Dear Fr. McCarthy,
I read your commentary about Cardinal O’Brien in the Catholic Worker national email list, and am chagrined to hear of this news. You might be interested to learn of what O’Brien preached at West Point in the Winter of early 2003, as the US prepared to invade Iraq. I was a first-year cadet at West Point at the time. If you recall, Pope JPII had been speaking out against the war.
So O’Brien celebrated mass, and gave a homily about the upcoming war;
“I know that a lot of people have said that the Pope is against war with Iraq, but he has never said that. He has never said the war would be unjust. But even if he did, you are not bound by conscience to obey his opinion. However, you are bound in conscience to obey the orders of your commander-in-chief, and if he orders you to war, it is your duty to go to war. You took an oath to do so, and you must fulfill that oath.”
As I was considering whether to apply for conscientious objection, his words swayed me in the right direction. I chose to be a CO. Sometimes parody is the best teacher!
Edwin O’Brien was morally in error to say what he said. I have a short booklet specifically on the morality of the Iraqi War titled, The Iraq War and the Requirement of Moral Certainty. You can read it or download it for free from the website below. It lays out what Catholic Just War Theory actually requires, as opposed to the half truths Catholics hears from the pulpit and read in Catholic newspapers and journals. But on top of this, for an Archbishop to tell young men and women that they have to obey an oath, even if they will commit murder if they obey it, is just outright evil. No oath binds one to do evil-and killing human beings when one sees it as unjustified is the evil of murder.
Thanks for your note.
The above is an exchange of e-mails between a man named, Nate Wildermuth, of St. Louis, MO, and me. It speaks for itself. What I wish to make clear is that the fundamental issue is not Cardinal-designate Edwin O’ Brien. He did not appoint himself a Cardinal nor ordain himself Bishop. An arcane, closed system within the ruling coterie of the institutional Catholic Church did that because Edwin O’ Brien was seen as one serving its interests.
I repeat: The issue is not Edwin O’Brien. The issue is the deplorable witness of the hierarchs of the institutional Catholic Church, indeed of all the institutional Churches in relation to the wars of governments, and the Churches’ complicity in them. The prime exemplar of this reprehensible witness in our time is the Catholic Bishops of the U.S., individually and as a unit, during this past decade of U.S.-initiated human carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. Edwin O’ Brien did not arrive at a Cardinalate like Topsy. He is the product and the beneficiary of a scandalous system that nurtured him into becoming what he is, what it wanted him to be. When he did what he was supposed to do and became what he was supposed to become according to the system’s standards, it rewarded him.
One can be certain that what he said at West Point, he also said to other young Catholics and Christians of other denominations over and over again across the U.S. and beyond U.S. borders, for most of these past ten blood-letting years. And, who among his approximately 300 episcopal colleagues in the U.S. objected to what he was saying, objected to how he was forming Christian consciences, objected to his witness as a Christian and a Catholic bishop, or objected to the human slaughter he publicly and vigorously endorsed in the name of Jesus Christ and His Church? The answer to that question reveals the self-evident truth that Cardinal-designate O’ Brien is not the problem.
Edwin O’ Brien is but a micro-organism born of a spiritual pathology rampant in the institutional Churches of Christianity, namely, the Christianizing of the libido dominandi in both its secular and ecclesiastical manifestations. The libido dominandi is a highly lethal and contagious disease that Jesus explicitly warns His followers and His Church-by His words (Mt 20:20-28; Mk 10:25-45; Lk 22:24-27) and by His deeds (Mt 4:8-10; Lk 4:5-9)-to guard against and to avoid contracting. Let me here quote the eminent Catholic biblical scholar, Rev. John L. McKenzie, from his book, Authority in the Church (Imprimi potest, Nihil obstat, and Imprimatur bestowed February 7, 1966):
The power of the Church is the power of love. The use of power in the vulgar sense of the imposition of one’s will on another is in direct opposition to the sayings of Jesus in which this form of self-assertion is forbidden formally and explicitly. Power is not a substitute for apostolic leadership. Power is not even an inferior way of achieving the end of apostolic leadership; it is a way of not achieving that end. …Lord Acton’s saying that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, is no more than a paraphrase of these [above] passages of the Gospels. (pages 82, 32).
If the deadly libido dominandi cancer is contracted by a Christian or by a Church, it can be healed, along with the multiplicity of spiritual, personal and social infirmities and disorders it brings with it. But it can only be healed in the Way prescribed by Christ, the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. If those He has explicitly commissioned to “teach therm to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20), can believe in Jesus enough to believe Him-as well as to worship Him-and thereby find the courage to prescribe and apply the Cure He has made available, then the pathology of the libido dominandi and its tell-tale manifestation, e.g., the obsequious catering to people who exercise power rooted in violence and enmity in church, state, and finance, will be healed. Anything other than this turns a Christian bishop and/or evangelist into a hawker of snake oil, double-crossing those who rely on him or her to tell them the truth about Jesus and His Way to healing and peace.
Edwin O’ Brien is not the fundamental issue here. He is just a tiny, visible chip near the top of the violence and enmity-justifying Christian Constantinian iceberg that floats through the Church and the world, destroying – in the name of Jesus – everyone and everything that intentionally or inadvertently gets in its way. Ninety-five percent of its destructive power operates below the surface of visible existence, and is only, if ever, recognized, when the wreckage rises to the surface or washes onto the shore.
As Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori said in praise of this week’s (1/9/12) Supreme Court decision granting a “ministerial exception” from the Fair Employment Act to religious institutions:
“Whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.” Bingo!
Whoever chose Edwin O’ Brien to be a Cardinal also chose his message. He is not the problem. The problem is monstrously larger than one man in the Catholic Church and in all the mainline and Evangelical Churches. It is as wide and as deep and as destructive as the mystery of iniquity camouflaging itself in the trappings of “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).