A Mechanism For Restraint, An Analysis of a Proposal to Rein-In Activist Bishops
Restrain, tr.v. 1.a. To hold back or keep in check; b.To hold (a person) back; prevent: 2. To deprive of liberty or freedom: 3.To limit or restrict. From Latin restringere, to bind back. Synonyms: curb, check, bridle or inhibit. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
John Stuart Mill on the Tyranny of the Majority
Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism. The essay On Liberty was written by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and published in 1859,
Alexis de Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Majority
A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.
I do not think that, for the sake of preserving liberty, it is possible to combine several principles in the same government so as really to oppose them to one another. The form of government that is usually termed mixed has always appeared to me a mere chimera. Accurately speaking, there is no such thing as a mixed government in the sense usually given to that word, because in all communities some one principle of action may be discovered which preponderates over the others. England in the last century, which has been especially cited as an example of this sort of government, was essentially an aristocratic state, although it comprised some great elements of democracy; for the laws and customs of the country were such that the aristocracy could not but preponderate in the long run and direct public affairs according to its own will. The error arose from seeing the interests of the nobles perpetually contending with those of the people, without considering the issue of the contest, which was really the important point. When a community actually has a mixed governmentthat is to say, when it is equally divided between adverse principlesit must either experience a revolution or fall into anarchy.
I am therefore of the opinion that social power superior to all others must always be placed somewhere; but I think that liberty is endangered when this power finds no obstacle which can retard its course and give it time to moderate its own vehemence.
Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws. Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1825, Volume One, Chapter XV.
A Mechanism of Restraint
Every age has its own unique challenge which polarizes society and causes different men and women to evaluate the challenge differently and to propose different solutions. Some propose direct action in opposition to the challenge. Others propose negotiations to end the challenge. Some simply acquiesce and accept the challenge as unstoppable.
Approximately two thousand years ago, Herod the Great wanted to kill the newborn Christ child. In Herod's attempt to achieve his goal, "…He ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs…" (Mt 3:16). Fast forward two thousand years: The single greatest persecution against Jesus in the civil culture of America today is the evil of legalized abortion, the fruit of judicial activism. It is an example of the tyranny of the majority in that a majority of the justices of the United States Supreme Court have imposed their will on the American people, the majority of whom are opposed to abortion on demand.
There is a sinister connection between the politically influenced system of jurisprudence in America which facilitates the massacre of innocent unborn children, and the first bloody massacre of innocent babies in Bethlehem. If The Way, The Truth, and The Life cannot be destroyed directly, then attack Him by denying the sanctity of human life and legalize the killing of the most innocent human beings. This is a challenge first of all to all Christian people in the United States and then to all people who believe in the sanctity of human life.
A similar challenge occurred in the First Century when Jesus Christ was arrested and condemned to death. Some proposed direct action, e.g.. Simon Peter wielding the sword, some tried to negotiate, e.g., Joseph of Arimathaea. But the majority chose silence. When Jesus most desperately needed support from His first bishops, the Apostles, they either betrayed him or ran away. Only St. John the Evangelist stood at the foot of the cross. In the moment when identifying themselves as supporters of Jesus and all that He had taught was most needed, the first bishops either dissimulated or denied friendship with Him.
If denial, treason or dissimulation could be avoided by one of the first bishops (Saint John), it could have been avoided by all of them. The others preferred a different modus operandi: silence and the safety of the sidelines. In this respect, many of today's bishops, in the face of the challenge of abortion on demand, seem to have chosen silence and the safety of the sidelines. The first bishops, however, quickly redeemed themselves by cooperating with the Holy Spirit, repenting and courageously standing up for the truth.
Most or all of the first bishops redeemed themselves by spilling their blood and becoming martyrs, being proud to proclaim the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps now is the time for the bishops of the United States to pay special attention to the words of St. Athanasius, the Father of Orthodoxy: "…the Child that Herod sought to destroy is preserved among you, and the Truth lives in you, and the Faith thrives among you!" There is a strong connection between the attempt on the life of the infant Jesus, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Herod, and the more than forty five million babies killed legally in America since 1973 by the network of pro-abortion judges and elected politicians who create and enforce pro-abortion laws. Jesus speaks clearly and without confusion to the Catholic world about the abortion issue (Mt.18: 6) and the gravity of scandal.
As Catholics, we believe that Jesus speaks to us not only through the Holy Scriptures, but through Magisterial teachings as well: "Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence." Jesus speaks to us multiple times about the abortion issue throughout the highest levels of Mother Church's Magisterium.
Jesus tells us the following in the famous Canon 915 from our 1983 Code of Canon Law: "Those who… obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." Jesus has reiterated this teaching several times through the Magisterium, and His expectations are again made clear in the recent document Redemptionis Sacramentum: "The Church has drawn up norms aimed at… determining the objective conditions under which Communion may not be given" (n.82). For added emphasis, we are reminded that this directive is originally found in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (n.42).
Less than one month after Redemptionis Sacramentum was released, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze, was asked if pro-abortion politicians should be denied Holy Communion. Cardinal Arinze was patient with this question which should not have been asked, since any educated person can easily figure out this teaching which has been stated so obviously over the centuries, so many times. The concise and compact response of the Cardinal went as follows: "If the person should not receive it, then it should not be given. Objectively, the answer is there" (Zenit, April 23, 2004).
Cardinal Arinze was asked later on whether or not the application of this norm would have a direct consequence on John Kerry, who was then in the race for President of the United States. His response: "The norm of the Church is clear. The Catholic Church exists in the U.S.A. and there are bishops there. Let them interpret." (Zenit, April 23, 2004). Alas, did they ever interpret. What Cardinal Arinze was able to answer obediently and correctly in one sentence, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been unable to answer in several documents or statements in over two years. Mark again the words of canon 915, Redemptionis Sacramentum n.82, and Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.42 as stated above.
The following excerpt from the document 'Catholics in Political Life' was drafted and officially adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2004 after a "collegial" meeting in Denver:
Is the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life now necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand? Not necessarily (emphasis added).. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments (emphasis added)…
This kind of "open minded" rhetoric smacks of sophistry and compromise, perhaps meant to please those on the liberal left side of the issue. There was no need for the USCCB to play the open minded card of "wide range of circumstances" so that an absolute teaching and directive is now relativized and muddled in the minds of laity who wish to be faithful.
In August, 2005, Bishop Donald Wuerl, then Bishop of Pittsburgh and member of the Ad Hoc Committee that drafted the Denver statement cited above, released to the Catholic News Service and published in his Diocesan newspaper an article of 2,800 words entitled: "Episcopal Pastoral Decisions and Ecclesial Communion." In his statement, Bishop Wuerl expanded on a basic attitude expressed in the Denver document, that is, an attitude of misdirected "open mindedness" and relativization of absolutes. His proposal calls for all bishops of the USCCB to consult with each other on controversial issues before taking individual action. Then, having arrived at a majority consensus, this decision of compromise and would be imposed upon all bishops. Below is an excerpt from his article and the proposed "mechanism of review," which should be called instead a 'mechanism for restraint."
If the Apostolic See were petitioned by the episcopal conference to give a special mandate (CIC canon 455 § 1) to the conference to make a general executory decree regarding a "mechanism of review" in the application of canon 915 (barring the reception of Holy Communion) to political candidates of national prominence, and a two-thirds majority of the bishops with deliberative vote during a plenary session of the conference were in agreement with the issuance of a general executory decree of such nature, it would require the recognitio of the Holy See before it could be binding upon all individual bishops of the episcopal conference….
As noted above, an alternate approach to the more formal "mechanism of review" would be an agreement among all of the bishops to refrain from making individual pastoral decisions that would impact upon all bishops until there was an opportunity for them to discuss the issue and the impact of a specific pastoral judgment.
Is this "mechanism of review" proposal really aimed at helping bishops to be more faithful and more courageous in applying the norms set forth by the Magisterium? In the extremely unlikely event that this hypothetical "mechanism of review" were to function in favor of fidelity by redundantly binding bishops to that which they are already bound by, would timid bishops be infused with courage and fidelity all of a sudden?
Alternatively, is it really a setup for failing at attaining a general executory decree, binding on all individual bishops? Failure at attaining such a decree would now vindicate the majority of timid bishops, and vilify the minority of courageous, orthodox, and faithful bishops. This proposed "mechanism of compromise," and ones like it, is nothing other than an attempt to legitimize the recurring timidity and compromise of individual bishops by making timidity and compromise the official and "binding" position, all in the name of a distorted and incorrect understanding of collegiality. True collegiality only exists when bishops are united with the Vicar of Christ in his magisterial teaching.
The "mechanism of compromise" as presented by Bishop Wuerl in his August 2005 article intends to silence those few courageous bishops who already exercise their fundamental autonomy with fidelity within their respective dioceses. To take away this fundamental autonomy would make the faithful and few courageous bishops "refrain from making individual pastoral decisions that would impact upon all bishops…" would be to re-structure the ecclesiastical structure of the Church as established by Jesus, in a way not intended by Him and not provided for in the post-Vatican II decrees establishing Episcopal Conferences.
The past is always an indicator of the future. If individual bishops will not apply directives from Rome which are already in place, then what kind of magic is going to make them faithful to a "mechanism of review" which requires a two thirds majority on behalf of voting members in the USCCB? The bottom line is this: Timid and compromising bishops will remain that way, with or without a "general executory decree…binding upon all individual bishops of the episcopal conference…." Courageous and faithful bishops will continue to be courageous and faithful, with or without this hypothetical "binding executory decree." If our Conference of bishops were to adopt the proposed "mechanism of review," the way would be paved for the American bishops to follow the road that was trod by the English bishops in the 1530's.
Then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in his famous interview with the Italian journalist, Vittorio Messori, published as The Ratzinger Report had some very important things to say about the relationship of individual bishops to episcopal conferences. Asked if everything was restored to order with Vatican II Cardinal Ratzinger replied:
In the documents, yes; but not in practice, where another of the paradoxical effects of the post-conciliar period has come to light….The decisive new emphasis on the role of the bishops is in reality restrained (enphasis added) or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into Episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures. We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function. (page 59)
No Episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission; its documents have no weight of their own, save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops. (Messori asked why does the Prefect insist upon this point?) Because it is a matter of safeguarding the very nature of the Catholic Church, which is based on an episcopal structure and not on a kind of federation of national churches. The national level is not an ecclesial dimension (emphasis added.) ( page 60)
(Cardinal Ratzinger recalled an Episcopal conference that had been held in Germany in the 1930's) Well, the really powerful documents against National Socialism were those that came from individual courageous bishops. The documents of the conference, were often rather wan and too weak with respect to what the tragedy called for." (page 61)
I know bishops who privately confess that they would have decided differently than they did at a conference if they had had to decide by themselves. Accepting the group spirit, they shied away from the odium of being viewed as a 'spoilsport', as 'backward', as 'not open'. It seems very nice always to decide together. This way, however entails the risk of losing the 'scandal' and the 'folly' of the Gospel, that 'salt' and that 'leaven' that today are more indispensable than ever for a Christian (above all when he is a bishop, hence invested with precise responsibility for the faithful) in the face of the gravity of the crisis. ( page 62)
A "mechanism of review" in our Conference of bishops would formally put into power a "Tyranny of the Majority," whereby mediocrity and compromise would be protected from heroic and faithful decisions or stances. All the bishops in England, with the exception of Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, signed King Henry VIII's Oath of Allegiance. This Oath declared King Henry, not the Pope of Rome, to be head of Mother Church. Not only was this heresy, this was schism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Heresy as: "the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic Faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…. Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (CCC, n.2089; CIC, c.751). The compromising and temporizing of the English bishops was somewhat understandable: sign your name and deny the pope in favor of state, or you will die. Read the details of the horrible deaths of Saint John Fisher and Saint Edmund Campion.
The silence of our USCCB is more scandalous than the action of schismatic English bishops; they were threatened with death. What are the American bishops being threatened with? Unpopularity and controversy? Is it asking too much for bishops to be a sign of contradiction to the world, as Jesus was?
The 2002 document, "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life," written and signed by the then prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, stated the following about compromise and Church teaching: "Though subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, Saint Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions… he taught by his life and his death that man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.".
Do not these words from the man who is now our pope seem to be completely at odds with the June 2004 USCCB document 'Catholics in Political Life' where it states: "Is the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life now necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand? Not necessarily" (Emphasis added). By the addition of that phrase "Not necessarily" the USCCB created a gigantic loophole in the law through which bishops and priests could evade their responsibility to enforce Canon 915.
Therefore, is our 'collegial' USCCB acting obediently to the Magisterium? One should read the "Not necessarily" for oneself. The position of the USCCB, as presented in the foregoing excerpt from their 2004 document 'Catholics in the Political Life,' is definitely at odds with the binding words from Cardinal Ratzinger's 2002 CDF document on some questions regarding 'The Participation of Catholics in the Political Life:' "When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility…. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia" (II 4). Does not the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's note 'Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life' carry any Magisterial authority with American bishop's and priests? It said, "Lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life."
In the early Church it was common, and desirable, to suffer for Jesus and His teachings. It seems that the many of our bishops are really going out of their way to water down these teachings and avoid any confrontation, whereas in ages past these teachings were defended with love, suffering, obedience and blood.
It would be good for the American bishops of today to think back on the 300 bishops who attended the first ecumenical council, The Council of Nicea (325). The bishops who arrived from the four corners in order to be in Council had one thing in common, according to Eusebius of Caesarea. Many suffered, spilled blood, or were maimed, for upholding true Catholic doctrine: "…the bishops all assembled in the great hall of the palace, some of them lame and blind from the tortures undergone in the persecutions…." They defined the true Catholic doctrine in a formula which was later expanded into the Nicene Creed. These early bishops would have known the symbolic meaning of a bishop's scarlet or red attire.
St. Athanasius suffered tremendously, in exile, in loneliness, but in truth and obedience. How much more alone, but happy, could a bishop be? Most of the Catholic bishops in the world of Athanasius were either Arian or semi-Arian. Bishops in the United States would do well to heed the saint's words: "Show them that a struggle is now before us in support of the Truth against heresy. The proof of the martyr lies not only in refusing to burn incense to idols, but to refuse disobedience to the Faith is also an illustrious testimony of a good conscience. The choice is now before us, either to deny or to preserve the faith."
The heresiarch Arius would have enjoyed the proposed "mechanism of review," which would hush up the good shepherds and let in the wolves. "…because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep; because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God: I swear I am coming against these shepherds!" (Ezekiel 34:8-10). May the Holy Spirit be thanked for bishops who were never influenced by popularity or 'bodies of bishops' which did not make unnecessary concessions to the world. Catholics will not stand for a "mechanism of review" within the USCCB, a mechanism which punishes true shepherds and rewards the silence of timid bishops.
Bodies of bishops have been wrong, not only in the remote past, but in the recent past as well. In 1990, the majority of Texas Bishops published "The Interim Statement on Artificial Nutrition and Hydration." This statement of "The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops" became the official position of the Province of San Antonio (which at the time comprised the entire State of Texas), even though two of the Texas bishops refused to sign the Statement. In that statement, the eighteen bishop majority of Texas bishops wrongfully and "officially held" that removing artificial hydration and nutrition from people in a persistent vegetative state was in accord with the Church's magisterial teaching. One of the dissenting bishops wrote and published an official Dissent that outlined an opposing position, which was truly in accord with the Church's Tradition of respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life. Fourteen years later, in 2004, Pope John Paul II published an official address on 'The Vegetative State, Euthanasia, Nutrition and Hydration' that essentially echoed the 1990 position expressed in that bishop's Dissent. So again, majorities or greater numbers of bishops are not always to be trusted to get it right when they are not collegially united with the magisterial teachings of the Vicar of Christ.
As has just been shown above, there can be no greater example of a majority of bishops taking an erroneous, heretical, and schismatic position than the English bishops of the 1530's. There was only one bishop in that body of bishops who did not separate himself from the Vicar of Christ, and it was St. John Fisher. We must never blindly follow the majority of bishops in a region or conference just because they may be the majority; the question must always be asked "How does their position compare to the magisterial teachings of the Vicar of Christ?"
Due to a false notion of collegiality, the threats of Gallicanism (France) in the early fifteenth century, along with Febroianism (Germany) and Josephinism (Austria) brought much chaos to the hierarchical nature of the Church which Jesus established. These movements tried to give all the ecclesiastical juridical power to local bishops, princes and kings, with the Pope having very little real power, and a large amount of symbolic power. These "collegial" movements, which focused on majority numbers in a given group of bishops in a region, province, or locale, were not collegial at all in the true ecclesialogical sense. Again, a body of bishops must first of all be united faithfully to and with Magisterial teaching and the Roman Pontiff, if any true collegiality is to exist.
It is a sad fact of history that some bishops of the then National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), by their silence, tacitly rejected Pope Paul VI's 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae. Their silence taught and promoted disobedience among the clergy and laity. This disobedience set the trend for many current problems in our American culture, which was accurately referred to as "The Culture of Death" by Pope John Paul II on many occasions.
The Catholic Church in America desperately needs for its bishops to not be afraid to lead, afraid of public scorn, afraid of the cross. This recent proposal for a "Mechanism of Review" is largely inspired by a fear of controversy and a fear of getting in the middle of St. Paul's "Good Fight of the Faith" (1Cor.9:26; 2Tim.4:7). Fear of doing the right thing got us into the wrong kind of controversy with the sex scandals… "If we look the other way it will get better." As a consequence, current day Herod the Greats who kill thousands of innocent babies via their promotion of pro-abortion laws and political machines are invited by "open minded bishops" to receive Holy Communion from the Altar.
From the day He was born, until His Resurrection and even now, Jesus is always the obstacle, the gadfly who constantly challenges individuals, cultures, and establishments to seek the Truth no matter what the cost. Exactly one year before his death, Pope John Paul II addressed a group of visiting American bishops. The Holy Father said very providentially that, "The necessary reform of the Church in the United States calls above all for the interior renewal and conversion of bishops" (Zenit, April 2, 2004).
St. Athanasius. "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Athanasius, Selected Works, Vol.4. Ad
Episcopos Aegypti et Libyae, n. 20 While they are friends of Arius, in vain their moderate words," Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, pub. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.
Vatican Council II, Volume I. The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents. Dei verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) par. 9, Ed. Austin Flannery, O.P., pub. Northport: Costello, 1998; Cf. "Council of Trent, Session IV and the Catechism of the Catholic Church," Part I, Section I, Article II, "The Transmission of Divine Revelation," par. 80-100.
A Publication of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, vol. 15, No. 2, June/July 2004.
Cf. "Plato, Republic, VIII," Ed. Hamilton and Cairns, pub. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961, n.564; Cf. de Tocqueville, Alexis, "Democracy in America," pub. New York: New American Library, 1956, Part I, Ch. XII (Ch. XV in other editions, "Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States and its Consequences").
Philip Hughes, "The Church in Crisis, A History of the General Councils, 325-1870," pub. New
York: Hanover House, 1961, p.32.
St. Athanasius, n. 21 "To make a stand for the Faith equivalent to martyrdom,"
The Ratzinger Report An Exclusive Interview of the State of the Church, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1985.
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