Flattered as I am at having the blog highlighted once again by Cath News (always good for a circulation boost!), I do feel I'm being verballed somewhat by "blog watcher".
Blog watcher (curious, given Cath News' policies on anonymity, that he or she is not named) suggests that I am saying that the bishops should be more vocal, transposing some comments I made on the recent ACBC plenary into the context of a remark by General Cosgrove that he hadn't been very aware of the Church's stance on the Iraq war. The General was responding to criticism of his appointment as Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University on the (in my view) completely spurious grounds that the Church opposed the war in Iraq.
Iraq and General Cosgrove
Just to be clear, I agree that the Iraq War didn't meet just war criteria.
But General Cosgrove, as a member of the Defense Force was bound to obey the Government of the day's judgment on whether or not the war was just, not his own, regardless of any guidance given by the bishops.
If it didn't work like that on an issue of this kind, we would have anarchy.
Do we really want the armed forces deciding for themselves individually or collectively whether or not to fight in a war authorised by the elected government? Or to decide that war with some neighbouring country is justified even if the Government doesn't think so? The so-called Catholic Workers Movement protesting his appointment - and blog watcher - should know better.
Should the bishops have spoken out/speak out more clearly on these sorts of issues?
But what about the question of whether the bishops should speak up more forcefully.
Well yes and no.
The primary teaching authority is not the bishops conference, but individual bishops. But of course many issues cut across diocesan or metropolitan boundaries so it does make sense to issue co-ordinated statements at times.
My complaint has generally been that the ACBC has tended to focus on rather marginal - and highly political where different judgments can be made - issues in the past, and ignored the clearcut biggies.
Actually on many issues, particularly where one can legitimately come to different views, I think the bishops might do better to develop an active strategy (note the words active strategy though, I'm not suggesting leaving it to chance!) aimed at encouraging members of the laity to step up and be the major spokesperson. The public square is after all the space where the "co-responsibility" of the laity could and should have real content!
Nonetheless, it is good to see Archbishop Wilson speaking up on euthanasia presumably in his role as President of the Conference (although that seems a little ambiguous) as well as Archbishop of Adelaide.
And I'm certainly in favour of the Bishops Conference putting out strong statements on core moral issues like this provided they can agree on something tough and substantive!
Action not just words
It shouldn't just or even primarily be a matter of words though, but of co-ordinated action, and in fact that is where I would have thought a Bishops Conference really has the most value to add potentially at least.
It makes sense for example to pool the costs of putting together catechetical material and sermon notes on issues like abortion, euthanasia and homosexual 'marriage'. To look collectively at which lay organisations out there could be of assistance in getting the Church's message out, and supporting them in doing so. To develop co-ordinated media strategies and events to highlight the issues in practical ways.
That is why it was so disappointing that the Conference did little or nothing to push the Pope's Vigil for Nascent Human Life for example (except to make it more difficult to hold by virtue of the ACBC meeting date!). The prayers that were offered will obviously be of inestimable value. But how much more it could have been, if every bishop across Australia had led something in their Cathedral, and managed to fill it up as a result of good catechesis. And if appropriate media coverage had been arranged both before and afterwards. Of course, there is always the option of trying for this next year...
PS Blog watcher, Terra is a she, not a he!