As a convert of five years, it took me awhile to learn that the true hierarchy of the Church—the Vatican in Rome—supersedes the local and national hierarchies, and though the local and national hierarchies issue statements that I once thought were binding on me as a Catholic, I learned that it is only when those statements are congruent with the teaching from the center: the Holy Father and the teaching expressed in the universal catechism, the Vatican’s Catechism of the Catholic Church, that I am so bound, to remain in league with the Church.
The actions of local and national Catholic leaders—whether clergy, theologians, or politicians—if followed without reference to the center, can often lead us astray, and that is what happened this weekend with the funeral mass of a Catholic politician, as expressed in this story from The Catholic Thing.
“The Catholic Church in America suffered another grave scandal this weekend. As was the case in the priestly abuse crisis, it was centered in Boston. If you are a Catholic and did not feel distressed and scandalized watching Senator Kennedy’s funeral at Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Boston Saturday, I have to ask in all frankness: why not?
“The scandal has nothing to do with his personal sins. I hope he confessed them and was forgiven, as I hope myself to be forgiven. The Church is always generous to sinners who make even the slightest gesture of repentance. In that, she shows that she is not a merely human society bound by certain rules, but the living communion of saints and the presence in this world of the merciful heart of God.
“The scandal likewise has nothing to do with partisan politics. If you think it does, as some of the Commentors on Brad Miner’s gentlemanly Friday column believe, you should compare Brad with the New York Times obituary, which felt obliged to record that Ted’s shoulders were “sometimes too narrow” for the task he inherited. And that, contrary to the eulogies, he could be savagely unjust and demagogic, as even some followers admitted (e.g., in the Bork hearings), tarring mere opponents as racists, sexists, and elitists. All such shenanigans are an unfortunate feature of partisan passions, but only of passing importance.
“The distress – and the scandal – arise from only one thing: the Church’s failure to show the slightest reservation about the man who, more than any Catholic and perhaps more than any American political figure, has led the pro-abortion forces in Washington. Even worse, his longstanding pro-abortion leadership gave political cover to other Catholic politicians and confused simple lay people. That’s what scandal (in the theological sense) does: it becomes a stumbling block for the faithful about the very truths of the faith.”