The USCCB, Meghan Markle, and ‘my truth’

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

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This week, Cardinal Wilfred Napier Fox of South Africa turned 80, aging out of any future conclave. While he is now retired from that official function of a cardinal, he has lived an extraordinary life and, like many other cardinals who will age out this year, he will likely continue to be an important voice in the Church for some years yet. 

We profiled him and the other cardinals who turn 80 this year.

The “binding synodal process” underway in Germany continues to rumble on. We spoke to some Vatican curial officials about their concern that many of the more controversial reforms intended by the German synodal way might be already in effect on the ground. 

Time is running out, they told us, for Rome to prevent a de facto schism from developing, while Curial offices are waiting for a clear lead from Pope Francis on how to proceed.

In an unexpected turn of events in the saga of Vatican finances, a UK judge this week lifted a court order against Gianluigi Torzi, the somewhat enigmatic gentleman at the center of the London property deal who was arrested for extortion, aggravated fraud and money laundering in Vatican City last year.

I say “unexpected” not least because no one knew there was an order in place to begin with, but there we are. It seems it was sought by the public prosecutor’s office in Britain on request from Vatican authorities and would likely have blocked Torzi from accessing or otherwise moving assets which might later be awarded in compensation by a court. 

The judge also awarded Torzi court costs, so it seems clear this is another setback for Vatican prosecutors trying to pursue suspects in foreign courts.

Get ready for some collegiality

We reported this week that the USCCB is planning to give the U.S. bishops a vote at their June meeting on whether to produce a statement on “Eucharistic coherence.”

That phrase is the bishops’ oblique way of talking about how to handle prominent Catholic politicians who present themselves for Communion while publicly, manifestly, and obstinately persevering in a state of grave sin. 

The Catechism is clear on the grave evil of enshring abortion in law, and actually calls for “appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation” of the rights of the unborn. Canon law is clear, too, about the denial of Communion to those persevering in manifest grave sin.

Perhaps finding these texts somewhat hard to parse, the U.S. bishops asked Rome some years ago for clarity on the subject. They got an answer from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004, though Theodore McCarrick prevented the USCCB members from actually getting the full text.

Despite how the debate over Communion for dissenting Catholic politicians is often framed, at root it has less to do with the bishops’ public opposition to abortion, and more to do with how seriously they feel obliged to take the instructions of canon law in specific circumstances.

Leaving aside to whom one faction or another of the Catholic punditry would like to see the rules applied — and there is certainly an argument that the same rules should be applied to Catholic politicians who wield the executive placet to enforce unjustly the death penalty — the real question at stake is whether the bishops are prepared to appear like a conference of scofflaws. 

Those like Cardinal Dolan of New York and Cardinal Gregory of Washington have been clear that they think their pastoral judgment, or their political concerns, should trump canon law. But U.S. bishops treating the disciplinary norms of the Church as effectively optional extras in their ministry is, in large part, what brought us the scandals of the last 20 years.

The bishops could have a real public discussion about the need to educate Catholics, along with certain Catholic governors, House speakers, and presidents, about why the Church has these disciplinary norms, what they are for, and for whose benefit they are to be adhered. 

For the moment, it is not lost on Catholics that the spiritual and ecclesial harm of receiving Communion in a state of grave sin seems to be a matter of “your truth” for some bishops, rather than a reality of the sacrament and a fact of Church teaching.

Like, what is truth? (in which Ed opines, for a while)

“My truth” is an abominable phrase. No other words so perfectly capture the triumph of the personal over the objective which marks much of our current social discourse. It came to many people’s attention this last week during an interview with his Royal Highness Henry (or does he now prefer the more everyman “Hank”?) Windsor and Meghan Markle. 

The erstwhile Duke and Duchess of Sussex took time off from their foundation/Netflix deal/podcast to talk to Oprah Winfrey about, inter alia, their desire for privacy. Oprah, who has probably done more to advance the ideology of moral relativism than any philosopher, asked Ms. Markle about “her truth” of marrying into the British royal family. 

“Her truth” was that the monarchy is a cold and stifling institution, riddled with prejudice. As it happens, it seems that several members of staff who worked for the duchess in London found her to be an entitled, narcissistic, and abusive bully. But that may just be “their truth.”

It is easy for me to tease Ms. Markle, I watched an episode of Suits once, you see. But like all TV actors, she was just delivering the line about her truths, she didn’t write it. The “my truth” phenomenon is deeply entrenched in our public life, and aims to carve itself deeper into our laws, too.

The “my truth” paradigm has now begun to influence science and public policy as much as it does personal experience.

The Equality Act, which the Biden administration has committed itself to passing, would place the individual “truths” of transgender people in conflict with religious freedom and freedom of conscience, rather than work to find public accommodations that prevent unjust discrimination and protect the conscience rights of all.

The bill may or may not actually make it into law, but there are plenty of levers which could bring some of its provisions into effect without legislation. 

Already, young women across the country have had to sue for the right not to have to compete in school sports leagues against young men who identify themselves as young women, losing out on prospects and scholarships in the process.

This week, Amazon clarified that it has stopped selling When Harry Became Sally, Ryan Anderson’s eminently readable book on the transgender trend, because the retailer says it will no longer carry any book which frames gender dysphoria as a mental illness.

The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (available on Amazon) includes gender dysphoria, for what it’s worth. And Anderson notes his book actually doesn’t use the language of “mental illness,” as Amazon suggests it does. 

But, with the basic facts of our humanity, the concept of nature, and the meaning of the created order up for grabs in a debate of competing “my truths,” the Church can, should, and must find its voice to announce the truth.

As it happens, the USCCB intended to issue a statement on these issues. It has been held up in the bureaucracy.

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Last word

For what it is worth, I have hated the phrase “my truth” since the first time I heard it in 1998. It was in the title of an album released by the Manic Street Preachers, a musically middling but achingly pretentious Britpop band of the cringeworthy “Cool Britannia” years.

Like many of the more politically active university students of today, the Manics, as they also called themselves, had a taste for performative Marxism, despite actually being rather well off financially. 

To be fair to them, the lead single on the album This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours was titled “If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next.” Twenty-three years later, we can’t say they didn’t warn us.

See you next week. That’s my truth, anyway.

Ed. Condon

Editor

The Pillar