Prophets and Priests

We Americans respect prophets but not priests. That is, we respect people who bear authentic witness to a personally experienced truth that has changed their lives. We do not have much regard for priests, that is: the custodians of a Tradition which they neither invented nor have the power to change. Indeed, so deep is the American regard for prophets that we tend to talk as though every religious teacher is a prophet wannabe, even when he’s obviously just a priest. This confusion can lead to problems.

So, f’rinstance, when the bishops come out with a perfectly legitimate statement opposing the war with Iraq (lots of Catholics of good will do), it’s regarded with scorn simply because the person who’s heading up the project is Cardinal Law. This is understandable, of course, and the bishops should really think about how such things will play with the audience they are trying to sway. But at the same time, we Catholics have to bear in mind that, insofar as the bishops are trying to articulate the Tradition, it matters not a whit what their personal morality or lack thereof is. Their personal morality or lack thereof doesn’t alter what the Tradition sez, and there are some sound arguments, based on Just War doctrine, being put forward by faithful Catholics who are opposed to war with Iraq. I incline to disagree with them, but I respect them. Love ya, Rod. But insofar as Cardinal Law et al, articulate those arguments based on the Tradition, they should be given a hearing, not dismissed.

Just as important though, we should not encourage the idea that our attentiveness to a bishop’s articulation of the Tradition should fluctuate with his personal morality. If I have a bad bishop, and he articulates the Creed, I am still bound to believe the Creed. (Obviously prudential judgements like war with Iraq are not the Creed, but the doctrine which underlies those judgements is still something we have to pay attention to.)

That said, you gotta wonder how the bishops could be so clueless as to expect the majority of American not to laugh at such a weighty message in the mouth of so absurd a messenger.


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