In light of some of the comments here and elsewhere concerning the letter sent to the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), and signed by a number of Catholic scholars and leaders, I think it’s important to make a few observations and raise some questions. What follows is a series of reflections that have occurred to me as this debate has unfolded in recent days.

A popular critique, although I doubt its veracity, is that the signatories of the letter to Boehner (often and vaguely referred to as “left” or “liberal” Catholics, whatever those qualifiers mean) are now suddenly concerned about Catholic moral teaching and have been, to borrow a line from someone who commented on this blog earlier, silent “with regard to child sacrifice [sic].”

Is it true that the signatories of this letter have been silent in matters concerning moral teaching related to abortion? I’m not sure that is true. I suggest that one possibility has to do with who is “silent” when.

  • Could it be that amid the often loud and bombastic shouts of challenge from some Catholics in matters related to abortion, the said shouters are so focused on their own involvement in the debate and protest to examine the perhaps less-orotund voices now critiqued for their continued championing of Catholic moral teaching?
  • Could it be that now that those usually marching and shouting and protesting against politicians and laws concerning the unborn are silent on Catholic moral teaching related to the living that they can hear the less-ostentatious, yet equally faithful challenge of those women and men committed to the dignity of all human life?
  • Could it be that a certain segment of the American Catholic population has been so duped by a political agenda into thinking that Catholics are a single-issue demographic (the issue being abortion) that they have mistaken their religious compatriots for adversaries that are critiquing their faith instead of their politics?
  • Could it be that this same segment of the American Catholic population has become so singularly focused on only one issue of Catholic moral teaching to the detriment of the rest of the tradition that it no longer recognizes the voice of Truth in the challenge of their sisters and brothers in Christ?
  • Could it be that some Catholics simply do not want to care for their fellow sisters and brothers and resent being “called out” on that truth?
  • Could it be that so many other contributing factors have come together to create the condition for the possibility of dissonance and disrespect, intolerance and vitriol? That perhaps this isn’t about what the reactionaries to the letter claim it is?

Meanwhile the dignity of human life that the same folks who are criticizing the signatories of that letter claim to defend above all else remains intractably threatened by policies of certain political parties. It is not enough to defend the unborn at the expense of the living. While it may be easier and safer to march for the sake of a baby never born than it is to care for the poor and marginalized in our midst, we must work with as much vigor and determination — if not more — for the poor and marginalized as we do for the unborn.

Perhaps if those who are still shouting would be quiet for a while and listen to what these teachers and leaders have to say, they will recognize the call of the Shepherd from the Gospel; the shepherd who both cares for his sheep, but in the end separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25).



  1. Thank you, Dan, for this insightful post. Sadly, the ‘vocal’ bishops — a small minority of the America episcopate — fall clearly in the ‘certain segment of American Catholics’ that you are describing. The shrillness of their voices is so loud at times that I, as a member of the ‘faithful’ am not able to hear the ‘voices of shepherds’ (in our Lord’s sense of the term). In the Gospels we hear our Lord say, “(my) sheep will not follow a hireling, for they do not recognize his voice.”

    I can’t help wondering, at times, if that is why we have lost one-third of our Catholic faithful in the US (if the Pew Research is correct). The same research, I believe, finds our people ‘becoming Protestants’. I have met a lot of ‘recovering Catholics’ in my college classes who brag that in their new Churches, the Gospel is actually being preached!

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