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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Dazed and Confused in Chicago

Don Wycliff, the ombudsman for the Chicago Tribune, is frankly puzzled. It’s easy to see why. He recently received a letter chastising the Chicago Tribune for quoting Frances Kissling, the head of a group called “Catholics for a Free Choice.” This group claims to be Catholic, but also claims to support abortion. In response to a reader who questioned why the Chicago Tribune would quote such radical dissenters, Mr. Wycliff responded this way:

Are Kissling and Catholics for a Free Choice truly Catholic, or are they simply trading on the word to sow confusion and division among Catholics on the issue of abortion?

"We have never claimed to be an official Catholic organization," Kissling said in a telephone interview. "We know our positions are in disagreement with the official positions of the Church." Indeed, she said the church has several times issued statements underscoring both of those points… Nevertheless, Kissling argued, all of her group's board members are "Catholics who have not been personally sanctioned by the church," she said. They attend mass (sic), they receive the sacraments and they "certainly represent the viewpoint of the Catholic people.

It is not for us to referee contests within the Catholic Church over who is legitimate and who is not. We don't have the expertise to make theological judgment calls. Heck, we find it hard enough to get basic religious facts and terminology correct.

Our practice here … is generally to call people what they call themselves, and let the readers decide whether they are being honest or phony.

So if Kissling and her organization want to call themselves Catholic, we'll honor that. If the bishops want to contest that use of the name in the marketplace of ideas, we'll report that.

Now, his response seems quite reasonable. It isn’t his job to adjudicate these disputes. That job belongs to the bishops. If the bishops don’t want to clarify Kissling’s position in the Church, it’s hardly the Tribune’s job to correct the situation.

Like Wycliff, Frances Kissling also has good reason to think her disagreement with the Church is not really that serious. How can it be? While it is true that both Kissling and her organization has been excommunicated in the Lincoln diocese in Nebraska, it is also true that essentially no other American bishop has publicly re-iterated that excommunication in other dioceses. All the members of her board are free from canonical censure. They can receive the sacraments whenever and however often they like, anywhere in the United States – except, of course, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Cardinal George, an outstanding man heading perhaps one of the most difficult dioceses in the United States, recently said, “"Before a bishop moves, he better listen a lot… He better consult, particularly something which is political, because political issues divide." He is, of course, absolutely right. Political issues divide. So do religious issues. That’s why rules of polite company insist one should never discuss religion or politics with company.

Thus, it is interesting to see Cardinal George – who has to date remained silent on whether or not politicians who support legal abortion should receive the Eucharist – inform all the members of the archdiocese that anyone wearing a rainbow sash must be denied the Eucharist.

The rainbow sash is supposedly a sign of the gifts active homosexuals bring to the life of the nation and the Church. Cardinal George correctly sees the sash as a visible sign of dissent from Church teaching. Those who wear it are actively proclaiming that homosexual activity is not a sin, but a blessing. Scripture tells us that those who call evil acts “good” are not acting in their own best interests.

Thus, Cardinal George is to be commended for discerning the dissension present in the hearts of the men and women who choose to wear these sashes to Mass. He is perfectly correct in taking the appropriate measures to safeguard the sacrament from being profaned. And, he’s actually handing quite a compliment to the active homosexuals in his diocese.

Consider the facts. Several bishops have refused to deny the Eucharist to politicians who support legal abortion. They assert that it is not possible to judge a politician’s heart. On this specific point, it is hard to disagree. After all, as the court jester says, you can’t judge what isn’t there. But what the bishops mean is simply this: they can’t trust the words and actions of the politicians under discussion.

It’s a telling statement, really, and it places the bishops into quite a dilemma. All the bishops agree that public support for abortion is a Bad Thing. So, by continuing to give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion, the bishops tell us that these men and women are liars of the first order – we cannot trust either their words or their actions. The Catholic politicians in question are apparently simulating sin as perfectly as they can in order to win public approval and public office. But, if they refuse give the Eucharist to these same politicians, the bishops thereby tell us that these men and women are heretics. Given the choice, many American bishops have decided to emphasize the first conclusion: these politicans are completely untrustworthy liars.

Cardinal George, to his credit, fully recognizes the honesty the homosexual community is bringing to the discussion. He has no intention of implying that they are liars or that they in any way say something they do not believe. He simply points out that what they say and believe places them outside communion with Jesus Christ, outside the wedding feast. Cardinal George answers their honesty with Christ’s honesty.

And that is, perhaps, the most honorable gift that can be given. Truth is answered with Truth. But with the likes of Kerry, Kennedy and company, many bishops answer their lies with... well... hmmm... Let’s just say that we should perform an act of enormous charity towards these wayward politicians. Let’s send them rainbow sashes.

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