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Man bites dog

By Fr. William Maestri
Director of Communications
Archdiocese of New Orleans

In the genre of "man bites dog" we have been informed by the Washington Post that "Forty-eight Roman Catholic members of Congress have warned... that U.S. bishops will revive anti-Catholic bigotry and severely harm the church..." And what might the bishops have to do to bring this about? Simple: act like bishops.

What have made these "48" so concerned for the future of the Catholic Church are the words and actions of some bishops. To be specific: some bishops have dared to instruct Catholic politicians on their moral obligations to respect human life and work for the common good. Those Catholic politicians who support anti-life legislation are committing a grave moral wrong. These politicians should not present themselves for Holy Communion so as not to further endanger their salvation and cause scandal. Some bishops have indicated they would withhold Holy Communion. Other bishops have placed the responsibility on the politicians.

The "48" sent a letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., basically telling the bishops how to be bishops, and secondly, demanding that they stop trying to influence votes. What has escaped the "48" is that an essential part of Episcopal ministry is teaching. Such teaching includes life issues which often involve the political. It is not that the bishops are telling politicians how to vote, rather, bishops are instructing Catholics (who happen to be politicians) on grave moral issues.

The "48" believe that they are immune from Catholic teaching. They are subject to a higher calling, namely, the Constitution of the United States. The hierarchy of our judicial church--the Supreme Court--has replace the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The "48" have informed McCarrick that the Supreme Court gave women the right to an abortion. In light of this ruling, legislators "who vote for legislation consistent with that mandate are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic Church."

Really! The "48" believe that their obligation to a court ruling and the Constitution trumps natural moral law, Revelation and Catholic teaching on the life issues. How can one be a faithful Catholic while supporting those rulings, "laws", and policies which are anti-life? One cannot be.

The mandate of a court ruling that is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Church should never claim our allegiance. In fact, Catholic politicians have a grave duty to undo anti-life legislation and court rulings. The natural moral law must be that which guides the enacting of positive law.

Unfortunately, the reigning legal philosophy at work in our country is a positivism (or judicialism) which recognizes only the will of the legislator or judge. Our legal culture (comprised of professionals and citizens) has forgotten that tradition which viewed human laws and constitutions in light of first principles of universal justice and natural rights. The "48" have bought into a legal positivism which recognizes no higher law. In this view, if the court, a constitution, or legislature rules or enacts law, they are valid by the sheer fact they have been enacted.

The bishops are clearly appealing to a higher source and truth. The bishops are challenging Catholic politicians to welcome this truth in their work for justice and the common good. Rather than seeing what the bishops are doing as an unwelcome intrusion, Catholic politicians should welcome this Episcopal ministry as a blessing. Talk about "man biting dog."


Archdiocese of New Orleans LA, US
Fr. William Maestri - Director of Communications, 504 596-3023



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