Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reactions to Feuerherd's "Bishops Be Damned"

The Catholic League:
... “According to Feuerherd, his decision to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in the Maryland primary, namely Barack Obama, means that the bishops have consigned him to Hell. Indeed, his vote means that he has put his ‘soul at risk,’ all but assuring himself of a ‘ticket to Hell.” He concludes by charging, ‘the bishops be damned.’ In between, Feuerherd manages to impugn the motives of the bishops, offer snide remarks and misrepresent Church teachings.

“Feuerherd is angry because issues like ‘affordable housing’ are not given the same preeminent status as killing the innocent. He is entitled to his opinion, but he is not entitled to bash the bishops or distort their words, not even in his quest for martyrdom.”

You can always tell when the political season opens on Catholics. There is a trend towards Catholic bashing in the press and media. More precisely, in this case there is an attempt by the secular press at Bishop Bashing while trying to play down our Catholic moral, social and ethical principles.

The Catholic League has recently noted a journalistic bashing of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in a recent article by Joe Feuerherd in The Washington Post. Well Mr. Feuerherd, any detrimental comments one makes in the secular press is an outright attack on Catholic religious freedom of expression. Political pundits might consider the Catholic Bishops as fair game during the political hunting season, but they are not collectively intended for political or journalistic target practice...

Canon lawyer Ed Peters:
... On February 24, National Catholic Reporter correspondent Joe Feuerherd, writing in the Washington Post, expressed his desire to see the bishops (of the United States) literally damned before he would fail to vote Democratic this Fall.

Feuerherd's words of contempt were not shouted in a heated argument wherein, say, a lack of time for reflection or "anger hormones" might mitigate one's culpability for uttering invectives. No, Feuerherd's curse, "the bishops be damned", was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.

Now, Canon 1369 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that "a person who . . . in published writing . . . expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty." Canon 1373 states that "a person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry . . . is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties."

I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons...

Morning's Minion (always quick to point out "cafeteria Catholics" at odds with the teachings of the Bishops, to correct misrepresentations of the Bishops' teachings, and to criticize incivility):
[sound of crickets chirping]

NB: Just an fyi ... I'm only having a little fun at Morning's Minion's expense, not being critical of him. In fact, I agree with various aspects of his posts to which I have linked above. And I'm sure that Morning's Minion is in complete disagreement with Feuerherd's take on both the Bishops and the substance of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

So, please don't use this post as a vehicle for attacking Morning's Minion or Vox Nova.

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
National Catholic Reporter's Joe Feuerherd to U.S. Catholic Bishops: "Go to Hell"

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At 2/26/2008 2:30 PM, Blogger Dale P. said...

I know you're just tweaking MM, but taking NCRep's ranty political reporter to task would be a salutary example of putting his money where his mouth is. Not to mention doing more than a little to help him shed the reflexive partisan label.

At 2/26/2008 4:26 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

I think Mr. Peters is taking an idiomatic expression a bit too literally. "So-and-so be damned" isn't really a wish that "so-and-so" actually *be* sent to Hell, any more than "f*** so-and-so" is actually an invitation to sleep over. Rather it is (actually both are) just colorful, though perhaps excessive, way of saying "I don't care what so-and-so thinks,"** which actually makes far more sense in the context of what Feuerherd is saying than "so-and-so should be sent to Hell." Substitute those two phrases of mine into his column and you'll see what I mean.

** Which might be bad enough in its own way in this case, but ...

At 2/26/2008 4:31 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

Actually, let me sort of take that back. I was reacting more to the first few paragraphs of Mr. Peters's piece (and I stand by what I wrote with respect to them ... he is being overliteral). But the canons he invokes later aren't that specific. "So-and-so be damned" is definitely an expression of contempt.

At 2/26/2008 4:46 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...


You're probably right that Feuerherd most likely does not literally wish the U.S. Bishops to spend eternity in damnation.

But in the context of Feuerherd's column, which is entitled "I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to [Hell]?, and which contains the following opening paragraph ...

Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That's right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you're probably punching your ticket to Hell.

... I think it is quite clear that his "Bishops be damned" closing is Feuerherd's saying "The Bishops say my vote is going to send me to hell? Well, the Bishops can go to hell."

At 2/26/2008 5:03 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

Y'know I didn't even consider that rhetorical strategy. Probably because I found Feuerherd's column so idiotic that it was genuinely a chore to read through that I'd forgotten his beginning by the time I got to the end.

Perhaps so.

At 2/27/2008 7:48 AM, Blogger The Social Commentator said...

To Catholics like me who oppose liberal abortion laws but also think that other issues -- war or peace, health care, just wages, immigration, affordable housing, torture -- actually matter, the idea that abortion trumps everything, all the time, no matter what, is both bad religion and bad civics.

I think that's the crux of the issue. Sadly, Feuerherd chose to use devisive language such as "Bishops be damned," which waters down his point and draws ire from conservative Catholics (and, obviously, the bishops) instead of making them think.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a pro-choice Catholic, for a laundry list of both political and personal reasons that would take me longer to list than is worth anyone's time (though, really, if you want to know my rationale I'd be happy to give it to you if you ask), so in the interest of time, it boils down to CHOICE. We, as Catholics, need to trust that the faithful will make healthy decisions, and put the abortion issue on the back burner, in interest of other, far more salient issues.

Part of what I love about the Catholics is our commitment to social justice and, from my estimation, none of the GOP candidates this year stood for any of those issues (with the exception of maybe, in some instances, Mike Huckabee, who all but said "First Amendment be damned!" which is far more dangerous for the faithful than it is the secular, in the long run), and are more concerned with protecting the interests of the wealthy, while letting the working class struggle to find affordable housing, decent healthcare, and a good education for their children -- issues that have ALWAYS been vastly important to Catholics.

I think, what Feuerhead was trying to say (and, sadly, was clouded by his inflammatory, ranty language), is that the Catholics need to get their priorities straight. Frankly, I'm tired of the abortion rhetoric across the board, because it's keeping everyone from paying attention to what's really important, and it also promotes divisive, partisan politics, assuring that nothing GOOD gets done.

At 2/27/2008 8:06 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Look, I understand Feuerherd's frustration. Those are important issues. And if you want to vote on the basis of such issues, it is disheartening to know that they are getting lost in the debate over abortion.

But the fact is that those issues, important as they are, weigh very little when placed on the scale opposite the scourge of abortion-on-demand and a party who will brook no opposition and no compromise to keeping it as the law of the land (see the "Freedom of Choice Act" co-sponsored by both Obama, Hillary, and Edwards, which would overturn the PBA ban and all state laws placing any limits whatsoever on abortion).

So, yes, Feuerherd has a legitimate beef that the issues of import to him are overshadowed. But his beef isn't with the Bishops, it's with the Democrat Party.

At 2/27/2008 8:08 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

"Part of what I love about the Catholics is our commitment to social justice and, from my estimation, none of the GOP candidates this year stood for any of those issues ..."

Sam Brownback was the ONLY candidate from EITHER party who took a consistent ethic of life approach. Sadly, he got little support from his own party, and I highly doubt there were any on the left claiming to be "consistent ethic of lifers" who even gave Brownback a second thought.

At 2/28/2008 5:32 PM, Blogger The Social Commentator said...

Jay - in regards to Sam Brownback, yes, you're absolutely right. However, I didn't include him in my estimations because he dropped out before he was ever really a candidate (by this, I mean, prior to the Iowa Caucus). And, as someone on the left, and having heard various interviews with him, I did get upset when my fellow lefties (if you will) called him "insane." I had a lot of respect for many of his viewpoints, even if I disagreed with some of them.

I disagree, however, that the abortion rhetoric is more important than the other issues. Perhaps this is my bias in that I am pro-choice (and anyone who reads this can take that for what it is), however I think the abortion issue is a lot larger than just termination of pregnancy in itself.

Factors such as lack of decent healthcare access, the economy, and (the lack of) other forms of social welfare place a lot of women in very difficult situations. Not to mention the fact that women who become pregnant out of wedlock are publicly scorned, and made to feel -- no matter what they decide -- as if they are whores. My mother equated the feeling to that of Hester Prynne, and it's sad to think that in 400 years, we haven't come very far. At least abortion is, for the most part, anonymous.

The way to stop abortion is not to make it illegal, but to make it unnecessary and obsolete. If women were not made to feel as if they had no viable options, they would make different choices.

Though, this is somewhat of a tangent. I don't disagree that compromise seems to be lost, but it's just as much lost on the right as it is the left in regards to this issue. Which, really, is somewhat puzzling, in that I think most people on both sides of the issue recognize the grey areas.


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