Particularly wonderfully about the life of Roman Catholic the Most Rev. Archbishop Philip Hannan, he lived long enough to see his beloved Church return to an increased emphasis on the eternal and transcendent and provided a beacon to do so when dealing with the political world.
Hannan, who served as the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ leader for nearly a quarter century, was installed just as the American Church began sliding towards infatuation, still not entirely ended, with the trendy and secular. Yet Hannan, in his pastoral mission, never let what by the 1970s and 1980s had become overemphasis on pursuing a social gospel among many in the Church interfere with living the actual Gospels.
As such in the world of politics, he bore invaluable witness to verities when other Catholics became distracted.
While he opposed New Orleans’ ordinance to ban unequal treatment to those who identify as homosexual in areas of commerce out of concern that it would force the Church to violate its own beliefs, he also created programs that aided those individuals, giving witness to the stricture that we must hate the sin but love the sinner. He also recognized, through creation of outreach services to those in poverty, that while it was inappropriate to force charity from God’s people through coercive government taxation and redistribution, yet it was the duty and pleasure of His people to give from their hearts for those purposes.
When politicians baptized in the Church refused to live their faith in their shepherding in the secular world, such as by countenancing abortion for convenience, he had the courage to remind the faithful of that contradiction for them to consider when these officials petitioned for their jobs by standing for election. When fellow American bishops erred by letting their faith in humans grow greater than their understanding of humans as revealed to them by God, such as issuing an infamous pastoral letter against the possession of nuclear weaponry over the long term, the policy prescriptions of which if followed would endanger their flocks, Hannan had the wisdom to dissent.
Perhaps no issue better illustrates his superior understanding of how to apply the teachings of Jesus to the real world than with the issue of capital punishment. Hannan recognized, as a rule, that man, through just operation of the state, must arrogate that which normally must be left to God, the power over life and death, even if only under special and compelling circumstances in order to protect the community. Yet he embarked upon passionate defenses in specific cases to preserve these lives even as they forfeited them. He avoided the folly of banning such punishment, thus saving both the greater number of lives that would have been lost in some cases through lack of deterrence and the opportunity for moral clarity it would present to souls facing such punishment that otherwise might have resisted accepting God’s love before losing themselves to a death without Him.
And as the pendulum was swinging one way at the beginning of his ministry in New Orleans, by its end (his ministry continuing unofficially through his retirement), it was returning. The permissive interpretation of doctrine by some, fueled by confusion as to what to render to Caesar and what to render to God, that was tolerated for about a quarter century after Vatican II slowly began to be dispelled by pastoral leaders appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI who had a more intellectual and mature understanding of Scripture. In short, as Hannan had at one point been more of an outlier in his approach to the nexus of faith and politics among bishops, today in the American church his approach has become closer to the norm.
From a Catholic public policy perspective, New Orleanians were fortunate to have him for as long as they did. We can only pray that our spiritual leaders show similar wisdom as they conduct their pastoral missions.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:15