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What If The Catholic Crisis Is Unsolvable?

The credibility of US Catholic bishops sinking -- and there may be no life preservers

A priest e-mails with sympathy for Pope Francis:

Some thoughts for you on the recent developments at the USCCB meeting:

It is my understanding that the Holy Father told Dinardo that they should not do anything at all when he met with them in Rome. The Holy Father told them just to have a retreat and to wait for the February meeting. Dinardo and the executive committee moved ahead with their plans anyway.

The USCCB didn’t send Rome some of their documentation for until Oct. 30th. When dealing with issues related to the episcopacy Rome obviously has the final say. To give them such short notice on issues of episcopal governance and accountability and expect that there may not be problems is shortsighted.

This is a worldwide problem and it is only beginning to mushroom across the globe. the US is actually in a far better position that most countries. Perhaps the Holy Father wants to address it globally and wants everyone on the same page? Is that really a bad thing? And is four more months going to really change anything?

Everything the bishops were going to do were worthless anyway. An accountability statement? How sad is it that bishops would have to sign something saying they wouldn’t be immoral? Lay oversight? Meaningless. Only the Holy Father has oversight over bishops. It will never happen. Rome will never approve it. A reporting mechanism to the nuncio? Also meaningless. That still doesn’t protect a priest who reports his bishop if that nuncio is friends with said bishop. Or if it gets to Rome and the accused bishop has friends in Rome. The priest is still exposed and not protected in any way. For laypeople that dynamic is different, of course.

In short, the bishops weren’t going to do anything of real substance at this meeting anyway. Anything they were going to do was PR or would not likely have been approved by Rome anyway. Read the statement from the nuncio. For the bishops to treat the Church like some kind of secular business is misguided at best. And it is. Lay people can be just as corrupt as clergy and often are in secular society. Why should we capitulate to the demands of people who want endless investigations? To what end? Why is it a “good” that everything is publicly known? Why does the entire world need to get to the bottom of the McCarrick situation? I realize that’s the secular standard. But what would knowing all of the details help the majority of Catholics? And why should the US bishops put into place a who new system of procedures and processes because of one guy? The more I think of it the more it seems like it could be overkill. This is what people clamor for today a disproportionate response.

I think the Holy Father may actually be helping the US Church by making us slow down and actually take more time to consider the best way forward. Is it really the wrong thing to take more time and decide the best path? I mean, really, what initiative were the bishops going to do this week that was going to restore trust? No one trusts them anymore. Neither laity nor priests. Their credibility is shot. No one cares! The investigations are going to run their course and the consequences are going to be delivered to us no matter what the bishops do over the next few years.

Finally, the whole idea of these lay boards is just another way of bishops offloading their responsibility to do their jobs. They know what they are supposed to do. It’s no mystery. They have all of the mechanisms to do it. What they need is the will. Some will have it and some will not.

Along those lines, Ed Condon, who is both a journalist and a canon lawyer, wrote this really interesting piece for The Spectator before this morning’s shock news. Condon writes about the proposed document the bishops were expected to sign, pointing out that it’s pretty worthless. Excerpts:

Other parts [of the document] focus on the personal lives of the bishops themselves, asking them to undertake, among other things, ‘to practice the virtue of chastity,’ not to lead ‘secret’ or ‘double lives,’ not to use their positions for the sexual coercion of subordinates, and to ‘not engage in physical, psychological, personal, or sexual harassment of any person.’

The standards are meant to be a public rededication by the Church’s leadership. The draft notes that ‘ordination does not make us perfect,’ and a ‘clear framework of the Church’s expectations for bishop’s personal conduct’ would be a useful measure.

Behind closed doors, many of the bishops are furious at being asked to put their names to a document some see as a hollow PR gesture. Some have privately noted that, far from sending a message of contrition, it confirms the worst fears of Catholics: that as a body their leaders need to have the basic moral tenets of their office spelled out for them.

That is damning. More:

While resentment is simmering among some dedicated bishops, who feel they are again being asked to provide safety in numbers for their misbehaving peers, they concede — publicly and privately — that the document would not exist if the picture it painted were not a good likeness of at least some of them.

Well, there you go. Their failure to police each other, to insist on collegiality and bella figura when some of their colleagues were groping, buggering, setting diocesan lawyers on victims and their families, and lying to everyone about it — well, that falls on all of them. Who can possibly pity them? Remember that back in 1985, every single bishop received a copy of the confidential Doyle-Mouton Report, warning them that child sexual abuse was a huge problem within the Church, and that they had better act to stop it or it would be a catastrophe.

More Condon:

The example of Archbishop McCarrick, and the mounting evidence that Church authorities ignored reports of his misconduct for years, underscores the truth of the Standard’s introduction when it says that the bishops ‘have clearly failed in trying to police ourselves.’

One bishop I spoke to posed the obvious question: what bishop currently leading a sexual ‘double life,’ despite his oaths of office and the teachings of the Church, is going to suddenly reform because they signed a piece of paper?

‘What? This time they’re going to mean it, and I am supposed to act like this is going to change something — for them or me?’

That’s a solid point, actually. More on that in a second. First, I urge you to read this Catholic News Service piece double-bylined by Condon and J.D. Flynn, analyzing today’s events at the bishops’ meeting. The directive from the Vatican is said to have come from the Congregation for Bishops, on which sit Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Blase Cupich — two close Francis allies. Look at this:

Cupich, some observers have noted, seemed prepared with comprehensive thoughts on the matter while most bishops, including DiNardo, seemed still to be processing the news.

Sources close to Wuerl have given CNA conflicting reports. One source close to the cardinal told CNA that he did not believe Wuerl had been involved in the decision. But another Washington source told CNA that Wuerl had advance notice of the decision from Rome.

Both cardinals will now face questions from their American peers about what involvement they had in the decision and what, if anything, they did to push back against it.

Flynn and Condon write that the draft document did have some canonical problems, and that bishops recognized that, but were hoping to work them out in discussion — but Rome short-circuited that debate. More:

Even more puzzling is Rome’s decision to prevent a vote on the proposed Standards of Episcopal Conduct. The draft text of this document, circulated with the proposal for the independent commission, contained no clear canonical novelties beyond a reference to the independent commission itself.

Several officials who spoke to CNA about Rome’s intervention told CNA that while the Vatican was known to be concerned about the proposed independent commission, it was especially surprising that the Vatican’s veto-in-advance included the draft standards for episcopal conduct.

Asking the bishops to solemnly promise not to lead a sexual “double life” and to honor basic obligations of the clerical state seemed hardly controversial; most criticism of the code of conduct has been that it was insufficiently demanding. By spiking the document, the Congregation for Bishops seems to be discouraging the bishops from even having a discussion about their own behavior, or a promise to reform it.

Many of the bishops in Baltimore told CNA that they are angry at what they see as an attempt to stop them debating the sexual abuse crisis at all, and confused about the reasons for it. Already frustrated that their request for an Apostolic Visitation into the McCarrick scandal was denied, several bishops are asking why the Congregation for Bishops seems now to be discouraging them from even talking about the elephant in the conference hall.

I think Archbishop Viganò gave us a pretty good idea of why that might be the case. He told us so.

What if this problem is unsolvable? As the anonymous priest I quote above points out, only the Pope has authority over bishops. Bishops don’t have authority over each other. If the Pope is unwilling to hold bishops accountable by removing them from office when they fail, there’s nothing that can be done.

And, following Condon’s remarks, when the entire conference of American bishops are reduced to considering making a promise in writing to live like good Catholics (and Rome won’t even let them do that!), that’s a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

Personnel is policy. If you have Catholic bishops who are determined to live double lives, and/or to turn a blind eye on priests in their dioceses who are doing so; if you have bishops who will not call other bishops to account for immoral behavior; and if you have a Roman pontiff who is willing to allow them all to get away with it — then no laws, statements, or procedures will stop them.

Good laws and strong policies cannot compensate for bad or weak men. That being the case, there’s no end in sight to this slow-motion self-destruction of the Catholic institution. It has been said that one definition of institutional corruption is to know what is wrong but to be unable to fix it. This crisis is the ecclesial equivalent of AIDS: small infections that a healthy body could deal with are eating this morally immunocompromised episcopacy alive.

UPDATE: Reader Mac61:

There may be no other ecclesial community to go to. The way I see it, it’s checkmate: you have the words of eternal life, where else would I go, etc. But there will be no fight in the United States. Some might withhold money, but there will be no fight. Maybe 50 years from now there may be a pope with the moral courage to confront the filth, corruption and complacency in the Church, but I doubt I will have any living Catholic descendants. Also, point taken from the priest who emailed: the laity fell into heresy and corruption as well — just not as much child rape and cover-up: that seems to be more of a priest and bishop thing. The Argentinian Captivity continues, but of course the blame for this abomination falls upon John Paul and Benedict. Let us never forget the many abuse victims who took their lives. Rome has blood on its hands.

…but I doubt I will have any living Catholic descendants. Man.



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