Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dear Pope Benedict, Cardinal Pell Needs Help. Please Send Archbishop Burke.

I’ve blogged about Cardinal Pell here, here, here, and here in the last two weeks due to the huge controversy generated in Australia over the Cardinal’s remarks about “consequences” for Catholic politicians who voted for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). In my first posting I accused him of being a people-pleaser and said I was disgusted. This clearly upset some people. In my subsequent posts I toned down my comments considerably, tried to look at things positively and suspend my judgment on the Cardinal at least until I saw how things panned out.

In one of the above postings I expressed satisfaction about the general approach the Cardinal took with respect to bringing the moral issue before the nation. I said

I doubt very much whether in the end the Cardinal will actually withhold Holy Communion from any of these politicians. I said that before with sadness. But I give His Eminence great credit for dealing with the public aspects of the scandal and reiterating to an entire continent the unchanging position of the Church on major moral issues, particularly the gravity of supporting the killing of embryos for research.

This is, in itself, an essential part of the role of a Bishop.

The Cardinal Pell affair has probably hurt, more than helped, the Church

But unfortunately, that’s as far as it went. At this point, considering how the controversy has unfolded, and now appears to be flat-lining, I wish to state my case as to why I think Cardinal Pell’s actions might have actually done more harm than good for the Catholic Church in Australia. This posting deals with the various aspects of my case.

To summarize, I would say that at the very best, the Cardinal has helped to inform many Australians of the nature of the moral question of ESCR but has left unfinished business and a good deal of confusion in the wake of events. At the worst, he’s made loud, threatening noises and caught everybody’s attention, but shown himself to be an impotent, noisy gong and an embarrassment to the Church in at least two ways. He gave evidence of being ashamed of Church teaching and also of being evasive and disingenuous when his words were put to the test.

Of course the Cardinal could redeem himself at any time, should he choose to speak clearly about Church teaching and follow through on the discipline prescribed by the Church, but until then, I stand by every word of my original posting.

Re Cardinal Pell’s right to say what he did

I wish to make it clear that Cardinal Pell had every right to say what he did and to raise the issue with Catholic politicians in Australia particularly at this time when the vote on ESCR approached. It was his duty as a Bishop, and also as the top Church leader in Australia to raise the issue, and to make a grand noise about it if necessary. Insofar as he followed Church guidelines [I dispute that he did] and did this effectively he is to be complimented.

Two randomly chosen commentaries defend the Archbishop’s rights and may give more helpful insight. The Brisbane Times issued some thoughts yesterday and recently, Timothy Bloedow of Christian correctly pointed out that,

The Archbishop was respecting the principle of the separation of Church and State by speaking about these politicians' risk to their spiritual health and by referring to the process of Church discipline (particularly excommunication). He was not using his office to campaign for criminal sanctions against the politicians. The Secularist thugs in Australia's parliament, however, have decided not to show the same kind of discretion and respect for the separation of Church and State as they object to the Archbishop's legitimate use of his Church office.

What Catholics can learn from this episode

As long as Catholics are quick to give Bishops a pass when they don’t deserve it, we’ll never be able to fulfil our part in helping the Church recover its place and role in the world as Christ wills. We must set our sights a lot higher for our Bishops. They simply MUST act like Bishops or we must raise the roof so to speak. There’s just too much at stake not to take up this challenge. I don’t mean this should be done in rash judgment but at the same time let’s not be timid and afraid/unsure of speaking the truth. Even a child can recognize basic truth but more often than not Catholics (as with other Christians) are simply too lazy to take an interest and to do anything and others are always weighing up possible actions with other vested interests. They end up doing nothing out of fear and cowardice of what they might lose.

And for the pious: this call to keep Bishops accountable does not preclude prayer. To suggest or imagine such a thing would be ridiculous. But to suggest prayer alone will accomplish the same goal would be equally ridiculous.

Examples of heads-in-the-sand

LifeSiteNews yesterday carried a story on Archbishop Pell, praising him unreservedly for his stand and his “hard hitting interview.” I expect there will be many other Catholic sources similarly giving the Cardinal a high grade for his performance. As I noted above, there was some good that came out of the Cardinal’s protest but in the end the Cardinal fumbled the ball badly, back peddled, failed even to state the “classic Catholic position” which he insisted was his duty as a Bishop, and showed up in a high powered interview with false teeth. True, the Cardinal came under a lot of unjust attacks but because of the way the affair ended I believe he suffered a loss, not a gain, in respect and support because he was perceived as very weak and equivocal.

It’s so rare today to see a Bishop stand up at all for the Catholic faith and I understand why Catholics want to offer unqualified and non-critical support. It’s just not smart to close our eyes to the truth, on any level. As pro-lifers the truth is really all we do have. We must prize that above all else and be prepared to exercise discernment and to speak the truth.

The truth then, as I see it, about Cardinal Pell’s recent exploits is found here.

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