Thomas Reese, SJ “Memo to Bishops: Most Catholics Aren’t Listening”

From The Washington Post we have this slithery piece from Thomas Reese, SJ:

Memo to Bishops: Most Catholics Aren’t Listening


By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was a steady drumbeat of opposition to Barack Obama from some U.S. Catholic bishops, which only increased after his election. But despite the attention these attacks received in the media and on Internet blogs, polls show that the Catholic people are not listening[A polls are really important for people in Reese’s camp.]

He has been criticized:

• for being the most pro-abortion president ever, even though [watch how he praises the most pro-abortion President ever…] he wants to develop programs that will reduce the number of abortions while keeping it legal under most circumstances (he supports restrictions in the third trimester with an exception for the health of the mother);  [and let’s forget about that whole thing about the death of the child when he or she survived the abortion, shall we?]

• for allowing organizations that do abortions outside the U.S. to receive government funds, even though the funds cannot be used for abortions but only for non-abortion-related activities such as health care and birth control;  [last time I looked, money is fungible.  What those groups don’t have to spend on X, they can spend on Y.]

• for proposing to revise the Bush regulations dealing with stem cell research, even though the proposed revisions are less radical than many anticipated (no cloning is allowed and only stem cells from IVF embryos that would otherwise be discarded can be used; plus the informed consent rules are tightened);  [So, just a little less killing of the innocent than we expected.]

• for proposing to revise the Bush regulations that allow conscientious objection in health care, even though it is clear from the law that the revised regulations cannot require doctors, nurses or hospitals to perform abortions;  [Maybe not at first.]

• and for supporting the Freedom of Choice Act, even though everyone in Congress says FOCA is going nowhere (it has not even been introduced in this Congress) and the President has said it is not one of his priorities (which is the equivalent of deep-sixing it).  [He is getting it done in other ways.]

[So… after those "even though"s, you are now supposed to wonder just how stupid those bishops are if they oppose Pres. Obama.  But go back and read those "even though"s again.  Can a bishop be for any of those things?  It seems to me that the cumulative effect of those "even though"s is pretty bad.]

These critiques seem to be falling on deaf ears.

In the presidential election, Catholics voted for Obama, and Hispanic Catholics, who are a growing percentage of U.S. Catholics, gave him around two-thirds of their vote. Since the election, Obama has continued to do as well if not better with Catholics in the polls.

Nor are Catholics listening to those bishops who have condemned Notre Dame University for inviting the President to speak at its commencement this month. According to a Pew Forum poll, 48 percent of Catholics have not even heard of the controversy. And when asked whether it was right or wrong for Notre Dame to invite Obama to speak and to give him an honorary degree, 50 percent of Catholics said it was right and only 28 percent said it was wrong[I believe that that poll also revealed that those who didn’t approve of the ND thing were precisely the group that usually went to church on Sunday.]

What is wrong? Why are the bishops not being listened to?

Many think they lost their credibility because of the sex abuse crisis. Others say it was even earlier when the laity rejected the hierarchy’s opposition to artificial birth control.

[And here we go!  Reese is going to propose his model of the Church and what a bishop should be…] I think part of the problem is that the bishops stopped listening and teaching and started ordering and condemning. With an educated laity [This old thing? You know the drill: This isn’t a country of ignorant immigrants. People are are grown up and modern now!  We are too sophisticated for that old-fashioned religion. ] it no longer works to simply say, "it is the teaching of the church." This is the equivalent of a parent shouting, "Because I said so.[Parenting Tips from Thomas Reese.]

The bishops must persuade and convince with arguments not by turning up the volume. [?] When they resort to commanding and threatening punishments, people are turned off. [I’m sorry… I … did I miss something?  Was there a sudden outbreak of punishments I should have been blogging about?  But watch this next unctuous move:] Banning speakers, denying Communion, silencing theologians is a sign of weakness not strength. Censorship and violations of academic freedom come across as admissions that their arguments are not convincing and therefore the opposition must be silenced.  [So, the Church is not supposed to exercise any oversight about teaching or the public conduct of high-profile Catholics who are in a position to shape laws?  Oh… wait… this isn’t supposed to make sense.  Reese is just telling you that this is how it should be.  He has his own personal animus he is working through, I suspect.]

The result is that the sales of books go up after a theologian is condemned. Obama’s Notre Dame speech will be covered by every cable news channels. Even movie producers understand this dynamic, which is why "Angels and Demons" is having its world premier in Rome and is just begging the Vatican to condemn it. 

[And here Reese does what you knew he simply had to do.  He makes the bishops’ opposition a political issue.] The bishops are being egged on by Republican activists whose presidential candidate lost the election. [But wait! There’s more!] There is clearly a conservative conspiracy [a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?!?] to do whatever is possible (including lying about ambassadorial candidates) [Was that a defense of Caroline Kennedy?  Doug Kmiec?  Am I reading this right?] to create conflict between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration. They want the Catholic Church to be the Republican Party at prayer. Some bishops are falling for this.  [That’s just silly.]

But the Vatican is not falling into this trap. It clearly wants to have a positive relationship with Obama. [We are talking about diplomatic relations between states.] The Pope sent him a congratulatory note after his election, although it is normal Vatican protocol not to do this until after the inauguration. [Oooooo that’s proof of something!]  Recently, an article in L’Osservatore Romano stated that the first 100 days of the Obama administration have not confirmed the Catholic Church’s worst fears about radical policy changes in ethical areas. No American bishop has been brave or honest enough to say this.  [L’OR had an editorial.  But… did it praise Pres. Obama for all those "even though"s?]

The best Vatican journalists John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter and John Thavis of Catholic News Service could find no evidence of an anti-Obama sentiments from the Pope or the Vatican Secretariat of State. The Vatican has had centuries of experience working with governments where they agree and talking to them about those issues where they disagree.  [That is the point… right?  This is about relations between states.  Does Reese think the Holy Father approves of Pres. Obama’s position on abortion?]

The bishops who oppose the President’s presence at Notre Dame are going to be embarrassed by the warm welcome he receives from the commencement audience. Every round of applause will be a repudiation of their condemnations[Or… ever round of applause will be a confirmation of poor catechism, a weak Catholic identity, and the effects of scandal.]

The bishops will also be embarrassed when Pope Benedict welcomes President Obama at the Vatican, or are all these people going to tell the Pope that he cannot talk to a pro-choice President? [Just plain ridiculous.]

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.


Just another political camp-follower, I’m afraid.   Yet… I think he really does believe this stuff.

Once you get used to their talking points and bad arguments, it is all rather pathetic.


I received this note from a senior Republican House staffer:

"I’m not sure where Reese is coming from.  Considering that the Bishops’ rarely meet with Republicans here on the Hill, I am not sure how we can be egging them on.  We all thought we were irrelevant to the USCCB. In 12 years on the Hill, I have never once sat down with a staffer from the USCCB on any issue."


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