Last week, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement praising the ruling by Judge Susan Bolton that stayed certain aspects of a viciously anti-immigrant law in Arizona from going into effect.
Last week, I noted that there were legal concerns about the ruling, but with Bishop Wester, I completely concur that the essential justice of stopping an unjust law was served.
Along comes conservative blogger Thomas Peters, who spent much of the year criticizing Sr. Carol Keehan for being “disloyal” to the bishops because of her support for health care reform legislation. Peters, as well as others, have suggested that some penalties be inflicted upon Sr. Carol because she disagreed with the bishops as to whether or not the health care law included federal funding of abortion. These have included vile personal attacks, of which the nastiest was the comparison of Sr. Carol with Richard Rich, the villain whose lies helped convict St. Thomas More.
Now, it is Peters who criticizes Bishop Wester’s understanding of Judge Bolton’s decision, citing an article in National Review by Rich Lowry. I firmly believe that Mr. Peters – and Mr. Lowry – have every right to disagree with Bishop Wester on whether a given court ruling does or does not meet the demands of justice. On the merits, I think Wester is right and Peters and Lowry are wrong, but when it comes to praising or damning a court ruling based on its legal reasoning, bishops have no special charism giving them the kind of privileged position they do hold when interpreting the moral law.
But, how or why is Peters’ criticism of Bishop Wester any different from Sister Carol’s – I had almost written criticism, but Sr. Carol did not criticize the USCCB, she merely disagreed with them. Peters is at pains to point out that he agrees with the bishops on the need for immigration reform; he is only calling out the bishop for praising a ruling that he thinks deficient. I need hardly point out that this is precisely the stance that Sr. Carol took. Peters says he agrees with the bishops on immigration, but they misunderstand the law, in this case a judge’s ruling. Sr. Carol said she agreed with the bishops on the need to keep federal funding of abortion out of the health care reform, but that they misunderstood the law, in this case complicated legislative language.
So, I guess it turns out that the “parallel magisterium” that conservatives have been warning us about does not exist at the CHA. It is found at National Review via Thomas Peters instead. Conservatives are wont to criticize liberal Catholics for exercising what they call “cafeteria Catholicism,” but they have their own cafeteria too. In the case of Peters, given his relentless attacks on Sr. Carol, the hypocrisy is too great to ignore.