As a lifelong Catholic, I have observed the Church undeniably soften its stances, apparently in an effort to adapt the Church to the world. Most recently, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in November, and once again, they showed their true magenta, this time via their inaction with respect to pro-abortion politicians. Actions (and a lack of actions) speak louder than words, prompting observers to conclude that “Catholics talk a good game, but they can’t play it.”
Playing a good game requires basic skills. Below is a reflection on basics (the cardinal virtues), with examples of how the premier Catholic organization in the country, by not following these, consistently swings and misses. Perhaps this might inspire all of us to consistently use these virtues to evaluate ourselves.
Prudence is exercising good judgment — knowing when to act and when to refrain. The USCCB’s input on the Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect example of a lack of prudence. In this pandering collection of essays, the USCCB a) attempted to make the BLM viewpoint more palatable by saying that “black lives matter” actually means “all lives matter,” b) used one murder to paint an entire society as racist, and c) ignored the fact that most of the tenets of BLM contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The USCCB is astoundingly unaware of the harmful effects of 60 years of government policies that have, by overwhelming statistical evidence, caused the destruction of the nuclear black family. Instead, the USCCB promotes programs wrapped in the “social justice” flag and fans the harmful racism-is-all-around-us fires (“racism” nets over 500 hits on its website).
The USCCB lacks fortitude (strength while facing adversity). Compare Jesus’s strength, facing His responsibilities while praying in Gethsemane, to that of the bishops recently gathered in Baltimore. Jesus could foresee the difficulty ahead and could anticipate the pain of His inevitable torture, crucifixion, and death. He did not shirk the responsibility that had fallen to Him. Not so the USCCB, who cast off their duty to defend the most precious piece of the faith, fearfully choosing instead to follow the desires of man: if we don’t punish the transgressors, we can show unity!
A USCCB with fortitude would cut its ties to U.S. government funding. The current USCCB is simply one more arm of the federal bureaucracy. Being a pass-through of federal dollars destroys the crucial connection between the donor and the recipient. Were the USCCB to instead depend solely upon donations from parishes, it would force honest discussions with the pew-sitting donors about where they want their money spent and enable a closer connection between donor and recipient. Without that connection, “charity” destroys both.
Justice is acting such that others receive what is due to them, good or bad. Properly implemented, Catholic theology can be used to simplify our world and bring clarity, not confusion. One consistent theological lesson is that life is not do-as-you-please, but rather, there are consequences for choosing the wrong path. Without consequences, there is no balance; the world becomes infinitely more complex. The USCCB consistently misses this point, and its recent decision to tell misguided pro-abortion politicians that there will be no consequences for their actions is a perfect example. If you can’t mete out justice, you don’t really understand it. The result is that you do more than essentially condone the behavior of the bad; you unmoor the good.
The USCCB selectively cites the Bible to justify its platform of unrestricted immigration, conveniently glossing over Catholic teaching regarding the importance of national sovereignty and respecting laws. In pressing for unrestricted immigration, the USCCB selectively ignores the USA’s unparalleled history of welcoming legal immigrants, instead complaining that the USA never does enough. Until the bishops can show us where Catholic doctrine argues for breaking laws, they should stop actively promoting illegal immigration. Justice is blind, not selective.
Regarding “selective,” consider that every bishop requires second-graders to do a confession before presenting themselves for First Communion. The bishop of Baltimore required this of young Nancy Pelosi. Now, after she has spent 35 years in government, working to assure the deaths of tens of millions of babies, these bishops would offer her Communion with no such requirement, rationalizing that they’re afraid of alienating her from Catholicism. How is this justice?
Temperance is the concept of appropriately restraining our natural tendencies. We usually think of it as limiting our actions — for example, biting our tongue when dealing with a rude person. However, what about when our tendency is to do nothing in a difficult situation — such as not to confront a bully? In that situation, “doing nothing” is the exact opposite of restraint and temperance.
With their hesitancy to take strong stances, such as their immediate and continued embracing of COVID diktats, the bishops demonstrate a lack of temperance, choosing to follow society, not lead it. Thomas Sowell tells the results of two ways of dealing with rioters in the 1960s. The kind and gentle Detroit mayor saw 43 perish, while the iron-fisted Chicago mayor lost only two. Any good parent knows that nice talk, lenient rules, and no consequences result in a poorly formed child who has no respect for you. Just as Jesus wasn’t always meek (how He dealt with the money-changers in the temple), the bishops should remind themselves: there are negative consequences for always being the nice guy.
Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders) had it right: “gimme a sense of purpose”; “I wanna die for something.” The human spirit, particularly in the young adult, still without a spouse and a family to care for, needs this. Offering “can’t we all just get along?” pablum is a disgraceful reduction of the religion that helped shape Western civilization. When your values are challenged directly to your face and you back down — when you don’t act enough — you’ve shown your lack of temperance.
Am I acting virtuous? It’s a question each of us can ask as we pursue our own passions. Catholics can pray that the USCCB reflects upon this soon, so the Church can stand as a proud example against, rather than a contributor to, the dissolution of American culture.