The National Catholic Review
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Bishops and the Conference

Parishioners at St. John’s Church in Honesdale, Pa., might be excused for being confused about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Oct. 19, at a forum on the presidential election sponsored by the parish, Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton interrupted a seminar in progress. As the local newspaper reported the event, he expressed his opposition to the way in which the forum was representing the church’s teaching on voting for pro-choice candidates. When Margaret Gannon, I.H.M., of Marywood University, referred to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, a document on the moral responsibilities of Catholic voters published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was approved by a 98 percent majority, Bishop Martino replied, “No U.S.C.C.B. document is relevant in this diocese…. The U.S.C.C.B. does not speak for me.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops traces its history as far back as 1917, when the American bishops organized to provide spiritual care for servicemen during wartime. Today, like many nationwide and regional conferences, the U.S.C.C.B. helps to articulate a unified Catholic voice on important national issues. According to canon law, bishops’ conferences “jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory in view of promoting that greater good which the Church offers humankind” (Canon 447). The conference’s mission statement speaks of evangelization in a “communal and collegial manner.” Indeed, some of their most influential documents, like Economic Justice for All, The Challenge of Peace and Always Our Children, are the more powerful because of this “communal and collegial manner.”

Collegiality is an important aspect of the exercise of episcopal authority in our church. When a bishop speaks, we should listen. When the bishops speak together, with one voice, we should listen all the more.

Tasers as Deadly Weapons

An emotionally disturbed man fell to his death from a building ledge in Brooklyn, N.Y., after a policeman stunned him with a Taser in late September. The death of Iman Morales gives new impetus to a long-simmering debate over how and whether to use Tasers, high voltage devices that cause muscular disruption. Some 12,000 police, jail and prison agencies in the United States use them. Amnesty International, while acknowledging that the use of a Taser can sometimes be justified as an alternative to firearms, has long been critical of their use against mentally disturbed people.

Last year, Amnesty issued a statement calling for a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into Taser-related deaths. Though “less injurious than firearms...the vast majority of people who have died,” its report said, “have been unarmed men who did not pose a threat.” Mr. Morales, for example, was unarmed and posed no threat. The statement added that Tasers are being too widely used before rigorous testing as to their potential health risks. Mr. Morales’s death, moreover, makes it clear that police chiefs should require far more training for their officers in the use of these control devices. The use of Tasers can be harmful even for conscientious law enforcement personnel. The officer who gave the order to fire at Morales committed suicide a few days later, a grim sign of the Taser’s doubly lethal potential.

Do Rocks Have Rights?

Dec. 10 is the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. Various groups have been pushing for the recognition of animal rights, and over 100 law schools in the United States teach courses on animal law. In California voters just cast ballots for or against Proposition 2, regarding how much space should be allotted to industrially farmed chickens, cows and pigs.

A new stage beyond human and animal rights was reached, however, on Sept. 28, when Ecuadorans approved their new constitution. Article One of the chapter on rights for nature states: “Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” Having granted inalienable rights to nature, the state now has the responsibility to protect vegetative life and mineral resources. Trees now have standing, and rocks have rights!

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has listed damage to the environment as a new deadly sin. Respect for the world is respect for God the Creator. The attitude advocated is neither anthropocentric nor ecocentric but theocentric, centered on God, the giver of all good gifts.

Perhaps speaking of the rights of nature is simply a new way to speak of environmental ethics. In light of the multiple threats to our environment, we hope it is an effective way that does not lead to legal absurdities and skewed public policy.

Comments

Ed Tomezsko | 11/12/2008 - 1:31pm
Bishop Martino of Scranton announces at a local conference on "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship", that "no U.S.C.C.B. document is relevant in this diocese... The U.S.C.C.B. does not speak for me". I was taught that there is such a thing as a "universal" church. I suspect that Bishop Martino is only a member when it is convenient for him to be a member. I wonder what would have happened, if those at the conference simply got up and left the conference and convened again at the next diocese over??? Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful, please?
Douglas Cook | 11/11/2008 - 1:27pm
This USCCB Abortion debate, which is centered on consensus, sounds like the "human caused" global warming fiction. Global warming fiction is where empirical scientific data is replaced with “opinion” science and is supported and then made dogma by “scientific” consensus. Bishop Martino appears not to comply with USCCB opinion consensus. How refreshing! It appears Bishop Martino “empirically” understands that Abortion is wrong and no matter how so called Catholic ministers and laymen try to justify a vote that approves of and promotes unlimited abortion that this “opinion” consensus does not make a Mortal sin (abortion) a virtue. Abortion is a very simple and non complex issue. An innocent vulnerable precious baby is murdered in the womb or just out of the womb! The Catholic Church has always supported life over abortion. Some politicians using the confusing USCCB fog language generated from some of the USCCB pronouncements have tried to justify their support for an abortion vote based on the confusion. Intentional confusion appears to be a hallmark of the bishops when addressing a critical problem. Remember the homosexual pedophile priest problem/justification! Here is a simple solution: Abortion is absolutely wrong. Anyone who knowingly supports and/or promotes abortion be it in private or on the public square is guilty of a grave sin. Those Catholics who support abortion should not receive the sacraments it is their thought, desire, word, action, or omission forbidden by God that removes them from the state of grace. Since God gave man an intellect and will it should be the individual who should decide to refrain from Holy Communion and other sacraments. To come back to the church they must examine their conscience, confess their sin and do penance. A successful abortion kills an innocent baby every time it is tried. I find it stunning there is even a discussion in Catholic circles to try to justify a vote for a candidate or a party/ideology that promotes and advocates abortion! How far we have drifted from easy, simple and basic Catholic beliefs.
Matt Wyzynski | 11/3/2008 - 4:17pm
While you cited the relevant canon regarding the role of an episcopal conference, many regarding the duties of the ordinary were not cited. Was this meant to be a balanced look at Bishop Martino's actions?
Andrew Russell | 11/3/2008 - 12:49pm
It sounds as if Bishop Martino was speaking out of frustration when he said that no USCCB document has authority in his diocese. It is my understanding that some documents of the USCCB, such as the National Directory for Catechesis are binding on a local diocese, while others, perhaps "...Faithful Citizenship" are not. It would seem prudent that if a bishop disagrees with 98% of his brethren, he would explain why, rather than dismiss the collective wisdom and authority of an entire national conference. But again, perhaps he was just frustrated that others have come to different conclussions than he did. I am a little unclear what Mr. Perry is trying to say in his comment. It helps when people write complete sentences.
James Springer | 11/3/2008 - 12:55am
Seems that Mr. Perry, has that "effrontry" turned on its heard. The USCCB is an authorised body of Catholic leaders. That Bishop Martino would have the effronty to say the USCCB doesn't speak for him is scary and might even be scandolous. Does his effronty give us licence to hold what he holds? Or do only "other" bishops have the right to refuse to follow the guidance of some 90% of the Bishops speaking collegially. Umm
Carlton Perry | 11/1/2008 - 10:56am
Nicely put, the undercutting of the Bishop of Scranton. It appears to be acceptable, to the U.S.C.C.B., that Bishop Martino minister to his flock as long as he clears statements with the rest of the U.S. bishops. I lived in the diocese of Scranton for nearly sixty years. The 'Catholic Light,' never missed an issue, was high on my list of publications. Bishop Martino's predecessors, Bishop Timlin was an inspiration to me and to the diocese and I cannot believe that your effrontery would have occurred if John O'Connor was still resident, represented the authority of the church. A bishop, particularly in the See of Scranton, is the personal shepherd of his flock and only the Holy Father should question his guidance. Let us not walk down the path worn by recent developments regarding authority in other American churches
John Schuster-Craig | 10/31/2008 - 8:14pm
Why do bishops feel free to deny communion to politicians who do not have a 100% pure voting record on abortion, but would never think of denying communion to politicians who support unjust wars, or who fully support the death penalty (esp. in Texas)? The Catholic Church, frankly, is not a pro-life church. It is a church run by celibate males, who are obsessed with sex to the exclusion of all other issues, and who are indifferent to most of the real moral issues facing us as a country.

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