Quick hits: on an archbishop’s reputation and mandatory vaccines
Emerging gradually from the “brain fog” that was, thank God, in my case the most noisome aspect of a Covid infection, I find myself looking over the news stories of the past week and wondering: Is my thinking not quite straight yet? Because several of our recent stories simply do not make sense to me.
Let me know, please, if you see the logical connections that appear to me entirely missing.
Example #1: The Aupetit case Questioned by reporters about the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, Pope Francis said: “I ask myself what he did that was so serious that he had to resign. Someone answer me, what did he do? And if we do not know the charge we cannot convict.” He went on to say that the archbishop had been guilty of “a failing against the sixth commandment, but not total.” But the real problem, the Pope said, was “public opinion, gossip.” Yet wasn’t the Pope himself contributing to the gossip, by mentioning the nature of the archbishop’s offense, and adding a few vague details? And if that offense was not serious enough to warrant his resignation, why did the Pope accept it? The offense (whatever it was) occurred long ago, and had been reported before the Pope named Aupetit to become Archbishop of Paris. So apparently the Pontiff did not regard it as disqualifying then. Did it become disqualifying because of gossip? Pope Francis said that “he will not be able to govern because he has lost his reputation.” When did he lose it? Archbishop Aupetit had deliberately left his future in the Pope’s hands. If he really did regard the offense as something that could and should be excused, the Pope could have asked the archbishop to remain in office. He could have made the argument—as he did, in his airplane interview—that a bishop is not a plaster saint, and that Church leaders too sometimes need forgiveness. There have been other, rather conspicuous cases in which Pope Francis has declined to accept the resignation of an embattled prelate. (“Who am I to judge?”) What was the logic of his decision in this case?
Example #2: Archbishop Cordileone’s vaccination status. San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone revealed last week that he has not received a Covid vaccine. Although he has encouraged others to be vaccinated, the archbishop said that his doctor believed his immune system is strong, and so “it’s probably not necessary for me to be vaccinated.” In reporting this news, ABC made the editorial comment that the opinion of the archbishop’s doctor “is not shared by many in the San Francisco Health Department who on Wednesday continue urging people to get vaccinated.” Yes, but there is a crucial difference between the archbishop’s personal physician and the officials of the San Francisco Health Department; only one of them has listened to his chest, taken his medical history, ordered blood tests, and done all the other things that enable a physician to speak with confidence about his patient’s condition. How many times, in the context of other political debates, have we been reminded that the confidential relationship between a doctor and a patient should be sacrosanct, and no government officials should interfere? Why doesn’t that principle apply to this case? If the archbishop’s doctor sees a good reason why his patient should skip vaccination, who else has any right to an opinion?
Example #3: And speaking of vaccination, the Catholic bishops of Austria have pronounced that “compulsory vaccination is a serious encroachment on the bodily integrity and freedom of the individual.” So far, so good. But from that promising premise, the Austrian bishops cannot bring themselves to the obvious conclusion: that a proposed nationwide vaccine mandate is unjust. Having accurately stated the principle on which the mandate deserves condemnation, the bishops bow out of the discussion with the excuse that they “cannot give a detailed opinion on the concrete use of the law.” But of course we do not expect detailed medical opinions from our bishops. We expect clarification of moral principles. And the moral principle, at least, is clear: a “serious encroachment on the bodily integrity and freedom of the individual.”
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