BarraBlog #2 Rebel Bishop deserves understanding by Paul A. Barra When the Catholic Church resided at her more paternalistic address before the Second Vatican Council, her priests used to discourage ordinary Catholics from reading the bible on their own. The Church reasoned that the man or woman in the pew knew neither Hebrew nor Aramaic nor ancient Greek and, more importantly, he or she could not be expected to appreciate how human beings thought and acted in earlier evolutionary eras. For instance, what were we to make of the fact that our father Abraham bedded his half-sister Sarah to sire the famed Isaac? Humans, and the World, were vastly different 4,000 years ago. Only biblical scholars were equipped to interpret stories from the Jewish testament; even Jesus’ teachings could be difficult for non-scholars to understand. That was the thinking of the preconciliar Church—and it was correct in that exegesis demands a grounding in ancient cultures. Now that Catholics are generally educated, millions of us read and study the bible every day. We still tend to judge people from long ago by the norms of today, however. A case in point is Patrick Neison Lynch. Lynch was the third Bishop of Charleston, serving the people of both Carolinas before, during and following what southerners still solicitously refer to as the War of Northern Aggression. While Bishop Lynch will never be canonized a saint, he is unjustly accused of politically incorrect behavior. He owned a house slave when he became the ordinary of his Roman Catholic diocese and inherited some 80 slaves from his father Conlaw Lynch, a plantation owner from Cheraw, South Carolina. He was such a fervent, and effective, anti-abolitionist that Horace Greeley dubbed him The Rebel Bishop. The Diocese of Charleston was embarrassed by his ownership of slaves and his defense of the institution of slavery, so much so that it buried all his records in its extensive archives for most of the twentieth century. The 10th ordinary of that see, the Most Reverend Ernest Leo Unterkoefler, a civil rights activist, was so distraught at his predecessor’s actions that he refused, in his will, to be entombed in the cathedral crypt with the rest of Charleston bishops when he died in 1990. Unterkoefler is reported to have said that he didn’t want to be in the same room as Lynch, not even in death. Why did the diocese he served for a quarter century keep Lynch out of sight and why did generations of official Christendom detest his very name? The answer is that Bishop Lynch is the victim of a nasty and virulent form of discrimination: historical hubris. It is arrogant to judge the actions of people from a different era by the ethical norms that have evolved since but we’ve done that with slaveholders, painting them all with the broad brush of stereotypy. Every story we read about slavery in the antebellum South seems to be about the abuses of the system and the evil nature of slaveowners. The truth is, not all slaves were mistreated and many owners of slaves were good people. It wasn’t all chains and whips and concubines. A proof of this is the Church’s somewhat reluctant acceptance of a form of slaveholding called ameliorated slavery. It was clearly set in apposition to chattel slavery, wherein a slave was simply the property of his owner. A slave had no more rights than a horse in chattel slavery. And just as some ignorant owners mistreated valuable animals, some mistreated their slaves. It was, and is, unconscionable behavior and is probably the main reason why slavery has been relegated to the dustbin of history—where it belongs. Ameliorated slavery, however, was a horse of a slightly different color. Priestly orders and dioceses and Georgetown University owned slaves. They all were duty-bound to practice an ameliorated form of slaveholding. Southern Catholic officials, most of them at least, believed that Gregory XVI’s papal bull of 1839 outlawed the trading in slaves but specifically did not condemn the principles of slavery as an institution. Catholics could continue to own slaves, they argued, as long as they treated them as human beings made in God’s image, as long as they obeyed some rules of engagement so to speak. One could be excommunicated for breaking up a slave family, for instance. The Vatican never corrected this viewpoint. Patrick Lynch remained the bishop of Charleston for two decades after slavery was ended. He was never chastised or reprimanded by Rome for his defense of slavery nor for his slave ownership. Bishop Lynch defended ameliorated slavery on the grounds that his countrymen had not prepared Africans for freedom in the New World, that the institution would eventually die out on its own if left to do so and that a precipitous end to it would result in chaos for the suddenly freed Negro. Who can say he was wrong? African-Americans complain 160 years after the Emancipation Proclamation that they are still victims of the American system and culture. Not surprisingly for a learned man, Lynch also argued the natural condition of slavery in the biblical history of the Church. Just as Paul educated the slave Onesimus when they met in prison, Lynch favored schools for blacks. He was not alone among the South’s gentry in his pro-slavery stance. Slaveowners were only the four or five percent of southerners who could afford to own another person—and they were exactly the people in a bishop’s social circle. Lynch was a man of his time and station. His friends in a generally anti-Catholic section of the country probably all owned slaves. He was served by slaves when he sat down to dine with governors and military leaders and intellectuals, yet his arguments in favor of the status quo did not mention the perceived economic need for slave labor; he thought the slave was child-like and deserved special attention to his welfare. That may not seem an enlightened position by today’s standards, but Lynch lived in a different era, without the benefit of our more educated society. The nineteenth century was a relatively unsophisticated time and our moral code has definitely advanced since Lynch owned slaves. We cannot fairly hold him to our accepted models of behavior. Bishop Patrick N. Lynch may have been wrong from our modern perspective but that didn’t make him any less an ethical man. He worked hard for his diocese after being stripped of his slaves, eliminating $360,000 worth of debt before he died in 1882, yet he is known today—inasmuch as he is known at all—as a rogue priest who owned slaves. He deserves better. submitted by Paul A. Barra Barra is a novelist from Reidville, SC. His latest work “Astoria Nights” will be released in 2016 by Black Opal Books. He is putting the finishing touches on an historical mystery featuring Bishop Lynch. Contact him at www.paulbarra.com

First blog post

Diluting our faith
By Paul A. Barra

In her zeal to evangelize and to be ecumenical, the Catholic Church may be diluting her message of faithfulness. The tenets of our faith are gradually being eroded by the fecklessness of pastors and bishops in the face of cultural opposition. Because we want so desperately to be an inclusive church, we are sliding toward heresies of omission.

When was the last time your priest gave a homily on the evil of abortion? One told me that when he tried parishioners walked out of church. So he didn’t try again. Killing newly developing human beings for the convenience of some adults is the single biggest threat to morality—because the embryonic or fetal life is innocent and because the number killed annually is staggering—in our nation, yet we don’t often hear about it from our spiritual leaders. Don’t even ask about the Church’s position on artificial birth control. No priest wants to talk about it. They artfully ignore the magisterium in their role as teachers of the faith. The very reason many of us are Catholic is the authority the Church was given by Jesus Christ, yet many who act in His name are ignoring it. We’ll be electing our own pastors from our congregations before long.

During this political season, my parish issued a bulletin insert from the South Carolina Catholic Conference which outlined the issues facing voters this year. It also mentioned that “every issue is not equal” and that “issues directly affecting human lives, such as abortion and euthanasia, are fundamental and demand serious consideration.” It pointedly does not say: “Don’t vote for pro-choice candidates.” Please don’t tell me either about the political discourse restrictions on tax-exempt organizations; sometimes it seems we are the only religion listening to the IRS about that.

In Wisconsin, a friend of mine visited a parish that handed out “A 2016 election Pope Francis voters guide” issued by a coalition of ten reputedly Catholic groups including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Franciscan Action Network and Pax Christi. The format led with a quote from the Holy Father and then an explanation of it from an American citizen’s perspective. At the end of each section it gave “Questions to consider when reading about or listening to candidates.” After the Sacred Gift of Life section it suggests we ask: 1. “how does each candidate talk about preventing mass shootings and gun violence in our streets? and 2. what alternatives to abortion and euthanasia does each candidate discuss, such as assistance and support to expectant mothers, in particular those who are low-income?” These are good questions to ask as far as they go, but why wouldn’t we ask a candidate if he or she is pro-life? Or, what is your stance on late term abortions? That really separates the sheep from the goats.

A bona-fide Catholic cannot vote, in good conscience, for a politician who is not pro-life. And it doesn’t matter if he claims to be personally pro-life but is willing to accept and defend his party’s pro-choice platform. Our priests should be telling us this, and we should be telling our politicians. When Senator Tim Kaine accepted the nomination for vice-president, I wrote him a letter encouraging him to man up and stick to his moral principles. I asked him to give Catholics the opportunity to vote for him by coming out against the culture of death. I did the same to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi when she became speaker of the House. Neither replied, by the way.

All Catholics can do this, but the least you can do is refuse to vote for someone who promotes the indiscriminate killing of human life in the womb. It’s our basic moral obligation. And it’s the obligation of the Church to advise her members of their obligation as faithful Catholics. If you think that it’s okay to use abortion as just another means of birth control, you are not a faithful Catholic. Why would you want to be a member of a faith community if you don’t believe what it teaches?

The institutional Catholic Church is too concerned with numbers, in my estimation, and too concerned with getting along with others. Even Ireland, a formerly Catholic country, now allows legal abortions. One can chart the fall in mass attendance worldwide as a correlation to the rise of permissive abortion laws. We Catholics assist in that fall every time we vote for a pro-choice candidate for public office. And our dioceses are complicit in their collective failure to speak out. Encourage your priest to exercise the courage of his convictions.