Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

the liberal legacy

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 02, 2005

Retired Cardinal Paolo Arns of Brazil on his "disagreements with the Pope":

"I am in favor of the promotion of women and always defended their ordination by the Catholic church. My mother raised 21 children, 13 of her own and eight by adoption, and all of them accomplished what they set out to do. How can I accept that women be treated as less than men? I have immense respect for my mother and all my sisters."

"How can I accept that women be treated as less than men?" Quite handily, it would seem, your honorably-retired Eminence. That is an episcopal ring on your 83-year-old finger, is it not?

I just don't understand liberal Catholics, especially churchmen. Put aside for the nonce the questionable intellectual acuity of a man who believes, wherever Robin Williams disagrees with St. Augustine, that Augustine is wrong and Williams right. What baffles me is the moral universe in which these guys operate.

Suppose you, as a priest or bishop, are sincerely convinced that the Church is in error about, say, contraception or sodomy or the ordination of women. By that very fact, necessarily, you're living a lie. Because either you've spoken your mind about your dissent with the same boldness and clarity with which you proclaim the Creed -- in which case you'd be out on your ear -- or else you're not out on your ear, which means you haven't really (candidly, repeatedly, publicly, defiantly) spoken your mind. You're a subversive, or a time-server, or a careerist. A moral castrate.

No fair pleading "patience with change." By your own admission the Church teaches, and practices, immoral doctrines. You elected to accept the summons to Holy Orders. That means as long as you "hold your commission" as a cleric, you are complicit in, and share moral responsibility for, the Church's teaching and her action in conformity to that teaching. Who cares if you've expressed your dissent to your friends? The majority of people, Catholic or not, take your priesthood as eo ipso identification with Church doctrine. Had you served four years in the SS at Buchenwald, it wouldn't count much toward acquittal if every weekend of your guard duty you'd muttered, in your cups, your personal sympathy for the victims.

Real men, adults, realize that life doesn't present them with more than a few opportunities to state solemnly what they really believe, what's most important to them. If they find the Church wrong, they walk away from her. Even if I think they're mistaken, I can respect them. But how can I respect you, a bishop or a priest, when you stammer just enough of the approved words to keep your job, but have your fingers crossed behind your back (so to speak) for all of your adult years? What can your life mean to you?

With the freedom to live as a man of integrity-- simply by walking out the door -- you have chosen to live as half a man. Your vaunted respect for your mothers and sisters is either a pose you strike for the news cameras, or else too morally trivial to warrant a search for alternative employment. There is no third possibility. I think at some level you sense this, and are bothered by it, and I think this goes far to explain your sporadic fits of despondency, rage, lethargy, and self-pity. You realize that the clock is running, that the chance to take a stand is vanishing, and that your pet social cause was just that -- a pet. A frank conversation with a genuine Catholic is like a slap on a sunburned neck.

Were it simply a matter of your personal comfort and equanimity, we could shrug it off: just another guy with a grudge. Yet by winking and stage-whispering, "None of us really believes this tripe, but play it long and we'll get by," you've left a lot of damage behind you. Well, Father, Bishop, Archbishop, your winks and whispers have earned a lot of smiles from a lot of influential people. Enjoy them.

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