Well, a lot of people are talking and complaining about the invitation to President Obama to attend the October 18 Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria here in New York City. And a lot of people have asked for my opinion about it.
I have issued a quote saying that I don’t think it’s appropriate at this time. I say that without judging anyone’s motives or pro-life credentials in the Church. In fact, I don’t think this was the decision of any one person. We’re dealing with an incredibly complex, overgrown, and often opaque Church bureaucracy here in the United States, and that fact makes these unfortunate incidents all the more difficult to decipher, especially when they deal with the civil authorities.
One of the most helpful books, by the way, that points out a key problem we have in the Church today and offers some good suggestions toward a solution is the book by Russell Shaw entitled “Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church.” Mr. Shaw has served in the past as communications director for the United States Bishops. He knows of what he speaks, and he speaks clearly and honestly.
He emphasizes that while we are all called to respect authority, we are also equal in dignity and called to a “communion” within the Church that is based on that equality, rooted in our human dignity. That dignity and equality call for honest communication. Sure, there are reasons for secrecy at times. But that should not be the default mode of our interaction with one another. The default mode should be openness and a form of accountability by decision-makers by which they communicate the reasons and processes by which they arrived at a particular decision.
And why not?
Especially in this case, when the whole Church in the United States has been given a clear call to rise up and defend our religious freedom against the unjust and unconstitutional actions of the current administration, and when people have responded, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifice to do so.
They deserve to have their confusion cleared up.
Now I am not one of the decision makers in this case, nor is it my purpose to criticize those who are.
But I’m certainly among the critics of the policies of the Obama Administration regarding life and freedom.
I believe in dialogue, as my friendship with abortion-rights pioneers like Bill Baird clearly demonstrates. But dialogue, respect, and reaching out to those who set themselves up against us has to be done in such a way that avoids scandal or demoralizing those on your own side of the battle.
The problem we have, of course, when it comes to civil authorities is that the Church, while often opposing them, also finds herself collaborating with them and dependent on them for the success of various works of justice and charity, through which the institutions of the Church and the institutions of government are working hand in hand.
The challenge becomes to figure out a way to be a prophet and a collaborator at the same time.
Bottom line is that it’s usually difficult and sometimes impossible. We need the wisdom to know the difference. And when being prophetic means sacrificing what we might gain from collaboration, we need the courage to do so.
–Fr. Frank Pavone