Citizens And Cardinals




February 21, 1974

In the parliamentary floor-fights that used to make life interesting in the Yale Political Union, we had technical terms for several sorts of maneuvers. One of these technical terms was “mickey mouse.” A maneuver was “mickey mouse” if it was both petty and transparent: something like trying to delay all business by staging a debate over the motion to accept the minutes, see? Or something like trying to keep a low Catholic profile in the Senate hearings on the Human Life Amendments by a.) sending in four Roman Catholic Cardinals but claiming b.) that they are there only in their capacity as “concerned citizens.” Once again, Annette, the Bishops’ incomparable advisors have earned a pair of mouse ears.

I do not say this to mock or in any way to discourage the four Cardinals themselves, who in just a few weeks will have the historic and awesome responsibility of speaking to the pagan American state in defense of human life. Cardinals Krol, Cody, Manning and Medeiros deserve the full support of our prayers and sacrifices. One must call into question, however, the values and tactics of those who are telling the world that these four eminent voices for the moral authority of the Catholic Church have no other office or capacity from which to address the Nation than “concerned citizens.” I am referring, of course, to Bishop Rausch’s statement of February 13th (see story on page one). As a fellow journalist quipped to me, “What happened to Cardinal Cooke? He’s not a citizen?”

Obviously, Bishop Rausch’s statement invites the charge of hypocrisy. We have pro-life doctors, lawyers, nurses, researchers, administrators, moral philosophers, and theologians, all of whom can give more expert testimony than these four Cardinals on the matters at issue, if it is really just a question of “concerned Americans.” Why, then, do the Cardinals press forward to speak? Because they are “religious leaders” perhaps? But we have pro-life rabbis and ministers from a dozen denominations. These, too, are religious leaders and are likely to be just as articulate and just as committed as the four Cardinals. So why do the Cardinals press forward to speak? There is only one possible answer, and everybody already knows what it is. It is because as successors to the Apostles, in the one, true Church of Jesus Christ, these four men believe (and everybody knows that they believe) that they are uniquely qualified to speak with genuine moral authority. So why pretend otherwise?

Some will say that the American State does not recognize the claims of our Church. Some will predict that if our Cardinals step forward to speak precisely and utterly as churchmen, the State will claim (in the words of Bishop Rausch) that they are “advocating sectarian doctrine.” Of course, this line of reasoning is used peculiarly against Catholics — rabbis and Protestant ministers being allowed to speak without elaborate prolegomena in which their citizenship is established. But fairness is not quite the issue. Witness would be more like it. If the American government does not recognize the claims of our Church, it is time to tell the government to face the facts. If our Cardinals fail to muster the courage to tell the State that all men must be subject to the authority of Christ and His Vicar, who will? Jim Buckley? And if our Cardinals fail to tell the government that Catholic doctrines are not “sectarian” but the very word of God for the life of man, who will? Donald Thorman?

Some will say, no doubt, that my attitude is preconciliar or that it smacks of triumphalism. But those who appeal to the Second Vatican Council ought to hear the words of that Council. I quote from the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Section 42):

“Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic, or social order. The purpose which He set before her is a religious one. But out of this religious mission itself comes a function, a light, and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law. As a matter of fact, when circumstances of time and place create the need, she can and indeed should initiate activities on behalf of all men.”

The Church, please note, has the right to undertake such initiatives, not just “citizens,” Bishop Rausch.

It is easier to advise others, of course, than to act oneself. I don’t know what I would say, if I were going before the Senate Committee, but I think that if I were a Cardinal, I would start out something like this. “Gentlemen, I testify here today as a Cardinal of the Universal Church. I speak as one having authority, and not just as a citizen of this Nation; for whether I esteem my citizenship as a badge of honor, or look upon it with shame, will depend in great part on the actions taken by this body. So I do not speak from a capacity whose value is dubious but from one whose value is certain. God founded the office of bishop, from which I unworthily speak today, long before there was a United States of America and if this Nation continues on its present course that divine office will endure long after the name of America and the record of this Senate have become historical curiosities which bored school children can scarcely be induced to memorize.”

The Cardinals, of course, will do better to pay attention to the Holy Spirit rather than to my advice. May God go with the four Cardinals as they approach the Senate of the United States, and may He give them the words of Life.

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