I have to admit a bit of confusion with the recent uproar over the St. Patrick’s Day parade. From what I can tell, the discussion should be short and to the point. It is not as if the supreme law of the Church no longer exists – Salus Animarum Suprema Lex. I say this because the Church can and should be clear on issues of salvation, and such clarity must to begin in our own backyard. In this very public situation, and the many others like it that have recently popped up, the hierarchy should be able to make clear distinctions without initiating a blog war. And yet that has not happened. In fact, for the most part, the hierarchy has not been doing any of the talking.
As I reflected on this situation, a quote from the movie American President came to mind. In the scene, the sitting president (Michael Douglas) has chosen to remain silent on a personal matter while his opponent smears him publicly. Due to his silence, his opponent’s popularity ratchets up while his own plunges. With his polling numbers at an all time low, his closest assistant (Michael J. Fox) says to him:
"People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand."
I believe we have reached this point in our own ecclesial situation in the United States. There are many people talking, Catholic and non-Catholic, but the voices most silent have been the Catholic Hierarchy who have yet to speak with an authentic voice. One example of such leadership was Venerable Fulton Sheen, who stepped up to the microphone and always spoke clearly and authoritatively. Who in the American hierarchy today has filled that void? In noting this, it does not mean Catholics are not listening because they are, to whomever is speaking. For instance, in the midst of this debacle, Time has published an online article by a supposed lay Catholic leader claiming that, although it will take a lot longer than it took President Obama, the Church is finally evolving on gay marriage and gay rights. While I, and many other well-educated Catholics, could respond to this claim, and some have, unless the response comes from someone tasked with being an authentic voice of “the Church,” any response given will be taken with a grain of salt.
In recent days, Catholic writers in the blogosphere have taken positions that range from calling for Cardinal Dolan’s resignation (and even saying that if he doesn’t repent he will burn in hell) to a full support for his compassionate tactics, if they could be called tactics at all. None of the positions taken are really all that helpful. At this point, I find it hard to condemn or confirm him because I have not heard anything from him, or any other member of the hierarchy, that could be taken as authentic. In fact, with all the voices that are speaking at the same time, the noise right now has become deafening. Yet the silence is even more deafening. Of all the voices making noise, not one voice speaking has the credentials to silence the chatter. I think it would be better for everyone to keep asking, 'Where are the authentic voices?" I can say for sure that the people are thirsty, but it seems to me at this point that there are many Catholics who have resigned themselves to drinking sand.