Saturday, June 22
Musings on Men, Women, and the Magisterium
Professor Schudt, over at Summa Contra Mundum, has offered Part III of his "Is God a Sexist?" Even if you remain unpersuaded by Karl's core claim, this bit on the role of the Magisterium truly hits the mark:
Consider one aspect of the job of the priest/bishop: the preservation of the deposit of faith given to us by Christ. This magisterium or teaching office is not just teaching, but defense, a constant fight against those who challenge and attempt to destroy or distort the faith . . . .In the defense of the faith what is needed is a fighting spirit and a commitment to one particular human good, the truth.
Friday, June 21
Marquis misses the mark
There is no shortage of interesting ideas at Veni Sancte Spiritus. This blog is chock-full of interesting criticisms of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and the Church's concerns to contain dissent. It's a lengthy post, but worth reading. I suggest you read the entirety to gain a complete sense of his provocative thesis that Humanae Vitae is the Maginot Line of the teaching magisterium.
After a bit of musing about the historical significance of 1968, Anthony correctly claims that many Catholics don't believe (or at least, don't practice) what the Encyclical teaches. Then he laments recent calls to crack down on dissent:
Calls to somehow throw out dissenters from the Catholic Church, to make the Church leaner and "more" faithful is counter to the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, apostolic tradition of the Church, and the Church's sacramental/incarnational self-understanding. The mission of the Church is not and never has been to toss people out. When the Church did do that in the past, it never worked well for the Church.
After making some arguments against Humanae Vitae based on his understanding of the sensus fidelium and Rahnerian distinctions between subjective human experience and objective religious experience, Anthony winds up his argument with this:
The Church's Maginot line has been punctured. It is pure folly for the Institution to believe, let alone attempt, it can maintain and fix the line. Efforts for a putsch will meet with a multitude of vehement refusniks. These folks are not interested in leaving the community they love and the Church is not in the business of shrinking membership for some vague sense of purity . . . . So the Institutional Church is at an impasse of its own creating with its faithful. If the Church had listened to the faithful in 1968, as well as now, instead of operating as a Roman monologue, the laity would be leaven for the world instead of being the loyal opposition.
Anthony assumes that the sensus fidelium is squarely with him on this question, but I disagree. I think part of the problem is his understanding of the term. The sensus fidelium does not refer to Catholics in America (or those in Western nations). Instead, it refers to all the faithful (Newman said it included those in other times and even saints in heaven!). Only that way can it be a true protection against subjective views of truth that are skewed by cultural currents. (Perhaps Anthony has the same view of sensus fidelium that I have, but, if so, he has yet to demonstrate that this broader sensus agrees with him in his critique of Humanae Vitae.)
The Magisterium and the sensus fidelium protect the faithful from myopic, culturally-biased views. In that way, they are gifts to us. They help us (if we choose to assent) gain clarity about our faith, and give us access to the (objective) truth about what it means to be human and what will lead to fullness of life.
And that brings us back to Anthony's claims that the Church is wrong to focus on dissent and that doing so is "counter" to the apostolic mission of the Church and of Jesus himself. I readily agree that the basic message of the Gospel is one of invitation (not exclusion), a divine "come follow me." However, the invitation entails a lot. It is an invitation to honesty about our need for healing and redemption, a call to repentance from our sinfulness, and a command to conform our lives to His, through ongoing conversion of heart, mind, and life.
Though the heart of our faith is mercy and love, love wills what is truly best for us, not what seems best to us. And, in that sense, tolerance (as it is taught in our culture) is not a Christian virtue. Truth is, by definition, discriminating.
Jesus tells us the truth will set us free. Of course, we are "free" to reject the truth, but that's not true freedom. We are only truly free when we choose (by grace) to live as we were created to live. And the Church teaches us what that is.
A review of the Gospels reveals that Christ was anything but soft on truth. Yes he loved, but he called others to live sacrificial lives of love for others. He spoke harsh words to the Pharisees. He spoke strongly, saying puzzling things like "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," and, in another place (speaking of the judgment), "depart from me, I never knew you." Not exactly touchy-feely, he. (Kind of reminds you of the the "angry Nordic Jesus," doesn't it?)
One way to interpret Anthony's arguments in this post and others is that he underestimates (or discounts) the importance of Magisterial teaching to protect believers from their weak, self-interested perspectives. He claims it was a point of failure, but I suggest that Humanae Vitae was actually a powerful testament to God's protection of the Church, a successful Maginot Line, if you will, evidence that the gates of Hell could not prevail against it.
This is not simply my idiosyncratic view. Many Protestant converts view Humanae Vitae as evidence that the Holy Spirit truly is in charge of Catholic moral teaching. Everything (for all the reasons Anthony articulated) argued for Pope Paul VI to go the other way on this one. But, by the Holy Spirit's influence, he did not.
Good news in the pews
For two weeks, I was back in my home diocese. While there, I visited many different parishes for daily Mass. And what I found encouraged me. The number of men, women, boys, and girls who were attending daily Mass has increased markedly from a year ago.
No, I don't have good data to confirm my impression, but the increase was obvious at every parish I visited. My mini-survey showed that daily Mass attendance is up. And that's good news for us all.
Despite the difficulties (or perhaps because of them), lay faithful (of all ages, from all walks of life) are going to church to pray the highest of all prayers, the Mass. Their prayer is their offer of themselves. They pray the Mass in union with Christ and the communion of saints. And they do so for the benefit of the Church and all the world.
It's almost as if they've been reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (946-953), which concludes this way:
In the sanctorum communio, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." "Charity does not insist on its own way."
In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.
There's no doubt, there is a place for exhorting our leaders. But the impulse to pray, so evident in parishes across the country, may be our best way forward. If we take St. Catherine as a model, prayer is every bit as important as her stern words to the Shepherds of her day.
This is a point John DaFiesole at Disputations makes in his response to Rod Dreher's recap of Dallas and the Catholics United for the Faith postmortem. He reminds us of the broader context of St. Catherine's faithful service to the truth:
St. Catherine (who was neither illiterate nor a nun) explicitly taught that neither the laity nor secular authorities are to attack any priest or bishop, however evil he may be (which, in the 14th Century, may have been very evil indeed). Instead, they are to resort to prayer in perfect charity.
The Mass fills the bill quite nicely. Thanks to all the faithful men and women who showed me the power of prayer these past two weeks.
Another bloggin' priest
Welcome to Fr. Bryce Sibley of A Saintly Salmagundi.
For those, like me, befuddled by salmagundi, it is "a mixture or an assortment; miscellany; a potpourri."
Thursday, June 206/20/2002 |
Interesting musing going on over at Summa Contra Mundum.
Don Juan or Dom Jesus?
There are a few bloggers and many commentators in the press who adamantly contend that the current spate of sexual abuse has nothing at all to do with homosexuality. Well, this NY Post story is not about sexual abuse, but about abuse of trust, blatant infidelity to promises and Church teaching, and a priest who is, simply put, out-of-control.
A gay Catholic priest looted his working-class Queens parish by playing "sugar daddy" to an 18-year-old go-go dancer who lived with him in a church rectory, a shocking lawsuit charged yesterday.
Among other allegations, the suit says the Rev. John Thompson looted $14,000 from a candy drive - and bragged he was untouchable because "he could bring down half the [Brooklyn] diocese with what he knew" about other gay priests.
"As long as Tommy V.D.D. [Brooklyn Bishop Thomas V. Daily] is around, nothing will happen to me," Thompson reportedly crowed.
The "out-of-control" cleric allegedly financed trips to Florida nudist resorts and Greenwich Village massage parlors with a parish American Express card, the lawsuit says.
Last September, Thompson claimed that he had wrecked his car while high on the club drug "ecstasy," and that he needed money because he had not filed an insurance claim, the lawsuit says.
The explosive allegations, in a sexual-harassment suit filed in Queens civil court by St. Elizabeth's elementary school principal, come as the Catholic Church is reeling from the scandal of hundreds of cases of priests molesting children over the years.
If the allegations are true, including his alleged remarks that he could "bring down half the diocese," I say, go ahead. We don't need priests like this, even if we have far fewer priests in the end. Of course, it would be best to see conversions of heart, mind, and life. But, short of that, this has got to stop.
Please don't hear me saying that this sort of problem is the exclusive province of homosexual priests. Of course, some heterosexual priests also have problems with infidelity. But here's the point: the Church and the world are searching for causes of the scandal, and homosexuality has been offered as one potential cause. And, it's no surprise that stories like this one add fuel to anti-homosexual fires.
It is important for homosexual apologists to realize that there will never be a ban on heterosexual priests. But with press like this, a ban on homosexuals may become increasingly attractive in public opinion, and to the sensus fidelium.
So, for those who are outraged that homosexual priests and seminarians are becoming easy scapegoats in this scandal, I recommend they get the word out that they better live chaste lives. The reason is obvious. Homosexual priests and seminarians are being watched even more closely than the rest. Any claims that this is unjust simply don't matter anymore. In the court of public opinion, where this is now being played out, homosexual priests and seminarians need to demonstrate that they are faithful. Shenanigans like this (and those of Shameless Shanley) add a lot of weight to the argument that a ban would be best (even if that may be profoundly unjust).
As Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus argued, this scandal is about fidelity.
The point is that at ordination a young man hears his name called and responds, "I come to serve." He lies prostrate at the altar and over him is declared, "You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek"; he is indelibly marked and for him is prayed the Litany of the Saints, invoking all the heroes and heroines of the past to assist him in being who he truly is--sacramentally, ontologically, and forever--a priest. He is what he does, his person is conformed to his vocation; he preaches, he baptizes, he forgives, he blesses, he anoints, he intercedes, and, above all, he offers in persona Christi, and in the presence of the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the eternal sacrifice by which the world is redeemed. He is a priest, possessed of a dignity, all undeserving, that he earnestly and daily prays he will never besmirch nor betray.
One day the present scandals will be yesterday's news. The lawyers, prosecutors, therapists, and spin masters will leave the stage. The reporters will go chasing after other disasters. The Church will remain. About that there is no doubt. Please God, the Church will remain renewed. I do believe that will happen. Whether and how it happens depends upon the bishops who are primarily responsible for the shame and humiliation of the Long Lent of 2002. Theirs is a historic opportunity for self-examination, confession, repentance, and publicly credible resolve to exemplify, by the grace of God, amendment of life in rediscovering, and calling others to rediscover, the vocation to fidelity.
In light of news reports like the one today from Brooklyn, it is well to recall Hegel's stages of moral development. First comes the aesthetic, exemplified by Don Juan. Next comes the ethical, exemplified by Socrates. Last (and highest) comes the religious, exemplified by Jesus Christ.
Hegel doesn't claim that we move progressively through these stages and stay at the highest level we achieve. We move back and forth. If we use his terms, it seems painfully obvious that many of our priests (heterosexual and homosexual alike) are spending way too much time playing Don Juan, and not nearly enough time being Dom Jesus to His bride. It's high time for a change.
Wednesday, June 19
Neil (or is it Nel?) Obstat is on the prowl
A quick peak at Nihil Obstat prooves the pointe. Its easy too conclude that Obstat is among the wellest red bloggers out there.
I believe Tim Drake wrote his article before Obstat started stating his/her objections to blogs. In Drake's article, he mentioned that some consider blogging a bit narcissistic. Now Neil (or Nel) has shown it can be even a bit voyeuristic. (For the record, I did check the spelling of voyeuristic to avoid being hoist on my own petard.)
Though Obstat's arrival means I need to be more cautious, I nevertheless extend my warmest welcome. If I may ask, though, why no email? I'm sure you'd get nothing but affirmations!
At the top of her game
Amy Welborn, that is. In a very timely, and very Welbornesque way, she offers insights into the Situation--the choices we have and the call of Christ to the lay faithful--like you and me--who are burdened to be Christ for the world. Here's a sample. If you haven't already, go read the rest. It's well worth it.
In a time in which the world desperately needs to hear the Gospel, is starving for the truth Jesus speaks of love, healing, reconciliation and compassion, is drowning in relativism and nihilism...here we have the Rock, the Body of Christ, torn, divided, rocked and distracted by internal affairs and totally discredited by its leaders.
In this modern age, with technology at our fingerprints and most of us literate, there is no mystery as to what it means to be Catholic and what following Christ is all about. So many of our bishops have shown, time and time again, that bringing Christ to a needy, hungry world is not at the top of their agenda. Does that mean we can't put it at the top of ours?
Sure, there are things for which we're depend on the bishops - who are priests are and the shape of the liturgical life in our dioceses, as well as the shape of Catholic education in our dioceses. And that's a lot. And those areas are, indeed, a big mess in many dioceses. But think hard about this. You can still pray during a liturgy filled with what you call "abuses." No - it's not that you can pray. You must. Try to make changes, yes. Sure, head to another parish if it gets too bad, but whereever you are, stop being a critic, stop passing that attitude on to your children and your friends, and throw yourself into praying during Mass. Jesus is still there.
And most importantly, don't let the actions of these bishops define what it means to be Catholic in America in 2002. Throw yourself into following Christ more closely, and treat others accordingly. Rededicate yourself and your family to the works of mercy, join others in your community who are doing so. Despite the pain and the doubt, commit yourself to joy. Because Jesus still lives. Jesus still loves, redeems and binds wounds. Jesus has not gone anywhere. Despite what the fellows in mitres would have you think.
Don't let them discourage you from finding, embracing and sharing the love of Christ.
Our Bishops and BC
There are opportunists at work in Boston. With a wounded leadership among the American bishops, agitating academics at BC are salivating at the chance to take control of the future of the Church. And, if this article in today's Boston Globe is any indication, their efforts will get plenty of positive press. The headline says it all: "BC is leading the way on church reform."
Back in 1990, the Vatican, concerned that Catholic academic institutions in this country were on a secular drift, commenced a process to ensure orthodoxy. The result: Every professor of theology would have to receive a mandatum, essentially a stamp of approval from the local archdiocese that his or her teaching comported with church doctrine.
A deadline was set for June 1 of this year - but then came the scandal of the pedophile priests. Since then, worries about certifying Catholic academics as theologically correct have taken a backseat. And now, with Boston College planning a major look at the church, a reform impetus seems to be growing.
''What we are proposing to do is have a balanced look at all the questions, a range of perspectives,'' says the Jesuit president of Boston College, William Leahy.
That will likely include two matters the Vatican has fiercely resisted: permitting priests to marry and ordaining women. Leahy says those issues could well come up in the context of ensuring an adequate number of priests for the church.
''To discover what is wrong and to propose how to put it right calls for a multidisciplinary approach that a university can offer,'' says Thomas Groome, author of ''What Makes Us Catholic'' and a professor of theology at BC. ''It is all going to be on the table.''
''They were trying to reform the colleges,'' says one prominent local Catholic. ''Now the colleges are looking to reform, renew, and revitalize the church. What BC is saying is that since the church isn't talking to the faithful, the university must start the dialogue.''
As the situation currently stands, Boston College probably has a stronger claim on the loyalties of the region's Catholics than does Cardinal Law. Certainly many of the most influential Catholics in Boston are BC graduates, as are many of the priests who serve the archdiocese.
With that dynamic at play, the place to watch for meaningful discussion about changing the Catholic Church won't be the Vatican or the Boston Archdiocese but rather Boston College.
It is no doubt true that BC is well situated to undertake such a study of the Church. Right now, because of weakness in Church leadership in Boston, BC can probably do whatever it pleases. And the consequences (God forbid!) could be schism.
What we need now is strong, wise, holy, and courageous bishops who will live their vocations as signs of unity and guardians of the faith. Regrettably, until Church leaders in Boston and across the country are able again to fulfill their vocation as bishops, dissenters will have a huge platform from which to agitate for change.
Tuesday, June 18
Of Pots and Kettles or Goodbye, Good Science
We are witnessing quite a display in the concerted "counter-attack" on Fr. Rob Johansen and his critical review of Michael S. Rose's Goodbye, Good Men. Mr. Rose doesn't just reply; he brings in reinforcements. In addition to his personal rebuttal of Fr. Johansen and his review, he also includes repudiations from Jay McNally, a former editor of Michigan Catholic, the Detroit paper, and Fr. Andrew Walter, a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In his response, Rose ignores the bulk of Johansen's review and the questions Johansen and other reviewers raised concerning Rose's methods. Instead, he works to rebuild his credibility and, in turn, question Rob Johansen's, by focusing on the Dull case:
Johansen also criticizes my editing of a letter to the editor by Gawronski and Huggins [sic] that was published in St. Catherine Review. Although I did edit the letter, their meaning was not distorted in any way. My edits consisted of removing the personal attack against the person of Jason Dull. The material was libelous on a personal level, i.e., it served to damage that person's reputation in a malicious way.
Much of the passion in Michael Rose's apologia arises from his concern about attacks on his credibility. But if he has a general disdain for attacks on credibility, we must assume he never read what his defenders were writing. Fr. Andrew Walter, for example, offers this anti-Johansen jeremiad:
I have checked with my own friends in the Diocese of Bridgeport and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who knew Fr. Johansen suring [sic] their seminary years. All of them out and out wanted to distance themselves from this man, citing his lack of stability, his arrogance, and his own lack of credibility. He certainly is not someone who is in a position to say that others are not credible witnesses to their seminary experiences. I can provide you with the names and telephone numbers of these priests should you desire them . . .
Just in case someone might be tempted to wonder about Fr. Walter, we have his word (and that of a few others) that everything he's ever said is true:
As for myself, please do check my references. Fr. Kenneth Baker of the HPR and Fr. Joseph Fessio of the Igantius [sic] Press, both of whom are substantial friends of mine should suffice.
In closing, I wish to again remind you that I have never said anything to anyone in the past 15 sorry years that I could not substantiate or have others corroborate. The truth is chilling enough without the use of hyperbolic language or tattletale; whether for truth's sake or the advancement of one's own confused agenda and personal narcissism.
Anyone who reads Johansen's review will find that he agrees with much of Rose's thesis. But he raises questions about Rose's methodology. In reply, Rose claims that he's just balancing the scales with his tract:
What my book does is tell the stories of men who, until now, had no recourse to justice, and who were humiliated and silenced by leaders of their beloved Church. Fr. Johansen will forgive them if they�re a bit too emotional about this, and if their collected stories amount to a "catalog of horrors," similar to the constant stream of horrors recounted in the news every day involving the predatory homosexual abuse by Catholic priests. I do present the seminarian�s side of the story; we�ve received the "official" side of the story for years, over and over again�denial after denial. Why do we need to hear it again? . . . .
I think my favorite line in Fr. Johansen�s review of Goodbye, Good Men is this one, which demonstrates his level of awareness: "If a book like Goodbye, Good Men had been written ten years ago, it would have been timely, provocative, and maybe even prophetic. But why, at a time when many people acknowledge that things are improving, does Rose choose now to bring out this catalogue of horrors from the past?" Untimely? (Need I remind anyone of the relevance of my book to the current scandals?) The fact is, if a book like Goodbye, Good Men had been published ten years ago, it would have been studiously ignored.
There can be little doubt that this book was as perfectly timed as a book could be. Perfectly timed to sell well, perfectly timed to confirm worst suspicions, to sound alarm bells, to put fear and doubts into the minds of Catholic faithful from coast to coast. Readers lap it up, saying "just as I suspected!"
Rose and his defenders think that Fr. Johansen is set against them, but he's not. He simply wished Rose would have used less innuendo, anecdote, and better science. What is needed is not horror stories to confirm our fears, but good (valid) information upon which to base decisions.
It is worth noting that even friendly reviews typically acknowledge limitations in a book, but neither of Rose's defenders (or should we call them Johansen detractors?) raise any questions about Rose's methods. In this respect, it is not unfair to say that their defenses of Rose are at least as self-interested as the review Fr. Johansen wrote. If nothing else, they are guilty of ad hominem attacks of their own, and of "poisoning the well."
And that brings us back to method. These defenders, like Rose and the spurned seminarians he cites, are interested in getting the bad news out. And they don't want anyone raising critical questions about methods or conclusions.
Rose and his defenders accuse Johansen of using ad hominem attacks, a logical fallacy. But they seem uninterested in the scientific warrant of Rose's thesis. Everyone knows, they seem to say, that Rose is right. But, as fascinating as anecdotes may be (especially when they confirm our worst fears), we benefit because Fr. Johansen asked for better research. He raised doubts about Rose's method based on a case with which he was familiar.
Reading Michael Rose's book makes it easy to believe he had his thesis before he did his research. For that reason, critical readers wonder about the validity of Rose's conclusions. And Fr. Rob Johansen raised questions about Rose's review of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Others could come forward with their own challenges to the portraits Rose paints. I have already stated that the Mundelein of his description bears little resemblance to the Mundelein I attend.
What is clear is that Rose doesn't want men like Rob Johansen coming forward with reports that would temper his attack. And that's regrettable. A more measured approach, one that offered reasons for concern and reasons for encouragment, would have served the Church better. But, then again, I suspect it wouldn't have sold nearly as many copies.
Monday, June 17
Words from a friend: On Celibacy
A good friend of mine sent me this note partly in response to some of my posts on celibacy. For the record, this seminarian is the sort of man you'd want your sister or your daughter to marry. You'd trust him. You'd like him. He would neither creep you out nor bully you around. In short, he's the sort of man you'd want for your parish priest. He's a prayerful, loving, wise seminarian who promises to make a great priest.
I have been thinking about celibate life these past days. In response to those who think celibacy should be changed for priests, I hold firm to the need for celibacy. I agree that celibacy frees a man to minister selflessly to others and that a celibate commitment is a deliberate and daily commitment . . . . I get nervous when people take a cavalier attitude in favor of "changing the rule."
We should look at celibacy in two ways: as a Form and a Grace. In changing a celibacy 'rule' there seems to be a danger of throwing out a spirtual form. Read 1 Peter. He tells us to live in chastity as Christ did. Life as a priest is standing in the person of Christ physically and spiritually. The priest physically administers the sacraments but the spiritual dimension I think is overlooked.
Celibacy requires a death to self. As Paul says, "It is Christ who lives in me." There are practical aspects to celibacy [but] I look at the celibate life as impractical . . . . When I say impractical, it is in the same radical way of Christ's impractical way of saving us. He could have saved us any other way, why did he choose the cross? We need to relook at the Form of celibacy as Christ living in us.
Celibacy as a Grace: While I agree we are all in need of grace to live out our vocation (married, single, celibate) I wonder if celibacy is an actual grace. We look at the graces needed to live celibately, but is not celibacy the answer to the prayers many of us have prayed?
When he says celibacy is an "actual grace," he is using technical language that means celibacy actually enables celibates to live the life of committed love to which they have been called. Of course, men and women celibates can reject that grace. But the grace of celibacy is an actual grace, a grace that transforms.
I think my friend is right. For all our debates about celibacy, perhaps the greatest need is to pray that our priests would understand (and embrace) both the form and the grace of celibacy. If they embraced that grace, they would be enabled by God to live and love the Church, in persona Christi. If all our priests lived that mystery, if they died to themselves and allowed Christ to live in them, we certainly wouldn't be in the mess we're in.
As always, Christ is calling priests (and all the faithful) to conversion. Some men are being called in a special way, with a special grace, to be Christ for others. (For an example of what this means, check out Father Rob Johansen's blog.)
Christ may be calling you, speaking the wonderful words: Come follow me. If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.
Giving with one's whole heart
Yesterday, I was at Mass at my home parish. I was sitting with my brother's family (he and his wife have six children). On Saturday, their oldest (who is almost 10) helped my parents mow their lawn. It's a very large lawn, and he worked diligently. At Mass I learned how much he was paid. Or at least I could guess.
When he sat down next to me, he pulled folded dollar bills out of each pocket, like some fast-triggered giver. Then he smiled. Some may wonder about his conspicuous giving, but this was no show of self-importance. Besides, it didn't matter that his left hand knew what his right hand was doing, because his right hand was doing it too.
Of course, my nephew doesn't have a clue about the tragedies in the Church. He knows nothing of movements across the country to withhold donations. So he gave with a willing (even an eager) heart. And I suspect his two dollar donation warmed the heart of Christ.
As I wondered at his willingness, I began questioning the "power of the purse." Though surely a tempting option to get a bishop's attention, I can't help wondering what Jesus thinks. What's your view?
Sunday, June 16
Following or Leading?
Laurie Goodstein makes a truly teasing argument in her NY Times piece this morning (link requires free registration). She argues that the bishops who have made a name for themselves in going against public opinion (on capital punishment, abortion, etc.) shifted modes this time. They listened to public opinion. Here are some excerpts:
Faced with this debacle, the bishops decided at their meeting in Dallas this week that this time they could not afford to take the unpopular, countercultural course. With the public, the media and sexual abuse victims joining in a chorus for "zero tolerance" of priest offenders, the bishops relented. They voted to bar from the ministry any priest found to be involved in sexual abuse of a minor in the past, present or future.
To find the path out of a deep dark mess of their own making, the leaders of a church famous for going their own way allowed themselves to be led. Said Bishop Galante, who as chair of the bishops' communications committee has been honing the bishops' message for the media, "The perception we have to give to people is, we heard you. We heard what you said, and we will do what is needed to protect our children."
Ultimately the church's leaders decided they had to become followers of public opinion in the hopes of regaining their credibility as leaders, a situation attested to by some bishops in their remarks from the floor and in interviews. They took this route because they felt they had no choice. They took it because it was good public relations, and they had spent untold thousands on public relations consultants who were working both behind the scenes and quite publicly at the Dallas conference. They also took it because they wanted their prophetic voice back.
"We need strong support of this document," Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said to the bishops in the debate, "to begin to restore the credibility of the church and its moral authority."
At the end of the day, in the final news conference after the vote, it was Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who tried to reconcile the bishops' roles not only as public relations men but as prophets.
"As Catholics, we do believe in forgiveness," he said, "We do believe in the power of conversion. An abuser who recognizes the profound harm he has committed and who has shown remorse can indeed be forgiven for his sins. He just doesn't get a second chance to do it again. Period."
The assumptive background of this piece is that the bishops wanted to go against public opinion, but that's not exactly true. Bishop Gregory's statement speaks volumes. The bishops were concerned both about the victims and the victimizers because of the Church's teaching about conversion.
The debate was how to reconcile these two commitments. And, it is clear that the bishops were influenced by what they heard from concerned laymen and women. But--and here is the important point--the laity did not get them to do something that was inconsistent with Church teaching, much less did they get bishops to change Church teaching.
Regrettably, the article leaves the impression that the bishops "turned a corner;" they're now open to the public's view; they're ready to be led (as it were) to a new definition of what's true, right, and good.
It is important to note that the fundamental problem that led to this debacle was that the bishops were not living in the truth. Some of them were not leading to the truth, but following lies, fears, and false compassion. The problems resulted from bishops not doing what they should have done. They simply weren't living by Church teaching they had sworn to uphold and proclaim. It was not a failure of the Magisterium, but of those charged with teaching and leading the Church toward liberating truth.
In this situation, the bishops have not turned some proverbial corner where they will now listen to (and will be led by) public opinion. Instead, in a grand tradition, they listened (properly) to the sensus fidelium, in order to lead the faithful well.
If the bishops had turned a corner to a place where polls would dictate their guidance of the faithful, we'd all have great reason to fear that the Gates of Hell had made a significant advance. But thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit has not abandoned us.
So, instead of drawing up a list of "additional changes we want to push," we ought to pray that the bishops continue faithfully to heed the voice of the Spirit--the one that speaks in the Scriptures, in their hearts, and in the needs of their sheep.