This Fourth of July celebrates the closing of two public Catholic events promoting the churchâ€™s mission: Nuns on the Bus and the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishopsâ€™ Fortnight for Freedom. Itâ€™s all too easy to cast these two in opposition to each other as if they each expressed a different Catholicism.
However, it would be more accurate to see them as they are: complimentary sides of the same equation. Think: Ying and Yang, salt and pepper, good cop-bad cop. The nuns do not disagree with the bishops that we must defend religious liberty and the bishops join the nuns in opposing the Paul Ryan budget passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. What makes them different is the priority each places on their objective.
In a sense, these two events that started in June and conclude on the nationâ€™s birthday maximize the choices behind Catholic freedom. Paired together, they exhibit the full spectrum of Catholic commitments. Much like patrons of a cafeteria can choose either beef or chicken for lunch, Catholics have a varied menu this summer when engaged in social justice ministry. But if one chooses beef for oneself, that doesnâ€™t mean that other Catholics in line are denied the choice of chicken.
This is not to deny a climate in which different sides try to make their definition of Catholicism the only one. The current cohort of bishops seems to be following the top-down non-accommodating model of Pope John Paul II when he was cardinal archbishop in Poland: keep all Catholics unified under the direct leadership of the hierarchy so that when these prelates negotiate with government they have the full power of an obedient and militant laity. I would not deny the bishopsâ€™ pastoral charge to preserve the unity of the church. However, that unity is not the same as uniformity with a bishopâ€™s political preferences. [More]