Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

thou art the man

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 22, 2007

Via Amy: the Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl fields the hot question of the hour:

When [Wuerl] took questions, a woman asked how be would respond to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

His response was "teach."

"That is what Jesus did," he said. "Did everyone accept that teaching? No. ... But he didn't stop teaching. We are in this for the long haul."

It's hard to think of an instance in which episcopal teaching has in fact caused a pro-abortion Catholic pol to soften his stance (still less repent of it), but let's take Wuerl at his word. The follow-up question is: by "teach" do you intend simply to restate the doctrine, or do you include personal admonishment of those Catholics who reject it?

In view of today's anniversary -- 34 years since the Roe v Wade decision -- let's flash back a further three decades to look at another "life issue" in the balance, viz., the fate of Jews in Nazi Germany. Was the proper role of Christian churchmen -- in Germany, in 1943 -- one of education (by stressing the positive and giving good example) or one that included personal rebuke of individuals who outraged the moral law?

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt discusses the initiative taken by a group of Protestant clergymen, led by one Pastor Heinrich Grüber, to intervene with the Nazi authorities "on behalf of [Jews] who had been wounded in the course of the First World War and of those who had been awarded high military decorations; on behalf of the old and on behalf of the widows of those who were killed in World War I." These categories of Jews (which Grüber proposed to be exempted from shipment to concentration camps) correspond to those originally exempted by the Nazis themselves but who later (after the Wannsee Conference) were fed into the killing machinery like the others. Arendt admires Grüber, and holds him up for our admiration as well, but then makes this disturbing point with reference to an episode in Eichmann's post-war trial for "crimes against humanity" in which Grüber was in the witness stand:

Eichmann's defense attorney Dr. Robert Servatius for once took the initiative and asked the witness a highly pertinent question: "Did you try to influence [Eichmann]? Did you, as a clergyman, try to appeal to his feelings, preach to him, and tell him that his conduct was contrary to morality?" Of course, the very courageous pastor had done nothing of the sort, and his answers now were highly embarrassing. He said that "deeds are more effective that words," and that "words would have been useless"; he spoke in clichés that had nothing to do with the reality of the situation, where "mere words" would have been deeds, and where it had perhaps been the duty of a clergyman to test the "uselessness of words." Even more pertinent than Dr. Servatius' question was what Eichmann said about this episode in his last statement: "Nobody," he repeated, "came to me and reproached me for anything in the performance of my duties. Not even Pastor Grüber claims to have done so." He then added, "he came to me and sought the alleviation of suffering, but he did not actually object to the very performance of my duties as such."

Nobody came to me and reproached me for anything in the performance of my duties. Would it have made a difference if Grüber had done so? Maybe, maybe not. But as Arendt laconically remarks, we're inclined to think that a clergyman, more than other citizens, might have disregarded the calculus of political probabilities and -- like the prophet Nathan in the presence of King David -- delivered a rebuke simply because it's true. Looking back on the Nazi crisis from this distance, which course do we wish our clergy had taken?

If Wuerl were to admonish pro-abortion Catholics individually, ought he make the fact of the admonishment public himself? Not necessarily. He may judge it well to give it some time to sink in. But to keep it mum serves -- and only serves -- the purposes of the malignant.

So, Archbishop, teach by all means. But don't lose sight of the 4,000 wrong answers given daily. It matters.

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  • Posted by: lynnvinc7142 - Jul. 16, 2010 7:50 PM ET USA

    I like to tell the End Worlders that we don't know when it will happen, but our own personal end on earth will come, and we could end up in a place a lot warming than a globally warmed world and for eternity no less, if we fail to mitigate global warming, and (I now add) esp if we insist on denying anthropogenic global warming, as Cain denied killing Abel, and dissuading others from mitigating. That seems to be a much worse sin than simply ourselves failing to mitigate.

  • Posted by: lynnvinc7142 - Jul. 16, 2010 3:22 PM ET USA

    I know an honorable scientist--James Hansen, head of NASA climate science--who is doing plenty about his dire predictions re climate change. He writes for laypersons, e.g., his great book STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN. He protests mountain top removal (continued coal mining that harms people in many ways) and gets arrested for it. He tries with all his wherewithal to get people to mitigate climate change. But people seem not to care about the harm they are causing or their immortal souls.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 18, 2010 12:44 AM ET USA In this vein also.

  • Posted by: DJM749 - Jun. 17, 2010 7:19 PM ET USA

    Wasn't there some announcement this week by NASA about an solar storm threat in the next 4-5 years? It wouldn't be a life-ending event, but it could muck things up somewhat. Problem is, serious threats get buried under the noise created by the sensationalists like Fener-- to the detriment of all.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 17, 2010 5:27 PM ET USA

    Really, the doomsayers are just a social form of introspection on the frailty of existence. I, personally, like to roll my eyes and keep going. Some people get quite worked up over these sorts of things, though. Like the family in South America that killed their child to save him from global warming.