Bishops need to worry about more than sex and gender

by Joe Ferullo

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I honestly don't need fresh reasons to feel disappointed with U.S. bishops, but the latest issue of Newsweek popped up on my iPad with something new anyway.

height="193" width="143" The magazine's cover trumpets a compelling story inside regarding "The War on Christians." Newsweek details the rise of what it terms "Christophobia" in the Arab world, which targets ancestors of the most ancient Christian communities. Terror attacks on Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East jumped 309 percent from 2002 to 2010, the report contends.

This is the real "war on religion," with real victims, real fear, real suppression and oppression. But this same language is blithely deployed by conservative Catholics here in the United States, including many bishops.

The bishops make a good case in challenging the administration's ruling on health insurance and contraception. I disagree with the official church stance on contraception (and its troubling origins post-Vatican II are well-known), but the bishops are right: The government has no role in deciding what is part of the church's mission and what it is not. Once Washington made a "faith exception" to the rules, it needed to step out of the way. It has no legal voice in calling winners and losers: parishes in, Catholic hospitals out, etc.

But this controversy further cements the bishops as a single-issue interest group in the American conversation, and that issue is sexuality and gender. Think about the last time U.S. bishops made a real headline on a subject outside of abortion, contraception, celibacy, abuse or the role of women religious. It seems like years, if not a decade or more.

They bang on pulpits and issue stern warnings; they paint the Obama administration as anti-religious and uncaring and stir up passions among a segment of believers anxious to feel persecuted by powerful forces.

But where are those raised voices among the bishops when it comes to true faith victims far, far away? Newsweek's lengthy report quotes not one of them.

I can't shake this feeling that the U.S. bishops are engaged in a concerted effort to shrink their worldview to fit an ever-smaller box of issues. I remember a time when they were a key component in the dialog of a powerful nation on a broad host of issues, covering every corner of a globe looking to America for a shot at justice.

But that seems long ago, and very forgotten.

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