A number of people have complained that the U.S. Catholic bishops have pretty much rolled over and played dead for “Obamacare.” A few commentators have gone so far as to claim that the bishops are traitors and hypocrites for either soft-peddling the dangers or talking tough but doing nothing. Are they really, however, as black as they’re painted?
Instead of sitting in judgment, let’s just say the bishops are “cautious.” Two thousand years ago the Sanhedrin was composed of a number of good and worthy, even holy men, with just a few bad apples. Some of them were at least brave enough (in secret) to support Jesus. Only two are specifically mentioned by name as being hostile, Annas and Caiphas. Unfortunately, those two were in key positions, and could easily sway the cautious who were nervous about confronting both theological novelties and political risk.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have a few things going for them that the Sanhedrin did not. One, the leader, Pope Francis, is not hostile to orthodoxy, and he (in our opinion) has the spirit of the natural law down pat, although some may not care for some aspects of his style. Fortunately for the Catholic Church, however, they are not in charge — and does it really matter if he doesn’t wear red shoes or live in the usual apartments?
Two, a number of bishops have spoken out. Unfortunately, without a solid and feasible program to back up the talk, it remains talk. We have a healthcare proposal that, e.g., Cardinal Dolan of New York has stated appears to be consistent with Catholic social teaching. The weakness of it is that it has never been tried as a complete system. The theory is sound and all the component parts have been tested in practice and work, but they have not been tried all together.
So, what’s the problem? It’s not the bishops in most cases, it’s the gatekeepers, the bureaucracy that surrounds the bishop, and whose jobs depend on maintaining the status quo. Do you know how hard it is to get through to a bishop? Even if you manage to meet a bishop at a social function or after a religious service, there’s always an unofficial bodyguard to keep the (presumed) nuts and time wasters away.
Even if you manage to get through the perimeter, if the bishop doesn’t know you, he is usually adept at disengaging and getting behind his defenses again. It was easier for the CESJ core group to talk to the pope than to the local bishop. We had two very productive audiences with the former, and one very confused meeting with the latter.
The staff, not the bishop, opens all letters. If any staff member decides the bishop should not know something or see someone — guess what. The bishop doesn’t know it, or see him or her. The bishop does not answer the phone or open the door. Except in extraordinary circumstances — and an unknown group (at least to the staff) with “the plan to resolve the healthcare crisis” is instantly classified as a pack of “nut cases” — you’re not getting in.
We got nice comments from Cardinal Dolan on the healthcare proposal. So why was nothing done? Because our Project Manager who had the contacts and the prestige to get through the bureaucracy died. Within days we were informed by the staff person serving as liaison that “it isn’t the right time,” and “you need some ‘traction’ before I can go to the Cardinal” and similar excuses.
What was the real reason? The liaison didn’t want to rock the boat and endanger his job, position, or status by being innovative. Consequently, if Cardinal Dolan thought about it at all, it was to wonder, “Whatever became of those people?” We’re still here — we just can’t scream loudly enough to be heard above “business as usual.”