Political pundits, take note. The USCCB is meeting in just a few days and the participants will have several new items on their agenda. Two items of note include the approval of a first-ever national catechism for adults and the decision to join a new national ecumenical association called Christian Churches Together. When these two items are considered together with another item that does not seem to be on the agenda, we will catch a glimpse of the serious problems the USCCB has. How these items are handled will directly affect American politics.
This news, you see, does not come to us in a vacuum. The Catholic Church in America is a church in schism. As most people know, a few U.S. bishops deny pro-abortion politicians the Eucharist. A larger group warns pro-abortion politicians to avoid approaching the Eucharist. A still larger group sees no problems with giving the Eucharist to politicians who support abortion.
But this should be no surprise. The lay review board, a board which has no standing in canon law, but which is meant to oversee the bishops’ sexual abuse policies, was not only constituted into existence with three pro-abortion members (Leon Panetta, Robert Bennett and Pamela Hayes), but at least one of those members is apparently being retained.
Now, to be fair, the promotion to the panel of pro-abortion figures is not entirely the fault of the bishops. Even a bishop as marvelously staunch a pro-life advocate as Archbishop Burke, formerly of La Crosse, Wisconsin, apparently entertained a pro-abortion lawyer on his staff unawares. This embarrassing revelation became clear only in the last few weeks, as the diocese of La Crosse became one of the few US dioceses that prohibited the Catholic Answers voting guide into its parishes, on the advice of that self-same pro-abortion lawyer. Similarly, over the summer, at least one employee of the USCCB spent his free time running a website that contained explicit support for abortion.
It is a bishop’s prerogative to handle personnel matters as he sees fit. For instance, when Marc Balistrieri, the canon lawyer and Los Angeles chancery official, began his heresy lawsuit against Senator Kerry, Cardinal Mahoney fired him. Similarly, the pro-abortion USCCB official found himself a new job within a few weeks of the revelations about him. And, though Archbishop Burke did not have the opportunity to demonstrate how he would deal with a pro-abortion figure on the La Crosse diocesan staff, it seems unlikely that he would have kept him in employment.
In each of these cases, the bishops in question were initially unaware of their employee’s activities. Once these activities were discovered, the employees were let go. So, we know that canon lawyers have no business exercising their rights as Catholics in Los Angeles, and we also know supporters of abortion at the USCCB eventually find themselves unemployed.
But here is the puzzling thing. Leon Panetta’s pro-abortion record was not exactly hidden under a bushel basket, yet he was appointed and kept on for over a year. Now that Pamela Hayes has revealed her pro-abortion bias, and essentially taunted the Catholic bishops about it, what will the bishops do? Balistrieri got fired because his lawsuit undermined and underlined his bishop’s indifference to pro-abortion politicians. Generally speaking, bishops do not take well to being taunted. Pamela Hayes is the agenda item that is not on the agenda, and the answer to the problem she poses will say quite a bit more than meets the eye.
You see, the USCCB is split between post-Vatican II bishops who are material heretics versus bishops who are still fully orthodox. The heretical bishops are the ones who aren’t particularly interested in promoting priestly vocations. They see the role of the priesthood fading away as the laity take over essentially all leadership roles in the Church. In other words, they see the Catholic Church in America devolving into Protestant anarchy as a positive good, an empowerment long overdue. Further, they agree with the Protestant idea that religion is something private, something apart from politics.
The orthodox bishops, on the other hand, still hew to the hierarchy of the Kingdom, the idea that the King has stewards He ordained. They understand that faith cannot be separated from politics.
The establishment of the lay review board was essentially the triumph of the heretics over the orthodox. The sexual abuse crisis played into the hands of the heretics, "forcing" the fence-sitter bishops into supporting the creation of the lay review board, the triumph of laity over episcopacy. Now, ironically, the heretics had created the sex abuse crisis through their inaction. Because their understanding of both sin and human sexuality is radically impoverished, these bishops have no problem with abortion and were quite willing to allow pro-abortion figures to sit on the self-same lay review board that their own failures had "forced" into existence. Hayes' comments are a stick in the eye of orthodox bishops, and the heretics know it.
But this conference will lay everyone’s cards on the table. The Holy Father has already pointed out that only those Christian communities with valid apostolic succession can properly be called "churches." If the communities do not have valid apostolic succession, they are not churches. They are – at most – ecclesial communities.
Thus the decision on Christian Churches Together is of pivotal importance. If the USCCB chooses to join the group, it will do so at the expense of properly recognizing apostolic succession. That is, it will be a win for the heretics, a win of roughly the same magnitude as the establishment of the pro-abortion lay review board on sexual abuse. Similarly, the content of the adult catechism will be a strong indicator of who has the upper hand – the heterodox or the orthodox.
Political pundits who want to predict how the Catholic vote will break four years from now need to understand the importance of these three issues at the November meeting. If Pamela Hayes is gone from the lay review board in six months, the orthodox bishops are growing stronger. If the American catechism is orthodox, if the USCCB decides not to officially join Christian Churches Together, the orthodox bishops are growing stronger. The more orthodox the bishops, the more energized and the more enlarged the orthodox Catholic base will be.
Now, some might point to the recent book on Catholic political participation in America and conclude that the entire premise of this essay is founded on a canard. After all, it can be shown that Catholic political participation as a whole is essentially indistinguishable from the rest of the general population and always has been.
True. But that is largely because American Catholic bishops have, since the founding of this country, never done their job. Their job is to form adults in the Faith. This has never happened. Instead, American bishops spent the last century attempting to form children and largely ignored the adults. Indeed, the very first catechism Catholics ever saw from American bishops was the Baltimore Catechism, written for children, not adults.
That is precisely why this adult catechism – the first this country has ever seen - is, in many ways, as tremendous an event for American Catholics as the publication of the 1987 Roman Catechism was for the universal Church. As long as the content is not openly heretical, the existence of an adult catechism for Americans is earth-shattering. American bishops are finally figuring out what their job is. Once Catholic adults are consistently formed in the Faith, the Democrat party will either become pro-life, or it will cease to exist. Forming adult Catholics will take more than four years, but political pundits need to understand what is at stake this November. We may soon begin forming the Catholic voting bloc that we have talked about for two centuries.