How strict should bishops be in confronting politicians?
You see, one bigshot politician a couple years ago had his family arrange to intimidate his opponent into withdrawing. Nothing new about that. Except that the ex communists they hired to shoot up his business as a warning ended up shooting a bunch of people inside, and when they had finished, two of the man's sons, and a couple of bystanders, including our nephew, were dead.
Right now, the politician is back out, awaiting a trial, and there he was, in the front of church at a place of honor with a lot of other bigshots who are Catholic.
So, when the Offertory came and our cousin took up her gift, she had to pass in front of him: she stood in front of him, and looked him in the eye... and he lowered his eyes in shame.
Now, the bishop who was visiting, and the priests at the mass all know the story.
Question: Should they have prevented the politician from attending mass? From receiving communion?
Should they have shamed an unconvicted man in public? A man who may have repented his loose words that set off the murders? A man who is publicly trying to do his best for our city, and who has always been generous in his donations to the poor and the church?
You see the dilemma.
Some of our Filipino bishops are openly critical of politicians who are suspected of taking bribes and suspected of ordering "extrajudicial" murders like in the Sopranos.
But other bishops try quietly to make these politicians reform, knowing that being overcritical could alienate the entire family from the church.
Bishops in the United States face a similar dilemma.
This is why many American priests and bishops are less than critical when divorced people receive the sacraments or politicians brag about being Catholic while openly supporting abortion.
The dilemma goes deeper, into what is preached on Sunday: Too many pastors fail to instruct their people on the basic morality of the church: including such obvious and common dangers to the soul such as alcohol/drug abuse, spousal abuse, adultery, artificial birth control, and abortion.
For politicians, the line is even more delicate, since the church in the US cannot interfere with politics, yet is responsible for the state of the soul of politicians who claim to be practicing Catholics.
The irony is that many of these politicians were once "pro life", but changed their mind when they realized that certain groups would withdraw support and funding from them if they remained prolife, but that there would be no political harm to them from bishops if they "changed their mind".
Well, finally some American bishops are getting on record that they are admonishing politicians under them that voting for policies that support, pay for, or encourage killing unborn infants is wrong.
The result, however, has only increased confusion, since the mainstream media too often misreports what was said by the bishop, or slants it in a way to make the bishop look absurd.
So the kerfuffle on President Obama going to Notre Dame is being spun in the main stream media and in the Jesuit journal "America" as politics as usual, and those supporting life are being branded as far right extremists (as if half of practicing Catholics and one third of the American population who oppose abortion can be ignored simply by name calling).
But can a bishop ignore a public sin? Or will being too strict merely harden the heart of those publicly shamed?
Does one chose to refrain from giving out communion to such politicians? Ironically, the answer is no: because the priest has no way of knowing if the politician repented and went to confession the night before.
But the bishop has the responsibility to quietly arrange a meeting to tell the politician that supporting the murder of the innocent means he or she should not receive the sacrament until they repent, because they are living in a state of mortal sin.
As one pesky blue collar worker put it: what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
That is the dilemma of our bishops.
One wishes that every bishop would ask for private meetings and discuss these thing with those under their jurisdiction.
And, while they are at it, one wishes that the bishops would also discuss other issues of morality that politicians need to be reminded of.
A lot of politicians are rumored to be diverting funds or jobs to family members or close "friends", and a good pastor should bring up such an issue, to see if it is true and offer repentance.
Has any religious watchdog bothered to call Congress to task for failing to do their job ethically?
Such issues include oversight of government policies that are immoral, such as approving of torture even in times of war, or supporting dictators who are guilty of human rights abuses, or failing to do one's job by voting the party line instead of judging a bill according to it's actual contents, or taking money for one's political campaign, with the understanding that you will help them in a vote after you are elected.
Americans are becoming increasingly cynical about their representatives because of a culture of corruption, and yet one longs for a moral leader to point out that ethical rules transcend campaign finance laws.
There is an old Testament story where a prophet was told to warn those in sin: if they remained in sin, they would be punished. But if the prophet stayed silent, he would be punished with them, because he did not warn them of the danger.
Right now, bishops and others standing up against killing children in the womb are merely facing ridicule and name calling. But one can easily see that "same sex marriage" and "full reproductive health" in a government run medical system could result in more widespread legal sanctions against the church and church institutions.
So what is needed now is prayer for our shepherds.
It is not easy trying to balance compassion and correction for the sinner; it is even harder trying to know that the moral laws you preach, which right now bring you ridicule, may result in lawsuits and convictions for hate crimes in the near future.