Recently, on Fr Michael Brown's blog 'Forest Murmurs' there was a short post about the problem of Catholic Schools being required to provide advice on how and where to obtain abortions : which provoked, perhaps not surprisingly, a high volume of comments.
The ones which interested me were from someone using the name 'Thomas More', who said, at one point :
'The Catholic bishops are content with the Government's proposals; the Catholic Education Service has endorsed them. Surely that concludes the matter for loyal Catholics. The Magisterium has spoken. To argue further is mere dissent.'
Now; apart from enjoying Fr Michael's response to that comment ('Wasn't there another time when all but one of the Catholic bishops of England were content with what the government had to say which seemed quite unorthodox and a certain Thomas More gave his life rather than accept what they said and is now a saint while the others are mostly forgotten?'), and ignoring for the present the fact that by no stretch of the imagination can the Catholic Education Service be seen as part of the Magisterium, it seems to me that Thomas More's comments are more than a little foolish.
As Fr Michael quite properly pointed out, 'Not everything a bishop says is infallible. Not every thing the Pope says is infallible. People can get things wrong on the level of prudential judgements.' : and he then highlighted exactly the point which I - and many others - have been making for some little time now, namely that we would like the Bishops to explain to us exactly how they resolve what appears to be a contradiction between the Teaching of the Church (the 'Magisterium'), and their conduct.
I appreciate, of course, that the Bishops could perfectly reasonably say 'Yes; but we're your spiritual fathers, and we say it's OK, so you should just accept it'; and I also recognize that anyone who did accept it on that basis would not sin, because you can't sin by obeying your Bishop - even if he's wrong (it is, after all, ultimately the basis of the whole Magisterium !) : and indeed that appears to be the line which the Editor of The Universe is taking in the current edition.
At the same time, when one's spiritual fathers at least appear to be saying something which is inconsistent with the Church's historic teaching, I do think that there is a very strong case for them explaining exactly how they justify it, if only so that their flocks aren't left in a state of doubt and bad conscience . . .
Further, in these days, one has to say that the apparent inconsistency has quite possibly struck non-Catholics too; and it's probably even more important that they understand the Bishops' position - otherwise their confusion will lead them to grave doubt about the Church's teaching and position.
Given the current level of unease amidst many Catholics - and presumably confusion amongst non-Catholics - one can only hope that the Bishops put this one to bed sooner, rather than later.