It is a cloudy morning in South Georgia as AMTRAK’S SOUTHBOUND TRAIN 97, THE SILVER METEOR makes its way on time to the Jacksonville Amtrak station. With a llittle help from Ambian CR I had a good nights sleep, sleeping right through places like Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Now I am happily back in Florida, penning these final thoughts while I can.
The bishops of the United States are undivided in their opposition to abortion and those who actively promote it. We are divided on what to do when people of our own communion do not agree with this Church teaching and do otherwise in their political lives. Some bishops think that the Eucharist should be denied to Catholic politicians who advocate pro-choice/pro-abortion procedures. To my mind, the number of bishops who favor using the Eucharist as a “tool” to achieve the end of sanctioning a pro-life legislator is minimal though noisy in the current Conference of Bishops. The same bishops would also say that it is a mortal or serious sin for a Catholic voter to vote for any candidate who supports abortion rights – period. A larger group of bishops would say that one keeps open a dialogue with the Joe Bidens of the world who are dead wrong on their articulation of the Church’s position on life issues, one hundred per cent in agreement with every other Church position on war, immigration, etc. He is an embarrassment when he speaks out on pro-choice positions. Does he give scandal? I would suggest that scandal is pretty hard to give in the Church at this time. Does he cause deep distress in some Catholic circles, indeed! Should he be forbidden from the reception of the Eucharist – most bishops would say no.
In the Diocese of St. Petersburg to this moment in time, all of the Catholic politicians take pro-life positions so all this “jawing” among bishops and pro-life constituencies throughout the country is largely just that.
Allow me just a few reflections on the role of “shepherd” which came to mind as we passed through southern Virginia on a night lit by a full moon last night. It is my job as a bishop to teach which means that I have a moral obligation to see that all those people who make up our local Church with me understand Church teaching on abortion. I need to be clear, consistent, and constant in pointing out that the taking of the life of an innocent unborn is an intrinsic evil which must be opposed and fought.
It is also my job as bishop to govern and among many other things, this means that as bishops I must see that all the programs of our parishs, diocese and its institutions are managed in conformity with the clear teaching of the Church. For example, a Catholic hospital which performs abortions-on-request must be made by me to stop that practice.
Finally, it is also my job to sanctify which to me after years of experience and much prayer means to patiently and tolerantly allow people to grow in faith. It means that I am to welcome people into the Church and not throw them out. It means that I give my time to convincing people of the error of their ways and only in the most extreme incidences of contemptuousness should any shepherd not search out the lost sheep.
I can assure you that what I have just articulated was the common feeling and understanding of two-thirds of my brother bishops gathered in Baltimore this week. Sure there were pro-life protesters outside chanting unkind words at us for not agreeing on or adopting a common policy on the reception of the Eucharist by pro-choice politicians and judges. That is not the majority undertanding of our role in this debate. The Holy See has chosen not to deny Eucharist to Catholics of many parties throughout the world, even from the Pope himself. Please keep in mind, that no human can see into the conscience of any other human being and know for certain that that person has not been sacramentally reconciled for that moment.
We will continually, prophetically and I hope more effectively proclaim the dignity and inviolability of human life, from conception to natural death.
The Silver Meteor is approaching Orlando station now where I will exit and continue to St. Petersburg. I hope these very personal reflections on the Fall Meeting of Bishops in Baltimore and some of the topics we dealt with will be of help to you.