"Prophetic speech"? It's one of those irregular verbs…

Bernard: It’s one of those irregular verbs. I have an independent mind, you are an eccentric, he is round the twist.

Bernard: That’s another of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential briefings, you leak, he’s being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

Just two examples of Bernard Woolley’s “irregular verbs” from the great BBC comedy, “Yes [Prime] Minister”.

“Prophetic Speech” seems to be one of those irregular verbs too, along the lines of “I speak prophetically”, “You speak divisively”, “he interferes in politics”.

I have two cases in mind:

1) the recent comments by Cardinal Stafford in reference to Obama’s remarks that “if [my daughters] made a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby”.

2) Archbishop Niederauer’s column in the Catholic San Francisco explaining the Church’s support for “Proposition 8”.

The two stories belong together, I think. Recalling how recently Warrick Marsh was, in this country, accused of “hate speech” because he published the document “21 reasons why gender matters” (see here if you missed that story), Archbishop Niederauer was defending the Church in California against the charge that by supporting Proposition 8 (to add 14 words to the Constitution of California: “Only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognised in California”) the Church was motivated by “hatred, prejudice and bigotry against gays, along with a determination to discriminate against them and deny them their civil rights.” According to Zenit:

The archbishop responded to the criticism that churches should remain silent on political matters, even if they disagree. He affirmed that “religious leaders in America have the Constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy. Catholic bishops, specifically, also have a responsibility to teach the faith, and our beliefs about marriage and family are part of this faith.

“Indeed, to insist that citizens be silent about their religious beliefs when they are participating in the public square is to go against the constant American political tradition.”

He mentioned other political issues that also engage the “ethical, moral, and religious convictions of citizens: immigration policy, the death penalty, torture of prisoners, abortion, euthanasia and the right to health care […].”

Perhaps the “irregularity” of the verb depends on the topic being addressed. In Cardinal Stafford’s case, he has been accused of “divisive speech” and “partisan politics” for his criticism of Obama’s attitude toward pregnancy as a “punishment” for “mistakes”. Yet he has a long record of “speaking prophetically” on a wide range of issues such as civil rights, immigration and the war in Iraq. According to Allen, Stafford is

driven by belief that being Catholic in America means being counter-cultural [and has] used comparably dramatic imagery in the past to go after other administrations. In February 2003, for example, I interviewed Stafford about Bush’s press for war in Iraq.

“I come at this as a Christian and religious leader who celebrates the Eucharist every day,” Stafford said then. “It’s not possible for me to celebrate the Eucharist and at the same time to envision or encourage the prospect of war.”

Stafford’s conclusions may be open to debate, but his agenda is not simply to position the Catholic church closer to the Republican Party…

Stafford has a long history of commitment to the civil rights movement, dating back to the early 1960s when he studied community organizing and social work at The Catholic University of America. As a young Baltimore priest in the 1960s, he ran the archdiocese’s charitable efforts in the predominantly African-American inner city. In the 1980s, then-Bishop Stafford of Memphis was considered one of the most outspoken Catholic leaders in the country on racial issues.

Australia is not unlike America on this issue. When Church leaders speak out on indigenous issues or on workplace relations or detention centres, they are hailed as “speaking prophetically”, but when they speak on pro-life or marriage issues, they are told they are “interfering in politics”.

Just another of those irregular verbs then…

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0 Responses to "Prophetic speech"? It's one of those irregular verbs…

  1. Fraser Pearce says:

    “Prophetic Speech” seems to be one of those irregular verbs too, along the lines of “I speak prophetically”, “You speak divisively”, “he interferes in politics”.


  2. Louise says:

    Very nice. I was just writing to my local rag today about that very thing. Or at least, I was writing about the so-called Bill of Rights that some people are clamouring for.

    I noted as an aside, that when conservatives speak, this is called “scare-mongering” and when progressives speak, this is called “educating.”

    Amy Welborn had one like this a while back.

    I think it was “We share, you preach, they proselytise.”

  3. Cardinal Pole says:

    Mr. Schütz,

    I would just like to point out to you and your readers that I have posted a confutation of your response to my request at


  4. Schütz says:

    I think it was “We share, you preach, they proselytise.”

    As Bernard would say, that’s another of those irregular verbs!

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