My favorite Catholic neo-conservative, George
Weigel, gives Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted “full marks” for his Draconian actions regarding an unusual, heart-rending
and complex medical situation in a Catholic hospital that resulted in the termination of a pregnancy to save the life of a
mother of four young children.
An article in the Jan. 21 issue
of The National Catholic Reporter makes it clear that Weigel sees the bishop’s unnecessarily harsh behavior as a big
win for "Catholic identity" and what Weigel calls “the Catholic brand.”
The nun who recommended that it would be better to save the life of the mother rather than that both mother and unborn
child die has been excommunicated. The unrepentant Catholic hospital has been stripped of the Eucharist and its Catholic status.
All this by Bishop Olmsted. This even though a number theologians have argued that in this case the all-important "intention"
of the act was not to kill the unborn child but to save the mother.
seem that the picture of Catholic identity held up here is that our leaders are inflexible, punitive, lack common sense, and
have no understanding of or sympathy for pregnant women.
and Weigel's typically facile rhetoric, does serve at least one useful purpose. It brings to mind what indeed should be part
of true Catholic identity in a secular world. Yes, Catholics must be pro-life, but an enhanced Catholic identity would
oppose violence in all types of situations. I call this a "comprehensive culture of life," and I would argue that
this is what the late Pope John Paul II was arguing for in his 1995 encyclical "The Gosepl of Life." In it, among
other things, the late pope further develops Catholic doctrine toward abolition of the death penalty.
As an example of this “comprehensive culture of life,” John Paul II opposed the unjust
invasion of Iraq in 2003. You may know that Mr. Weigel was a great cheerleader for this war of agression, touring the country
saying that the pope's opposition was just the type of thing popes are expected to say. (Read: You can ignore the pope on
this one). I saw Weigel say just this at Williams College; this while peddliing a book called “The Courage to be Catholic.”
Above all else, Catholic identity should identify us for all the world
with our Master, the one who said to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to care for the least of His brothers and sisters.
This would mean that U.S. bishops would speak out against our hyper-violent
society, in which, according to New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since
the beginning of the 21st century. (Where’s our “War on Murder?”)
Closer adherence of Catholic identity with Jesus Christ would require our bishops to speak out forcefully against
our interventionist foreign policy. And how about a prophetic stand against the U.S. defense budget, larger than that of the rest of the world's combined?
But not only bishops. If more and more Catholics became pro-life in every aspect of our lives, Catholic
identity would not only be more faithful to the Gospel but Catholics would be much more influential, as Catholics, in our public
The term "Catholic identity" also brings to mind the fundamentalist,
sectarian stance which would have the "orthodox" not engage in dialogue or cooperative effort with those of
other views in order to maintain iron-clad fidelity to
Again, this may be “Catholic identity,”
as defined by pre-Vatican II Baroque Catholicsm, but
it is not in fidelity with the example of our Master,
who hung out with sinners, tax collectors, women with shady pasts,
etc. He also engaged and debated the Pharisees, those guardians
Such engagement in the thick of the world,
at times encountering hostility, was difficult and challenging
for Him no doubt. But He was motivated by love and sustained
by prayer. What a wonderful identity Catholics would
have if both laity and hierarchy exemplified love and prayer
in their enagement with the world.
There is plenty of injustice
and crime and killing in the world — including the United States — for Catholics to confront without persecuting
a dedicated nun who made the best call she could in a complicated and tragic situation.
“Violence is a lie, for
it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity,
the life, the freedom of human beings.”
These words of Pope John Paul II stand our for me in the wake of
this abominable attack on a Congresswoman and the killing and critical wounding of many others today in Arizona.
Americans are addicted to violent rhetoric and to violence itself. This tragedy is an opportunity for our Catholic Bishops
in the U.S. to speak out in a prophetic way against all violence, not just the violence of abortion.