The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has precious little capital with regard to public policy and their ability to maintain credibility with the lay faithful. As I have posted previously, gun control is a prudential issue that should be addressed by the laity and will distract from the Bishops’ leadership in fighting an unprecedented violation of religious freedom: HHS Mandate. By saddling up with the very people who are forcing religious organizations and individuals to violate their own consciences, the USCCB is providing religious freedom opposers with talking points to show that they are unified with the Catholic Church—at least sometimes.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, whom I have credited as being very savvy with new medias, should have unplugged her keyboard and tossed it out the window rather than author her latest column in the Washington Post. She opens her column by making the following claim:
Some things seem naturally abhorrent – forceps to crush a cranium in an abortion, a needle to deliver a sentence intravenously on death row, and an assault weapon in the hands of the man on the street. Each instrument may have a purpose some time, somewhere, but as used above, each reflects brutality in our society.
Tom Crowe of CatholicVote.org addressed this and other claims by Sister Walsh in his latest post. Regarding Sister Walsh’s quote, he states:
This is moral equivalency. And it is irresponsible and scandalous. If we want to be taken seriously and have a true Catholic impact on society we need to start by taking our own beliefs seriously and presenting them accurately and fairly. Sister Walsh did not do that here.
He’s right on the money. Not only are abortion and the death penalty NOT morally equivalent, but adding a man holding an assault rifle into the mix, as though it belongs in the same sentence, is asinine and offensive to the Catholic social doctrine and the entire pro-life movement. Her claims are taken right out of the “seamless garment” playbook and should not be uttered by any spokesperson for the Catholic Church, especially the Bishops’ Conference.
Read Crowe’s post if you want substantive reasons as to why Sister Walsh’s column was poorly argued and theologically baseless.
Tactically, however, her arguments are open to a myriad of conflicts.
First, know your area of responsibility. The Church should advocate that whatever legislative or executive compromise comes from the federal government, if any, that it should promote human life and human dignity. Getting into the details of what bill best addresses the Bishops’ Conference position on a discretionary issue confuses the faithful into thinking that what they are saying is de fide, and cannot be objected to by Catholics.
Secondly, don’t contradict your principles. When your principles are well-established, people can see right through inconsistencies. To say that assault weapons “stand out dramatically as a threat to innocent life” ignores the plain reality that assault weapons also stand out as a threat to those who seek to end innocent human life. Something tells me that if citizens of Stalingrad were holding assault weapons in the winter of 1942, hundreds of thousands of people would have been saved. A mother at home shouldn’t feel like an abortionist when an attacker breaks in and she defends herself with an AR-15.
Third, know your audience. If the issue at hand was abortion or religious freedom, the Church should speak up no matter what their audience or the public thinks. But since gun control is not an objective matter of faith and morals—and thus reasonable people can disagree—they should see that they will lose the focus and confidence of their audience by stepping out. Catholics who simultaneously herald the courage of the Bishops to fight the HHS Mandate and support the Second Amendment, are going go ballistic (pun intended) at the Bishops attempting to deny them their rights.
In this case, the Bishops, with Sister Walsh as their mouthpiece, is stepping out on a prudential issue that will destroy their credibility with millions of Catholic Americans, and could be a significant contributor as to why they lose other, more fundamental battles of rights and human dignity.