Establishing the Alternative Magisterium

My friend Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia always produces posts well worth reading.  Today he outdoes himself with his post entitled Establishing the “Alternative” Magisterium.

Need “Catholic” sign off on your agenda, regardless of whether it actually meets the criteria of fidelity to the Church’s teaching? No problem.

Don’t bother with the Bishops. Do an end run. Get the imprimatur of the “alternative Catholic magisterium”.

A phone call to Father Hesburgh is helpful. A letter from a group of women religious currently under investigation by both the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops invokes just the right amount of radical chic yet also “Bells-of-St.-Mary nun nostalgia” to appeal to a broad range of “Catholic” sentiments. A visit from Sister Carol to key politicians to work against and undermine the Bishops’ stance is absolutely essential. An award of an honorary law degree from America’s flagship Catholic university ought to give just the right aura of “Catholic” legitimacy. Lining up a bunch of “Catholic” politicians to vote for the thing makes it all look downright “official Church policy”. Throw in a dead Kennedy or two for you to lionize on behalf of your cause, and that’s just icing on the cake.

Of course, you need more than just big names to lend legitimacy to your “alternative magisterium”. You need lots of little minions (not just mornings, but noons and nights, as well) to plant seeds of doubt regarding the collective wisdom of the Bishops and their priorities and to lay the groundwork for placing one’s trust in more “enlightened” yet “still authentic” Catholic voices. You know the sort of worker bees I’m talking about: Soros-funded groups who talk about being “united” and “in alliance” and working toward the “common good”, who bemoan the prominence of the unborn among the issues with which Catholics are most concerned, and who decry the “politics of division” all the while seeking to divide and conquer Catholics in an effort to separate them from their Bishops; “Catholic” publications that write about the Bishops as being out of touch with the times and impediments to “progress” and reform (i.e. the Bishops don’t buy completely into the Democrat agenda); bloggers proclaiming themselves to be speaking with a “new voice” or a “Catholic sensibility”.

So, why bother with the Bishops? No need to get your pet issue tied up in all the red tape and bureaucracy at the USCCB (which, anyway, everyone knows is staffed with a bunch of right-wing GOP party hacks working overtime to make the USCCB the “Republican Party at Prayer”).

Go here to read the brilliant rest.

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31 Responses to Establishing the Alternative Magisterium

  1. Cindy K says:

    Wow, right on! And just after reading your piece, I came across the following in my local paper – which totally illustrates your point!
    http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=368295

  2. Dale Price says:

    The really entertaining part is yet to come: watch these cynical, triangulating jackholes line up to praise the bishops’ teaching authority to the heavens when immigration reform kicks into gear. They’ll be all pray, pay and obey then.

    Frankly, I think we should listen to them on both issues, but I’m just another dupe for the “Republican Party at Prayer.”

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Cindy K thank you for the link. Author Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois, has chutzpah if nothing else. He started out as pro-life and was elected initially to Congress from Springfield with strong pro-life support, defeating the pro-abort Republican incumbent Paul Findley. A few years after getting into Congress he realized that a pro-life Democrat was never going to get a leadership role from his party, so he switched, became a complete pro-abort, and has never looked back. That this specimen of a “Catholic” links arms with “Catholic” dissident groups says all you need to know about the dissident groups.

  4. charles says:

    Let us not forget that Catholics on the right can and have done the same thing.

  5. Nate Wildermuth says:

    Everyone on all sides likes to invoke the idea of ‘prudential judgment’ when we disagree with the bishops, or to explain why ‘prudential judgment’ doesn’t apply when we agree with the bishops. Or should I say, when the bishops agree with us? I am beginning to think that the bishops should simply stick to generalized statements about the fundamentals of faith, and stay away from anything more detailed. It is enough for them to say that abortion is a grave crime, and that war is always a failure. Let the laity work out the rest.

    Strangely enough, this is what the Vatican does.

  6. Pinky says:

    There’s one trick that Jay forgot to mention: take a poll. Sadly, on most any issue, you’ll find that people who self-identify as Catholics hold the same views as the general population. That gives the Alternative Magisterium credibility.

  7. JohnH says:

    Fair enough. But if you go back a few months, many here were hell-bent on attacking the USCCB as well. (remember RealCatholicTV?)

    Speaking generally of the more right-wing Catholic tendencies, there’s been a consistent position of attacking the authority of the bishops on such issues as war, torture, immigration, etc. “These are all political issues, not moral issues!” is what you hear. And over at sites such as Vox Nova, you then have Morning’s Minion and the gang insisting on the teaching authority of the bishops.

    But then, when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, the full support of the Republican-leaning Catholics is trotted out. The USCCB must be trusted! And then we get treated to essays by Henry Karlson at Vox Nova on why the bishops can be safely ignored this time.

    It seems that one Alternative Magisterium has its seat firmly in the lap of President Obama, and the other clinging to the skirts of Sarah Palin.

    I think I’ll hang my hat with Mark Shea, Zippy Catholic, and Tom over at Disputations. I’m happy trusting the judgment of the Church.

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Of course John one difference between the issues you cite is that the Church has condemned abortion and homosexual acts since the time of Christ. The position of the Church on those two issues has been clear and consistent for two millennia. The issues of torture, war and immigration have had wildly varying treatment by the Church over the centuries. Another difference is that people who say differed with John Paul II on whether Iraq was a just war did not, as far as I know, seek to claim that their position on the conflict was the Catholic position, which is just what the dissident “Catholic” groups attempted to do when they were stumping for the Senate version of ObamaCare.

  9. JohnH says:

    Donald, I can remember many people telling me that they thought John Paul II was misled by European trendies into condemning the war. Not unlike the insistence of Morning’s Minion that the USCCB was misled by the NRLC into opposing the health care bill.

  10. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I think that then Cardinal Ratzinger explained quite nicely the distinction I am making John:

    “3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    http://www.tldm.org/news7/Ratzinger.htm

  11. JohnH says:

    And–torture is always wrong, according to Pope Benedict. War is an issue that can be legitimately debated on a case-by-case basis. Just treatment of immigrants is also a non-negotiable.

  12. Nate Wildermuth says:

    While I agree with JohnH that we like to pick and choose when to listen to the Bishops, I disgree about trusting the judgment of the Church when it comes to political matters.

    The problem seems to be that we have no genuinely authoritative Catholic political voice. Where’s a Catholic king when you need one?

  13. JohnH says:

    Ah, but Nate–what are moral matters and what are political matters? Some want to label war as a political matter, and some want to label abortion (vis-a-vis the health care law) a political matter. I’d say they are both moral matters. As do the bishops.

  14. Jay Anderson says:

    Enough with the tu quoque.

    I think the key lesson is that, if you’re not standing with the Bishops, the burden of proof is on YOU to support the “catholicity” of your position. And referring to support for one’s position from the erstwhile members of the “Alternative Magisterium” does not suffice.

  15. Tito Edwards says:

    Nate,

    Where’s a Catholic king when you need one?

    Are you a monarchist?

    Just asking. And there’s nothing wrong with that if you are.

  16. JohnH says:

    It might smack of tu quoque, but it’s pretty hard to get people to take it seriously when you have right-wing Catholics who just came off a several month stint hammering the USCCB as complicit in abortion through the CCHD then turning around and holding up the same office as presenting the true pro-life view on health care.

    It smacks of political opportunism to me.

  17. Jay Anderson says:

    Just so long as it is clear that I (as the author of the post to which Don linked) am not one of those people.

    Probably the closest thing to criticism of the Bishops coming from me in years was to question “Why do pro-lifers even bother?” after some of the Bishops were harsher in their assessments of the pro-lifers who were critical of Ted Kennedy than the Bishops ever were of Kennedy for his pro-abortion stance.

    Beyond that, I have a fairly strict “no Bishop bashing” policy at my blog.

  18. ron chandonia says:

    It seems that one Alternative Magisterium has its seat firmly in the lap of President Obama, and the other clinging to the skirts of Sarah Palin.

    BINGO!!! Best Catholic blog post of the 21st century! I just wish it could be reposted at Vox Nova, but I doubt it would make it past the screener.

  19. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “who just came off a several month stint hammering the USCCB as complicit in abortion through the CCHD then turning around and holding up the same office as presenting the true pro-life view on health care.”

    I doubt if the Magisterium teaches that Bishops, individually or collectively, are above criticism. When staffers of the CCHD are serving on boards of pro-abort groups that should be pointed out. When the Bishops are absolutely correct that the Senate version of ObamaCare will lead to public funding of abortion, that should be pointed out also.

  20. Tito

    As I have said many times, I am a monarchist (and a Tsarist). I have the Romanov dynasty looking down upon me as I sleep every night.

  21. JIm B says:

    Here are two talks by Bishop Sheen on the topic of Social Justice – HIGHLY recommended (FREE but requires registration)

    First the Spiritual, Then Take Action

    Talk by Fulton Sheen about keeping our priorities straight – First the Spiritual, Then Take Action!

    There has been a change in the outlook of moral theology. Previously there was an emphasis on the individual to the neglect of the social. Now there is an emphasis on the social to the neglect of the individual. Both of these extremes are wrong. The two must be put together.

    http://www.fultonsheen.com/Fulton-Sheen-MP3s/First-the-Spiritual,-Then-Take-Action.cfm?PID=152

    Activism and Intense Spirituality

    There are two extremes in the Church: the neurotic and the psychotic. Activism leaves out the spiritual. The first principle of activism: man is alienated from his real nature, by private property, and by religion. The second principle: The individual amounts to nothing. Super-activity and super-inactivity are both wrong. The reconciliation of the two extremes is this: before we are active, we have to be profoundly spiritual. A holy hour makes us better able to see God in the poor.

    http://www.fultonsheen.com/Fulton-Sheen-MP3s/Activism-and-Intense-Spirituality.cfm?PID=9

  22. Tito Edwards says:

    Henry,

    I was asking Nate.

    But since you volunteered, I agree with you to a certain degree.

    I know that the Romanovs would have a better grasp of Russia today than Putin and his cronies.

    I pray that Russia returns many of the properties they stole and apologize for the atrocities committed against the Czar and his family.

  23. Pinky says:

    As a practical matter, each “side” needs people to catch such thinking on their own side. Having someone across the aisle accuse you of hypocrisy doesn’t accomplish anything except make you angry and make him feel self-righteous. We need to police ourselves. Because guess what, we all fall short. We all sin. Among those sins is hypocrisy.

  24. Gabriel Austin says:

    What of St. John Chrysostom who said “Never trust a bishop!”.

    It is a mistake to think that the opinions issuing forth from the USCCB are episcopal. When I read that the USCCB has taken a position, I always ask “which bishops?”. It is rather like the nun who is president of the catholic Health Association. Or the nuns of the nuns’ organization. Do they speak for other nuns?

    Why, when I think of Sts. Bernadette and Therese and Mother Theresa et hoc genus omne, do I think of their devotions and not of their political maneuvering?

  25. Jay Anderson says:

    It seems that one Alternative Magisterium has its seat firmly in the lap of President Obama, and the other clinging to the skirts of Sarah Palin.

    BINGO!!! Best Catholic blog post of the 21st century!

    Really? It’s abundantly clear that the right-wing has its own “alternative magisterium”, but I don’t get the reference to Palin.

    Barack Obama has clearly tried to make an end run around the Bishops by appealing to “alternative” Catholic sources (and he’s done so since the 2008 election with recruiting Catholic heavy hitters like Kmiec et al, and it’s only intensified since the Notre Dame invitation). But how has Palin tried to make an end run around the Bishops? And on what issues?

    Seems like just more unreflective lashing out at an easy target on the right in order to once again say, “Oh yeah, well the other side does it, too.” Again, no doubt about it, the right wing does the same thing. But a MUCH better example than Palin (who really isn’t an example of the phenomenon at all) is George W. Bush and his efforts to bypass the Bishops on Iraq by appealing to “the Pope’s biographer”, George Weigel, and other right-wing Catholics who favored military action. Or those Catholics who appeal to “Catholic” sources other than the Bishops in order to justify Bush’s interrogation program.

    The above-quoted text would have been accurate had it referred to Bush instead of Palin. But then, I suppose it might not have qualified as the best blog post of the 21st century.

  26. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I doubt if Bush knew Weigel existed let alone referred to him as some sort of Catholic authority. I do not think that the Bush administration engaged in any activities to set up an “Alternative Magisterium” to the Church, while I think that it is perfectly clear that is precisely what the Obama administration is doing. Conservative Catholics in this country have differed with the Popes on some matters, usually in areas, whether a war is just or not for example, where Popes have not claimed to have the final say, or in areas, torture for example, where the position of the Church has been, to put it kindly, erratic over the centuries. I suggest that this is different from defying the Church in areas where the Church has spoken with one voice for as long as there has been a Church.

  27. John Henry says:

    I just wish it could be reposted at Vox Nova, but I doubt it would make it past the screener.

    ‘twould disturb the sweet music of echoes cascading through the chamber.

    I think Jay’s response is right, though. Bush/Weigel is a much better example than Palin. Just look at Weigel’s response to Caritas in Veritate.

  28. Blackadder says:

    What of St. John Chrysostom who said “Never trust a bishop!”.

    St. John Chrysostom was a bishop.

  29. I do not think that the Bush administration engaged in any activities to set up an “Alternative Magisterium” to the Church, while I think that it is perfectly clear that is precisely what the Obama administration is doing.

    Part of that may very well be that Bush didn’t need the approval of the USCCB to go to war; Congress would allow him to do that. I think Weigel was leaned on to try to get the Vatican’s approval though. However, Obama needed the USCCB to shut up and let his healthcare bill go through without reps in swing districts getting too scared and so needed a clearer divide.

    So perhaps it is more circumstances and needs that drove Obama to seem more divisive than Bush.

  30. Art Deco says:

    I think Weigel was leaned on to try to get the Vatican’s approval though.

    Why?

  31. Phillip says:

    “As I have said many times, I am a monarchist (and a Tsarist). I have the Romanov dynasty looking down upon me as I sleep every night.”

    Henry,

    Some of the Romanovs are probably looking up and not down at you. 🙂

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