How should bishops deal with Church activists and renegade priests?
Catholic Twitter lit up last week in response to a story in the Cleveland Scene, an alternative newspaper in Ohio’s largest city, that Bishop Edward Malesic would offer a prayer at the “Bringing America” convention. Back to Life” to be held at a suburban Cleveland hotel from March 11-12. The article noted that the convention was “headlined by toxic far-right ‘ex-gay’ provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos”.
Other speakers included Joe Allen, who works at Steve Bannon’s “War Room: Pandemic.” He’s not someone I would share a platform with. I wonder what the large Ukrainian population of Ohio thought of having an ally of Vladimir Putin speaking at a supposedly pro-life event as mothers and children are slaughtered in the streets of Mariupol , Kyiv and Odessa.
David Barton, an evangelical who founded the WallBuilders group, also spoke at the convention. At least the name has nothing to do with the US-Mexico border but is instead a reference to the Book of Nehemiah. On its website, the group lists its objective as follows:
The purpose of WallBuilders is to exert a direct and positive influence on government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation about the divine foundation of our country; (2) provide information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies that reflect biblical values; and (3) encourage Christians to get involved in the civic arena.
The American foundation was able to present itself as a “divine” event because it occurred when deism was at its brief zenith. As for point #2, while I suspect I would derive different “biblical values” from the ones Barton chooses, it’s his right to choose which ones he wants. No Reason to Dispute #3: I encourage all Christians—and Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, followers of other faiths, and nonbelievers—in short, all Americans to get involved in the civic arena.
Malesic’s criticisms resembled the criticisms of the University of Notre Dame when it invited President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address in 2009, except in reverse. People criticized Notre Dame because they thought the pro-life cause was so important that it required overlooking the other good things that Obama stood for, as well as his historic achievement as the first black president of the United States. United. People criticized Malesic not because of his stance on abortion, but because there were speakers who were objectionable on other grounds.
Or we could compare the situation in Cleveland to efforts by the American Life League and the Lepanto Institute to end the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the national anti-poverty arm of the U.S. bishops, because it was funding groups that were trying to fight poverty, and sometimes those groups also worked with pro-choice organizations. The fundamental injustice of the attack was obvious: in a complex society, we all have to work with all kinds of people, with all kinds of opinions, to achieve common goals.
We can work with a pro-choice legislator to achieve immigration reform, for example, just as we can work with a pro-life legislator on pro-life issues, even if the legislator disagrees. with us to adopt fairer tax policies. Our Catholic faith has a highly developed cooperative theology to deal with such issues.
Asked about the bishop’s participation in the event, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Cleveland told NCR, “Bishop Malesic was invited by the conference organizers to say a few words and offer a prayer. In his brief remarks, he hoped to offer those gathered, mostly local participants from within the diocese, advice that the best way to end the scourge of abortion is to change hearts through words and actions. of love. After his remarks and prayer, the bishop left the conference. He did not attend any of the presentations Unlike some media, he did not ‘bless’ the conference.”
I hope Malesic used his prayer to invite the gathered pro-life community to expand the range of their moral concerns. Whoever organized this conference was happy to invite people who have objectionable opinions on a variety of issues, trafficking racism and xenophobia. A narrow focus on abortion only undermines the church’s long-term pro-life witness.
My main concern, however, is internal to the life of the church. Speakers included Michael Voris of Church Militant and Fr. James Altmann.
Church Militant regularly promotes the rantings of the disgraced former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, including those that attack Pope Francis in ways that fall well short of the affective collegiality with the Bishop of Rome to which all bishops are called. For example, this screed asserted that Francis had “abdicated his ministry to confirm the brothers in the faith”, and he insisted that Francis resign.
Altman publicly disobeyed his bishop, Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and raised funds to support his now-roving campaigns, all of which are an attempt to politicize the faith, confusing “orthodoxy” with adherence to a series of right-wing ideas.
Altman is an extreme case, of course: the politicization of religion is one of the most evident facts of American religiosity over the past 50 years. But, for him, such politicization led him to break his solemn promise of obedience to his bishop, and this takes him to another level.
Sharing a stage with people of otherwise objectionable political positions in the name of a good cause is often risky but ultimately permissible. Still, bishops are well advised not to attend events at which Church Militant or Altman speak. The presence of the bishop may not be a “blessing”, but it serves to legitimize those who try to weaken the bonds of charity that the Church desperately needs to strengthen.
We live in a time when there is a de facto schism in the Catholic Church, and so much good will only get you so far.