The Half-Hearted Half-Century

The Half-Hearted Half-Century

August 28, 2018 – By CHRISTOPHER MANION

He has failed, he has failed, he has missed his chance
He has just done things by half. . . .
— Robert Service,
The Men Who Don’t Fit In

The history of the American Church since Vatican II is riddled with the ruins of abandoned doctrines and responsibilities. The result has been a half-baked mélange of happy-talk, left-wing politics, and content-free moral teaching.
When Humanae Vitae was promulgated in July 1968, our bishops seemed paralyzed. The savage power of the sexual revolution acted like a non-stop eraser on the blackboard displaying two thousand years of Church teaching. What Pope Benedict XVI called the Culture of Death was in charge, and it rolled over America’s Catholic hierarchy like a steamroller, flattening what was once a richly structured heritage into a two-dimensional pancake of reaction and collapse.
Perhaps we should call it a donut — because there’s a big empty hole in the middle.
Every doctrine and practice that offended the secular culture was buried, while new efforts to pander sprouted everywhere. Folk Masses, pop psychology, faux-religious palaver, and “with-it” priests were the rage. In their struggle to be up-to-date in a rapidly changing world, bishops were constantly behind the curve and trying breathlessly to catch up. In many cases, they held on to an empty husk of half-truths, doling out pleasantries while trying to please the City of Man.
In the Church’s noble and timeless tradition, the prudential application of the truths of the faith regarding social and political life has always been subordinate to the magisterial teachings. Prudential approaches can vary; magisterial truths never do.
Vatican II restated this timeless truth in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Yet those magisterial teachings that were most needed to clear the confusion were ignored. They were tough, yes, but that wasn’t the problem: They were unpopular. So they were put on ice.
Had our bishops been honest, they could have said: “We will be silent on the magisterial truths of the faith required for salvation because we are cowards; but let us tell you our opinions regarding the issues that in fact belong to the laity — national health care, taxes, the economy, welfare programs, immigration. . . . Yes, we know we’re trespassing on the laity’s turf, but we need to do something with our time, don’t we? After all, we’re bishops.”
They quietly pretended that their views on partisan political issues were the most pressing magisterial teachings of the Church.
Yes, they “just did things by half.” No moral teaching, just politics — lots of it. The lesser half became the whole. Here they reversed the normal role of authoritative Church teaching — carefully to make distinctions and clarify them; instead, they magically squashed two dimensions of Church teaching into one.
We should note that, in making this move, the bishops chose to embrace the political agenda of left-wing Democrats. They would have been equally in error had they chosen to champion the agenda of the paleo-conservative wing of the Republican Party. The simple fact is, partisan hackery is simply not their job.

The Trail Of Tears

This half-baked habit has done profound and lasting damage. Remember the HHS Mandate, requiring Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptive coverage? The bishops were right to oppose this moral outrage, of course. And they could have opposed the policy with moral arguments — after all, every contraceptive act is a concrete violation of natural law and God’s law. But who would listen? They hadn’t taught that doctrine for years. So they responded with appeals to “religious freedom” — a legal abstraction with the moral content sadly missing.
Then came “Same-Sex Marriage.” Bishops were right to oppose that moral outrage as well. But they could not oppose it by stating the obvious — that sodomy is a deadly sin — why, that would be offensive! And who would know what it meant, anyway, except for a few Biblical Protestants?
So they invoked the “dignity of marriage,” which the sodomites immediately insisted applies to them every bit as much as it applies to the genuine article.
In both cases, the bishops got the opposition right, but they had abdicated the moral argument.
In short, having long since abandoned Humanae Vitae, it was simply impossible for them to call on an informed and educated laity to defend “The laws of nature and of nature’s God.” They had just done things by half.
Nowhere had this “laryngitis,” as Timothy Cardinal Dolan calls it, damaged the bishops more than in the sexual abuse and cover-up scandals. Many seminaries after Vatican II told future priests not to bother with Humanae Vitae because, after all, “it would soon be overturned.”
Well, that masterful document explains that there are a lot more sexual sins than contraception. In fact, the act of sodomy denies the natural law as well, and in a much baser fashion.
Bad ideas have very bad consequences. With Humanae Vitae in the closet, sodomy came out of the closet, big time.
“In the past thirty years or so, scientific, psychological, and medical understandings of child sexual abuse evolved significantly,” wrote Donald Cardinal Wuerl to his brother priests in the Washington Archdiocese this past August 13.
What was missing? The fact that sodomy was a deadly sin then and it is a deadly sin now.
But this artless dodge has been a central ingredient in the bishops’ self-justification narrative since 2002. They have consistently sought to deny the role of homosexuality in the scandals, while insisting that they “didn’t know” that child rape was all that bad.
Well, if “science, psychology, and medicine” didn’t know (a dubious proposition), the Catholic Church knew. The Gospel knew. You know, “millstones” and all that.
Yet our bishops perpetuated the prevarication. The document, “Questions and Answers Regarding the Canonical Process for the Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons” on the USCCB site doesn’t mention the word “homosexual” at all.
And in thousands of words, the USCCB’s famous report entitled “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States” published in 2004 mentions the term only once. Please observe the passage in which it appears:
“Individuals who molest children may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual with regard to victim selection” (p. 36).
It took the laity on the bishops’ own “National Review Board” to point out that over 80 percent of the abuse was “homosexual in nature.”
Half baked? Yes, and they kept on baking: The report examined cases, but not causes. The “Charter” the USCCB adopted in 2002 contained the disciplinary procedures to be applied to “priests and deacons” but not to bishops. And the court cases that resulted (because well over 100 of the bishops had covered up for abusers) were civil (demanding monetary damages paid by the faithful), not criminal (demanding the jailing of guilty bishops).
Yes, the guilty bishops among those gathered in Dallas in 2002 could have simply walked out of the hall and handed themselves over to law enforcement; those who had remained silent about the crimes of their confreres could have quietly left their miters at the door and retired.
But they didn’t. They just did things by half.
Today they are reaping the whirlwind. Today our shepherds in the United States are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Let us pray that they do not respond with another half-hearted, half-baked “solution.” Those days are over.

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