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A Lecture on Treating Prelates “Respectfully”

Early this year the American Life League headed by Judie Brown produced an ad asking bishops to bar pro-abortion Catholic senators from Holy Communion. The ad is headlined “WANTED FOR FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMING CATHOLIC FAITH.” Below that we see “THE DEADLY DOZEN” followed by photos of 12 Catholic pro-abortion senators. Under each photo is the name of the senator’s bishop with contact information. Under the photos the ad says: “YOU CAN’T BE BOTH CATHOLIC AND PRO-ABORTION!” The text reads: “These 12 United States senators claim to be Catholics, but their public support for the deadly practice of legalized abortion is scandalous in the eyes of the Church. Canon Law 915 makes it clear that professing such heretical beliefs makes them unworthy to receive Holy Communion: ‘Those who…obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Communion’ (Canon Law 915). We call on all bishops and priests to respectfully refuse Holy Communion to these and all public figures whose unrepentant support for the killing of babies in the womb defiles the Mass and the Body of Christ.”

We saw the ad in The Wanderer (Jan. 23) and the National Weekly Edition of The Washington Times (Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2003). However, the ad was rejected by a number of Catholic newspapers, which we learned about in the neoconservative monthly newsletter catholic eye (Mar. 31). So, what was so wrong with the ad that it couldn’t be printed? Well, we don’t know, but catholic eye (which doesn’t print ads) has come up with its own reasons why the ad was unprintable. Catholic eye says the pictures of the 12 Catholic proabort senators are “‘mug’ shots.” Oh, come now! Nine of the pictures were obviously posed for, four of which have American flags in the background. The remaining three pictures — of Senators Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Joseph Biden — look more like snapshots, but mug shots they are not.

So why the big deal about mug shots? Because “no sane publisher would risk being accused of inciting another James Kopp to pick off a Catholic senator or bishop.” What? There are no bishops pictured, and the pictures of the senators are quite flattering (with the possible exception of Kerry’s, though it certainly is not unflattering). The headline of the ad didn’t say “WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE.” It said “WANTED FOR FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMING CATHOLIC FAITH.” There’s no incitement to murder here. As for the “No sane publisher…” line, catholic eye seems to be claiming that Al Matt of The Wanderer is insane, as well as Judie Brown, who printed it in her Celebrate Life magazine (Mar.-Apr.). Good golly, Miss Molly!

The ad was not sent to the NOR, so we didn’t have the opportunity to print it, but we would gladly have done so. Apparently, that makes us insane too.

Then catholic eye says, “Ms. Brown…. urges bishops to ‘respectfully’ deny Communion to those whose presence ‘defiles the Mass and the Body of Christ.’ Yet there is nothing respectful about beating up bishops with Canon law and treating fellow sinners (aren’t we all sinners?) like moral lepers.” First, it’s Mrs. Brown, not Ms. Brown. Second, what’s this about “beating up bishops with Canon law”? Mrs. Brown is not urging Catholics to beat up bishops, either literally (“pick off a…bishop”) or figuratively. As for Canon law, bishops are bound by that. If someone thinks a bishop isn’t adhering to Canon law, there’s no Canon law prohibiting anyone from pointing that out. (For more on bishops and Canon law, specifically canon 915, see Fr. James Buckley’s article in this issue.) Gosh, if it’s disrespectful to correct a bishop, Helen Hull Hitchcock and her Adoremus Bulletin are egregiously disrespectful. Mrs. Hitchcock is constantly correcting bishops on liturgical matters, and we’ve never known her to be wrong. Third, there’s the business about “treating fellow sinners (aren’t we all sinners?) like moral lepers.” Yes, we’re all sinners, but not all sins are equal. Stealing a candy bar from a child is not equivalent to voting for laws that allow the murder of children. And if voting for those laws doesn’t make one a “moral leper,” then catholic eye is following the rest of the culture in defining down degeneracy.

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