If I may offer my two cents (well, this may be four cents) on the Bishop of Colorado Springs: politically, it’s one thing for the bishops to muster up the courage to proclaim publicly that a Catholic presidential candidate ought to abide by Catholic teachings before receiving the Eucharist. That, spearheaded by my former Bishop of LaCrosse, Raymond Burke, is an admirable stand, even if it should be obvious. Politically, Bishop Sheridan is the one who will really get the ball of outrage going, both inside and outside the Church, by going from the public obligations of Kerry (and a pile of “Catholic” Senators in Kate Michelman’s Rolodex) to the private obligations of the average American parishioner.
Ramesh is right that it might be tricky at best for the Church to get down into the legislative weeds of teaching parishioners that they can only take the Eucharist if they voted for politicians who have endorsed the Marilyn Musgrave version of the FMA. Let’s remember that all this is still being debated among the bishops, and is a work in progress. But here’s another area where it’s tricky, if I may speak as a cradle Catholic who grew up in the anything-goes relativism of the 1970s: most Catholics aren’t instructed at the parish-priest level that they should examine their conscience to consider whether they are in a state of grace before receiving communion. Too many Catholics receive the sacrament with all the self-examination it takes to grab a donut after Mass. You go get communion because everybody goes and gets communion. Everybody stands, everybody kneels, everybody older than eight gets the Body of Christ.
Many Catholics, automatically including the large number who pop in on Easter and Christmas and the weekend we visited Mom, are not aware that Church teaching insists that missing weekly Mass is a mortal sin, and that if you miss (unless you were ill), you should go to confession to return to the state of grace before receiving communion again. If you can’t make confession before Mass, you voluntarily forego it. So forget about how you vote on abortion every two or four years. It’s much more controversial for parishioners to be told that the Church teaches that they have to forego Sunday golf games or Saturday night revelry or interrupt out-of-town vacations to attend Mass weekly. So many priests don’t exactly harp on it.
I am heartened that church leaders are getting some courage to lead the flock on the life issues, in the small steps and letters we’ve seen so far. But the real workload of the Church is to begin at Square One every year and teach every parishioner and every catechism class the whys of opposing abortion and homosexuality, the whys of opposing artificial contraception, and the whys of weekly Mass attendance. For many people who’ve been faithful Catholics, these questions are still tough to understand or explain without a real interest in theology, and even once they’re understood, they can seem like great sacrifices to practice, a real “alternative lifestyle.” I don’t envy church officials who have to lead a flock with a balance of firm teaching and calm understanding, to teach the right path without causing many to leave the path for a more comfortable option.