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Changing Currents in Romanism

July 31st, 2007
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As readers of this blog site know, I’m never hesitant to point when and where the Roman Catholic Church continues to be, and to act, every bit as much as it always has. Most recently the repetition of the claims of the essentialityof Papal supremacy signalled that, on that key issue, Rome has not changed, nor has it changed its tune on justification, even though it has set it in a more pleasing key for modern ears.

But, it is good to see prominent Roman Catholics emphasizing how Rome has changed its manner of claiming the right to govern not only the Church, but also the entire world. If you believe in fact this is not the case, that Rome still asserts its universal authority over the two kingdoms, let me know. But here is Neuhaus’ take on it.

A Respectful Word on Episcopal Competence

By Richard John Neuhaus

Tuesday, July 31, 2007,  5:00 AM

The word competence has several meanings, most of which congregate around ability and authority.
It is not clear which meaning is pertinent to the announcement that the
national bishops conference will be meeting with congressional
Democrats who are Catholics in order to devise a way to withdraw troops
from Iraq in what is described as a “responsible transition.” A week
later, presumably in order to underscore their bipartisanship, it was
announced that the bishops would be meeting also with Catholic

Bishop Thomas Wenski is chairman of the conference’s committee on
international policy. He said, “The current situation in Iraq is
unacceptable and unsustainable, as is the policy and political
stalemate among decision makers in Washington.” So it would seem that
the premise of this episcopal intervention is that the administration
is wrong and its critics are right about American policy in Iraq. But
maybe not. Perhaps the bishops are just saying the obvious: that nobody
likes the current situation in Iraq. They are obviously competent to
say the obvious, although it’s not clear why bishops are needed for

Yet more puzzling is the assertion that “the policy and political
stalemate among decision makers in Washington” is unacceptable and
unsustainable. Which “policy” might that be? The Iraq policy of the
administration? The policy of political stalemate in Congress? If the
latter, stalemate is more practice than policy and is eminently
sustainable, as is evident throughout most of congressional history.

Bishop Wenski continues: “Our conference hopes to work with the
Congress and the administration to forge bipartisan policies on ways to
bring about a responsible transition and an end to the war.” Here is
where the question of competence gets more interesting. What gives the
bishops conference either the ability or the authority to be forging
policies for the conduct of foreign affairs by the U.S. government?
And, allowing for the moment that they do have that competence, why are
they meeting only with Catholics in Congress? Is the result of this
intervention to be a Catholic foreign policy? Paul (American Freedom and Catholic Power) Blanshard, call your office.

Bishops are ordained “to teach, sanctify, and govern.” Govern is usually understood to mean governing the Church, not the country. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict insists that the Church concentrate on its proper work (opus proprium)
of evangelization, teaching, and the works of charity: “Christian
charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It
is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at
the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present
here and now the love which man always needs.”

One is inclined to the view that the bishops conference does not
have the competence, in the meaning of both ability and authority, to
forge, or serve as broker in the efforts of others to forge, worldly
stratagems for the Middle East. It is not evident that the nation lacks
legitimate political authorities whose task it is to deal with such
matters. Nor is it evident that there is a bipartisan call for the
bishops to help them do their job.

Kindly note that I have refrained from mentioning that the recent
record of the bishops in governing the Church—where they do have
competence (at least in the sense of authority)—is not so stellar as to
warrant great confidence in their ability to conduct American foreign
policy. Nor, be it noted, have I mentioned that no comparable
initiative has been announced by the bishops conference to
constructively engage the many Catholic members of Congress who reject
and persistently work against the Church’s teaching regarding the
protection of unborn children, a matter indisputably within episcopal
competence and on which the conference has spoken words of admirable

Please do not think that the questions raised here would be any
different if the bishops conference had announced its intention to
“forge bipartisan policies for prevailing in Iraq and winning the war
on terror.” They would not. And please do not blame Bishop Wenski.
After all, there is that committee on international policy, he is the
chairman, and committees have an irrepressible itch to do something.
Perhaps, when its members can take time from the onerous episcopal
responsibilities that are properly theirs, the committee might work for
the next few years on a thoughtful statement addressing the Church’s opus proprium and its incompatibility with the ambition to be a player in the contriving of worldly stratagems.

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