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The limits of episcopal expertise

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 03, 2014

It’s official: the bishops of the Philippines are not taking any official position on their country’s new military agreement with the US.

Although the statement issued by the bishops’ conference is odd—the bishops are officially taking the position that they will not take a position—there is a refreshing humility to it. The bishops explain that they are “fully cognizant of the complexity of the issues involved, including as they do issues of international law and relations, regional politics as well as the morality of the use of force and the threat of the use of force.” Among those issues, Catholic bishops can claim no expertise on international law, international relations, or regional politics. They can speak with some authority only on the questions of morality, and even there, the practical application of moral principles is often best left to the lay experts who understand all the details of various policy options. So the Filipino bishops, recognizing that they could contribute only amateurish suggestions, thought it best to remain silent. Good for them.

Contrast their statement with the latest statement from the US bishops’ conference, on carbon emissions. Do you think of bishops as experts on power plants, air pollution, carbon levels, or climate change? Neither do I.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein ends his magisterial Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by saying: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Good advice.

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  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Jun. 13, 2014 1:13 AM ET USA

    Amen and Amen.

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