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The powerful and impressive way in which U.S. bishops responded to the startling federal mandate on birth control and other reproductive issues showed in stunning fashion what can occur when the Church is prepared and acts swiftly.

While the backing-off of the government from an order requiring Catholic agencies to pay for birth control and even abortifacients was not a reversal (more a compromise -- one the bishops cannot fully accept), and while the protests organized by the bishops were not the only or even main reason for the White House "adjustment" (insiders report that the action was taken because even liberal Catholics, particularly a nun in charge of the Catholic Health Care Association, as well as Vice President Joseph Biden, objected and because it was becoming a political football), the collective voice raised by at least 171 (or 91 percent) of the nation's bishops, who denounced the mandate with potent language, and called for Catholics to pressure legislators, had to have factored into the equation.

It was no full victory but it was a victory and cast the nation's prelates in a position with which they have not been familiar of late: public heroes. After the humiliations and horrors of the abuse crisis, the Church rose to flex its muscles -- which seemed to be considerable. It also came at exactly the right moment, for around the world -- far beyond America's borders -- is a growing spirit of persecution. "The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic Church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture," admitted America's most secular newspaper. "Hours after President Obama phoned to share his decision with Archbishop Timothy A. Dolan, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops’ headquarters in Washington posted on its website a video of Archbishop Dolan, which had been recorded the day before."

Whether or not they have stanched that in the U.S., and whether or not such actions are maintained, it also should send a strong message to the Vatican, which has not been not nearly as quick to take such actions.

This is due in part to prudence (the Vatican can teach us all something about patience) and also because the august body -- the Magisterium -- is steeped in traditions and policies that often took centuries to formulate. It speaks not in sound bytes but encyclicals, with dogmas and not blog comments.

Still, and clearly, there are times when the Universal Church must be quicker. Consider that the same week as the U.S. drama, the Vatican was holding an international conference on sex abuse -- this ten years after the crisis first erupted in a big damaging way. Last year, the Vatican also completed a study of U.S. convents and retreat centers -- decades after most of them began to empty (and too many of the remaining ones began to embrace the New Age). An investigation of abuse in Ireland was initiated by Rome but only months after shocking reports in that nation's press (profoundly damaging the Church in this once flagship of a Catholic nation and causing it to close its Vatican embassy). Recently, Rome also finished an investigation into U.S. seminaries -- again, long after problems pervaded them (and finding remarkably little wrong). Pronouncements are now being made on holier music, but meanwhile, Catholics have been suffering through modernistic renditions at many parishes since the 1970s. A major pronouncement was made some years ago on the New Age, but this was way after the explosion of psychic phenomena in the 1960s.

If said with frustration, this is also stated with respect. Rome cannot apply knee-jerk reactions. To its great credit, the Vatican steadfastly refuses to become involved with what are often political entertainments.

It is not to criticize the Vatican.

But in the current anti-Catholic environment, in which it's fully acceptable to publicly demean our faith (while being obsessively careful not to insult faiths like Islam), the time has come for certain prompt and uncompromising and loud actions. It is a time for the Church militant. It is a time to further dignify the Mass (perhaps detaching the priests more from secularism by reinstituting the old altar). It is a time for the St. Michael prayer. It is time to simplify and train our eyes back on the exact way that Jesus and His disciples ministered and put a devotional spirit back into diocesan offices.

Let us, however, congratulate our bishops. They were courageous. They were prepared. They saw the mandate coming (there have been similar mandates -- for years -- in 28 states). They even had that video featuring Cardinal Dolan ready. It has to make those who think they can wantonly trample on the Church think again.

In the midst of the "good news" last week (and to an extent it was good news, a first step), there sadly was the report of a retired U.S. cardinal who said he regretted apologizing for the abuse crisis and saw his diocese as having done nothing wrong. This reaffirms arrogance and bureaucracy in the minds of critics who assert such, when in fact strength comes from humility and humility -- so powerful against the enemy -- comes from strength.

[see also: Obama's compromise: not far enough; Chaput: rescind mandate; A call for Catholic militancy; Bishops call key parts of new mandate 'unacceptable'; and Report: White House decision was to appease liberal Catholics]

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