacy (perhaps even encouragement) of sin?
Would you not see three very important things which demand your prophetic teaching voice? Is not the most pastoral thing to do preventing such a person from further grave sin? Can your message not be delivered in a spirit of charity and sincere concern and love?
Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco addressed on January 13, 2010 a free will defense of abortion by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House:
In a recent interview with Eleanor Clift in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 21, 2009), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about her disagreements with the United States Catholic bishops concerning Church teaching. Speaker Pelosi replied, in part: “I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have the opportunity to exercise their free will.”
Embodied in that statement are some fundamental misconceptions about Catholic teaching on human freedom. These misconceptions are widespread both within the Catholic community and beyond. For this reason I believe it is important for me as Archbishop of San Francisco to make clear what the Catholic Church teaches about free will, conscience, and moral choice.
Catholic teaching on free will recognizes that God has given men and women the capacity to choose good or evil in their lives. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared that the human person, endowed with freedom, is “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 17) As the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, makes so beautifully clear, God did not want humanity to be mere automatons, but to have the dignity of freedom, even recognizing that with that freedom comes the cost of many evil choices.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was interviewed in a recent edition of Newsweek, in which she had the opportunity to set the bishops straight on the participation of Catholics in public life.
I think you have had some brushes with [church] hierarchy.
I have some concerns about the church’s position respecting a woman’s right to choose. I have some concerns about the church’s position on gay rights. I am a practicing Catholic, although they’re probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith. I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.
Is it difficult for you to reconcile your faith with the role you have in public life?
You know, I had five children in six years. The day I brought my fifth baby home, that week my daughter turned 6. So I appreciate and value all that they want to talk about in terms of family and the rest. When I speak to my archbishop in San Francisco and his role is to try to change my mind on the subject, well then he is exercising his pastoral duty to me as one of his flock. When they call me on the phone here to talk about, or come to see me about an issue, that’s a different story. Then they are advocates, and I am a public official, and I have a different responsibility.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf applies the necessary fisking and muses: “I cannot fathom why she hasn’t been told she must not receive Holy Communion. How much more public scandal does she have to give before the bishops of the places where she resides take concrete action?”
My thoughts exactly. Note that she has already received an admonishment from the Holy See and an invitation to “converse” from San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer.