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Economics: The American Church Matures in Christ

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 07, 2012

Presumably nobody has missed the fact that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at its November meeting, failed to issue its proposed statement on the economy. The document was approved 134 to 85, with nine abstentions, but that was short of the two-thirds majority (152 votes) required for it to be issued in the name of the Conference. So the economic statement died.

Some argue that the effort to fast-track the document, in violation of normal USCCB procedures, led to its downfall, as the bishops did not have sufficient time to consider it carefully. But what is most interesting to me is the substance of the debate preceding the vote, in which elderly retired bishops were the strongest supporters of a detailed economic statement, and younger active bishops were the strongest opponents. The following highly significant quotations, drawn from the excellent report provided by the National Catholic Register in its issue of December 2nd, tell what I believe is the most important part of the story.

First, let us hear from those who favored a strong document on the economy. Emphasizing the need to present Catholic social teaching in a decisive and specific manner, retired auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza (Hartford) stated: “My problem is that there is no sting and no bite.” And Retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza (Galveston), hinting at a generational divide among the bishops, complained of the document’s failure to address the rights of unions to organize or to critique specific policies that fomented social inequalities:

The economy is different today. But if we still want justice for our people, the economy has to be judged on how it affects people: Is it for people or trying to use people? We asked that question in 1986, and we got it right then.

Sadly, this reference to the 1980s does not inspire confidence. Was it not during the 1980s that the bishops were most prone to pronounce on pretty much everything except the crisis of Faith that had American chanceries, parishes, seminaries, universities, religious communities and social service organizations firmly in its grip?

Now compare this attitude with that of the newer men. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, argued that the bishops necessarily overstep their “competence” when issuing specific policy judgments. Surely this indicates a deepening perception of, and commitment to, what bishops are created by God to do.

But first prize clearly goes to Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence:

I am just not sure in this very difficult time that we as bishops need another document that won’t be relevant. I don’t think we can afford to erode our relevance any more. If we want to give hope to our people…we should scrap the document, go home and provide tangible support to those in need.

Some bishops are older and have been around for a very long time. But there is growing evidence that the younger men are the more mature Christians. This last quote, against the background of the ecclesiastical atmosphere of the past generation or so, is spiritually stunning. It represents a Church that is ever young and ever impatient with all words that are disconnected from the Word.

All of this really does, I think, represent a sort of entering into the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). And for those who still do not see that, Bishop Tobin’s particular remarks are an unanswerable rebuke.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Dec. 08, 2012 5:21 PM ET USA

    Bishop Tobin spelled out the essence of the U.S. bishops' folly of the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of tolerating dissent, "small base communities," community organizing in the name of "Campaign for Human Development," sexual deviancy among the clergy, anti-Catholic editorials in diocesan newspapers (e.g., "Christ Failed in His Mission"), scandalous liturgies, liberal political action, bad catechesis, etc., they should have been feeding their sheep sound doctrine, moral guidance, and spirituality.

  • Posted by: cwallstendawson8666 - Dec. 08, 2012 10:28 AM ET USA

    I really appreciate this summation. I was concerned at first reading that Bishops failed to reach 2/3 majority by 18 votes—; however this statement: "I am just not sure in this very difficult time that we as bishops need another document that won’t be relevant. I don’t think we can afford to erode our relevance any more. If we want to give hope to our people…we should scrap the document, go home and provide tangible support to those in need." Your conclusion helps me. Thank U

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