A Crisis of Leadership

Consider this proverbial chicken and egg problem. Are bad leaders the cause of social and moral decline in a society, or are they merely another symptom of such decline ~ a Cause or an Effect? Perhaps in a representative democracy such as ours the answer must include both of the above.  As many pundits have pointed out, people often get the leaders they deserve, but are leaders, by their own actions, entirely blameless in the corruption of a society? After all, those who exert power, either for good or for ill, owe some accountability to the people for whatever consequences their actions may bring about. Our great nation is a case in point.

This land of E Pluribus Unum ~ Out of Many, One ~ is gradually being transformed into the very opposite, Out of One, Many. This is apparent in the extreme levels of social polarization that has not been seen here since those fateful years preceding the American Civil War. Today’s Americans face a similar dilemma, though the issue is no longer the extension of freedom to all persons but the extension of something far more basic and compelling, which is life itself. Should unborn persons have a legally protected right to exist? This simple question has raised violent passions on either side to such elevated levels that our very political system is now imperiled. Abortion has become the new lightening-rod issue which weighs heavily upon the entire political dialogue, while poisoning civil discourse from both sides.

It has had further consequences as well. By depleting natural population growth, abortion has shoved immigration to the fore. It has hardened the consciences of countless millions of women who have, perhaps unwittingly, participated in its terrible rituals. The ripple effect of abortion can be seen in the degradation of women and broken families, Yet this horror was imposed, not democratically but from above, by the judicial fiat of appointed “leaders” sitting on the Supreme Court of the land. Over the past 45 years their decision, Roe v. Wade, has poisoned the American political landscape, corrupting an entire nation and setting it against itself.

We should not be so naive as to believe that some 80 million surgical and chemical abortions performed since 1973 have not left terrible scars on the psyche of our nation. Such staggering numbers suggest that at least 50 million fellow citizens who have procured abortions now dwell in our midst plus millions more of their spouses, friends, and even children. Do they now feel the need to keep up the brave face that this was no more than the removal of a bit of tissue? To admit otherwise would be too horrifying to absorb emotionally. So we now live in a country bearing a very deep psychological wound with which it cannot come to terms or truly heal. Denial becomes the default mechanism that millions must turn to for reconciliation.

Just as slaveholders, plus families and neighbors who might never have owned a slave, all felt the need to justify this deplorable institution in order to avoid self-reproach, so it is today for those of our fellow citizens who are trapped in a similar dilemma over abortion. To admit now that our trusted leaders made a terrible mistake 45 years ago leading to the sacrifice of 80 million innocent lives is too painful to contemplate. It is simply easier to keep up the ruse that an abortion is only the removal of some “invasive tissue” like a wart or ganglion. Yet this prevarication sanctioned from on high has had powerful political as well as psychological ramifications.

Politically speaking, one party has openly declared itself as the defender and protector of the abortion industry. (The other party has nominally opposed that same lobby, though too often this amounts to little more than lip service. Still, it has half-heartedly opposed the scourge of abortion.) Ironically the first party, which had earlier defended slavery and Jim Crow laws in their days, now hails itself as the party of populism, inclusion , and “diversity” (which has become a byword for “disunity”). In this party, “women’s rights” is simply shorthand for  unlimited access to abortion. So a great gulf has formed and continues to widen over abortion between two factions in American society: one which believes all life to be sacrosant, whether in-utero or at the end of life, and another which takes a purely utilitarian approach to life issues. These two points of view can never be reconciled or compromised because they are as diametrically opposed as… slavery and freedom.

And where do our fellow Christians and Catholics stand on this precipitous divide? For the 70 million citizens who identify as Catholics, it seems sad to say that they appear evenly split between the party of abortion and the party of life. It is here that we should be truly concerned because this statistic speaks eloquently to the Crisis of Leadership within our Church. The most recent election results indicate that those states with the highest proportion of Catholic voters are also the states where the party of abortion is most firmly entrenched.How is such a disconnect possible, you may rightly ask? It seems that American Catholics are just as polarized and divided over the right to life as their fellow non-Catholic citizens.

The Church has ever been the global exemplar of diversity: social, cultural, ethnic, and political, but its unity lay in its doctrinal and moral cohesion. That cohesion has badly frayed since Roe v. Wade it seems. Unlike our nation, the Church is a hierarchical body, not a representative institution, so it is to the bishops that one must look for leadership and guidance. The defense and protection of human life is a bedrock principle of Catholicism, so how can 50% or more of Catholics vote for politicians who represent the party of abortion? Perhaps this divergence of attitudes among Catholics comes from bishops who have placed negotiable political issues such as immigration or health care on the same moral plane as the non-negotiable issue of every human person’s absolute right to exist. And if American Catholics are not united on this most fundamental of principles then one should logically look to their primary teachers and pastors, i.e., the bishops whose sacred duty it is to guide their flocks in the way of truth.

The crisis in our nation today, whether spiritual or political, is a Crisis of Leadership. Poor and weak leaders make for ill-formed and weak followers. For decades now, a shocking percentage of political leaders in the party of abortion self identify as Catholics. These “Catholic” politicians simply choose to look past inconvenient issues like abortion, the redefinition of marriage, or worse to actively and publicly throw their support behind those immoral agendas. Worse yet, they need fear no ecclesial sanctions for promoting such blatantly un-Christian positions because their own pastors and bishops have learned to turn a blind eye to any such scandalous activity.

Rather than bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, too many feckless bishops seem to prefer that the Church conform herself to the social and cultural trends of the day. They then deceptively pass off this cavalier attitude as the virtue of “inclusiveness” or “tolerance.” But leaders who do not lead but only follow popular trends do not deserve to be called leaders, nor will they be followed, a dynamic duly reflected in church attendance figures. And the faithful do tend to vote with their feet when insipid pastors fail to inspire them in living up to the Gospel. Consider that Sunday Mass attendance now hovers around 25%-30% of self identifying Catholics whereas fifty years ago that percentage was around 75%-80%.

Today, both the Church and our nation are reeling from the same malady – an acute Crisis of Leadership. Leaders who are compromising, venal, ambitious, smug, or self-serving only become part of the problem, not its solution. Perhaps that has always been the case, but desperate times like these call for great and fearless leaders,unafraid to expose the lies and willing to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Our civilization is now tipping precariously towards anarchy and its immediate successor, which is tyranny. Only strong, heroic leadership can avert such a fate.

But regardless of any impending disasters on the horizon, it always consoles the soul to remember that God is fully in charge of spinning human events for the greater good of mankind. Even Pontius Pilate served a nobler purpose than he would have ever imagined. Writer Malachy Martin once stated the case beautifully when he wrote, “All… has been foreseen and incorporated as working parts in God’s plan of salvation. Not in spite of man’s actions and achievements, but through them, God’s ultimate will prevails.”


Francis J. Pierson    +a.m.d.g.

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