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The Catholic Moral Voice

y Fr. Robert J. Carr

Some people chant these days that the bishops have lost their moral voice. That is just not possible.

My morality actually comes from my response to the call of discipleship of Jesus Christ. Indeed, I discern what is right and wrong through my desire to please Christ. I listen to the tradition set forth throughout the history of the Christian community, a history filled with equally committed Christians. Many of these we call saints. This makes Christian morality different than secular morality because it begins with a whole different worldview. Indeed, the moral voice of the bishops is to bring forth that tradition and it is at best a minimum standard.

We can see this at work in the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Man (Luke 18:18-27). The man comes forward looking to be a follower of Christ. Jesus asks him if he is following the commandments (the minimum standard). He says yes. Jesus then invites him to sell all he has and give to the poor, if he really seeks perfection. (Maximum standard).

I know Catholics who do not attend 'R' rated movies. No where do the bishops tell us not to do that, but, these Catholics want to follow a higher standard than that set out for the general Catholic populace. The bishops while reminding us more or less of a minimum standard set forth in scripture and tradition, then invite us to a higher standard if we so desire to seek that road.

So what is the role of the bishops? That was explained recently by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos of the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome. He explains that really our hierarchy exists for discernment: "We have experience that often there is talk in the name of the Spirit, but not a few times also in the name of the evil spirit. It is the Pope [serving] the universal Church, and the bishops [serving] the local Churches, who must undertake this discernment. This is why the way of participating in the responsibility of the Church is different." (Zenit)

Literally, it is the role of the hierarchy to discern those influences from evil forces as opposed to the Kingdom of God. Cardinal Castrillón goes on to explain that this is what separates the corporation in the secular world and the Church in the world of faith. Therefore, it is essential that our bishops are doing their task of humbly seeking the true discernment and that we listen to them. Even at times we may have to hold them account if we see actions counter to obvious discernment. In either case, the role of understanding the influence of good versus evil is essential in our world. It leads us back to St. Paul in Ephesians who warns that we battle evil spiritual forces, not human ones. This is one of the reasons that I get concerned when people speak of spirituality in general.

Spirituality has to do with the spiritual. Evil has a spiritual component as much as good does. The difference is the spiritual component of evil is one that rejects the kingdom of God.

People may be trying to convince you that the bishops have lost their moral voice. This would be a virtual impossibility. The bishops have their duty to discern the true spiritual source of inspiration. That brings our battle to a whole different plain not even comprehended by those who see the bishops as nothing more than a moral voice.


Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Parochial Vicar, 617 542-5682



bishops, morality, crisis, discernment, evil, good

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