Since the promulgation of the HHS Mandate about 1 ½ years ago, there have been comments by laity about the lack of strong teaching from the pulpit against intrinsic evils. The corollary criticism has been about too much commentary and directive, especially in the run-up to last November’s election, on matters to which the laity is entitled to form their own prudential judgments; i.e., on matters of opinion, or in which there is no specific Church Teaching. Just because a member of the hierarchy writes his own opinions and calls them “Church Teaching,” does not make it so.
One such opinion, expressed by Cardinal Dolan, is egregiously off the mark regarding Catholic Teaching, i.e. his staunch support for gun control, explicitly stating it is Church Teaching, on the Archdiocese of New York website. His not identifying the matter as a prudential judgment issue can manipulate the flock into thinking that in order to be faithful Catholics, they too must agree with His Eminence, or with his seeming praise for three politicians whose actions have been averse to the Catholic Church: President Obama, NYS Governor Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bloomberg.
The entire text of Cardinal Dolan’s Blog and its comments can be read here: http://blog.archny.org/index.php/advocating-for-gun-control/ , issued two months after the Newtown school killings, just before he boarded the plane to the Conclave in Rome.
Five Errors in Cardinal Dolan’s Gun Opinion as Church Teaching
Cardinal Dolan put forth his blog comments as Church Teaching. It is full of errors, inaccuracies and twists of words which need further parsing. When any member of the hierarchy cloaks his own opinion as Church Teaching, without explaining to the flock their own rights and duties, it can lead them and others astray, and seem to excuse them from the hard work of forming their own opinions, consciences and judgments.
1) Cardinal Dolan characterized his blog proclamation as Church Teaching. He never stated that it is his own opinion, or that “gun control” is a matter of prudential judgment. He glossed over the right of his readers to form their own legitimate opinions, stating: “Advocating for gun control is not something new for the Church. The Holy See has continuously been a strong voice in opposition to international arms trading, the world’s version of gun control….” On its surface the sentence doesn’t even make sense. Arms trading is a version of gun control? There is no logical connection between the number of cartridges in a gun in the U.S. and international arms trading, and it is not right to say so. International arms trading, which inevitably leads to child soldiers, and spending money on arms rather than food, has nothing to do with U.S. Second Amendment rights to protect oneself and family, or to be able to hunt, e.g. By lumping weapons of self-defense with arms trafficking, Cardinal Dolan also ignores Catechism provisions, such as paragraph 2265, e.g.: “Legitimate Defense can not only be a right but a duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.”
2) Cardinal Dolan states that gun control is the “official teaching of the Catholic faith” and cites paragraphs 2315 and 2316 “in particular.” Again, those references are entirely about international accumulation of armaments as being an ineffective way to world peace, and correctly states that the arms race does not ensure peace, but relates to the relationships between nations. It also says nothing about individuals and their right to self-protection, which can hardly be called an arms race.
3) His Eminence continues with unclarified street jargon, unfortunately closely aligned with a liberal political position. He writes: “Here in the United States, the bishops have for decades supported measures to get handguns off the streets, and to ban assault weapons….we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer….” That “we” seems to imply that all the bishops of the US have agreed and are bound by this position, but the head of the USCCB cannot bind other bishops, nor can the USCCB itself. Yet, such wording could easily indicate to the Catholic in the pew that his or her own bishop is of the same opinion as Cardinal Dolan. When a Cardinal places his own opinions in such a context, he pre-empts the rights of other bishops. One who sees the Second Amendment as the Law of the Land, in the light of history, may reasonably and in good conscience decide for gun rights rather than gun control. The pronouncement is also disturbing as an example of leftist slang. If taking “handguns off the streets” as a position statement is meant regarding illegal criminal use, the writer should say so, because law-abiding citizens have the right to walk down the street with a gun for protection. There is tyranny in ambiguity, which can mean whatever the writer wants it to mean, and can deliberately mislead. For example, use of the term “assault weapons” is very misleading and undefined. It focuses on attack and ignores defense, and is susceptible to many and varied definitions, which impede communications.
4) Cardinal Dolan continued his alignment with a US President antagonistic to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church by citing his “nodding in agreement” to Mr. Obama’s call for legislation which many good people have serious reasons to oppose. Cardinal Dolan seems to have no understanding that there are plenty of gun laws on the books which aren’t even being enforced, and by his own admission states: “I don’t pretend to be an expert on what should be in each specific bill, and I will never be an authority on the number of bullets that should be in an ammo clip, or the proper way to conduct background checks….” In those words, he has spoken the truth, and condemned his own opinion as uninformed. In those words, he exhibited woeful ignorance of the many complex facets of this matter. Cardinal Dolan thus showed that he is not informed sufficiently to lead even himself in this prudential judgment issue, let alone to claim it under the umbrella of Catholic Teaching. Rather he gives comfort to Obama, who has significantly opposed the conscience rights of Catholics, e.g. by inviting Obama to the prominence of the podium at the prestigious “Al Smith” Catholic Charities dinner in New York City, above the protests of the prelate’s own flock. Such conflicting signals confuse and dismay the Faithful. Such “nodding in agreement” strengthens a reckless and oppressive government. Nothing good was accomplished by giving Mr. Obama a stage from which to speak in New York City, empowering him and aiding his re-election; similarly, nothing good can come from Cardinal Dolan’s public “nodding.”
5) To the abortion-supporting, gay marriage advocating, self-proclaimed ‘Catholic’ governor of New York State, the Cardinal gives further encouragement with the words: “I was very much in favor a month ago when our own New York State legislature, heeding the call of Governor Cuomo, passed NY Safe (New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, the most comprehensive gun control bill in the country.” What he doesn’t mention is that the governor did it by violating the right of citizens to public comment, in a state that already had the most comprehensive gun control in the country. And Cardinal Dolan doesn’t mention any of the statistics which show that the highest crime rates are in cities and states with strong “gun control.” He doesn’t note that most of the sheriffs of NYS are opposed to the so-called “SAFE ACT.” He fails to acknowledge that the people who “obey” stronger laws are the already law abiding citizens. Criminals don’t worry about reducing the number of bullets in their clip before shooting someone, but under Cuomo’s mis-named SAFE ACT, it will probably be the homeowner, protecting his life and that of his family, who reduces the number of bullets in his clip.
Cardinal Dolan Lacks Adequate Knowledge to Influence Formation of Gun Control Opinions
Bob Dolan’s book about his own brother makes clear that the future Cardinal Dolan was no outdoors sportsman. It shows. For example, Cardinal Dolan writes in favor of a law which would keep a gun from being used by “anyone other than the owner.” That is absurd. A hunter can’t loan another hunter a shotgun? Multiple guns can’t be shared in shooting competitions? What about the ownership of the guns used in the winter Olympics triathlon? What about a parent teaching a son or daughter how to use a weapon responsibly? If each person were required to have his or her own gun, not used by anyone else, presumably not even a spouse, that would lead to more guns being bought, not fewer! Sadly, although the Cardinal is ill-informed on the issues, it doesn’t prevent his having an opinion, and putting it forth as Catholic Church Teaching, causing confusion among the flock, and being a solace to certain political positions.
When Truth is damaged, so is Community
The reason why Cardinal Dolan’s behavior is so very damaging, is that true Church Teaching in matters of faith or doctrine or morals should unite Catholics in the Oneness of their faith (unless they have been so badly catechized that they don’t know their Faith). Catholics should be united against intrinsic evils. Rather, he offers opinions on prudential judgment issues and, in the matter of gun control, about half of Americans are on one side, and half on the other. Good, church-going, moral Christians can legitimately support the Second Amendment to the Constitution, own and use guns, and not be in error or sin. And the other half may believe in their own consciences that taking away someone’s gun rights and impairing his or her self-defense is permissible for a common good. Yet, each may sit side by side in the pew on Sunday, and be one in Christ. As Paul says in Galatians 3: 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Quite simply, there is no need to introduce issues which divide Christians and which are not part of Church Teaching. There is no need in a Year intended for a New Evangelization to put up barriers and stumbling blocks between people. There is no need for people otherwise favorably disposed toward the Catholic Church to conclude: “Oh, they are the gun control people. I could never go there!”
Institutionalizing Opinion Causes Confusion and Avoidance of Duty
Cardinal Dolan’s undue influence over the opinions and prudential judgments of other bishops and priests is to be criticized too. These matters do not remain merely contained on an Archdiocesan blog. The ramifications and expansion of the Cardinal’s words are far-reaching. The liberal Jesuit magazine, America, jumped into action less than an hour after Cardinal Dolan’s blog was posted, spreading the news, not with excerpts and commentary, but with a rather faithful reproduction of the Cardinal’s blog.
Soon after Cardinal Dolan, President of the USCCB, returned from the Conclave in Rome, and coincident with the Senate’s consideration of a Democrat-sponsored gun control bill, the USCCB then also jumped on board and endorsed the partisan bill. A letter addressed “Dear Senator” was sent by the USCCB to the U.S. Senate over the signature of the Bishop of Stockton, Stephen E. Blaire, who said in part, venturing into a domain which belongs to the laity:
“On behalf of the … USCCB, I urge you to support legislation that builds a culture of life by promoting policies that reduce gun violence and save people’s lives in homes and communities throughout our nation. The provisions contained within S. 649 are a positive step in the right directions….require effective and enforceable universal background checks for all gun purchases … limit civilian access to hi-capacity [whatever all this meant to Bishop Blaire] ammunition magazines, resist amendments that would expand… minimum mandatory sentences,…. [have] sensible regulation of handguns….”
Another quite valid opinion is that if the laws already on the books were enforced, and violations of those laws appropriately prosecuted, including increased jail time for those using guns in committing a crime, that might facilitate reducing the use of guns in crimes and also reduce infringement on Second Amendment rights. But Bishop Blare seems to have forestalled that solution with the words: “resist amendments that would expand… minimum mandatory sentences.” Why, we might ask ourselves, would Bishop Blare on behalf of the entire USCCB press forward in support of gun control a position which seems diametrically opposed to reducing gun violence? One might think that an issue so important that Cardinals and Bishops want to diminish civil rights under the Second Amendment would at least lead them to consider the importance of effective sentencing.
Bishop Blaire also demonstrates no particular knowledge of gun ownership, just repeating leftist words like: “universal background checks,” “reduce gun violence” and “sensible regulation of hand guns,” without clarification, as if he knew what any of those terms meant, or would mean to his readers, as if there were already universal agreement on definitions. His letter supports a particular Senate Bill draft from a single party agenda, with no demonstration of careful or reflective thinking on the true issues, and no attempt to accommodate genuine concerns of many sincere gun rights advocates.
Various media outlets touted how Cardinal Dolan and President Obama were now on the same side! They seemed to forget that a man cannot serve two masters. In Matthew 6:24 we read: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Hidden in the hierarchy’s pushing a gun control agenda cloaked as Church Teaching, is the backlash from those who had been willing to defend both the First and Second amendments. Now, it is no wonder some have exclaimed: “Don’t ask me to support the First Amendment for you, if you have so little respect for our Bill of Rights that you are trashing the Second Amendment.” The flood of prudential judgments and hierarchical opinions masquerading as Church Teaching is an unnecessary burden on the Faithful, who have a right to have their own shepherds teach fully and completely both Faith and Morals without distracting or dividing from Truth, and who have a right to carefully formulate in conscience their own prudential judgments, working to transform the dialogue and reality of the public square.