Courage at What Cost?

What is it about our bishops that keeps them so supine? Are there not any around willing to talk back to Rome?


February 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Near the end of a long and fabled career, marked by a great deal of courage and no little success in the public sphere, Margaret Thatcher, who had been both the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century—from 1979 to 1990—and the very first woman to be Prime Minister, announced her retirement plans. “When I get out of politics,” she said, “I’m going to open a business and call it ‘Rent a Spine!’” 

Known as the “Iron Lady,” Baroness Thatcher would have been singularly qualified to run such a business. And it would have thrived, too, given the great and growing number of the spineless, whether in public or private life, in need of immediate infusions of courage. Which she evidently had plenty of, sharpened by constant use over the many years she spent both as a member of Parliament and for the three consecutive terms she spent as leader of the British nation.

So, what is courage? And why does so much of it appear to be missing among today’s leaders and the people they represent? Knowing that a nation cannot long survive unless its rulers possess enough spine to do the job, why haven’t they stepped up and simply gone ahead with doing the right thing? What are they afraid of? Is it perhaps because they really haven’t got any convictions to begin with? That the best should “lack all conviction,” to borrow an oft-quoted line from Yeats, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity”—is that it?   

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

That would certainly not have applied to the late Margaret Thatcher, who never removed her badge of courage. In an interview in which she confessed her disdain for the practice of “consensus” politics, preferring that politicians stand tall in the saddle, armed to the teeth with their own convictions, she explained that in her day, “we tried to persuade people that our convictions were the right ones, and it’s no earthly good having convictions unless you have the will to translate those convictions into action.” 

Pretty straightforward advice, I’d say. In other words, make the best possible case for what you believe, shore up as robustly as you know how the reasons for it, then realize that the time will soon come when you must simply take action on those principles. As she liked to put it, “the cock can crow and crow and crow, but the hen has got to lay the egg.” She was, in the arena of politics, a great layer of eggs. 

Is there an application here to the world of the Church, to the arena of ecclesiastical politics in which so many of us find ourselves, even unwittingly, embroiled? Where are the prelates out there who haven’t lost their spines? I mean, apart from the Africans, who have stood bravely in the breach, moved by a fierce and profound faith in God? And all this despite so much patronizing nonsense that only cultural prejudice could account for their opposition to blessing same-sex unions, that fidelity to the word of God could have nothing to do with it. The notion is perfectly ludicrous, as if respect for the basic order of creation, which cannot bend to the will of those intent on the practice of sexual perversion, were somehow a function only of taste and not of reason and faith. 

So, what is it about our bishops that keeps them so supine? Are there not any around willing to talk back to Rome? To tell the Vatican that they are just plain wrong about this? And that it is not ideological rigidity that moves them to say so. Not a spirit of schism, which is completely alien and abhorrent to any honest Catholic, but that Rome needs immediate, albeit respectful and fraternal, correction on this matter. 

Not to do so is to abdicate on a point of principle, one which is rooted in Divine Revelations itself, testified to by Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Which one would think it the business of the Church’s Magisterium to uphold. Otherwise, we are saying to ourselves and to the world that the blessing of a union between two sodomites is somehow OK, that God does not mind if we just overlook the sin and pretend such aberrations in the sexual order scarcely matter at all.  

Why won’t our bishops show some spine? Just tell Rome it’s made a mistake, that it needs to reject the document issued by the Dicastery, approved by the pope; but regardless of whether it does or it doesn’t, Fiducia Supplicans is dead in the water; it will not be implemented here. Period.  Why won’t our bishops show some spine? Just tell Rome it’s made a mistake, that it needs to reject the document issued by the Dicastery, approved by the pope.Tweet This

How hard is that? What will it cost them to speak their minds, minds presumably shaped by two thousand years of uninterrupted Church teaching? And to do so, moreover, in a single, unified voice, which is the voice of the shepherds leading their sheep? 

“It is not,” as von Balthasar reminds us, “a matter of learning or cleverness, but, today as always, of the courage to put oneself at risk.”

Are our bishops willing to put themselves at risk, to venture forth in obedience to God, even at the risk of censure or embarrassment from others? “Be worthy of the flame consuming you,” writes Paul Claudel. And what does it matter anyway? he asks.  

Is the object of life only to live? Will the feet of God’s children be fastened to this wretched earth? It is not to live, but to die, and not to hew the cross, but to mount upon it, and to give all that we have, laughing! There is joy, there is freedom, there is grace, there is eternal youth!

And, really, he asks, at the end of the day, “What is the worth of the world compared to life? And what is the worth of life if not to be given? And why torment ourselves when it is so simple to obey?”

Not a bad Lenten resolution, come to think of it, for our bishops. And not only for them—as if they alone were meant to corner the market on courage—but for all of us, now and always.

[Photo Credit: Catholic News Agency]


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

Join the Conversation

Comments are a benefit for financial supporters of Crisis. If you are a monthly or annual supporter, please login to comment. A Crisis account has been created for you using the email address you used to donate.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...