Author: Lisa Graas
•7/11/2010 01:19:00 PM
It has always fascinated me that within various faith traditions, just as in politics, there is always a left and a right.  One might say that politics influences religion and vice versa.  Certainly, there is a lot of that going on, but I tend to think that whether or not individual people end up leaning left or right has a lot to do with their own life experiences and how they interpret them.  We choose to go left or right, in other words, based on our subjective interpretation of what is truth and what is not truth.  Naturally, we view those who see things differently as our adversaries and we unite together with like-minded individuals to oppose them, most often in the sphere of public debate.  We hope that if our voices are louder and more reasonable than theirs, we will win others to our proverbial banner and gain power so that we can bring about what we believe "justice" is.  In other words, what we all have in common, no matter where we are on the spectrum, left or right, is that we are all seeking what we believe is 'justice'.  Perhaps if we realized that, we'd all get along a bit better.  Few among us actively and knowingly seek 'injustice'.  Even some murderers think they are justified in some way as they commit injustice.  God calls us, as the adage goes, to "love the sinner and hate the sin".  It's far easier to "love the sinner" when one understands that most people really do have good intentions.

So it is, I'm sure, with South African Bishop Kevin Dowling who was recently very critical of efforts by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to restore orthodoxy in the Church.  (National Catholic Reporter -- Catholic social teaching finds church leadership lacking) Bishop Dowling means well.  He seeks 'justice', or what he subjectively believes 'justice' to be, but he is quite wrong in his criticisms.  As I read his critical speech, which was before a group sympathetic to his views and was ostensibly not intended to have become public, I couldn't help but see arguments to turn the Church I know and love all topsy-turvy.

Father Z explains why Bishop Dowling is wrong in regard to vestments and ordination of women.
Advent Hope examines what may be Bishop Dowling's fear of orthodoxy.
Defend Us In Battle rightly notes that Bishop Dowling's arguments are "logically bankrupt".

I agree with each of them.  What fascinated (and troubled) me so much about Bishop Dowling's speech, far and above the other problems, is that he cited the doctrine of subsidiarity as reasoning for a democratic church structure wherein the people decide what is doctrine and what is not.  Subsidiarity refers to economic policy, that preference should be made for local solutions to advance social justice.  (Frank Morriss explains here.)  Bishop Dowling has it all backwards,  you see.   He seeks a large civil structure of social justice alongside a Catholic Church whose doctrines and disciplines are determined by the will of the people.

Bishop Dowling's speech offers a very strange example of appealing to the worst of both sides, not the best of both sides.  He gives sort of a "TEA Party" view of the will of the people overruling the Vatican and he gives a socialist view of economic policy.  Such a message, if it were given by an American bishop, would ironically gain some sympathy from TEA Partiers and socialists alike, with the Catholic Faithful left scratching their heads in dismay.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had yesterday after mass with my priest.  I noted that in politics now, the loudest voices are either far left or far right.  Catholics who embrace authentic Catholic teaching seem to be caught in the middle.  We agree with the moderate right on issues like subsidiarity and abortion.  We agree with the moderate left on issues like immigration and civil rights.  He agreed that it is indeed a conundrum for Catholics and, thankfully, he confirmed that as long as I do go to the polls on election day, if there is a particular race where I cannot cast a vote in good conscience, I can leave that box blank and fulfill my duty as a Catholic. This is rightly termed a "protest vote" against both parties.  What a relief this is for me. 

Each of us has the duty to work for justice in the world.  The vast majority of us sincerely do have that intention.  It seems clearer now to me than ever that, though we have come a very long way, we still have countless miles to travel.......and few among us have it right.

Cross-posted at
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