Sunday, 13 May 2012

Hands off, keep quiet, don't 'judge': time to fightback! - Part I

There have been several issues on the boil over the last few weeks which raise a fundamental question for Catholics, namely when should we stand up and fight; when should we condemn actions as sins. 

The secularist, post-modern view that has infiltrated the Church constantly promotes the idea that we should avoid judgment, be 'tolerant', even of sin, and leave people to do their own thing.  But is this Catholicism?

Consider for example:
  • Michael Mullins' Cath Blog condemnation of my very mild piece on the scandal created by Fr Kevin Lee's announcement of his secret 'marriage' on television as being 'judgmental' of him rather than empathetic;
  • the ongoing resistance to the Vatican decision to reform the US religious women's peak body, the LCWR;
  • suggestions that the Church should step out of any investigative or other role in relation to accusations of sexual abuse and related sins, and leave it to the police;
  • our bishops' condemnation of the extension of the Northern Territory Intervention in Indigenous affairs, in the Stronger Futures legislation currently before the Parliament.  The bishops argue that the intervention should be abandoned and an alternative should be developed based on consulting and empowering indigenous people themselves; and
  • over at Eureka Street, the indefatigable Fr Frank Brennan argues that the US Bishops are wrong to resist the requirement for Catholic institutions health insurance to include contraception, sterilization and abortion, essentially because it has created a 'toxic' atmosphere.
At stake in all of these cases, it seems to me, are some basic principles that go to when it is and isn't proper to speak up, and I'd like to attempt to tease them out.  Let's start today with the idea that we shouldn't condemn public sin and scandal!

Principle 1:  It is not being 'judgmental' to condemn public sin and scandal!

One of the common tactics of those seeking to subvert the Church today is to refuse to condemn sin: where Christ said 'Go and sin no more', they want to say go and keep sinning!

Mr Mullins appears to be taking this tack in his blog watcher piece last week where he says:

"Responses to the news that Parramatta Diocese priest Father Kevin Lee has been married for more than a year include judgment and empathy."

My blog piece, of course, was adjudged to be the judgmental one!

It is true of course that Scripture tells us to judge not lest we be judged.  But this is surely a warning not to make unwarranted assumptions about the motivations of others, not to condemn people based on what we think their reasons for acting might be when we have no means of knowing the truth.

It is a reminder that in the end only God can judge whether the object, circumstances and end of our actions are righteous: indeed, we can even delude ourselves on these issues, or allow the devil to delude us.

I've seen some commentary on Fr Lee that I think certainly falls into the category of unwarranted judgment in certain places, both on the sympathetic side (one can't help oneself if one falls in love!) and the unsympathetic (the Dan Brown conspiracy theory and more).  That we should avoid such speculations seems to me reasonably clear cut in Catholic teaching.

That doesn't mean, though, that we shouldn't call a sin a sin!  The hard reality is that some things are always objectively sinful.  And announcing them publicly, claiming even that they are not sins at all but a good compounds things by adding the sin of scandal.  Breaking one's promise to celibacy as a priest; living in secret sin for a year while continuing to act as a priest; revealing it not privately to one's confessor and bishop but publicly on television; and then offering either calumny or detraction about one's fellow priests are all objectively such actions. 

Should we then offer empathy in such cases? 

I'd certainly feel some empathy with a priest who admitted that he had struggled with temptation but had succeeded, with the help of others, in overcoming it.  I'd feel sympathy with him if he had asked for prayers to help him turn away from sin.  I'd feel some sympathy if he had apologised to his parishioners.

In the actual circumstances though, what seems needed is a call for him to turn away from sin, not support for continuing down the path that leads to hell, and above all not to suggest that others follow him...

We are not 'judging' the sinner in doing so, only the sin.

More tomorrow.


Maureen said...

I've noticed, so often, this trend to announce one's Life Decisions in a public place "so that others will know they are not the only ones...."
What is actually being sought is affirmation that the confronting behaviour and Life choices are perfectly normal.
I think that if this priest decided to announce his marriage on TV - in a public forum - then it has to be understood that public responses are inevitable and appropriate,whatever their content.

Tancred said...

Do they really expect that people will be cowed by their spurious declamations, "judge not" any more?

This isn't the 60s any more.