John Allen writes an interesting column for the National Catholic Reporter. Today he has a really interesting interpretation of Pope Benedict's appointment of bishops in America. Allen seems to have a good take on this matter, and I'm heartened by his analysis. If what he is saying is true, I think the Pope is doing the right thing -- OK, perhaps I'd like more center-left bishops than center-right. But these choices tend to confirm my hopes for this Papacy. I am, however, sorry about the successor to Archbishop Harry Flynn in St. Paul-Minneapolis: He seemed to be gracefully open to conversation, to respectful dissent within the Church, to ecumenical cooperation in the cause of justice and peace. His successor seems more ham-fisted, but perhaps the Spirit will move him in the direction of his predecessor.
In any event, it will be interesting to see whether the problematic episcopacy of confrontation will be less in evidence with respect to the Church's relations with the Obama administration than was suggested by the tone in the election. The issue of abortion is rightly of primary concern to the Catholic Bishops. But by the Church's own teaching (reiterated by both the prior and current popes) recognizes that in a two-kingdom world (to borrow a non-Catholic phrase), principles of proportionality must be accounted along with a concern for purity.
From a practical standpoint, the far-right conservatives have had control of the government in the recent past -- arguably all three branches. And efforts toward restricting or reducing abortions were all but absent. Perhaps the college of bishops in America will come to some consensus that if they cooperate with efforts to establish justice and community, in contrast to the recent efforts to baptize unfettered supposed market capitalism, they can turn the tide on abortion -- at least dramatically reducing the numbers of abortions. That seems to be something the center-right segment of the bishops' conference can understand.
Finally, I'll be interested to see the degree to which Allen's kind of analysis will play out in the CCET's conference (being held in cooperation with the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center) on the continuing relevance -- or not -- of Vatican II. The sorts of issues that Allen raises, along with recent liturgical reforms and various reports of the current Pope's dissatisfaction with the ripples started by the Council, should underscore the importance of considering just that question during the fiftieth anniversary of the summoning of the Council. In short, the relevance of our conference on the relevance of the Council seems to increase every week. Hope to see you there. (OK, that's a shameless plug, I suppose; but that's one function I can serve for the Center.)