CatholiCity 2002

The Bishop’s Secret Letter

Deal W. Hudson

As you may already know, the Catholic world has been buzzing about a confidential letter composed by eight American bishops in which they called for a Plenary Council to address problems in the Church.

Journalists and pundits have been speculating and debating about the alleged contents of the letter and the identities of the authors. But no one really knew for sure.

Until now.

This morning, CRISIS managed to obtain a copy of the letter that was sent on July 18 to all the American cardinals and bishops. In it, a group of eight bishops asks that a Plenary Council is called as soon as possible to discuss the “root causes” of – and possible solutions to – the current crisis in the Church.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what a Plenary Council is and why this letter is so dramatic. Basically, a Plenary Council is a meeting of all the bishops of a given area – in this case, the United States. This isn’t an ordinary meeting though. It’s the highest form of council that can be called on a national level. It would be like a Vatican Council for the States. In fact, the American bishops haven’t called a Plenary Council in more than 100 years.

And it’s much different from their semiannual conferences, too: There, the administrative business is done. A Plenary Council, on the other hand, is much more proactive, focusing on “teaching the truths of the faith” (as the letter says). Priests and laypeople would also be able to participate.

The eight bishops who wrote this amazing letter are taking a brave stand by urging discussion of those issues that were swept under the rug at the June bishops’ meeting. While I can’t send you the whole body of the letter, I can share some of it with you.

First, the authors of the letter seem to have a pretty clear understanding of the crisis. Here are a few of the issues they want to face head-on at the Plenary Council: “What has happened to the life and ministry of bishops and priests that makes us vulnerable to the failings that have humiliated us all? What things need to be going on so that in this cultural milieu priests and bishops will preserve their celibate chastity along with all the other virtues that constitute the life of holiness proper to pastors? How can the purification upon which we shepherds have embarked help us, in turn, support our people in achieving greater holiness?”

Notice the absence of wishy-washy bishop speak. These men know there’s a problem, and they’re going to face it squarely.

But it gets even better. The bishops get very specific about what they hope to accomplish at the meeting:

Goal 1: “Solemnly receiving the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council…on the identity, life and ministry of bishops and priests; on matters of sexual morality in general (cf. Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, and Familiaris Consortio); [and] on celibate chastity as an authentic form of human sexuality renewed by grace and a share in Christ’s own spousal love for His Church.”

It’s heartening to hear these bishops raise the issue of sexual morality as taught by Humanae Vitae, as well as “the very soul of holiness” for a priest! These topics have been taboo for so long that it’s phenomenal to see bishops address them head-on.

Goal 2: “Giving unequivocal endorsement and normative force to the means outlined in the documents of the Council…to foster the acts of virtue required of pastors and the means needed to achieve those virtues, especially celibate chastity (e.g., daily celebration of the Mass, frequent Confession, daily meditation, regular acts of asceticism, obedient submission to Church teaching and discipline, simplicity of life).”

You can’t argue with a return to the fundamentals of the priesthood. This is EXACTLY what priests need to hear: a public endorsement of their vocation and the support of the bishops in encouraging a real back-to-basics approach to religious life.

Goal 3: “Confirming the bishops in the authoritative exercise of our ministry for the health and well being of the church, and strengthening our coworkers in the Presbyterate in their ministry of teaching the Gospel, especially in regard to sexual morality, so that we can give support to the lay faithful in responding to their call to holiness.”

Who hasn’t been demanding greater accountability and action from the bishops? Clearly, these men seem to understand what’s really been bothering American Catholics.

The bishops who drafted the letter also listed the benefits of calling a Plenary Council: It “would provide a galvanizing focus that is authentically evangelical and true to the Church’s identity and tradition…[witness] unambiguously to the fact that the Church relies on the grace of the Holy Spirit…involve all strata of the People of God in the experience…have maximal impact in shaping the ecclesial culture…[and] give a definite stamp to identifying what is the authentic heritage of the Second Vatican Council.”

“Galvanize”…”witness unambiguously”…” maximal impact”…”definite stamp”… the “authentic” heritage of Vatican II… These are strong words for bishops – a group usually known more for its inaction than its decisive action.

One last thing. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal the names of the authors at this point. However, I can tell you that the list is surprising. These bishops represent the entire theological and political spectrum. That in itself is reassuring: The idea that we need a deep and lasting change isn’t limited to any political or theological ideology.

My hat is off to these eight courageous and dedicated bishops – all that’s left now is to hope their colleagues will follow suit and sign on.

In 10 years or so, when this current crisis has hopefully faded away, we may look back on this letter as the event that triggered the renewal of the American Catholic Church. Let’s all say a prayer of thanks for the eight bishops who took the first step.

Remembering September 11th

Deal W. Hudson
September 11, 2002

Many of us have been dreading the approach of the one-year anniversary of September 11th. After a long year of suffering under the memory of that horrible day, most of us are loath to relive it. We want to forget, or at least not subject ourselves anew to the pain of facing those images that have haunted us ever since. The media have been increasing their coverage of the events building up to this day, and commentators everywhere have been weighing in with their reflections on what the anniversary means.

Last September, such reflections seemed timely and important, and Americans everywhere put aside their differences and petty concerns to stand together in our time of grief. These days, however, that sense of urgency is waning, and most of us just want to make it through the day without being dragged down under the weight of bad memories. What’s the point of re-opening the wounds?

Let me answer with a story. You wouldn’t have heard it in the news; none of the major broadcasters picked it up, and it eventually got lost amidst all the countless stories from that day. A few days after the attack, on his visit to New York City and Ground Zero, President Bush made a stop to a nearby convention center where he was to speak to a group of people who had lost family members at the World Trade Center. His schedule only allowed for a brief speech and 20 minutes at the gathering before the Secret Service would whisk him off to safety. (Security concerns were still high at the time.)

But when the president saw the intense grief of the people, he decided he wouldn’t give a speech after all. Instead, he stayed in the building until he had personally spoken with every last person there. He spent two hours praying, hugging, and grieving for each individual, allowing himself to share in their unspeakable pain.

Bush wasn’t playing to any cameras or grabbing any headlines, or trying to gain voter support. He was simply leading the country the best way he knew – by uniting with people in their suffering and showing his personal support. On that day, President Bush gave an important example of how to handle adversity: stand strong in the face of ultimate grief and despair.

In the months since September 11th, the regular concerns of life came pressing back in, and our focus was distracted. Catholics were shaken by the sex abuse scandal, and the country began thinking of war. Life has continued with all its joys, sorrows, and distractions.

But I encourage you on this anniversary not to be distracted. Remember that day in all its horror and sorrow. As President Bush demonstrated, it’s not enough to pay lip service to the victims of this tragedy – we must all be united in our grief, but also in our support of one another. It’s only when we confront this event personally that we can overcome it.

At the World Youth Day in Toronto this year, Pope John Paul II had some encouraging words of hope for the people who had been shaken, words that could help us all through this difficult time.

“Although I have lived through much darkness…I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young… Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”

A Dark Day for Pro-Abortionists

Deal W. Hudson

Well, the dust has finally begun to settle from the election flurry earlier this week. Now that things are starting to clear up, it’s time for us to step back and assess the situation.

There certainly were some unexpected upsets, but what I think was the most unexpected – and the most encouraging – was the surprise victory of conservative Christian values.

Because the mainstream media isn’t happy with these results (and doesn’t seem to want to report them), I thought I’d do an election round-up of my own, focusing on those races and numbers that you might not have seen in the paper. In my mind, these are the real victories from Tuesday, and the people and places to watch in the upcoming term.

It was surprising, even to me, how large a role the issue of abortion played in deciding some key elections. According to Pro-Life Infonet (www.prolifeinfo.org), eight of the top ten Senate races in the country went to pro-life candidates, and other pro-life incumbents managed to keep their seats as well. Two-thirds of the newly elected House officials are also pro-life.

Compare this to the results of candidates sponsored by EMILY’s List – a veritable who’s who of pro-abortion politicians – who lost 17 of the 22 candidates they sponsored. It wasn’t a good year to be pro-choice.

Exit-polls conducted by sources such as Fox News confirmed that many voters had abortion on their minds when they went to the polls – and the overwhelming majority of those voters were pro-life.

Case in point: In Missouri, 17 percent of voters said abortion was their number one concern, second only to the economy (21 percent), in voting for a senator. Of those 17 percent, 80 percent voted for pro-life candidate Jim Talent over incumbent pro-choice Senator Jean Carnahan. Some credit this important vote to Talent’s upset win; the legislative director of National Right to Life said, “It would certainly be fair to say Sen. Carnahan was defeated on the pro-life issue.”

Other states saw similar results. Fourteen percent of Minnesota voters said abortion was their top concern, the third-highest single issue named. Nine percent of the voters in Georgia felt the same way. Of these voters, the vast majority voted for pro-life candidates – candidates that went on to big wins.

Hawaii and Nevada had crucial wins for life, too. Hawaii’s previous governor was pushing a bill that would make them the second state to legalize assisted suicide. Instead, voters chose his challenger, Laura Lingle, who has promised to veto any such bill in the future. Voters in Nevada also said a decisive “no” to homosexual marriages, another win for the culture of life.

Catholics in particular made a strong showing at the polls. In Florida, 26% of the voters were Catholic, the highest single denomination voting. Many other key states in this election saw huge voter turnout from Catholics, and now these states have solid pro-life representatives.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some heavy losses. It’s disappointing to see pro-abortion “Catholic” Jennifer Granholm win her bid for governor in Michigan. After so much controversy surrounding her campaign, I can’t help but wonder if things might have gone differently had Cardinal Maida taken a more forceful stand against her decidedly anti-Catholic position.

Maida might have taken a lead from Bishop Blaise Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota, who spoke strongly against (and directly to) Tom Daschle in his support of NARAL. Bishop Cupich wrote a letter to be read at every church in his diocese last Sunday where he made it very clear that supporting NARAL, or any pro-choice candidate, was out of the question.

“Catholic people are not single issue voters,” he said. “We do care about the sick and the elderly, the homeless, the poor, education, security and world peace. But if the senator, as the leader of his party, wants to make abortion the single issue in this year’s election, then we are ready to let him and those who support him know this week and in the months and years to come where we stand.”

It looks like Bishop Cupich was right. Whatever other issues we may disagree on, conservative Christians will always rally to the side of life. And when they do, they make for a pretty intimidating constituency, because you can bet they’ll vote their conscience.

Now I know that we can’t expect radical changes over night. It’ll take a lot of time and a lot of patience for these votes to come to fruition in legislation that will protect life. But in the meantime, conservative Christians have shown the country that there are more of us than they thought, and we aren’t going away. In the case of this year’s election, at least, we definitely made a real difference.

War for Oil?

Deal W. Hudson

Yesterday I mentioned the problems that can arise when people make faulty assumptions about your motives based solely on your actions. This isn’t just a problem when solving disputes in the Church, though; I’ve seen it happen time and again when people discuss the possibility of war in Iraq.

I know a lot of us have different opinions about whether the war in Iraq would be just, but lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of misunderstanding over what the conflict is really about. Some people will get ahead of themselves and assume that anyone who supports taking action in Iraq must do so because of greed or other selfish reasons.

One of the members of the CRISIS staff recently returned from an extended trip to Europe where she said that the European consensus is that America is going to war in Iraq for oil. (I know this is anecdotal, but the European press has been parroting the same claim.) Apparently, the war-for-oil position is accepted there as a given, so few people bother to object. And with the American media’s insistence on the matter, some of us may even begin to think it’s true.

Well, before it gets to that stage, I thought I’d point out a few things that these “No Blood For Oil” folks seem to be missing.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that the government DID just want more oil. What would be the best way for us to go about getting it? As several news commentators have remarked, there are easier ways than war. For one, we could lift our sanctions and stop insisting on “regime change.” Saddam would surely be more than willing to provide us with oil then (especially since his cash-strapped nation is in dire need of revenue).

War also involves huge risks – the possibility of damage to Iraq’s oil fields, the possibility of political instability or civil war in Iraq, and on and on. Again, it would be much simpler to turn a blind eye to Saddam’s corrupt regime than go through all this trouble just to get more oil.

It’s also important to remember that Iraq has had its stores of oil since the Gulf War, but over the last ten years, we certainly haven’t gone charging in to get our hands on it. So why is military action urged now, if its only aim is to get the oil that’s always been there?

Could it be that we’re more concerned about something else…Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism, for example?

While the oil supply must indeed be a factor in our involvement in Iraq, it certainly can’t be considered a top priority. And it would behoove our European “allies” to remember that they’re not totally disinterested in Iraq’s oil, either. Why else would the U.S. need to assure the French that they could keep their oil contracts in Iraq if they would approve of an invasion? France – or really any member of the U.N. Security Council – can hardly claim moral superiority on the grounds of oil.

In the end, there are enough serious reasons to warrant our involvement in Iraq that we don’t need to grasp at straws in defending our position. Just today we learned of the possibility that Iraq supplied al Qaeda with a chemical weapon only last month. The threat of nuclear or biological weapons seems like a reasonable concern to me.

I’m not saying an articulate case can’t be made against action in Iraq. I’m just saying the war-for-oil canard shouldn’t be part of it.