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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Frank Bruni is Right and Wrong

Frank Bruni
  Frank Bruni's Sunday column in the New York Times, Catholicism's Church, uses the revelation of Roger Cardinal Mahony's criminal negligence in the LA abuse scandal as an opportunity both to charge the Catholic hierarchy with rampant arrogance and hubris (check) and to reject the Church's claim to moral teaching authority (not so fast my friend).
  One would be hard-pressed to refute his charges of arrogance and hubris, given the well-documented occasions of some bishops and priests who valued institutional protection over the well-being of innocents. And how much we've learned from the long Lent of Catholic scandals remains to be seen.

  However, Bruni would be well-served to study up on the basics of logic, because his second charge--that the hierarchy, including the Vatican, has no ultimate teaching authority--does not follow from the first; it is a classic non sequitur. After all, isn't it possible to be both arrogant and right?

  Consider this claim from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum:

     But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed
    on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose
    authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.

Who is this "living teaching office of the Church" but the bishops--successors to the apostles--with the Bishop of Rome at their head? In other words, the hierarchy.

  Now it's possible to hold this truth arrogantly, and no doubt some Catholics, both within and without the hierarchy, have been guilty of this over the generations, forgetting--just like the children of Israel at times--that the people of God have been elected not as an end to themselves but in order to bring salvation and blessing to the world.

  But arrogance, as unfortunate and unbecoming as it may be, does not negate truth.

  In dealing with this Catholic claim to authority in my high school religion class, I've used this analogy involving our principal, Mrs. Stevens. I tell them to imagine this scenario; Mrs. Stevens walks into our classroom, commands everyone's attention and says this:

   "I just wanted to stop by to remind all of you that I'm in charge. Just in case some of you
    had the illusion that this was a democracy, it's not. I will call all the shots. Is that clear?"

Would this be an arrogant statement? You bet. But has she told a lie? Of course not. Everything she said is true.

   Then, I told them, imagine another scenario in which Mrs. Stevens stops by and says:

   "I am here to ask for your prayers. Since I am the one who is responsible for this
    school, I feel the weight of knowing that when it comes to decisions, the buck ultimately
    stops with me. And I want to be as faithful as I can be to this sacred trust."

A different scenario entirely, isn't it? She has not said anything more true in this latter statement, but she said it in a spirit of humility and servanthood.

   So Bruni is wrong in rejecting the teaching authority of the Catholic hierarchy, but about his other charge, we can offer only a "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." 

   God help us all.


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