No Clergy on 9/11

by Michael Sean Winters

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Bill Donohue, the blowhard head of the Catholic League, has attacked the decision of Mayor Michael Bloomberg not to include clergy in the city's official commemoration of the attacks of 9/11.

I do not often find myself in agreement with Mr. Donohue, but he is undoubtedly right on this score. The exclusion of clergy from the commemoration of an event that more than any other in recent years drove Americans to their knees is absurd. Concerns about which religions to include are also absurd. At presidential inaugurations, some clergy are included and not others. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there were plenty of inter-faith services. I do not perceive, as Donohue does, a specific insult to Catholics or even to religious people in general in Bloomberg's decision. He probably just sees religion as a contentious issue and would prefer to stay away from it.

But, that points to the real reason to include clergy in the commemoration. Whatever else it was, the attack on 9/11 was a religious act, committed by men convinced their odious deed would earn them the laurels of martyrdom. Of course, for most religious people, the attack was a perversion of the religious impulse, but you can't confront it as such on purely secular terms. I do not care if Archbishop Dolan is given a speaking role, although I am sure his words would be both wise and comforting. But, we need a Muslim cleric to stand that day and call out the terrorists as false prophets, guided by a twisted and unorthodox understanding of Islam. We all need that, and Muslims more than the rest of us.

Of course, it is at times like this that I am consumed with an almost Metternich-quality desire for a state religion. The inclusion of clerics alongside politicians would not necessarily invite the kind of profundity the occasion demands. The clergy would invoke the bromides of American civil religion, to be sure, but I detest that civil religion for its propensity to reduce the faith to a prop for Americanism. Even if the clergy were included, the event would not be liturgical in any significant regard, and in such moments, my heart yearns for liturgy.

So, while Bloomberg is wrong, this is not the end of the world. The important thing for Catholics to do on the anniversary of 9/11 is to go to Mass. That is where we find our answer to the mystery of human suffering and human evil. That is the only place where we find such an answer.

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