Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Mote-Plank Meltdown

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 24, 2004

In the course of a provocative article in the Weekly Standard titled The Myth of the Catholic Voter, Joseph Bottum explains how the Catholic Church became almostly instantaneously irrelevant on public issues of morality:

As their ability to deliver votes declined ... the bishops have had for many years only Catholicism's intellectual and moral prestige with which to try to persuade politicians.

The intellectual terms triumphed to a surprising degree. But the moral authority vanished overnight in the priest pedophilia scandals. On December 1, 2001, the Catholic Church was at the front of the fight against cloning. Two months later, by February 1, 2002, the Catholic Church had essentially disappeared from the battle. In the middle of the campaign to force Tom Daschle, then majority leader, to allow an anti-cloning bill to come to the floor of the Senate, one major metropolitan bishop told me he didn't dare lobby his senators on the issue -- for fear they would answer, "Who the hell are you to lecture me on a moral issue?" and rupture their relationship forever.

Twenty-five years of the prestige built up by John Paul II and Mother Teresa swirled away in an instant. And at every moment since, whenever the bishops have tried to intrude on public affairs, there has been someone ready to remind us of their sins. When Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput demanded this October that Catholics vote against pro-abortion politicians, Maureen Dowd immediately used her column in the New York Times to denounce "the shepherds of a Church whose hierarchy bungled the molestation and rape of so many young boys by tolerating it, covering it up, enabling it, excusing it, and paying hush money" for daring to debate "whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion."

Last April, Rod Dreher insightfully and forcefully pointed out the same dilemma, which he dubbed the mote-plank factor: "Thou hypocrite!" said Jesus "first cast out the plank out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Lacking the backbone to acknowledge -- much less remedy -- the problem of moral turpitude in their own ranks, the bishops have made themselves into moral geldings. A desultory collection of specimens shows that Right and Left are equally quick to exploit the mote-plank vacuum:

From Diane Williamson [Worcester MA Telegram & Gazette 5-27-2004]:

I suppose if anyone should know about cooperation with evil it's the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, who for years allowed known child molesters to distribute Communion but now seek to impose a litmus test on Catholics wishing to receive it.

From New York Newsday, 5-13-2004]:

U.S. Rep. Peter King expressed outrage Thursday at the claim by a top Vatican official that the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal was worse for America than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's the ultimate hypocrisy," said King (R-Seaford), a practicing Catholic. "If there's anyone in the world who has no right to speak on sexual abuse, it's the Vatican.

From Rea Howarth, coordinator of Catholics Speak Out [6-15-2003]:

The eminent Cardinal Josef Ratzinger virtually leaped to impose the church's ultimate penalty on the women less than two months after their ordinations -- all the while they were pondering how to treat problem priests who abused children. It is more than strange that no priests or bishops have been excommunicated for their part in crimes that destroyed the lives of children and nuns, but women, acting on a sacred call to ministry are a threat that cannot be tolerated.

There's lots more, but you get the drift. As Bottum's essay makes clear, the moral meltdown has no end in sight. And as OTR has never ceased repeating, forgiveness and respect -- when applied to a collectivity -- are mutually exclusive demands. You may deserve neither; you can't get both. The bishops have themselves elected the former in preference to the latter. In refusing to confront the problems within their ranks they effectively forbid us to treat them, quâ bishops, as morally serious persons. Where we agree with Bishop So-and-so on a question of moral importance, it will be in spite of, not because of, his membership in the episcopal college. Strange as it seems, that's the way they want it.

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