05/14/2013 12:55 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2013

Bishops Should Act With Humanity and Charity

Recent pastoral letters and press conferences from Roman Catholic Bishops are demonstrating an increasing intolerance for other faiths and beliefs. These statements all suggest that individual Catholics are not capable of knowing the strength of their own personal faith or of examining their own conscience. Quite simply, some Bishops and Archbishops seem to threaten, intimidate and insult the faithful (and in turn those who are not Catholics). I believe such tactics are not ways to lead, which is the role of the bishop, but ways to abuse pastoral power.

Canon law (from the Greek canon rule, law) is a code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church. The almost 2,000 laws cover the faithful, sacraments, teaching and leadership. There is a misconception that these are all straightforward, when in fact, many of them, along with the documents of Vatican II, advocate discretion in light of the entire situation.

I believe that the role of the bishop/Archbishop is clear. Canon Law 381.3 says, "He is to act with humanity and charity toward the brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church and is to foster ecumenism as it is understood by the Church."

Which is why Archbishop Sean O'Malley's boycott of Boston University's commencement, due to the Irish PM Enda Kenny's stance on "abortion legislation" (O'Malley's words), does not show true leadership in my eyes. The abortion Legislation. Kenny endorses would permit abortions if there is a real and substantial threat to the mother's life, including from suicide.

Does the Archbishop feel his faith is that weak or his image might tarnish if he attends a commencement where someone with an opposing view of compassion speaks? Is this how he sees the faith in his Archdiocese? In boycotting, what example is given to the numerous Catholic graduates, who have learned to dialog and respectfully disagree, when their Archbishop denies them the traditional benediction? What does it say to those not of the Catholic faith when the head of the Archdiocese declines to offer a prayer for them in a spirit of ecumenism and interfaith?

Documents of Vatican II explicitly state the freedom of all religion. From Dignitatus Humane:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

It is a commencement, not a religious ceremony. Kenny is guided by his conscience, as is O'Malley. O'Malley just needed to accept the invitation.

Bishop Tobin from Rhode Island made other egregious remarks after the state passed marriage equality. In his letter to the faithful he reminded them of Catholic teachings on homosexuality (which is a role of a bishop Canon 386.1). But then he stated, "Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others."

This exhortation is in direct contrast to numerous pastoral letters, papal writings, and the simple compassion Jesus advocated! Tobin quotes Ephesians 4:15 to "speak the truth in love." It is kind of hard to speak the truth when you publicly advocate abstinence from those who believe otherwise. It also disrespects those religions that do affirm same sex marriage. What is next, advising your faithful to boycott the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, ECLA Lutherans, Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism, Community of Christ, Unitarians, Unity, Quakers, Native Americans and some Islamic faiths and atheists because they affirm same sex marriage?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI participated in the prayers at the Blue Mosque in Egypt, bowed to Mecca and removed his shoes in respect for the faith. If a faith community affirms same sex marriage, your invitation is to support the family, not become a member.

Sadly, there are many more such examples. The May/June bulletin insert from the USCCB (United States Catholic Conference of Bishops) focuses on same sex marriage and rings true to the role of a bishop to guide and teach as it advocates discussion and prayers. But then it invokes fear by comparing it to Roe v. Wade and that it will redefine marriage rendering mother and fathers indispensable and "adults want trumps what a child deserves." Consider the single parent in the pew. What does your Bishop think of you? What does your child think when they read/hear this?

People have asked, "What does it matter?" If you're not Catholic, why even listen? Words matter. Simply because the church of my youth had profound leaders, women and men who did challenge the government and educate people about injustices. Because Catholics are compassionate and open to change, without compromising their beliefs or souls. Because words from Tobin and Maloney echo the stronger language used before the last election, when all parishes were asked to read a pastoral letter regarding their vote. Most of the bishops letters were cookie cutters, and from Diocese of Green Bay citing abortion, same sex marriage and embryonic stem cell among others, the faithful were warned: "To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally 'complicit' with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy. "

The words are beyond catechism, and reminders, and teachings, They say religious freedom, but it is clear that only means the Catholic religion, and their way of practicing it. We need the voices of "Nuns on the Bus" or 82-year-old Sr. Megan Rice, who was convicted after breaking into a nuclear facility in Tennessee to protest the killings, and retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who encourages those in same sex marriage to attend Mass and take communion (and ignore the bishop).

It matters because the many injustices and atrocities in our world started with words. Words from those in authority who used fear and coercion to gain prominence. And then to write laws. And then to act with injustice. That is not fear, that is fact. The pastoral role is to teach and lead and help those discern, not mandate. As a minister and chaplain that is how I view my pastoral authority. I have no right to tell someone what to worship or how to worship. I can share my knowledge, experience, strength and hope, but definitely not threaten.