He doesn't reach the same fever pitch of sputtering petulance that Father Tom Reese managed in the Washington Post, but David Gibson, writing for Beliefnet, lets us know that he, too, is sorely disappointed in the American bishops. Moreover, he cites editorials in America and Commonweal to demonstrate that liberal Catholics generally are disheartened.
"The U.S. hierarchy," Gibson writes, "gathers for its spring meeting tomorrow, in San Antonio, in the wake of one of the most divisive and ugly stretches the Catholic Church has seen since, well, Joseph Bernardin was alive." The bishops themselves, he adds, "have been the perpetrators and victims of much of the nastiness."
The "nastiness" in question is the public debate over President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame. Many American bishops made clear public statements chastising Notre Dame, and the guardians of the "spirit of Vatican II" are not accustomed to episcopal scoldings. It's been routine, over the past generation, for bishops to criticize conservatives. Criticism of liberals-- public criticism, no less!-- is something quite new. So now they know how we've felt for the past 35 years or so.
To say that our liberal friends are thin-skinned would be, I'm afraid, a gross understatement. Yes, a few bishops issued stinging criticism of Notre Dame's decision. But were they "nasty" in their approach? Or is it inherently nasty to criticize the "second magisterium"-- that authoritative voice that has spoken from America and Commonweal, Notre Dame and Georgetown for all these years? Maybe "disrespectful" would be a better word. These bishops must be put back in their proper place.
And there's something more here. The controversy that surrounded Obama and Notre Dame did command headlines for a few weeks. But to suggest that it was "one of the most divisive and ugly stretches" for the Church since Cardinal Bernardin's death suggests a failure of memory that can only be attributed to a severe shock.
Think about it: Can you name a topic that arose within American Catholicism between 1996 and today that was uglier, more divisive, more destructive for the welfare of the Church? A topic that generated literally thousands of disgraceful headlines stories, over a period of years rather than weeks? Now that story is nasty.
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