Split Decisions

Split Decisions June 27, 2012


First up, thanks for all the support from my sisters and brothers in Invidia Anonymous. My post the other day flipped a light switch and revealed just how capacious and densely populated the Envy Closet is. Once one of us came out, the whole clattering mess followed, like the contents of Fibber McGee’s cupboard (a reference only boomers will recognize from their parents’ stories of radio days; the rest of you can Google it). Turns out Dean Martin (Google him, too) was only partially right: Everybody Also Envies Somebody Sometime.

That’s reassuring. But it’s also theologically significant. I’m starting to get that Envy, like all the deadly sins, is in actuality the warping of a holy desire. On one level, our recognition that we are none of us All That, and our fierce coveting of the gifts and qualities we do not possess (or the material goods that stand in for these), is a healthy reminder that we are meant for a greater Completeness, and that our hearts will be restless and our eyes green until we find it in the One who truly completes us. It’s when we forget that, when we think we deserve to be and to have All That, right now, that sin enters in, either in the sad and cranky self-pity wallow I was experiencing, or in the deadlier form of wishing ill to those who seem to have what we believe we are entitled to.

So, a lesson. And I did indeed take a day’s hiatus from presuming the Church needed to hear my every thought, though I spent it less in silent prayer and unseen good works than I had hoped. A friend’s mother’s funeral and a read-through of The Merchant of Venice with the Shakespeare company I am working with (as dramaturg on this show, the company’s summer tour; as general dogsbody in other capacities) did provide time for reflection, though, and food for future blog posts. Yes, it’s a split decision, this blogging thing: I’m not giving it up, but I’m going to work on keeping it in perspective—with, no doubt, plenty of help from the combox.

This morning, two other split (or potentially split) decisions to weigh in on, in hopes of bringing some clarity to events with multiple interpretations and implications.

Ending the (non)suspense about a (non)suspension

As Deacon Greg Kandra reports over at The Deacon’s Bench, there have been two recent announcements in regard to the case of Fr Frank Pavone, the Priests For Life founder whose diocesan ordinary, Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek, curtailed his national and international prolife activities and assigned him to duties as a chaplain. At the time, Bishop Zurek announced that he was “suspending” Fr Pavone’s extra-diocesan ministries as part of an ongoing investigation into the finances and canonical structure of Priests For Life. Fr Pavone’s supporters—and Fr Pavone himself, in his public statements—cried foul, hinted at collusion between the bishop and the Obama administration with the goal of crippling the pro-life movement, and decried the reassignment as house arrest at best and kidnapping at the lurid worst.

Today the Priests For Life website announced that Fr Pavone has “won,” citing a May 18 decision from Rome’s Congregation on the Clergy sustaining Fr Pavone’s appeal of his suspension. Bishop Zurek has also issued a statement, positioning the congregation’s decision not as a loss but as a no-contest, as Fr Pavone’s status as a priest in good standing (the canonical term for someone who isn’t suspended from priestly ministry) was never in doubt. Neither, of course, was Bishop Zurek’s canonical authority over Fr Pavone, and Bishop Zurek has announced that he will continue to exercise that authority by requiring Fr Pavone to maintain his residence in Amarillo, continue his duties as a chaplain, and request permission to conduct pro-life activities outside the diocese, which the bishop will review on a case-by-case, limited basis.

As in the old Certs commercials (Google them), they’re both right. But nothing in this decision changes Fr Pavone’s requirement to submit in obedience to his ordinary. Nothing in this decision changes that ordinary’s conditions for Fr Pavone’s demonstrating that obedience. In fact, this whole part of the kerfuffle needn’t have happened at all. Fr Pavone was never suspended (in the canonical sense of that term), though Bishop Zurek (foolishly, in my opinion, but nobody’s asking) persisted in using that language. Of course the Congregation upheld Fr Pavone’s appeal of a suspension that never happened. Canonist Ed Peters would have explained this better than I, but he’s on a blogging hiatus, sadly of longer duration than mine.

The rest of the kerfuffle endures. Bishop Zurek’s statement concludes with one telling sentence: “All other matters are outside the purview of this statement.” Those “other matters”—the ecclesial structure of Priests For Life and its interconnected web of organizations and ministries, the fundraising and accounting practices of those organizations, whether Fr Pavone’s defiantly partisan public statements (he’s speaking this week on why Romney’s Mormonism should not be an obstacle for Catholic voters, for example) constitute violations of IRS tax law, where Fr Pavone will eventually find himself incardinated—all go on unaffected by the verdict from Rome. We shall see where this goes, but the wheels grind slowly.

You can’t tell your mandates without a program

The other (possibly) split decision on the horizon is the Supreme Court’s release, scheduled for tomorrow morning, of its opinion(s) on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act. Following this case has revived the long-dormant constitutional law junkie in my soul (I now have a whole other class of folks to envy), so I will be logging on to the marvelously informative SCOTUS Blog tomorrow morning at 8:45 EDT to follow their live feed of the Court’s last announcement session of the term. This thing has been handicapped to a degree my horseracing daddy would have envied, so I will not speculate on how the Court has decided and what the implications will be.

But I need to make a clarification, because I’ve seen a lot of misinformation on the Catholic interwebz about this. Many legal commentators are suggesting that the key decision tomorrow will be the fate of what is known as the individual mandate, the part of the legislation that has generated the most constitutional blowback. Please, Catholics, do not confuse the individual mandate—the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance coverage or pay a penalty—with the HHS mandate, a much smaller corner of the legislation that is of interest to Catholics and others concerned with its implications for religious freedom. There are lawsuits working their way through local federal jurisdictions testing the constitutionality of the HHS mandate, but they are a long way from the Supreme Court level.

So don’t start setting off early Fourth of July Fortnight 4 Freedom fireworks if you happen to hear, tomorrow, that SCOTUS has found the individual mandate unconstitutional. That one provision may be separable from the rest of the omnibus bill, and if it alone is struck down but the rest of the law found constitutional, the HHS mandate will not be affected. It will still be law unless and until challenges to it reach the Supreme Court and are heard and approved. The only other way the HHS mandate would be overturned is if, tomorrow, the Court throws out the entire Affordable Health Care Act, hook, line, and mandates aplenty. I don’t think that’s likely, and I don’t think it would necessarily be worth celebrating. With all its issues (the worst, in my eyes, aside from the HHS nonsense, being the fact that the Affordable part of the title is not even addressed by the legislation) the AHCA is a step toward providing access to health care for all citizens, and that’s a goal toward which we all are called to work.

And pray. Which I’m going to shut up now and do.

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