Saturday, March 03, 2007

On attacking bishops

After reading this post from Uncle Di, where he praises the selection of Bishop Nycz as the new Archbishop of Warsaw, I read the following in the combox from commenter "opraem":

our bishops believe they did nothing wrong in the handling of the abuse crisis. their failure has led to a piece work solution driven by the media, courts and legislatures. drip, drip, drip over a period of years. the credibility of the us hierarchy is gone and their public voice has been mute, as a result. they failed to make problem management theirs, and are subject to the rule of others. what about embezzlement and theft? will they learn from their mistakes? deja vu all over again.

I've heard the same sentiment on many other blogs and comboxes. Now maybe it's just me being a convert and not having been oppressed by the Church hierarchy my whole life, but I just don't get what positive good lumping all of the Bishops in the US together can possibly achieve. I understand the need to vent frustration at the seeming inability of some Bishops to take the abuse (both sexual and financial) bull by the horns and "fix" the problem - and isn't that a peculiarly American thing to do, to assume that with sufficient effort any problem can be solved purely by the sweat of the brow of a responsible person - but to tar and feather those who are either quiet or conscientiously slow together with those who are inept or even possibly corrupt can never be anything but counter-productive.

Our role as laity is to help our Bishop do his job and by extension help the rest of the Church do Her job in this world. The Bishop's job in turn is to shepherd his flock using all three aspects of his crozier (the point to poke laggards, the crook to corral wayward sheep and the stiff spine to stand erect both in rule and as example) and when necessary to figuratively use that crozier in its very original sense - to fight off the wolves who would devour the sheep who strayed too far away. But that third part, to stand erect, is very hard to do when those who should be supporting you are whacking away at your knees and shins.

At this point, I'm sure certain people probably have their blood boiling thinking that I'm suggesting a blind obedience to our Bishops. Take a sip of your drink and relax, I do no such thing. There absolutely are Bishops who are deserving of scorn and ridicule, and more likely than not the entire organization of the USCCB must be re-thought from the ground up to allow Bishops to be more collegial and less led by the "in-crowd", but those issues cannot be our day-to-day focus. When a Bishop does something patently ridiculous (some would argue, for example, Cardinal Mahoney's Rainbow Fish program at one end or Archbishop Wuerl's refusal to publicly admonish politicians publicly unrepentant of mortal sins at another, would qualify) they must be called to task. But we have been given the path to follow in this case, and it doesn't start with press releases:
If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Mt. 15-17)
The distinctive marks to this approach are patience and straightforwardness. I honestly can say I don't know where we are with Bishops like Cardinal Mahoney who has flouted instructions (e.g. Redemptionis Sacramentum) or those who demonstrably failed in their duty as shepherds to protect their flock and have not altered their approach. But I must also admit a certain personal dissatisfaction with the somewhat corporate approach my own Bishop, John McCormack, has received from various corners because of his past actions as Chief of Staff to Cardinal Law. I find his decision to hand over some of his authority to the State of NH as a condition to settle the lawsuits against the Diocese curious and possibly even dangerous, possibly due to his weak standing due to his past in the Archdiocese of Boston. He has, however, done some good things since then.

What I find disheartening, however, is his relative silence from a pastoral perspective. Perhaps, after reading regular articles from Bishops such as Vasa, Bruskewitz, and Chaput I am asking too much from him. But I've also felt a palpable distrust and sometimes distaste for him from some in the Diocese and that simply isn't right. As Bishop of this Diocese the above is probably the most questionable decision he has made (okay, we still don't have a TLM in this Diocese, but that's altogether a different question) and it is positively un-Christian for him to still be paying for any mistakes he may have made in his previous position. If anything, he has been over-protective in this regard since his assignment here. It is almost as if there are people clamoring for leadership but then saying "but not from him!" and that's not right. If anything, we should be offering him support that, for at least as long as he is our Bishop, he may be emboldened to stand in the breach, to stare down the wolves and to serve as that uniting episcopal bond between this small part of the Church and the Church Universal.

So, did I say anything that makes any sense? Do tell...