qui tacet consentire videtur
(“he who is silent is taken to agree”)
You’ve heard silence is deafening. Mumbles can be too and that is where we are right now with the American Catholic Church as it relates to American governance.
Many argue silence seems to be in short demand right now. We do not listen enough goes the refrain. There is a great deal of screaming and shouting and protests. Some of that noise is about the screaming and shouting and protests.
One group that has been remarkably silent since this historic election cycle and first days of the new Presidency is the American Catholic Church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has gone basically silent. They have become the ultimate single issue voter and have no opinion elsewhere. Their glee over Supreme Court Gorsuch who may overturn Roe v. Wade is evident. The Catholic Church seems like a group of giddy children at Christmas, excited abortion may no longer be a national right. There are few American Roman Catholic leaders speaking out about other issues.
When Roman Catholic Bishops do speak they do so without conviction. They are speaking like timid politicians awaiting poll results. The one statement the USCCB has made claims to not want to enter the political arena, despite doing so throughout 2016. Their statement of support for refugees has all the flowery prose of a Valentine’s Day card, but it has no commitment. The statement does not even condemn the ban – despite more than 1000 civil servant diplomats doing so.
The promotion of peace, marriage, religious freedom, immigration, or healthcare all seems to have slipped by the wayside. I am old enough to remember when the Roman Catholic Church had multiple points of focus Worse, the American Catholic Church, when it does speak, seems to be campaigning actively for one party over another.
Remember in November, a San Diego parish actually published a church bulletin saying voting for Democrats or Hillary Clinton was a mortal sin. That parish leadership promised eternal damnation over the vote – an astounding version of electoral and theologic log rolling.
The scene of American bishops standing idly by while the new Trump administration takes their rights away is not hard to imagine either. In another late campaign move, Timothy Cardinal Dolan hosted Donald Trump is his Manhattan offices but declined audience requests for other federal candidates at the same time. Their conversations have been kept secret, but how close were they to the conferences between Pope Pius XII and Hitler’s diplomats?
The USCCB has also sat silently as Donald Trump filled the White House with overt racists and anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. A report earlier in the new administration said Richard Spencer, the leader of the American alt-Right and noted neo-Nazi, claims he worked with Stephen Miller when they were both students at Duke University.
Miller is now happily in the White House as Senior Adviser to the President for Policy. Spencer now seems disappointed when he speaks about Miller as only being a nationalist, but unsure if he is a true “racial nationalist.”
Like the 1930s, the American Catholic Church seems comfortable with fascists in power and has forgotten its roots of providing healthcare to the sick, food to the hungry, and refuge for those fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria. They have seemed to have given up on any issue other than abortion.
In one of his first Executive Orders, Donald Trump shows a willingness to disregard the First Amendment to our Constitution. Anyone else remembers these words from the Constitution? The Trump White House could use a primer.
“…Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
The initial text of the Bill of Rights deals with religion. The argument the Founders could not have known about Islam is specious at best. First, Islam existed and our Founders would have been educated on it. Second, they had seen what had happened in the sixteenth century by a government tore from its people over faith. The Founders intended no government religion and the ping-pong nature of Catholic versus Anglican monarchies battling one another. They wanted a government of continuity.
Seven days into his administration, though, Donald Trump ran headlong into a crisis of his own making with his immigration ban. Now a month in he repeats the error.
Israel is up in arms as over one hundred thousand Jews are affected who were born in the seven countries listed. This includes fifty thousand Jews in Iraq. Additionally, Syrian Christians were denied entry, and in at least one case, a man was physically forced onto a plane bound for Iran. Multiple religious organizations have objected, but the silence of the USCCB is astounding. They do not even criticize the incompetence of the competing bureaucracy now leading the White House.
The ban for persons with passports from seven mostly Middle Eastern countries was haphazard at best. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, an eleven-month-old girl was detained because she was coming from Sudan. Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary on Monday said: “to assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be wrong.” At the time he was speaking of a five-year-old. His statement would apply to a child under a year, though.
Several important questions exist. Why was an American detained at that age? How is a child denied food for half a day with no outcry? How is an infant separated from her family? These separations reek of the stain of the Holocaust. The eleven-month-old child is named Jude, per a Dallas Morning News article.
I do not know Jude’s faith background or that of her family. I do know another Jude – one of Christ’s apostles, the brother of James. I know the Roman Catholic Church considers St. Jude to be the Patron Saint of desperate causes and situations.
Silence deems consent. This is an adage hundred of years old but is ever truer today. It reminds me of pre-Elizabethan England.
Thomas More was a vocal opponent of the Protestant Reformation that swept through England. Though he had been Lord High Chancellor to King Henry VIII, he was an ardent Catholic. He disapproved of Henry’s separation from the Catholic Church. He went so far as to refuse to acknowledge Henry as Head of the Church of England, a tradition that continues today.
More was accused of treason after refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy. His argument was that his silence deemed consent, and he did not need to voice support when his silence sufficed. For this, he was convicted of treason and beheaded uttering the words “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Silence has occurred throughout history. Perhaps the worst was the silence of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in the 1930s.
Pope Pius XII was known as “Hitler’s Pope.” The full record is unclear as church leaders refuse to open the Vatican archives. Things we do know about his tenure include his unwillingness to speak out about Nazi atrocities. While Jews, Poles, gypsies and others were systematically exterminated, the Roman Catholic Church stood silent. We also know of a 1946 instruction to French bishops ordering Jewish children not be returned to their families or Jewish charities.
While Pope Pius XII issued his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, calling the invasion of Poland an “hour of darkness,” he was partly to blame for the invasion itself. Like Neville Chamberlain, Pope Pius XII had attempted the path of appeasement through the Reichskonkordat.
The Reichsonkonkordat, an agreement between Germany and the Vatican, provided immense international coverage for the German Nazi leadership. Hitler clearly thought he had the church’s approval. German Catholics thought the Church had either accepted Nazi control of Germany or were not opposed. In Guenter Lewy’s book on the Catholic Church and Nazi Germany:
There is general agreement that the Concordat increased substantially the prestige of Hitler’s regime around the world. As Cardinal Faulhaber put it in a sermon delivered in 1937: “At a time when the heads of the major nations in the world faced the new Germany with cool reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic Church, the greatest moral power on earth, through the Concordat expressed its confidence in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation of the new government abroad.
While Pius XII attempted appeasement, Hitler began enacting laws restricting religious institutions and education and mandating attendance at Hitler Youth camps which were held Sunday mornings. Hitler held himself out as the new church.
During Nazi era Germany, it seemed that when politics and faith collided some Roman Catholics were prepared to resist. Most German Christians though “proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship.” This silent obedience in the face of evil would be considered evil today. We often state we would act differently if faced with the same issues today, but do we really?
While the Catholic Church is silent so called conservatives are not. One session at this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference is entitled “If Heaven Has A Gate, A Wall, And Extreme Vetting, Why Can’t America?” While the Catholic Church is silent, others choose to play God and speak for Him. Their heresy forgets Jesus Christ himself was a refugee of Herod. He fled into Egypt from his own country to avoid murder. This story is one of the reasons Catholics are supposed to be supportive of those who flee war-torn countries and those who seek for peace and prosperity.
Similar to eighty-five years ago, it seems the American Catholic Church has abdicated its moral leadership on multiple issues. This “American Concordat” is a warning that we must heed. The young girl at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has a name which may be very appropriate to this cause – Jude. Right now we are in dangerous, desperate times. They are brought about by an administration that is more interested in power than good policy. Unfortunately, the very people who should be standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves are silent. That silence is taken to mean they consent to the atrocities happening both now and that will happen in the future.
Once again the Catholic Church is ceding its moral authority. It is sitting down where it should be standing up. We should learn from a young American named Jude. We should be speaking up for her and all those whose voices are suppressed by intolerance. We are in desperate times and our silence is deafening.