FRONT ROYAL, VA — Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg recently complained, "I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion."
Of course, this canard is common among the professional pro-abortion crowd, but it sounds strangely out of tune coming from a Bishop who, in the past, has been supportive of the pro-life movement.
So what's going on?
There's a history here. Since 1960, when candidate John F. Kennedy famously promised in Houston that he would not allow his Catholic faith to interfere with his politics, there has existed among the Catholic hierarchy an influential segment that valued liberal politics more than Church teaching. Various members of this informal cadre advised JFK, welcomed the 1967 rebellion of Catholic universities against Church authority led by Notre Dame, and carefully managed the reputation rehab of Teddy Kennedy after he killed Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick two years later.
A key player in the leftward descent of the Catholic Church since the 1960s emerged during the same era. Bishop Joseph Bernardin, who eventually became Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, was the major influence guiding the Catholic bishops' conference from 1969 until his death in 1996.
America's younger bishops recognized that they have a gigantic mess on their hands. They had to make up for fifty years of lassitude – and nothing short of an earthquake would do it.
At Notre Dame in 2009, Barack Obama repeatedly invoked Cardinal Bernardin, whom he had first met at a community organizing meeting on Chicago's South Side. Bernardin had a "profound influence" on his life, he later told journalists.
Bernardin also had a profound influence on the life of Bishop Lynch. Russell Shaw, longtime spokesman for the conference, identifies Lynch as a key player among the "Bernardin Bishops." Lynch joined Bernardin at the headquarters of the bishops' conference in 1972, and served as his alter-ego there for a quarter-century. He became bishop of St. Petersburg the year that Cardinal Bernardin died.
A longtime collaborator of Bernardin is candid: "he wanted to make sure the conference stayed liberal long after he was gone," he tells the Rubble.
With the help of Bishop Lynch, it did. In fact, as Russell Shaw writes, the Bernardin era endured until 2010, when the bishops passed over Bishop Gerald Kicanas, another Bernardin understudy expected to be a shoo-in, and elected instead Timothy Dolan, now Cardinal-Archbishop of New York, as conference president.
The Bernardin years were troubled times for the American Church. As Cardinal Dolan candidly admitted after his election, the bishops hadn't taught the fundamental moral truths of marriage and the family during the Bernardin years — since "the mid- and late-1960s," he said.
Instead, they created a huge bureaucracy that aggressively lobbied Congress, advocating welfare-state programs in the name of "Social Justice," while leaving the Church's moral teaching to gather dust on the shelf.
At the same time, the bishops were taking in a growing amount of federal taxpayer funding for their own charities, which had once been independent, supported by voluntary contributions.
There was a price to pay for this shift in priorities: while the bishops' silence on sexual morality coincided with a startling rise of divorce, contraception, and even abortion among the faithful, it had unhappy consequences within the clergy as well.
The Bernardin era featured dozens of bishops who enabled and covered up for the predominantly homosexual clergy that caused the abuse-and-cover-up scandals.
One of the major challenges [the bishops] confront addresses a cherished legacy of the Bernardin-Lynch years: massive government funding of Catholic entities like the conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities U.S.A., and the Catholic Health Association (whose support was essential to the passage for Obamacare).
Unfortunately, none of those bishops (save Cardinal Law, and several bishops who were abusers themselves) resigned when the scandals broke. Meanwhile, every priest who was accused of even a remotely indecent act with a child was immediately "disappeared."
"Our credibility on the subject of child abuse is shredded," said Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., a year ago, after he was named to lead the bishops' belated effort to restore that credibility.
The sad truth is, the Bernardin Bishops, having lost it, could not regain it themselves.
That's why the liberal media favorite and Bernardinite Thomas Reese, S.J., called Dolan's 2010 election "an ecclesial earthquake of monumental proportions." America's younger bishops recognized that they have a gigantic mess on their hands. They had to make up for fifty years of lassitude — and nothing short of an earthquake would do it.
One of the major challenges they confront addresses a cherished legacy of the Bernardin-Lynch years: massive government funding of Catholic entities like the conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities U.S.A., and the Catholic Health Association (whose support was essential to the passage for Obamacare).
While Bishop Lynch does complain about the bureaucratic paperwork required by receiving billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars a year, he does not display a similar concern regarding the funding's possible moral consequences.
Cardinal Bernardin recognized, late in life, that tens of millions of dismayed Catholics had left the Church since Vatican II, and millions more who stayed were no longer so generous as they had once been. Perhaps he saw the transformation of the Church's charities into an array of government contractors as a necessary evil: "If we can't trust the faithful to contribute voluntarily, well, we'll ask the government to make it mandatory," the Bernardin bishops seemed to say.
"When the church wants to flaunt its size, build organizations, make departments and become a bit bureaucratic, the church loses its main essence and runs into danger of turning itself into an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)," said His Holiness, Pope Francis, last April 24.
Yet the Church's charities, universities, and the conference itself now jostle every year alongside thousands of other NGO's for their share of government funding.
Is the price we paid merely Bishop Lynch's "paperwork"? Or has it been more costly?
Imagine that, for the past fifty years, the Bernardin bishops had followed Canon Law (the law of the Church) and barred from the Eucharist prominent perpetrators of public scandal — specifically, well-known pro-abortion Catholics like Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Durbin, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Nancy Pelosi, and countless others of both parties.
Would the excommunicated in Congress continue to shell out the dough?
The bishops might actually think that they would. After all, they are nice guys. But that grim bunch of pro-aborts is decidedly not nice. And nothing on Capitol Hill happens without the classic tit-for-tat.
So is the money a payoff for a silent, crucial concession?
Perhaps the bishops don't think so, but the politicians sure do.
Are they right? Consider: why do the bishops lobby for welfare-state programs that harmonize with the liberal agenda, but avoid taking positions that would offend the Left — even though, from Patrick Moynihan in the 1960s to Dr. Patrick Fagan today, researchers have proven many of those welfare programs to be destructive of the family?
And why have conference leaders actually supported legislation that contains hundreds of millions of dollars a year for contraceptives and other "family planning" programs worldwide that are a pivotal priority of this administration?
Meanwhile, the conference is silent on vital issues that collide with the liberal agenda.
Take inflation: it hurts everyone — students, families, the poor, the elderly — all groups which the Church undoubtedly desires to protect.
So why don't we hear moral outrage from the bishops condemning the damage caused by deficit spending and inflationary monetary policies?
And what about domestic "family planning" programs, federal destruction of education, the homosexualization of the military, and the anti-family tax provisions in Obamacare? When have the bishops stormed Capitol Hill in sustained and vocal opposition to those programs the way that they zealously lobby for amnesty, food stamps, and foreign aid?
"When the church wants to flaunt its size, build organizations, make departments and become a bit bureaucratic, the church loses its main essence and runs into danger of turning itself into an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)"
— His Holiness, Pope Francis, April 24, 2013
Perhaps Bishop Lynch complains about "alleged" prolifers because they support the Church's teaching across the board — including Humanae Vitae, which the Bernardin bishops failed to teach. Perhaps they welcome Pope Benedict's critical revision of Church law that requires that "charitable agencies dependent upon [the bishop] do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church's teaching." [Intima Ecclesiae Natura, Nov. 11, 2012, No.10.3]
Now consider: does the U.S. government, under the most anti-Catholic, anti-life administration in history, "pursue ends contrary to [the] Church's teaching"?
Yes, there is another "earthquake" coming. The marriage of convenience between the bishops and the government, which Bishop Lynch so lovingly nurtured during the Bernardin years, is on the rocks. The real earthquake will come when the funding stops.
The divorce is long overdue. Plead the cause: "Moral cruelty."
In the future, bishops and laity will together have to step up to the plate and revitalize the liberated Church to make it vibrant, independent, charitable, and holy. And then the New Evangelization can proceed with honesty and vigor.
From Under the Rubble archives
From Under the Rubble is copyright © 2013
by Christopher Manion.
All rights reserved.
Christopher Manion is Director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum. He served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College. This column is sponsored by the Bellarmine
Email Dr. Manion
See a complete biographical sketch.
To subscribe or donate to the FGF E-Package online or
send a check to:
P.O. Box 1383
Vienna, VA 22183