Once upon a time there was a shepherd who let his sheep go wherever they wanted. His sheep loved him. One day, the sheep frolicked into a minefield and they were all blown to bits. The moral of the story? Shepherds don’t follow the flock. They guide it.
Today’s bishops are constantly under fire for doing just that. A great example is a recent article in the Atlantic (here
), in which Kathleen Kennedy Townsend accuses bishops in the US of trying to guide. After asserting that contraception is practically universal among Catholics, Townsend gives us the following gem: “as a woman and a lifelong Catholic, I sometimes marvel that faith can flourish despite the hierarchy's not infrequent disdain for the faithful—particularly the women faithful.”
This phrase and others like it are one of the most common arguments against the Catholic faith. It runs like this:
1. Even though I don’t believe what the Church believes (contraception is a “benefit”), I am still a true Catholic (“As a woman and a lifelong Catholic”)
2. I am the 99% (bishops are flouting “the will of the people”)
3. The new federal policy that the bishops unfairly oppose is balanced and tolerant (it doesn’t “force any employer to dispense contraceptives”) [But it forces employers to pay for them, which is why the government is being sued by Belmont Abbey College
Therefore, the bishops are wrong to uphold Church teaching and reject contraception (they are “ideological” and definitely “out of step with the flock”)
Summing it up, the bishops supposedly “disdain the faithful” because they practice what they preach. They guide. They don’t let people call ourselves Catholic and at the same time flout the Catholic faith. Articles like Townsend’s try to make the bishops look intolerant and behind the times, but studiously avoid one thing: clearly defining what the Catholic Church—and therefore real Catholics—believe. In this case, contraception: the Church teaches that it is profoundly wrong. Contraception negates true human love, a total gift of self which is intrinsically open to new life (here
Saying that the bishops should only preach what the majority wants to hear implies that the bishops should hide the truth whenever it goes against the fickle winds of politics and public opinion.
However, let’s keep one thing in mind: truth doesn’t depend on the 99%.
Morality is just as real as the law of gravity, and just as unchanging. Bishops are shepherds, and Catholics are their sheep. Is it really surprising that Catholic bishops are supposed to protect the Catholic faith of their Catholic sheep? Or should they sit back and watch them frolic into minefields?
Please, don’t knock the bishops for being Catholic. It’s their job.