Picking and Choosing

Baltimore Sun columnist Jean Marbella tries to give a preview of the tenure of incoming Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien.

In her column she approving quotes from Archbishop O’Brien, formerly the Archbishop to the Military Services:

The man was good to his word. He did provide quite the earful as he gave a passionate assessment of what he believes is the church’s role in combating the urban ills of drugs, poverty and violence. He seemed to draw inspiration from a predecessor, Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, lauding the 1960s-era Baltimore Catholic leader who testified before the City Council in support of open housing legislation, appealed to his priests to save their city and joined Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” March on Washington.

O’Brien urged his audience yesterday not to “write off large parts of the city as hopeless.”

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“We cannot allow this as a people, as a church,” he said. “We cannot allow large parts of our city to die. We cannot allow thousands of our neighbors to live lives of hopelessness and despair. I have no master plan for urban revitalization. But I pledge to you today that this archdiocese will make every effort to ensure that the dream that animated Dr. King and so many others of us does not die.”

She follows it up with this observation:

The role that religion should play in public life is, of course, a hot one these days. I thought it was appalling when during the last presidential campaign some Catholic bishops said they would deny Communion to John Kerry because he supported abortion.

But it’s another thing to speak out about a city, as opposed to an individual, and about broader issues like justice and poverty, rather than a Catholic politician’s hewing to the Catholic Church’s line.

Ms. Marbella is going to be disappointed because she doesn’t seem to comprehend the nature of Archbishop O’Brien’s position or even the function of a church, not just the Roman Catholic Church, but any church.

Churches aren’t primarily social service organizations. As C. S. Lewis writes in “The Screwtape Letters” the way to destroy a church is to make it into a social service organization. Social programs are provided in the context of religion. The notion that it is correct for a church to wade into “justice and poverty” and ignore the spiritual issues at the core of the faith is simply silly.

I don’t know Archbishop O’Brien’s politics. But what I do know is that he will be pushing for school choice. And he will be pro-life. And if he is activist his pro-life stance is not going to go down well with the nominal Catholics of Maryland’s political set.

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