As I watched a fellow Catholic priest spar with you on the March 9 edition of Hannity and Colmes, I hung my head in shame and sadness. My colleague in religion (whom I've never met) used the public airways and Internet to call you a heretic and hypocrite. Because he chose to do this in a public forum, I want you and your viewers to know, publicly, that as an analyst of this television network, I believe this good priest, who does great work, exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment. I consider his willingness to give his personal opinion about your status within the Church inappropriate and ill-considered, to say the least.
Regardless of the issue and arguments at hand, brandishing law without palpable love almost always repels. I must assume he just made an honest mistake.
The unfortunate event reminded me of the bigger question of the fast-eroding credibility among religious leaders in our nation and its causes.
I should start, or rather continue, at home with the Catholic Church, your church and mine. As you rightly stated in the same television segment, the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse within some sectors of Catholic Church leadership was a monstrous scandal and its effects will be long-lasting. Even those priests who were not involved in the mess, as I am sure is the case with the priest in question, can never forget that those of us who wear a clerical collar still conjure up painful memories in many people's minds. The strange looks and rash judgments to which we are at times subjected is not the people's fault; it's ours, in as much as we are members of a very guilty family.
In this light, before we clergy members speak out publicly against public offenses, as sometimes we must do, we should ask ourselves and God why we are doing what we are doing, and what the best way to do it is, according to the circumstances, and always with palpable love. The question is not only if what we have to say is correct, but where, when, and how we should say it. I, for one, would have communicated my beliefs in a different way on more than one occasion if I had followed this advice.
I would be remiss if I were to suggest that the loss of religious credibility begins and ends with Catholic leaders. When we hear television evangelists wonder out loud whether Ariel Sharon's stroke might be God's judgment on him for making territorial concessions to the Palestinians, we lose trust. When, year after year, we listen to self-proclaimed prophets predict the day and the hour of the “end-times,” we lose trust. When we turn on the television and hear preachers promise heaven on earth if we give, give, give to the Church — their church — we lose trust. When we hear mainline Protestant pastors and their associations throw Biblical tradition to the wind and make wishy-washy statements about faith and morality, we lose trust.
The non-Christian religions are in even worse shape regarding leadership credibility. Is there a single Muslim imam who stands out today for his national leadership toward peace? What Muslim scholar can we trust to speak with scholarly proficiency and universal authority about the alleged peaceful nature of Islam?
The Jewish community in America is so splintered and disjointed on themes of dogma and religious tradition, it is difficult to find anyone who speaks for the majority, or even for the masses.
Here's my point:
When we believe we have discovered truth and, therefore, we believe others are wrong — a sign of cultivated intelligence, not pride — we must reject the temptation to throw civility to the wind. Being right always didn't ever inspire Jesus to jeopardize people's reputation or dignity. It went against his very nature, and it should go against ours too. Sometimes he spoke harshly, but he always spoke in love, and he made sure people knew it.
Sean, I don't always agree with you and Alan, as I have told both of you in person, but I think you are both honest, and both have the humility and courage to accept truth when you stumble across it, even when it comes in bits and pieces. I think it's precisely this three-pronged attitude of honesty, humility and courage that best prepares us, with all of our imperfections, for heaven.
God bless, Father Jonathan
What I’ve Been Reading
Values and Politics
• Evangelicals in Exile: Could the Christian Right Abandon the GOP?
• Survey: How Does the Faith of Republicans, Democrats Measure Up?
• Father Knows Best: Presidents and Their Children
• Has Ann Coulter Hit Her Tipping Point?
• Decoding 'The Secret': 'Attaction' of Blockbuster Book, DVD Hit-and-Miss Translation
• Are MySpace, Facebook, Texting Deleting â€˜Realâ€™ Human Interaction?
• When a Worshipper’s Home is Also a Church
• A Silent Fall of the Chivalrous Cowboy
• No Such Thing as Torture-Lite: Mental Abuse as Traumatic as Physical Torture
• Church Grapples with How to Deal with Convicted Sex Offender
• U.S. Cadaver System 'Broken'
• Dred Scott Descendant Pushes for Unborn Rights (Contains Material That May Be Disturbing For Some Readers)
Not All News is Bad News
• Bringing Christ to the Catwalk
• Missouri Facility Redefining Notions of Elder Care
• Muslim Religious Leaders Tour U.S., Meet Ordinary Americans
• Unexpected Generosity: Stranger Provides Means For Mom to Visit Her Afflicted Son
News Which Never Made the News
• Is the Discovery Channel Burying the “Lost Tomb”?
• Conservapedia is the Religious Right's Answer to Wikipedia
• Britain’s Wake-Up Call: String of Youth Homicides Sparks a National Soul-Searching
• Racial Tensions Simmering in Hawaiiâ’s Melting Pot