An interesting thing happened at the vice presidential debate last night. The final question focused on the shared Roman Catholic faith of both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Both men effectively expressed the "left" and "right" renditions of Catholicism in the United States. Biden evoked the social doctrine of the Church as the aspect which most informs his public service, Ryan meanwhile cited the Church's teaching on the beginning of human life and its teaching on abortion. Both men found a way to wiggle out of a rigid adherence to ecclesiastical moral norms; Biden took the position that he does not believe he has the authority to force his faith on non-Catholics and Ryan giving exemption to abortion in the cases or rape, incest or where the life of the mother is in danger. Judging by CNN's undecided voters meter (that annoying stream of squiggly lines at the bottom of the screen, Biden's position is favored in the country.
This political season, the US Bishops have tried playing the political chess board. This comes after almost a decade of keeping their heads low in the wake of child sex abuse scandals. Many bishops in the USCCB have all but endorsed Romney-Ryan by name - these men are not the most subtle of thinkers and have hardly tried to disguise their bias. One would hope if sound theology and praxis genuinely mattered to the US Bishops, they would be as distressed at Ryan's position on abortion as they are Biden's. Ryan isn't about to stump for abortion laws that reflect Catholic social doctrine - it is reasonable to presume that a Romney administration has no intention of overturning Roe v. Wade. Yet, somehow, a good portion of US Bishops and neo-conservative Catholics are okay with this? Since when has complacency with moral evil been permissible if conducted under willful ignorance? Since when does willful self delusion excise our culpability when cooperating with sin? And who among the hierarchy is asking these questions?
After a decade of laying low, the US Bishops have made their move. They have proven themselves totally inept. Now we wait to see how clumsy leadership is filtered down into the larger religious body.