Neutral Catholic bishops: The real eighth wonder of the world?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 31, 2016

Here’s a story that deserves to be imitated widely throughout the hierarchy of the Church: British religious leaders: vote to stay in EU. Why is this worthy of note? Because the Catholic bishops of England and Wales are officially neutral on the question.

What you will find if you read this brief story is that the effort by “religious leaders” to press people to vote to remain in the European Union was led by the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Thirty-six other “religious leaders” joined with him. But only one Catholic bishop—also retired—joined in this effort to guide British politics.

I do not wish to be misunderstood. If there are clear moral evils connected with the decision of whether to leave or remain in the European Union, the Catholic bishops should be explaining the nature of the moral threat. The fact that the Bishops of England and Wales are officially neutral on this issue suggests that there is no clear moral case to be made either way.

That hasn’t stopped some individual bishops from arguing the pros and cons (though I wish it had), but at least the body as a whole understands it has no special expertise in discerning the governmental arrangement which will best suit their people’s needs. Almost nowhere in the West at present is any realistic governmental alternative on offer which can claim the moral commitment of Catholics. When it comes to the question of moral politics, all are more or less inimical to Christ.

The inaction behind this story deserves to be widely imitated by Catholic priests and prelates because silence is golden when it comes to instructing the faithful on political questions where no clear moral or spiritual difference is involved. Yet it has become depressingly common over the past few generations for individual bishops and especially episcopal conferences to make statements on a great many of the prudential questions which Christ entrusted to the laity.

Here the old adage might well apply: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. But in truth there is little danger that a silent bishop will be thought a fool on this issue. Responsible lay persons are not looking for bishops to speak on purely political questions. Most will regard the silence not only as a sign of wisdom, but as a relief.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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