Florida hurricanes have delivered two body blows, an uppercut and a vicious right hook, transforming the Sunshine State into an awesome example of what a whirlwind can do. Catholics in America should take careful note.
It has long been the contention of pro-life supporters that geographical location cannot define personhood. A child is a child no matter where that child is located. It cannot be the case that the individual in question becomes a child when she is outside the womb, but remains only a tissue-mass when she is inside the womb.
The USCCB, however, finds the geographical argument compelling in another context, however. Apparently, geographical location does define heresy. For example, John Kerry, Frances Kissling, Ted Kennedy and all the rest may be Catholics in good standing when they step on a plane in Boston, but they are not Catholics in good standing when they step off that same plane in St. Louis. Heresy is diocese-specific.
The idea is ludicrous. Objectively speaking, Kerry and company are in a state of grace and prepared to receive the Eucharist or they are not. If they are prepared, then every bishop who refuses them the Eucharist is committing a grave sin by denying them the Body and Blood of Christ. If they are not prepared, every bishop who administers the Eucharist to them is committing a grave sin by knowingly participating in the profanation of the Eucharist. It is not possible that Cardinal Mahoney and Archbishop Burke are both right, the USCCB blather about "pastoral reasons" and "judgment" notwithstanding. So, why did the USCCB bother to make such an obviously silly theological statement? Because we have been concentrating on the recipients of the Eucharist and not on the consecrated men who administer Him. The bishops would prefer we keep doing that.
You see, what is true for Kerry is also true for the bishops. If Kerry’s public and vociferous support of abortion is sufficient for a bishop to refuse the Eucharist to Kerry, then that same bishop must also refuse the Eucharist to any consecrated man who administers the sacrament to Kerry. After all, Kerry’s stand is public. He is a notorious public sinner whose notorious public sins put him out of communion with the Church. Both the bishop who denies and the bishop who administers know Kerry’s stand because he has trumpeted it from the rooftops. Thus, at least one of these two bishops is likewise a public sinner: he trumpets his own sin from the rooftops either in opposition to Kerry or while standing beside him. In the eyes of each bishop, the other bishop has to be a notorious public sinner as well.
But a bishop refusing another bishop the Eucharist? With that act, we would move from informal schism to formal schism. Now we can understand the USCCB statement. This theologically ludicrous statement is a last-ditch attempt to avoid formal schism, and the bishops are only just managing to get away with it, mostly because the vast majority of adult Catholics don’t know the Faith well enough to think the consequences through. Fortunately for the USCCB, the bishops in question don’t often celebrate Mass together so it won't become publicly obvious, and they are all wise enough not to point out how close we are to a formal schism.
It’s quite a poser. Both sets of bishops could argue that they have a duty to instruct their fellow bishops, and won’t withhold the Eucharist until they have at least warned their erring brethren. But once the erring brethren have been warned and still refuse to change their minds, then what? Some consecrated man with the fullness of orders has to be denied the Eucharist. And it is pretty obvious which group will get Rome’s support.
You cannot publicly and vociferously support legal abortion and be in communion with the Church. Now, the bishop who first announces that he cannot give Jesus to his fellow bishops because they profane the Eucharist will hardly be looked on with great love by Rome. Formal schisms are terrible things. But, on the other hand, Rome can hardly disagree with such a bishop by arguing that the USCCB’s ruling is (theo)logically coherent. It manifestly isn’t. Worse, Rome has no other basis upon which to dispute the justice of such a decision. She would have to go along with the formal break. The Catholic Church in America is hanging by the merest thread, dependent upon the willingness of every single bishop to remain quiet, to refrain from pronouncing the final, damning words that severs the erring bishops from communion with the Church. Once those words are pronounced, we will have created another Protestant Church.
Undoubtedly, the USCCB is praying the whole issue will just curl up and die after the campaign. That’s why certain bishops have insisted on refraining from judgment until after the elections. Contrary to popular belief, it may very well be the case that these bishops do not give a damn about the elections. They are undoubtedly much more worried about the impending schism the elections have forced out into the open.
The bishops have one hope. They hope the heat and emotions the elections generate can be tamed, cooled, brought to a lower flame by the simple fact that the electoral decision has been made. That’s why this decision on Kerry and the Eucharist is being postponed until after the election. Concerns about the election are outweighed by their concern that the Church will almost certainly schism if they decide the issue prior to the election.
Are the bishops right? Will the issue go away after the elections are decided? Not likely. This issue has been building for decades, as pro-abortion Catholic politicians become increasingly strident and orthodox Catholics become increasingly frustrated with the inaction of the vast majority of the bishops. Senator Kerry’s publicly strident embrace of heresy, the most vociferous to date, has finally forced some American bishops to act and has forced all American Catholics to the banks of the Rubicon. If Caesar had only brought elephants with him, the comparison would be complete.
You see, this particular elephant has been in the sanctuary for over thirty years. Now that everyone admits it is there, it would take a Houdini, a Copperfield, to make it disappear. Orthodox Catholics have had as much as they are going to take. They are laying canonical lawsuits. They are forcing the bishops to choose sides. The 2004 elections are just the last step in a process that won't die and won't be ratcheted down. The orthodox will not let it go away. Erring bishops can retire, they can die or they can reform. Whatever they choose to do, they need to do it quickly. These bishops sowed to the wind. The whirlwind is coming.