Guest ColumnistRandall Terry Is Not the Spokesman for Catholic Orthodoxy

Someone close to the fight for Terry Schiavo’s life says that up to a certain point the effort to save her life was getting traction and gaining ground. The effort had managed for a time to branch out from a left-right divide to become an issue of human rights. Even Jesse Jackson was on her side. Overnight everything changed. According to my source, it all changed when Randal Terry parachuted into Florida and started issuing press releases. The tenor changed and so did the press coverage. The fight for Schiavo’s life became a fight over the religious right.

In recent years, even before he converted to Rome, Randall Terry has pushed himself beyond battles to protect life into the fight for Catholic orthodoxy. And he bids fair to do the same thing to legitimate Catholic concerns that he has done elsewhere, make them cartoonish and even silly.

First things first: Randall Terry is a very talented guy. I am told he is a riveting speaker. He is utterly fearless. And he has a remarkable ability to project himself and his convictions into the mainstream press.

He created Operation Rescue, though not the rescue movement, which predated him by years. Even so, according to some in the pro-life world, Terry and Operation Rescue resuscitated a moribund movement. He got large numbers of evangelical pastors involved and he motivated thousands of men for the first time to do the manly thing and try literally to rescue babies. And it was successful in that; thousands of unborn lives were saved. Terry and Operation Rescue were a mixed bag, though. Though peaceful, Operation Rescue was used by the media to paint the pro-life movement in America as inherently violent.

Operation Rescue fizzled in a flurry of lawsuits, legislation, and recrimination. Even now, Terry is battling someone over use of the Operation Rescue name. The problem for Catholics is that he has now brought his talents, both good and bad, into the fight for Catholic orthodoxy.

This first started in the summer of 2004 when Terry was still a Protestant. When the bishops met that summer in Denver to hash out questions related to Communion and Catholic politicians, Terry was there with a small band of protesters. They could not get close to the meeting place, so they protested way down the road chanting and waving signs for the bishops to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians. How was this Protestant Randall Terry’s business? It’s hard to say. But he thought it was.

He eventually converted to the Catholic Church and appears to have brought some of his Protestant sensibilities with him. In most Protestant churches, pastors serve at the pleasure of the congregation. Terry seems to think this applies to Catholic bishops. He also evinces a kind of "spirit" of Vatican II that believes the proper role of the laity is to be embroiled in Church politics rather than converting the world for Christ.

Terry and his crew began his quixotic campaign last fall by leafleting the cathedral in Baltimore and then in Arlington, Virginia with brochures saying you cannot vote for Barack Obama and be a good Catholic. They were kindly told to leave, and when they refused, they were escorted from the premises by the police. Terry concluded the problem was with bishops so he decided to begin a campaign for the removal of two of them. And this is where things get weird.

Terry led a delegation to Rome a few weeks ago and succeeded in arranging astounding meetings: Archbishop Raymond Burke of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal James Stafford of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Archbishop Rino Fisichella of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and many others.

Upon his return, Terry trumpeted the meeting in a press release and said, "The purpose was to beg Vatican officials to intervene decisively in the American Catholic Church. Vatican officials were presented with irrefutable evidence that a majority of U.S. bishops refuse to uphold key teachings of the Church. Our first request was that the Holy See relocate Archbishop Donald Wuerl (D.C.) and Bishop Paul Loverde (Arlington VA), and to replace them with bishops who will uphold the laws of the Church -- namely, bishops who refuse to serve Communion to any politician who supports the killing of children by abortion."

Now, does anyone believe even for a second that these Vatican men would agree to meet with Randall Terry to discuss the removal of American bishops? Does that even pass the smell test? Can you hear Cardinal Stafford say, "Sure Randall, come on in and let’s talk about getting rid of two American bishops."?

What I think really happened is that when Randall Terry called for these meetings, he said it was to talk about the American pro-life movement. Maybe he said he wanted to discuss how the pro-life movement should respond to Catholic politicians who are unfaithful on abortion. The tapes Terry provides show pretty much that.

But what happens next is even weirder. Terry got back to the United States, sent his press release everywhere, and announced a press conference at the National Press Club! He led people to believe that he has a tape of Archbishop Burke agreeing that U.S. bishops have to be removed from office. Of course, he has nothing of the kind.

According to the transcript, which you can read, not even Terry brought up the names of Loverde and Wuerl or any other bishop. What Archbishop Burke says is that canon 915 is universal and applies to all bishops. This is roughly what Burke said to another group a month earlier, a group that does not have the temerity and the media chops that Randall Terry has.

Thanks to Randall Terry, it was reported in the New York Times that Archbishop Burke was criticizing his brother bishops. Archbishop Burke had to issue an apology and a clarification and went on to say that Randall Terry misled him and it is clear that he did. How has Randall Terry been allowed to besmirch the name of this great man Burke?

Randall Terry cannot be allowed to represent himself as the voice of Catholic orthodoxy. The press in its essential anti-Catholicism would much rather quote someone like Randall Terry than more responsible people like George Weigel or George Rutler or Michael Novak or Robert Royal or Jody Bottum or any one of dozens of important voices. The press love it that the P.T. Barnum of the pro-life movement is now front and center in defending the Catholic Church.

Randall Terry has announced he is "opening an office in South Bend" to "coordinate protests" related to President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame. Lord, have mercy.

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