Monday 12 October 2009

What have I missed while posting about Therese?

Five new saints. I can't help but think that Fr Damien's commitment to the lepers can in some way be a model for the commitment of Christians to caring for those suffering from HIV/AIDS or, possibly, cancer and the various forms of dementia. These are the illnesses viewed today with fear or dread, and perceived as being in some way "incurable".

The Second Synod of the Bishops of Africa. A daily summary of the interventions at the Synod has been published, appearing on ZENIT's web pages. Unfortunately, they have not been assembled on one page. This particular day's summary includes interventions from Cardinal Tauran, Cardinal Arinze. Others have taken issue with an earlier contribution presenting President Obama's election as a "divine sign", though, I have a suspicion from the accounts of it that I have been able to find, that when the remark is placed in its full context it is not as outrageous as it appears in an isolated sound bite.

Someone was given a prize - this, perhaps, being the most pertinent observation to be made in response. In some ways it is churlish for international leaders or organisations not to congratulate the recipient of a Nobel prize, so one should not read into a statement of congratulation or welcome to that award, a statement that is of the form of a public courtesy, an approval for policies that is not intended. The statement of the Vatican spokesman was, for example, very restricted in what it felt gave justification for congratulation. That having been said, one might also expect some thought to be given to the dynamics of the media in response to such a statement - which might prompt a certain silence instead.

And, in the wake of the controversies over President Obama's visit to Notre Dame University and the funeral Mass of Senator Kennedy, in the wake of the spat between Lifesitenews and Fr Rosica, in the wake of Archbishop Burke's address, a question I have been pondering, with regard to the relative roles of the Bishop and the lay person:

If the lay person fails in his Christian task of "mediating" between Church and world, if he lives a political or social praxis that is at odds with the content of the Catholic faith (what Archbishop Burke described as "scandal" in a technical sense), can the action of the Bishop put that right? My answer: no. The Bishop simply cannot replace in some sense the office of the lay person with an action of his Episcopal Office. If you like, the damage is done, and it is done as a result of a failing of the lay office in the Church, and the exercise of another office in the Church is not going to be able to reverse that. [Doesn't mean the Bishop shouldn't do something - just that it won't be able to undo the scandal caused by the lay person.]

And, more provocatively, is it really the role of the Bishop, or of the Bishops' Conference, to develop and lead a political programme of opposition to, for example, the pro-abortion policy making of President Obama? Seen just in the context of a theological understanding of a difference in office between the Bishop and the lay person, it really isn't appropriate for a Bishop to impinge on the office (in the sphere of political activity) of the lay person. Surely, such political programming belongs as a duty of the lay person. The Bishop does have an office as a teacher of the truth - and that might well involve at some point discerning that it is not possible for a politician to support a particular piece of legislation without contradicting their faith and thereby placing themselves in a position of objective, public scandal. But, I would argue, there is nothing to be served by the Bishop taking on the programmatic political role proper to the lay person when the lay person fails. In the long run, that is going to be to the detriment of his Episcopal office.

In the recent controversies, have lay people at times expected Bishops to adopt political stances appropriate to those of the lay office? Have Bishops at times taken a programmatic political role rather than that of discernment? And, at heart, have the failings been in the realm of the lay office, prompting the thought that the essential answer is increased teaching and formation of lay people for the political aspects of their office in the Church?

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