When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was secretly recorded making racist remarks, the National Basketball Association recognized immediately that it had a crisis on its hands. Many corporate sponsors of Clippers games withdrew their support, and the NBA saw that such a boycott could spread to other teams and the NBA institution itself. Aside from the financial concerns, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also realized that it was a scandal to have a racist team owner when the majority of the league’s players are black. It would be equivalent to an Israeli basketball team being owned by a Nazi. So, Silver removed Sterling as an owner.
Now some may argue about how this situation was handled, but there are two important lessons to be learned here. First, swiftly recognizing a scandal is critical. Second, action must be taken quickly to reduce the damage. Failure in one or both lessons may lead to disaster.
Which brings me to the main focus of this essay: Why is it that the American Catholic Church, in almost all cases, fails to deal with the scandal of so-called Catholic politicians who promote, and proudly vote for, legislation clearly contrary to Catholic teaching? And why are these politicians allowed to receive Holy Communion as if they are paragons of virtue? It is a scandal that cries to Heaven for redress.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil . . . Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.” (2284) In the following paragraph, we read, “Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized . . . Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.” (2285)
Let’s look at a classic example of a “Catholic” politician who could be the poster girl for scandal–Nancy Pelosi. She has been a proponent of federally financed birth control for years. In 2009, noting that the stimulus package would reimburse states for birth control, Pelosi joyfully proclaimed that “contraception will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” In 2013, when asked at a press conference to comment on the notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell, Pelosi became angry and said, “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this [abortion] is sacred ground to me when we talk about this.” In another interview last year, she said, “I grant the Church where they are on abortion. That’s where they are, that’s where they have to be. But my faith isn’t about what their position is.” Even Pope Benedict, in a private conversation with Pelosi, could not change her behavior.
Can her disdain for the Church be any clearer? How many married Catholic women have felt justified in using artificial contraception because of her? How many unborn children have been murdered in the womb because of her position on abortion? And just a few weeks ago, Ms. Pelosi received the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America. And yet she continues to receive the body and blood of Christ with impunity.
Also in the Catechism, we read, “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. (2287) Jesus said, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come.”
Can there be any doubt that Pelosi is a scandal to the Church? So what did her parish priest, Father John Ring, say when asked a few years ago to comment on her position on abortion? He responded, “She’s a fine woman. She is a good parishioner.” When pressed by a reporter about Pelosi receiving Communion, he replied, “Leave it in God’s hands. I’m not going to argue the matter with you.” That’s not even a slap on the wrist.
Well, then, how about Archbishops Salvatore Cordileone and Donald Cardinal Wuerl, both of whom have spiritual authority over her? Certainly they have been more forceful, right? In your dreams. To date, neither one has made a public statement about her unbridled support of abortion and birth control.
Raymond Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, has made the Church’s position unambiguous:
The local Bishop should teach clearly in the matter and also encourage his priests to make sure the Church’s discipline is observed in order to avoid the grave sin of sacrilege on the part of the Catholic politician who approaches to receive Holy Communion when he is persisting obstinately in grave moral evil, and to prevent the scandal which is caused when such individuals receive Holy Communion, because their reception of Holy Communion gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.
At a bare minimum, a priest or a bishop must consider the soul of the recalcitrant politician. A failure to confront increases the likelihood that the politician will spend eternity shut off from God. True charity must impel the clergy to intervene to prevent such a frightening destiny. And yet all that is heard is the sound of chirping crickets.
The faithful Catholic must wonder why the secular world acts so swiftly to protect its interests, while the vast majority of bishops and priests run from confrontation like Dracula from sunlight. In the parable of the dishonest steward, Jesus observes that “the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light.” Apparently, that’s the case in this generation, also.