Wednesday, February 05, 2003

War of Words (cont.): on Bishop Maher vs. Lucy Killea

The recent dust-up between Bishop Weigand and California Governor Gray Davis, though all too rare, is not a recent phenomenon. In 1989, Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego did the same with Lucy Killea, a state assemblywoman and practicing Catholic. (I've always loved that formulation, "practicing", as though one were in rehearsal for the real thing). In fact, Bishop Maher may have gone Bishop Weigand one better, actually writing a personal letter to the ass. woman explaining that "by your media advertisements and statements advocating the 'pro-choice' position in the public forum, you are placing yourself in complete contradiction of the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. Consequently, I have no other choice but to deny you the right to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church." My local paper, The Gainesville Sun, did not approve, of course, believing that the Bishop's decision "to hold her accountable to the church for her actions in public life" demonstrated "the difficulties that arise when the lines between church and state become blurred," and feeling further obligated to point out that "opposition to abortion is neither the beginning nor the end of the 'moral teachings' of the Catholic Church." (If you were tempted to think "no shit," don't think it). Lending authority to this contention, they said, was the witness of one A.E.P. Wall, former president of the International Federation of Catholic Journalists, who, in a recent column, reminded us that Governor Bob Martinez, a staunch anti-abortion Catholic, had already signed 101 death warrants during his term of office. What Mr. (or Ms., you can't tell from all those initials) Wall wanted to know was whether the Catholic Bishops, especially Florida's, having publicly expressed their opposition to the death penalty, were going to denounce Gov. Martinez "for not placing equal value on the life of a fetus and the life of a man or woman, for campaigning on both pro-life and pro-death positions." The editorial concludes: "Again we marvel at the wisdom of our founding fathers, who thought it prudent that church and state keep their distance from one another."

My response of Dec.9, 1989 *****

The Sun's Dec. 5th "Sanctions" editorial concerning Bishop Maher's disciplining of Lucy Killea for her advocacy of abortion attempts to reinforce a popular and by now respectable intellectual trend, the wondrous premise that we are to respect and even admire people who believe one thing in private and espouse another in public. We used to have a name for such behavior: hypocrisy. Another is political expedience. Of this, at least, the Church does not stand accused. Her condemnation of abortion has never wavered nor softened in order to please her constituents.

You cite A.E.P. Wall as taking note that Gov. Bob Martinez, also a Catholic, has signed 101 death warrants in the face of public opposition to the death penalty voiced by Florida's Catholic bishops. (We will set aside the fact that juries may recommend, but only judges impose, this penalty.)

Equating the punishment inflicted on a man duly convicted of a capital offense and that inflicted on a fetus for appearing in the right place at the wrong time (the blame for which appearance falls, by the way, squarely on the executioner) is a parallel I cannot accept. But if it were acceptable, so would be the following scenario: Martinez, let us say, privately opposes the death penalty; he perceives, however, that his electorate does not, and so, by his words and actions, carries out their will. We might then expect editorials in The Sun extolling the courage manifested by his extraordinary ability to subordinate private beliefs to the public good, to keep the "lines between church and state" from becoming "blurred."

Now it is a historical fact that the Catholic Church has always ceded to the state the right to administer capital punishment, with due regard for mercy in individual cases. (Mercy, like any virtue, is made visible by the clarity of its focus, not by its serving as a blanket dispensation.) No bloc of bishops, however great their numbers, can ever change this. Who possesses the authority to proclaim what is and is not Catholic teaching is an internal church matter, theological in nature. I do not expect, nor do I get, such expertise from The Sun.

As to Ms. Killea's discipline, Bishop Maher has merely interfered to a significant, and purely private, degree with The Sun's ability to classify her as a "practicing Catholic." Unless you wish to be accused of blurring the line between the secular and the sacred, content yourselves with the knowledge that she remains free to advertise her opinions and that there is nothing the Bishop can do about it.

The case is simply this: You admire the bishops when they admonish us on the evils of the death penalty, but disdain them when they do the same with abortion. But the parallel drawing a moral equivalence between them is of your own hand, not mine. If you do not wish us to heed them on the one issue, how can you expect us to heed them on the other? ****

The paper, of course, issued an immediate apology for its logical flaws and even considered changing its stance on the abortion the kids like to say, jk.

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