Local Catholics are in an uproar because the Catholic Information Center is hosting a book signing tomorrow for Cokie Roberts, a notorious dissenter against Catholic moral teaching on abortion, birth control and homosexuality. The TV commentator attacked the partial-birth abortion ban as "cynical game-playing" by pro-lifers and criticized Pope Benedict XVI for "lacking in the theological virtue of charity."
The Catholic Information Center, a bookstore and chapel run by Opus Dei on K Street in downtown Washington, long has been a haven for neocon Catholic types looking for a lunchtime liturgy or to buy religious books for curious friends. Opus Dei is a religious organization that enjoyed enormous privileges under moderate Pope John Paul II but has seen its star fade under the much more traditional new pontiff.
In "The Da Vinci Code" book and movie, Opus Dei was portrayed as a radical right-wing vigilante force dispatching assassin monks to liquidate heretics. The truth is Opus Dei has never been very courageous in countering modernist trends that undermined tradition in its own church. The most obvious example is how the group was actively antagonistic to those who fought in the trenches for decades to bring back the ancient Latin Mass that was suppressed after the liberalizing Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.
The Opus Dei bookstore also has done things that are just plain weird and dubious from a Christian perspective, like selling the Harry Potter books, which glamorize witchcraft.
So now Opus Dei opens its doors to Cokie Roberts, putting the Catholic Information Center in the same camp as the University of Notre Dame, which shamefully honored pro-abortion President Obama at its graduation last year in violation of guidelines set forth by the Catholic bishops. Perhaps the bookstore hopes to make some mammon for selling out its principles while selling Cokie's book.
It's possible that Father Arne A. Panula, who runs the center, is naive about politics in the big city. Either way, the battle lines are drawn, and he must pick a side. He can admit his error and cancel the book signing, or he can go ahead and give a platform to a prominent Catholic dissident, thus outing himself as a weak defender of the faith in amoral times.
The Catholic Information Center is known by its initials, CIC. If the priest running the show is not careful, his operation will become known by another abbreviation: CINO - Catholic in name only.