Pontifications

Pontifications


Obama=Hitler? A debate rages…

posted by David Gibson

The Obama-Hitler meme has been repeated ad nauseum during the Notre Dame commencement controversy, threatening to become a self-sustaining corollary to Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies. It is the verbal equivalent of the gruesome anti-abortion plane banners being flown around campus, and likely as effective. It is also a fatuous comparison, made worse by the fact that it is so often invoked by those who insist they didn’t really mean that, not at all!

The latest chapter involves an interview that Patrick Reilly, the trenchant head of the university watchdog, the Cardinal Newman Society–and a leader activist in the anti-Notre Dame campaign–gave to NPR. My transcript of the relevant passage is at the end, and you’ll see that Reilly does invoke the Hitler (and KKK) analogy even as he says he is not. Sort of. At America’s blog, Michael Sean Winters denounced Reilly’s claim in this post, for which Reilly posted a comment reading thusly:

I DID NOT COMPARE OBAMA TO HITLER. THAT IS LIBEL. In fact, I twice stated that I was NOT comparing the two, just to ensure that radical partisans would not deliberately ignore the context of my argument, but there’s no stopping Mr. Winters, is there?  Anyone who cares about what Winters says needs to listen to the interview — at about 6 minutes into it.  I argued that Notre Dame’s defense for honoring President Obama – that they are honoring only part of an individual, despite clear conflict with his public actions and positions — is ludicrous.  I stated clearly that I was offering extreme examples of how Notre Dame’s position could apply to a KKK member or a Hitler, assuming they have certain qualities worthy of admiration.  I know — big mistake ever to mention Hitler, it was certainly an extreme example and perhaps a less volatile figure could have made the point without getting slammed by deceitful people like Winters.  If Winters doesn’t remove his blog immediately and publicly apologize for the deliberate libel, America will have lost any credibility it still had.

This morning, Winters fires back with the classic rejoinder against McCarthy, “Have you left no sense of decency?” Winters picks apart Reilly’s invocation of libel, but gets at the crux of the matter here:

But, if Mr. Reilly’s aim was only to make an admittedly complicated point, why not compare President Obama to, say, Richard Nixon. “You can’t applaud Nixon for the Clean Air Act and forget about Watergate,” he might have said. After all, comparisons achieve moral clarity when comparing apples to apples, or presidents to presidents. Or, he might have said, “You can’t forget the dropping of atomic bombs on the innocent people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in deciding whether or not to honor the memory of Harry S. Truman.” But, Mr. Reilly did not invoke these more proximate comparisons, did he? And, that tells us more about Mr. Reilly than it does about President Obama.

Indeed. So here is the transcript as I typed it out. You can also listen to the entire interview here–the relevant part is near the end, about 6 minutes in. Reactions?

REILLY: “Take an extreme case–and I’m not comparing the two individuals–but if you were to take a Ku Klux Klan member or an Adolph Hitler and honor them for things you think that they’ve done well…You can’t separate the individuals from their very public persona.”

INTERVIEWER: “Do you really mean to compare President Obama with Adolph Hitler or a Ku Klux Klan member?”

REILLY: “I absolutely said I don’t. What I’m saying is that you can’t separate an honor for an individual from their very public actions, and President Obama in his first 100 days is much more identified with his support for abortion rights than he is for any social justice issue. That’s what he’s acted upon, and that’s been his focus of his own decisions.”

Follow-up thought: However disingenuous Reilly’s comparison/non-comparison, his view that Notre Dame is honoring Obama because of his abortion rights stand is wrong and colored, I think, by his skewed view–as stated near the end–of Obama’s first hundred days as focused on abortion. It’s not. Reilly has a certain lens, and can’t see beyond it, or can’t see what others do, which is why there will always be this complete disconnect between him and the public.

 



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:34 am


David,
“Follow-up thought: However disingenuous Reilly’s comparison/non-comparison, his view that Notre Dame is honoring Obama because of his abortion rights stand is wrong and colored, I think, by his skewed view–as stated near the end–of Obama’s first hundred days as focused on abortion. It’s not.”
There is no way to know for certain the reason why Obama is being honored, but I will not impute such foul motive as affirming his pro-abortion policies, proclivities and protections. No decent person should presume upon the motives of another.
However, it certainly is the case that Notre Dame is unmoved by the virulence of Obama’s pro-abortion policies, proclivities and protections. Virtue in one area of life is not sufficient to overcome the breadth and depth of this man’s commitment to the continued slaughter of innocents. He has transformed his pro-abortive proclivities into ghastly policy.
That Notre Dame is unmoved by this is the scandal. That they are honoring him in spite of his policies rather than because of his policies is equally scandalous, equally sinful.



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Richard Clark

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm


I really think all this fuss about President Obama speaking at Notre Dame is ridiculous. Bill Clinton spoke at Notre Dame and he was pro-choice on abortion and I can’t remember any organized movement at Notre Dame against him.
President Obama carried the Catholic vote in America. The increasingly reactionary hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is completely out of touch with its American Catholic parishioners.
The Roman Catholic Church also took a stand against capital punishment and the Iraq War. Why aren’t speakers who support those two issues forbidden to speak at Notre Dame?



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 6, 2009 at 1:08 pm


Richard,
I wouldn’t characterize the Hierarchy as increasingly reactionary. I think one misses what is happening within the Hierarchy by doing so. The Bishops have tried private persuasion and have rightly provided the space for the laity to do the work of defending life. Increasingly, the inactive Catholics have given the impression that they speak for authentic Catholic sentiment. In light of that, the Bishops have begun to rouse themselves as a body to step in and correct that misperception.
50+ MILLION dead babies and counting over four decades, the Bishops have had enough. Their leadership is welcome.
The Church has indeed taken a stand against the War in Iraq and Capital Punishment, but does not recognize each as absolutely inviolable. The Church maintains a just war theory and holds that governments may need to execute some prisoners who represent a true threat. These are not absolute prohibitions. Also, nations and individuals pursue courses of action through the exercise of free will that may have lethal repercussions in the name of justice.
Abortion is in a different league.
Our Bishops have never looked better than when they stand against even their own laity who deem the slaughter of innocents no big deal.



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Your Name

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:16 pm


How sad to see such a fine, once (without-a-doubt) Catholic school writhing around in a messy scandal like this.
Because the Catholic Church will not (and of course should not) change her positions on birth control, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia, or eugenics, it seems that – given the opinions of the current ND board of trustees – Notre Dame will continue to run into these sorts of controversies.
Utlimately Notre Dame will need to decide if it really wishes to continue operating under the banner of being “a Catholic institution”.
Of course this is a free country, but personally, I hope ND chooses to stay loyal to Rome and the Magesterium.



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Karen Whitaker

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm


I do not believe President Obama is pro-abortion. I believe he would prefer many fewer abortions at the very least, and ideally, none.
I do believe the Catholic hierarchy is pro-abortion. The existence of abortion gives them one of their last remotely credible claims to moral superiority–over anyone. And I believe Catholics by and large are fools. As such, their opinions of me mean nothing.



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gmo2

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:57 pm


As far as Reilly goes, he made the comparison. You can’t say, I don’t mean to do this and then do it and retain credibility to your claim that you didn’t mean to do it. In fact, he didn’t have to make any comparisons. All he had to say was you can’t separate the good things Obama does from his stand on abortion. Mr. Gibson is correct in saying that Reilly is focused only on abortion. When most people think of Obama’s first 100 days, abortion is one of the last things they think of. I think of the economy and foreign policy issues.
What I always find interesting are the incredible blinders opponents to abortion have when it comes to GOP politicians. A GOP supreme court justice appointed by a GOP President wrote the majority opinion in Roe. GOP Presidents have said they oppose abortion, but as far as I can see, those Presidents and GOP congresses have done precious little to end abortion.



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Joanne

posted May 6, 2009 at 4:05 pm


I agree with Richard Clark and Karen Whittaker. I feel (and I have worked in the Catholic church for many years)that the Cardinals and bishops around the world have lost their moral authority due to the sexual scandal which they have still not taken care of or truly changed their course to follow the example of Jesus more closely. They are just trying to go back to the Vatican I theology and its teachings when no one questioned their thinking and their pronouncements. Their power is crumbling and if you like at the latest Pew surveys they are losing the people through their own behavior.
If we have been half aware we have all read about their lies and their evasive tactics to hide these very sick pedophiles and in the process have hurt and disillusioned the families and people who were the victims and have caused the sp many good people who try and follow Christ away from the church in Rome. I find our cardinal here in Chicago is more caring towards those poor pedophile priests than to his good priests. And why? Because the good priests have had the nerve to speak out against this reactionary stuff that is going on in the heirachy and the continuing lack of really changing anything about having zero tolerance towards the pedophiles in their midst. So, our dear leader works on silencing them, taking good pastors out of parishes that he deems too progressive and letting them find their own jobs. He is a real gem and I wish the media would start investigating him and his totalitarian tactics and poor ethics towards anyone who disagrees with him.
I think a university is a place for discussions. And if we cannot have some questioning and discussionthe church is no better than the Nazi’s. I do not agree with Mr. Obama on abortion. But I think the heirachy needs to take the sin out of their own lives before they start pointing their big fat well fed fingers at other peoples sins. And if we want to point to sinners we have to look no further than our Catholic heirachial structure…Pope included. They need to clean their own house before they “suggest” how we should act and live.



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Your Name

posted May 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm


gmo2,
Speaking as a cradle Republican, you’re right, the GOP has never REALLY committed. They have USED abortion as a wedge and as a coalition builder. They do not have to be serious, there is no crital mass . . . yet. The kind of critical mass we saw in the labor movement of the early twentieth century which eventually wrung so many concessions from the government.
Reilly’s inflammatory rhetoric would have fit right into that period, but keep in mind that it was not goofball rhetoric or posturing by big mucky-mucks which changed things, it was a labor MOVEMENT whose growth was fueled by real people with greivances.
If anyone thinks this is about Obama or Notre Dame, think again.



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Ken

posted May 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm


Joanne,
Regardless of the more than a few factors that led up to the priest sex-scandal (which included but were not limited to the quiet experiment during the late 60′s and early 70′s involving ordination of gay priests), I think it is important to note that while obviously some (not all, but surely some) American bishops and cardinals handled the priest scandal very poorly, Catholic institutions should still follow the Magisterium of the Church.
It is also worth noting that the Catholic Church is not a democracy; we lay people never have been and never will be in charge, thank God. As lay persons then, part of our vocation – as far as matters of faith and morals are concerned – is to follow the teachings of the Church as presented to us via the bishops, who of course are in communion with Rome i.e. the Pope.
With that in mind, American Bishops (USCCB) issued a guideline a few years ago regarding how Catholic institutions are to interact with civil society in general, and celebrities and politicians in particular. Those guidelines were reviewed and approved by the Vatican and accordingly, to date most Catholic institution have tried to follow them.
Now, the folks in charge of Notre Dame are putting their foot down and apparently do not want to follow this particular dictate of the USCCB. Already ND’s bad example has prompted other Catholic institutions to toy with the notion of disregarding guidelines set up by the USCCB and approved by Rome.
Because the USCCB cannot change its dictate, and since Notre Dame does not seem willing to budge on the issue, I imagine the only way it will be resolved is when the whole affairs eventually winds its way to the Vatican.
If the trustees at Notre dame were brutally honest with themselves, the ND students and alumni, and with Rome, they would thoughtfully consider the question of whether in fact they think Notre Dame should continue operating as a Catholic university. However since no doubt they all like their jobs etc., I think ultimately when the Vatican gets involved, the ND board of trustees will throw poor Father Jenkins under the bus (as scapegoat) and that will more or less settle the matter, at least until the next time around. Sometimes the world of acedemia can be very petty indeed.
And so for that reason I do feel sorry for Father Jenkins. He might have agreed with going against the USCCB guidelines, but surely he was not alone; this was not entirely his fault.



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Ken

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm


Richard – Your points about capital punishment and the Iraq war illustrate that apparently you are not aware of the difference between Church doctrine and the prudential judgements of the Church.
Also, you must not be aware of the timeline involved here. The USCCB established the guidelines – the ones ND now does not want to follow – several years after president Clinton spoke. And the fact that president Clinton spoke at Notre Dame – because it occured when the USCCB guidelines wer not yet in force – is not relevant to the matter at hand.
Finally, this controversy has little to do with president Obama. Rather, it is between Notre Dame and the Catholic bishops; the main question being whether or not a Catholic university need follow guidelines set down by the Magisterium.
Just trying to keep the discussion on track -



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Tim

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:17 pm


Poor Patrick Reilly, who has made a career of slander, libel, and calumny against good people, including several priests, and a number of institutions with whom and with which he disagrees. He has made false claims of bishops stripping colleges of their Catholic identity and uses falsehoods to raise money for himself and his organization. Now, when someone points out his hypocrisy, he can’t stand the heat. He demands retraction while he rages against innocent people. My heart bleeds for him (not). Maybe this will teach him a lesson to tone down his rhetoric and hate speech, but I doubt it.



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Joanne

posted May 7, 2009 at 12:30 am


Ken, Please read “The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church” by Robert McClory. The church needs to become less clerical(as in clericalism)and more collegial as Vatican II called for in their documents. I for one am not for acting like a robot when the magesterium and the Pope speak. I have a mind and a free will and I personally do not want to live or worship and pretend we are living in the Middle Ages or the 19th or the first half of the 20th century. All they do is talk about is abortion, abortion, abortion and no women priests. They need to get over themselves. What they say is not binding. We are not going to rot in hell if we do not follow their “opinions or teachings.” There are only 2 infallible documents Ken neither of them would keep me up at night worrying about their substance. These infallible dogmas were passed by a minority of the heirachy as they were all trying to get out of Rome to get away from the wars going on in Italy at the time. Today, I am willing to listen to their opinions but so many of their opinions are just so baseless and reactionary it is unbelievable.
The peasants have been educated Ken and their is no going backwards. After the pedophile scandal which is still being processed and absorbed by the Catholic community, they have a long way to go before many of us will listen to them. Read “Vows of Silence” for more info on this. They need to follow the example of Joseph Bernadine and dialogue and listen and there are plenty of good universities like Marquette or God forbid, Notre Dame that they could take some very good classes on how to listen and dialogue.
They do not know how to do those two things and if people want to stick their heads in the ground and not think and pray then they can have these supposed leaders of the church. I for one do not see them as examples of the Good Shepherd. I see them as examples of big corporations that keep trying to keep the lid on their scandals and lies. They are trying to be the big boys on campus and they will fall on their faces and if they do not become more genuinely like Jesus they will split the church.
That actually will probably make them happy for as Cardinal George has said, “then we will have a smaller more obedient church.” Yes it will be smaller and it will also be rather brain dead. Jesus never forced or threatened. Maybe they need to learn to lead by following the example of Jesus,our true Shepherd. Respectfully, Joanne



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 7, 2009 at 1:39 am


Joanne,
You equate obedience to authority as being brain dead? Really!? Was St. Paul wrong to do so? Was Jesus wrong to do so when He told the Apostles, “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.”?
Jesus never threatened? He spoke often of the fires of Hell for those who were disobedient to God’s will. He beat the snot out of the money changers in the Temple, He said it would have been better had Judas never been born. He told the Pharisees that many of them were destined for Hell. “Better that we be hot or cold”, He said, “but because you are lukewarm, I vomit you out of my mouth.”
I suggest you read your NT more closely. Jesus CONSTANTLY admonishes us to avoid behaviors that will put us in Hell. There are PLENTY more references that I did not mention. See the judgement scene in Matt 25.
Obedience isn’t mindless. Especially when we must master our passions and appetites to do so. It’s hard mental, physical, emotional and spiritual work. Try it.



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Cindy

posted May 7, 2009 at 8:11 am


Gerard Nedal -
As you educate others on the words of Jesus, do remember that his words of fires of hell and his harshest criticisms were always of those INSIDE the Church, not outside.
So the criticisms you speak of, and the change of mind necessary is not to be attributed to those who are not Catholic, but those who are.
Obedience is for US, not for THEM.



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Gerard Nadal

posted May 7, 2009 at 9:25 am


Good Morning Cindy,
Point well taken. The Scriptures do no give us the Church. The Scriptures were given to us by the Church, the early Apostolic Community. If salvation is for all people, then the scriptures too are meant for all people. It’s true about His harshest criticisms being meant for insiders. Paul tells us as much in Romans 2.
However, if Joanne is to equate our obedience with being brain dead, then she ought to understand from whence such obedience comes and that in the universal plan for salvation she too is called to the same conversion of heart and obedience as the rest of the neurologically challenged.
Have a great weekend Cindy.



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Your Name

posted May 7, 2009 at 9:47 am


You know, when you are passionate about certain issues in life, abortion, health care for the poor and the environment for example, sometimes you say and do dumb things. Hopefully you realize those times, apologise and continue on no less passionate but a little more guarded in your speech. Mr.Reilly is passionate in the way he communicates. We may not always agree with everything he says, but I would rather see him continue to speak than not.



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Ken

posted May 7, 2009 at 10:04 am


Joanne,
You seem irritated on many levels, and you raise very good points. Of course all have free will; nobody is asking anyone to be a robot.
You must admit there are differences between vocations. We (the laity) have our vocations and the clergy have theirs, but this does not mean we are in competition. Ultimately we are all to serve God as per our abilities. God created us to know, love and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for eternity in the next. In order to serve God, we must find Him. God is Truth, Love, Mercy and Life. In order that we may know the truth and find our way, God sent Jesus, His only son.
Jesus gave us the sacrifice of the mass, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, basically ordained the Apostles to do His work, setting Peter first among them (“. . and upon this rock I build my church . . .”). Jesus thus set up the Catholic Church, and so in the credo we say we believe in “…in one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. By holding to our creed, we say we accept the Church lock, stock, and barrel – everything. We do not pick and choose which doctrines to believe and which to disregard. If one does not accept everything the Catholic Church holds as true, one should not recite the Nicene Creed during mass.
This is not some class struggle or competition between the clergy and the laity. We laity need the clergy and Magisterium to show us the way; that is a large part of their vocation. A large part of our vocation (in addition to tending secular and material matters for our families and for our societies) is to try to follow them (the clergy, magisterium, and Pope) to God, and to instruct by word and deed, our children likewise.
Obedience does not mean one is as you say, “brain-dead”. For example, children are not brain-dead when they obey their parents, a husband is not brain-dead when he is obedient to his wife, we all obey the rules of the road when we drive, but that does not make us “brain-dead”.
Rather trying to struggle with the clergy about who is in charge of the Catholic church, we would all do better to pray and thoughtfully consider the word of God and the mystery of the Eucharist, the problems we face as the Mystical Body of Christ, and the problems we face as a society.
First, I like to remeber how Jesus told us the gates of shall not prevail agaisnt His church.
Secondly, I like the old saying; “More things in the world are wrought by prayer than man dreams of.”
May God bless.



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Cindy

posted May 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm


Gerard -
I find that I’ve gotten very confused and probably have been confusing in my arguments and passionate writings in some of these blogs. Probably because I tend to think that “most people” are coming from such a similar place as I am: Catholic, educated, spiritual, on a journey, so on and so on.
Hubris on my part, for sure.
So I’m working on pulling back and trying to discern if someone is talking about Catholicism, or about Politics, or about God, and where they may be coming from. I find that fellow Catholics who struggle with issues of obedience and understanding are people that may tick me off, but I feel interested in a dialogue. I don’t need them to agree with me…but I feel like we may be, in a larger context, part of the same family.
If someone is not Catholic, even adamantly so, I feel the need to listen. I know that there has been a lot of pain inflicted by the church and the Internet has given many people a voice… often for the first time. So God Bless them, and I don’t feel the need to educate or even dialogue, except to sincerely wish them some peace in their quests.
People who flame politically, especially on these sites, give me the most difficulty. Perhaps they are Catholic … and if so, then they’re my ‘brethren’ and I’m supposed to care and help them. But I find that many of them aren’t Catholic, have no understanding of the teachings of the Church and although we may agree on Pro-Life we are not in agreement on much else.
These keep me praying for humility and the courage to hold my tongue.
I feel the same reaction to the use of the term “brain-dead” to describe obedience. It’s been a long road and a lot of work for me to come to terms with, and accept, the obedience required by The Church and I’m loathe to call all that effort and study “brain dead”!! In fact, it has spurred probably some of the deepest learning and greatest challenges of my life!
I feel badly for people who are still gripped by the fears that the word “obedience” engenders, and thus are blind to the potential for healing and freedom it can bring.
You have a good weekend as well. My husband and I will be meeting with the other 17 men who are in the Diaconate training in our Diocese. It is always a good weekend when it includes one of these formation days.



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Rebecca

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:26 am


To Ken: WELL SAID!! You point is exactly correct and right on target. We are all of us the “body” of the Church. We each has our duties and I don’t think any of the laity, us; would want the job of being the high teachers or Priests, Bishops, onward and upward to the Pope! It is for us to remember tis one thing to observe, quite another to judge! I seem to remember Our Lord God having something to say about that!! Truly, ’tis inward we should be looking; in order to become better people and human beings. All my Best Wishes to everyone!! RSB



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rick

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:54 am


While the comparision seems over the top, it still has merit. A look back through history at some very engnimatic leaders show people are, have been, and will be mislead by these people. While I see how having any President of the United States speak at a comencement ceramony adds to the prestiege of the event,I still can’t but wonder what this Catholic University president was thinking. I for one will no longer support this particular university in any way until it’s current president is replaced.



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Joanne

posted May 10, 2009 at 12:00 am


I am not for President Obama’s proposed,law. But I want to say that these bishops don’t seem to get it. They need to come clean about the continuing cover-up of the sexual scandal that is part of the Roman Catholic church as well as other denominations.
The quote from Jesus about harming a child is a very good one. It is really too bad that the heirachy keeps preaching something that they do not do…like protect children, our dear children, from predators in their ranks. Until they lead by example and come clean on everything and beg for forgiveness I personally will not listen to them on these right to life issues. They need to start following a more compassionate less power hungary way of life. They need to dialogue with the people of the church and come to some consensus about the running of the church. By that I do not mean the lay people have all the answers. Lay people can certainly fall into the same domineering, power hungary way of life that Burke, George and many others so called Princes of the church live out. That is called clericalism and I tend to think these people loose their souls when they start going up the ladder.
I digress. The point is I think they need to look at their they own sins before they start pointing their fingers. And I think Archbishop Burke and Cardinal George need to look into the mirror. There has to be a “prelate” out there that could speak the truth and that we can look at and say, wow, now there is a bishop I’d listen too. That person truly reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those 2 need to step down. The sooner the better. Well, I ran out of space…I’ll possibly write more later!



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