Pontifications

Pontifications


Bishops meet: Leadership from a flock of shepherds

posted by David Gibson

Bishop heads.jpgThe U.S. hierarchy gathers for its spring meeting tomorrow, in San Antonio, in the wake of one of the most divisive and ugly stretches the Catholic Church has seen since, well, Joseph Bernardin was alive. And the bishops themselves have been the perpetrators and victims of much of the nastiness, much of it centered on Barack Obama’s election and Obama at Notre Dame.

It is important not to talk about “the bishops” as if they were of one heart and mind on these controverted issues. In fact, they’re not, and it has been a vocal minority–albeit a large minority of 80-plus prelates out of 285 or so active ordinaries–that has challenged not only American Catholics but also their fellow bishops. And that silent majority has remained largely silent. This hasn’t been an edifying witness on either side.

So what to do? Some want the bishops to “man up” and adopt a harder line (the minority line) for Catholic universities, Catholic pols, and Catholics themselves. There are other options, and two editorials, in the Jesuit weekly America, and the lay-edited bimonthly, Commonweal, offer constructive suggestions and encouragement.

From Commonweal‘s editorial, “Episcopal Vacancy”:

It is not apparent that the bishops as a group are fully aware of the damage that has been done both to the unity of the church and to its ability to effectively engage the larger culture. To begin with, there remains the widespread perception that the bishops have learned little from, and shown even less honest regret over, clergy sexual abuse. That is unfair, but such suspicions are kept alive by the defensive, sometimes hostile way in which many bishops deal with the media. Nor is the laity’s or the larger public’s skepticism on this score helped by the lack of financial transparency in many dioceses. In the aftermath of the abuse crisis, one might expect a degree of modesty and humility from bishops when they criticize the errors or failures of others, especially from leaders of a church that has lost a third of its baptized members. What we too often hear instead is strident and self-righteous “prophetic” rhetoric. Too many bishops, in a misplaced effort to emulate the heroic example of John Paul II, seem to imagine that they are battling a new kind of totalitarianism, rather than the more subtle temptations present in any free society.

SNIP:

When the University of Notre Dame invited President Obama to deliver this year’s commencement address, the political animosity among Catholics that has been assiduously cultivated by some for years seemed to reach critical mass, and the damage from the fallout will take months, if not years, to measure. More than eighty bishops denounced the university. “We are at war!” declared Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in Missouri. (Such words are especially worrying after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas.) Bishop Finn darkly warned that the church’s most dangerous enemies were not its public antagonists, but Catholics who “attack the most fundamental tenets of the church’s teachings.” This suspicion regarding the loyalty and goodwill of other Catholics seems to be increasingly prevalent in the bishops’ conference.

From America’s editorial, “Community of Disciples”:

This rhetoric has threatened the credibility of the church, as the Catholic tradition of trust and toleration has been de-emphasized. Even a few bishops have made statements like “We are at war” and “Tolerance is not a Christian virtue,” suggesting that any notion of the common good has given way to a sharply defined “us versus them” mentality. Such rhetoric also subtly undermines the Catholic principle of subsidiarity first put forth by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, according to which a pluralistic social structure allows and encourages constructive input from a variety of groups on the grass-roots level.

This polarization must stop; otherwise our identity as a faith community will be torn asunder and Catholicism will cease to be an elevating force for change. How can we decrease the polarization? A vital first step is to seek out our common ground in the major civic areas where almost all Catholics agree: religious liberty; the sacredness of all human life; the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating abortion; support for social programs that provide a safety net for the poor; the elimination of segregation, racism and discrimination; and respect for differing religious and social traditions and diverse cultures. Few are the Catholics who do not share these principles, which provide a ready-made common ground. 

The editors conclude by citing the late Cardinal Avery Dulles (SJ, natch) and his view of the church as a “community of disciples” on the way to conversion, in a church “led by the Spirit, not yet in full possession of the truth.”

This more humble view of a pilgrim church always in need of purification and improvement may help to tone down the rhetoric and encourage Catholics to work together in addressing the great issues of our day, especially those involving the culture of life. True dialogue, as Cardinal Dulles noted, enables the church “to understand its teaching better, to present it more persuasively and to implement it in a pastoral way.”

The editorial begins, as any good Jesuit editorial should, with the wisdom of St. Ignatius, who suggests that in any exchange, “it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.”

If correction is necessary, it ought to be delivered with respect and kindness, the editorial says.

Good advice from a great saint, and others on the way.

–Photo via Reuters “FaithWorld” blog, “A Flock of Shepherds” via the title of Tom Reese’s study of the episcopacy.



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JF

posted June 16, 2009 at 9:40 am


I tend to believe the bishops were very pastoral in the way they have dealt with sensitive issues. They rarely use divisive language but teach with clarity.
Also, I am so tired of hearing about the number of bishops who have spoken out on Notre Dame for the following reason:
This is not the Episcopal Church. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. Only one bishop had to speak on the issue, the local ordinary, Bishop D’Arcy. Whether 80, 200+, or no bishops said anything means nothing. That is not their diocese.
Let’s all pray for our shepherds as they meet in San Antonio.



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freelunch

posted June 16, 2009 at 10:37 am


The Catholic Church is not a democracy. Only one bishop had to speak on the issue, the local ordinary, Bishop D’Arcy. Whether 80, 200+, or no bishops said anything means nothing. That is not their diocese.
You are right, but it’s not the private domain of each bishop, either, despite the fact that some treat their diocese as their own personal property. As long as Pope Benedict says nothing when the bishops do whatever they want and say whatever they want, no reforms will come. The bishops are destroying the church with their apparent arrogance and indifference to the local priests and laity.



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JF

posted June 16, 2009 at 1:20 pm


You are right that it is not their personal property, but they are responsible for teaching and guiding the diocese. They are the final authority for that region, though answerable to the Holy See. The laity and the clergy in that diocese owe them their allegiance
As a seminarian, I have a fair amount of dealings with diocesan priests. With almost no exception, we support our bishops and, unless they ordered something that was canonically or morally incorrect, we give him obedience.



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freelunch

posted June 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm


The question, JF, is not whether priests support the bishops, it is whether the bishops support the priests. You say that the laity and priests owe the bishops allegiance, but the bishops owed the laity and priests a safe environment and honesty.
The bishops were the ones who chose to conspire to cover up sexual assaults of children rather than do something about them. The Pope is the one who chose to spirit Cardinal Law out of Boston so Law would not have to face any more questions. Some bishops have chosen to hide the effects on the congregations that their decisions have had. Some have refused to keep congregations informed about financial situations, only letting them know about something when they sell a building or close another church, without once consulting anyone else.
Good luck in your chosen profession, but the bishops need to reform themselves if they aren’t going to be responsible for destroying the Church. They need to act as if everyone can see everything they do — and then make it possible for people to see that. Secrecy is poisoning the Church.



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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm


As a faithful Catholic (from birth, by the way), I have to respectfully disagree with JF. We, the laity, do not owe blind obedience to our pastors, bishops and Pope – that type of teaching is what led to the abuses of children here and in Ireland. We owe only God that level of allegience. To all others, we owe respect and that is all. I do not always agree with what my parish priest says nor do I always agree with my bishop’s pronoucements but I do always show them the respect due to a Church official. ALthough many of them would like to deny it, our clergy are fallible human beings, just as we all are – they can, and do, make mistakes in intepretation and in application of God’s Word. Each of us, laity and clergy alike, are called to use our discernment, to study and grow in faith. The Catholic Church into which I was born is not the same Church of today because of Vatican II and the work of so many clergy and laity over the years. To assume that we should all return the ignorant sheep-like demeanor that was expected of the laity before the Second Vatican Council is not only ill advised but stupid. Whether the clergy like it or not, we are a power within the Church, we form our own opinions – albeit informed by Church teaching, and we will not be religated to a secondary role so that those who have abused their power can continue to do so.
The heirarchy of the Church needs to do some serious self-examination and find a way to learn the humility and compassion of Christ – who is SUPPOSED to be their model – before the entire thing falls apart. Our Church as suffered so many blows recently and has done nothing to address the very real criticisms. We need to get our house in order so that we can once again speak with moral authority to the rest of the world.



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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm


“To assume that we should all return the ignorant sheep-like demeanor that was expected of the laity before the Second Vatican Council is not only ill advised but stupid.”
Speak for yourself, my friend, speak for yourself. I guess you never studied Aquinas.



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ann

posted June 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm


Almost as if we are called to an informed conscience…oh wait we are and that too is in the Catechism.
I, for one, would like to revisit what worked for the early church, and yes, I mean the early Catholic Church but then people would have to acknowledge that we have changed many times over the years.



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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:47 pm


There are many great comments here. I find it so sad that 1/3 of Catholics have left the Church. I think a large proportion of these left because of the abuse crisis and the attitude of the bishops. Victims and their families were seen as dispensible. The bishops were worried about their reputations and the reputations of the abusers. Many abusers were protected and sent to other parishes where they had fresh victims. Many bishops cared nothing for these victims. How many victims were threatened and bullied and even told that they would be excommunicated if they told what was done to them, thus allowing even more children to be abused? And still so many of the bishops don’t really get it. Many worry about Obama and satisfying right wingers. The bishops need a plan to try to get wounded Catholics back into the Church but for most of them it is not a priority. Why?



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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 9:27 pm


JF talks about allegiance to the local ordinary. What do you owe
him when he is shown to be an obvious liar in the ‘gotcha’ game of
a formal court deposition? The ordinary here ‘sloughed’ it off with
the ‘party’ line that he hadn’t heard of such a thing before the
early 1980s. He has no credibility here and with many who heard
about this – though not the magnitude – as early as the early 1960s.



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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 9:27 pm


JF talks about allegiance to the local ordinary. What do you owe
him when he is shown to be an obvious liar in the ‘gotcha’ game of
a formal court deposition? The ordinary here ‘sloughed’ it off with
the ‘party’ line that he hadn’t heard of such a thing before the
early 1980s. He has no credibility here and with many who heard
about this – though not the magnitude – as early as the early 1960s.



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Lone Star Vanguard

posted June 17, 2009 at 10:50 am


Excellent post, David. Here is some background and context that would support your points to the US bishops – from a presentation by John O’Malley, SJ from his book – What Really Happened at Vatican II?
http://www.elephantsinthelivingroom.com/John_OMalley_talk.doc
Highlights:
So one of the great shocks, when the Council first opened, was for Catholics to find out that there were all these disagreements; and soon there emerged two parties, you might say, which I call the majority and the minority – sometimes called the liberals and the conservatives; sometimes called the progressive and the conservatives. Those terms are okay, but they have ideological baggage; so I prefer majority and minority. Interesting about the majority, it’s a real overwhelming cascade majority. It’s roughly 85 to 90 percent of all crucial votes, and the minority 10, 12, 15 percent; so it’s a very lopsided contest in terms of sheer quantity and where people are. So that’s one of the first things it does, because as I say, it refreshes all of our memories and tells a story that many people have never heard before.
I think maybe one of the most important things the book does, which other books have not really done – but many books about the Council sort of begin in 1959, or that begin in 1962 – I like to really put this in the BIG context of the Catholic Church; so that’s what I tried to provide very briefly, but still I think in an incisive way. So what’s the first big perspective on a big meeting? How does this Council fit with the other councils? So a short passage there, for instance, the first eight councils were called by laymen or a laywoman, the Empress Irene, for one of them held in the East. The language was Greek, very little papal participation, by and large; and then the rest in the West, and so forth; so that big difference, and then the different medieval councils, until we get to Trent, and so forth – so trying to show in that sense how Vatican II is alike and different from other councils. For instance, the wonderful Council of Trent, how many bishops opened the Council of Trent? How about a guess? 500? 200? You’re going in the right direction. Believe it or not, 200 bishops at maximum, and practically all of them were from Italy, Spain or Portugal. So it’s quite different from Vatican II. So that context. And then the relationship of the popes to the councils; but then, especially, what I call the long nineteenth century.



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Nermal

posted June 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm


The comment that Catholic bishops should engage in common diagolue over racism and health care reform ignore incidents that have taken place in this country and worldwide that suggest legislation on these issueso could force the closing of Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies. Catholics should take a closer look at what could be in-laid with these policies.



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Fr. J

posted June 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm


No one is more divisive and ugly then the dissenters who have caused so much of our problems and disgraces. We are now, finally, returning to sanity. The silly times are over, thank God.



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Your Name

posted June 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm


Fr. J thinks the “Silly Times Are Over”? Why F.J.? Because you think all the pervert priests, brothers, deacons and (yes) even some bishops are either defrocked, in prison, or dead? Lie to yourself all you want, but the smoke of satan is still very much in residence in our church;



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Fr. J

posted June 17, 2009 at 3:38 pm


Your Name,
There will always be the tares among the wheat. What I mean is that there is a real restoration of orthodoxy and discipline that is going on right now. We are getting back on the right track. I will grant it could be faster, but things are getting better. The point of the article though is that some want us to go back to the failed dissent of the past. That is not going to happen.
Fr. J



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freelunch

posted June 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm


Fr. J,
One man’s orthodoxy is another’s reactionary coup. It strikes me that it is as easy to argue that the current discipline is not orthodox, but is undoing the necessary reforms of Vatican II.



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CMH

posted June 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm


“I tend to believe the bishops were very pastoral in the way they have dealt with sensitive issues.”
Really?
Just what is needed in the RCC today, untra-conservative, emasculated individuals who, as seminarians, are incapable of forming an intelligent and independent thought at the same time.
JF seems to have forgotten about the eighty or so priests from the Boston Archdiocese who signed a letter of no confidence in Archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law and sent the letter to the Apostolic Delegate which ultimately led to Law’s resignation notwithstanding protestations to the contrary. He also seems to have conveniently forgotten the letters, depositions etc., which have been made public from Law and his bishops which contradict their self-serving statements to the press.
In 2002 a good two-thirds of the then sitting bishops were complicit in the cover-up of known sexually abusive priests, two-thirds.
I suggest, JF, that you read a little more of what is posted from major newspapers and journals worldwide about the abuse of authority and position by our bishops.



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Your Name

posted June 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm


” The bishops need a plan to try to get wounded Catholics back into the Church but for most of them it is not a priority. Why?”
Because these bishops don’t want anyone who isn’t a good little compliant sheep who sits back and is spoon-fed pap once a week, drops a few shekels in the plate and then leaves the running of things to Their Betters.
The wounded are that for many reasons, none of which have changed since they walked away. Why would they come back to the same old same old?
“We’ll not get leadership from the clergy. They only ordain people who are celibate and pious and can’t lead anything. We could really use some bishops who embody the tradition of Catholicism. That could be a beginning.”
Dutch theologian, Eric Borgman
“The problem of clericalism is composed of several problems. It is the problem of a caste that arrogates to itself undue authority, that makes unwarranted claims to wisdom, even to having a monopoly on understanding the mind of God. The consequence is the great weakening of the Church by denigrating or excluding the many gifts of the Spirit present in the people who are the Church. The problem of clericalism arises when “the church” acts in indifference, or even contempt, toward the people who are the Church.”
Richard J. Neuhaus, June 1989 (before he sold his soul and “poped”).



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Littleone

posted June 17, 2009 at 9:00 pm


the smoke of satan is still very much in residence in our church
There is nothing new in this Was not Judas one of the 12 Jesus prepared us for everything that was to come and warned us there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing We must persevere with prayer and pennance and live in the love of Christ and be His instrument in our daily lives



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