Advice for losers
Father Tom Reese is not infallible; he admits as much himself in a post-election column for the National Catholic Reporter. But he evidently considers himself a lot closer to infallibility than the American bishops, to whom he offers a great deal of advice.
”Here I am writing as a political scientist, not as a priest or theologian,” the Jesuit commentator tells us. Below the column, the Reporter identifies Father Reese is a Jesuit priest and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center. So the inattentive reader might think that he is writing as a priest and a theologian. But he’s writing exclusively about politics. Here, for example:
Banning pro-choice Catholic politicians or Catholic voters from Communion is counterproductive. Such banning is not the official position of the church, but enough bishops are doing it (and few bishops are criticizing the practice), that many see it as church policy. Any time you have to use power rather than persuasion in a political debate, you have lost.
Now only a few American bishops have said that politicians who support unrestricted legal abortion are barred from Communion. (To my knowledge, not a single bishop has applied that disciplinary action to mere voters who support abortion.) In every case, the bishops who have taken that action have made it clear that they have done so not for political reasons, but to safeguard the Church from scandal. A political scientist might not recognize the distinction between the political debate on abortion and the internal discipline of the Catholic Church. A priest and theologian might, but remember, Father Reese isn’t writing in that mode.
Which is reassuring, because it would be depressing to think that a priest or theologian would offer the sort of defeatist advice that Father Reese offers to our bishops:
If you know you are going to lose a fight, you want to fight in a way that does you the least amount of damage.
That advice might make sense if:
- You are convinced that Catholicism is a losing proposition, but you have to keep up appearances; and/or
- You don’t see any moral principles involved that are worth fighting for; and/or
- You’ve never stood your ground, and you're not going to start now; you're simply too frightened to fight.
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