Wow! The bishops have finally been moved to speak out, and possibly help Catholics deal with the poisonous rhetoric from the GOP stable of once aspiring Presidential hopefuls, and their now firmly established presumptive nominee. An electronic flyer has just arrived in my inbox telling me that for $4.95 Catholics like myself can buy advice from the US bishops during this unfathomable election season.
“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility”–the “resource for the election season” being offered by the bishops may well contain really good advice. But how sad that one has to go buy a booklet to find out if the bishops think it is possible to be Christian and still support a candidate who, in addition to reliably parading his ignorance at every turn, spews hate, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny and personal taunts. The nuns and priests I remember would be swift to reprimand a child for using in the schoolyard the kind of offensive language that we have heard repeatedly on the election circus. But the bishops apparently have not been moved to protest, let alone censure, the vile pronouncements that we have heard not once, but over and over again this season from would-be leaders of the free world.
A (Belated) Call to Political Responsibility
It would have been really helpful during these past months of hateful soundbites recycled endlessly by cable news in search of ratings, if the bishops had proactively made themselves available to publicly refute the rhetoric. It would have been helpful to hear the voices of the bishops raised to tell millions of presumably good church-going Christians that there is a problem with saying YES to a candidate who says the Bible is his favorite book but who so flagrantly violates the most basic tenets of Christianity in the policies he recommends towards immigrants and Muslims, to name just two of his many targets. There must be many Christians who vote for Trump — but also go to church faithfully because they love Jesus. It might have been helpful to see and hear the bishops in the public square early on pushing back and explaining why it is really impossible to reconcile those two actions.
Should we assume the bishops are struggling to reconcile their obligations as messengers of the Gospel with their now well-established allegiance to the GOP playbook with its protestations of being pro-life and religious “freedom,” and anti marriage equality? They are able to take to the road, amidst suitable pomp and ceremony, for a “Fortnight of Freedom” but they have not felt moved to take to the airwaves and challenge the alleged Christianity of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
This is the parable of Dives and Lazarus playing out before television cameras. None of the politicians who promise to decimate basic public services, demonize immigrants, suppress the vote, or turn the clock back on civil rights have been told they will be refused Communion. It is always a bad idea to brandish access to Communion as a weapon, but it is hard to forget that it indeed was–in relation to politicians who believe that a woman’s body is not up for control by the government.
It appears that neither parables nor shame, neither a sense of their duty as pastors nor the formation of their own consciences for faithful citizenship, seem sufficient to move the bishops to be “fools for Christ” as Dorothy Day put it. She wrote in 1948, “the love of the humanity of our Lord is the love of our brother.”
That is all the resource we need for the election season. And it does not cost $4.95. It is right there, over and over again, in the Gospels.
Lay Catholics, reluctant to leave their church, struggle to hang on to the last vestiges of respect for the bishops in the wake of an ever unfolding record of protection for serial sex abusers, the horrible failure to protect children, the reckless passing on of pedophiles from one parish to another with nary a word of warning to the community, and the unjust firing of too many LGBT employees working for churches and schools. The absence of any public words of rebuke from the bishops in response to the rhetoric of presidential candidates, many of them Catholic, is deeply disappointing.
Where are the fishers of men Jesus picked to tell the world–and those who aspire to lead it–that to love God is to love our neighbor?
We know that today they dress in crimson robes and live in mansions. And they now have a booklet on faithful citizenship. Perhaps I will find answers to the question of why the bishops have been silent these many months in my copy when it arrives.