The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

US Bishops and "Coalitions"

Yesterday I mentioned the decision by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to withdraw from  the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR) because of the LCCR's "advocacy of positions which do not reflect the principles and policies of the bishops’ Conference," specifically, positions that are openly pro-abortion. This was a good decision by our bishops, but it's also the kind of decision they should never have to make.

The political and advocacy landscape of our nation is littered with hundreds of organizations and coalitions similar to LCCR. Each of these organizations was formed to address a real or perceived need or to bring about change in some area of public (and occasionally private) life. But most organizations tend to stray from their initial vision. As their membership increases and their bank accounts grow, their vision often expands to encompass other goals which may or may not be related to their original goal. LCCR, for example, has apparently decided that abortion advocacy is a logical expansion of their original focus on civil and human rights. This expansion, which quite honestly should have been expected of a politically left-leaning organization such as  LCCR, apparently took the bishops by surprise and led to their decision to withdraw from the coalition. A similar thing happened with regard to Amnesty International a few years ago when that organization decided to support "abortion rights." I can't recall whether the USCCB was an organizational member of Amnesty International, but it was apparent that they had, at the very least, publicly supported AI and their positions.   

My question is: Why does the USCCB feel the need to join any coalition or organization, particularly one without a specifically religious focus? It would seem that doing so has a much greater downside than upside. As LCCR and Amnesty International have shown us, organizations can be unpredictable, especially if they are even partly motivated by ideology. Organizations, particularly coalitions of organizations, are dynamic, not static.  Unless a member organization has total control of the coalition's vision, goals, and direction, some of these changes will not reflect the member organization's values and conflict will result. This, in itself, is a good reason not to join such coalitions.

But more important, organizational membership in coalitions can confuse the organization's individual members. Unless there is total foundational alignment between the organization's and the coalition's values and beliefs, members can come to believe that the very real differences that do exist are not all that important. This can be especially damaging when these differences reflect moral issues or key tenets of one's faith.

And then there is the most important reason: independence. Any conference of Catholic bishops should always speak and teach independently of secular, or even other religious, organizations. If should not give the impression, through its membership in outside organizations, that it is in any way beholden to them. The bishops, after all, are the successors to the Apostles and accordingly are called to speak for only one organization, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, They can do this best through their independence, by giving themselves the freedom to teach and preach the Word of God, and the freedom to praise and criticize without being second-guessed.

I don't understand why the USCCB feels compelled to join these coalitions and therefore give the impression that it buys into their wide gamut of values and beliefs. Doing so only runs the risk of sacrificing its credibility when it comes time to speak to the faithful on important issues of faith and morals. Why can't our bishops simply work with these coalitions toward the achievement of common goals, and do so without joining them? Sure would save a lot of embarrassment and apologizing.

Or so it least to me.

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