For years, liberal Catholics have been pushing the USCCB and their teachings as the true light for American Catholics. They did this in part because the USCCB was stressing positions that was not favorable to the Republican government in power: torture is evil, the war in Iraq is unjust, immigrants deserve better protection, we need more social policies like health care reform, etc. In doing this, they correctly pointed out how many American Catholics were diverging from the whole of Catholic tradition in favor of tunnel-vision on abortion which had led them to become far too wedded to the Republican party positions and not Catholic social doctrine. Courageously, they defended the USCCB against charges of being mere extensions of the Democrats and pointed that Catholics ought to listen to the bishops, even if what they said was not dogmatic.
I had wondered what would happen when the tables were turned and when it was the Democrats and their policies being criticized. Would they stand strong with the bishops or would they quickly adopt the tactics they had previously condemned in order to protect their preferred party (and their decision to vote for Obama & the Democrats).
Sadly, some on the “left” have chosen to condemn. Now the bishops are “weak” and are merely a “cart being pulled by the pro-life horse.”
I won’t go in a through debunking of that post. Instead I will make merely this point: Catholic political life requires fidelity to the teachings of pope and the bishops. Too often now Catholics easily dismiss the bishops or the pope, pulling out the “I don’t have to listen to them card.”
While it’s beyond the scope of this post (and more importantly, beyond my scope) to go into the reasons why the authority & teachings of the bishops are so important, I will say this: you cannot argue the authority of the Church while rejecting it. People are looking for divisions, and unless you stand with the Church people will see it as standing against it, and then merely treat the Church’s teaching as just another opinion in a world flooded with them. Yet if we defer and treat the bishops with respect, then not only are we growing in humility and emptying ourselves to be more receptive to the teachings of the Church but we are also showing by our example how important the Church is to us, an example that may do more than words we can write that the Church must be taken seriously, especially by those professing the Catholic faith.
But yet the bishops are treated as if they are merely one opinion among many, not given deference and are trashed like they were a secular politician or celebrity. Indeed, one would wonder if the USCCB was merely like Congress, a body we respect only if we like the people in it. I also wonder if when we try to get “exclusive scoops” about the bishops we are really treating them more like celebrities rather than princes of the church. I’m sure most of you could think of other ways that we by our actions betray a lack of humble deference.
The bottom line is that the Church is a family. When a family member, or someone you trust, or someone wise or holy tells you something you disagree with, you don’t just blow them off or mock them. You engage seriously with that idea out of love. The bishops are respected parts of our family and their ideas particularly ought to be engaged with love.