Even though we were completely wrong, we were right. Besides, since you were not obliged to listen in the first place, it doesn’t matter that we were wrong. Even though we were right. Moreover, since circumstances change, which means that we must be careful not to rely on an analysis of circumstances that may no longer exist. In other words, we are not obliged to learn from our mistakes, even though we wrong. But since we were wrong then, we must be right now.
Confused? Me too. But this is about as much logic as I could find in Fr. Richard McBrien’s latest defense of dinosaurdom. Fr. McBrien is out to show that 25 years after the U.S. Catholic bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, issued the pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” which attempted to apply universal moral principles to the issues of the day(arms control, unilateral nuclear disarmament, etc) even though their conclusions were all wrong, they were really right.
McBrien starts by making sure that the we understand pastoral letter was not a binding anyway, except for its moral principles which should be differentiated from the recommended prudential application of those principles, which turned out to be mostly wrong. In other words, Fr. McBrien is insisting that they had the formula right, they just did the math incorrectly.
I insisted at the time that, long after there were changes in the geo-political and military situations, the pastoral letter’s methodological points would still be valid.
Those situations have changed. The Soviet Union no longer exists. The United States and its allies are now concerned about the possession and development of nuclear weapons by other unfriendly nations, or about the securing of nuclear warheads by terrorist groups.
But the letter’s basic methodological principles, contained for the most part, although not exclusively, in articles 9, 10, 16 and 17, retain their validity and relevance.
I’m sorry, they only people get to be consistently wrong but yet still can claim prognosticatory authority are weathermen.
Amazingly, while McBrien still thinks that he and his discredited friends are still right on the fundamentals, the real takeway from this debacle is that this proves that we don’t have to listen to the Bishops today when they make prudential jusdgments about morality. Yes, the fact McBrien and his cadre of episcopal comrades blew it 25 years ago, means we don’t have to listen to the Bishops today on moral matters. Of course, says McBrien, we should give the Bishops moral recommendations should be given “serious attention”, whether we listen is up to us.
In other words, although Catholics are not obliged to accept without question or criticism every teaching of the hierarchy on faith and morals, they are required to give those teachings “serious attention and consideration.” Thus, while it is wrong for some Catholics on the right to oppose all expressions of dissent by more liberal Catholics, it is also wrong for Catholics in the latter group to adopt an uncritically dismissive approach to official teachings.
Here is the kicker, while we should have listened to the liberal Bishops 25 years ago because “they said so”, we are now way to grown up for that argument to cut the mustard.
While arguments from the Bible or from papal teaching, for example, may still be probative for many Catholics, the wider civil community must be persuaded by arguments based on evidence. Appeals to authority alone are inadequate. In fact, they are also inadequate for today’s well-educated Catholics.
In other words, since a generation ago the progressives misused their authority, they proved that authority is no longer of any value. Since the progressives are now losing their iron grip on the their once dominant authority, authority is useless.
One final query, anyone willing to take bets on how long until we find Fr. McBrien mindlessly wandering around the dog track talking to himself with his name and return address pinned to his sweater? Seeing all his progressive dreams slipping away, one by one, is driving the ol’ boy mad. Mad, I tell you.