Saturday, September 8, 2012

Disenchantment Here and Dreher

Rod Dreher has written a very interesting blog post, which is bound to be misunderstood.  He quotes me writing on Bishop Finn at one point, and goes on to say some thoughtful things about Church Authority in the Internet Age.

First, Rod admits that the theology of the Church itself is pretty much "Do as I say, not as I do."  In other words, the Church claims that the Magisterium teaches infallibly on matters of Faith and Morals; the Church does not claim that popes or bishops or priests or laymen follow these teachings at all better than the typical non-Christian guy on the street.  Thus, the character of a bishop cannot compromise the teachings of Christ, teachings conveyed by this same sinful bishop.  Our own sins do not discredit the Church; in a strange way our own sins prove the necessity of the Church and the truth of its teaching.

But what bothers Rod Dreher is the fact that, knowing this as we do, we are nonetheless eager to look to clerics as moral authorities and as role models, when they often are not.  I wrote about this just last week.  There is nothing wrong with this in theory, as it's part of our human nature, a built-in desire to love and admire and to seek Jesus Christ, even in the people around us.  The tendency towards clericalism is a sign of the longing for God we have in our hearts. 

But it is, at the same time, an urge toward idolatry, toward setting up priests, bishops or media celebrities or EWTN Rock Stars as having a kind of sanctity that they simply do not (as Fr. Stone, Fr. Corapi, Fr. Euteneuer, and to a lesser extent Fr. Pavone and Fr. Groeschel demonstrate; and as each of us, falling far short of the holiness of Christ, demonstrates).

But in a secular age, the game gets changed.  As Dreher points out (emphasis mine) ...

If the Secular Age weakens bonds holding most people to a particular church, then the Information Age puts even more pressure on those frail psychological and social frames. Why? Because it confronts people with facts that undermine their narratives. The existence of the Internet is the reason why the Catholic abuse scandal broke so big in the US. A Boston judge released a lot of documents from the Geoghan trial into the public realm, and the Internet spread that information far and wide. Suddenly, Catholics and interested others no longer had to depend on official sources or the mainstream media for information about what was happening. And this was absolutely devastating to the Church’s official story.
He's quite right here.

This is why Bill Dononhue and the Catholic League, try as the might, cannot spin Bishop Finn's conviction in a positive way - because, for one thing, the official stipulation of testimony, which tells the sorry tale, is right here on the internet, as is the more detailed Graves Report (click on the links to read them yourself).

But the issue becomes how do normal folk function when the "enchantment" fades, when we see the ideally One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for the practically Fragmented, Sinful, Divided and Cowardly Church she is?

Dreher continues ...

I started this item with an e-mail from an ordinary Catholic layman who related an experience he had with Fr. Groeschel at the start of the scandal, one that undermines the narrative that Fr. Groeschel’s shocking remarks about the scandal the other day weren’t the confused ramblings of an elderly man, but in fact what he really believes. Those remarks appeared on the website of a Catholic newspaper that took the interview down as soon as they realized how compromising of Groeschel’s reputation they were (it is telling that neither the reporter nor the editors grasped how appalling Groeschel’s words were until outsiders pointed this out; this was Fr. Groeschel, after all). Even though the paper removed the interview from its website, once it appeared on the Internet, that was that: everybody learned about it. Within days, Fr. Groeschel was retired.
And Rod Dreher is not saying that the ease of access to information in an age of Distributist Media should shake our faith in the teachings of the Church - for those teachings insist upon the sinfulness of its members (a sinfulness in the process of redemption).  But what he is saying is something more immediate and psychological.

He is asking the question: how, practically speaking, are we to carry on?

How do Catholics, harmed and distressed by

  • scandal and by official disregard for scandal,
  • by bad music and liturgy, and by official disregard for bad music and liturgy,
  • by predatory evil, and by official disregard for predatory evil
  • by just criticism, and by circling-the-wagons so as to shut out just criticism

How do Catholics overcome this, humanly speaking?

Rod Dreher concludes that for the faith to thrive, two things are required (again, emphasis mine) ...

1. From the faithful, it requires a more sophisticated approach to the faith, both theologically and emotionally. It requires the ability to separate the authority of the institution from the character of individual bishops, priests, or pastors. But it also requires the ability to be more careful in placing one’s faith in particular charismatic figures. For example, one has to be able to see someone like Fr. Groeschel as both a good man — as he plainly is, from his long record of service to the poor — and as deeply flawed, as his response to the scandal shows him to be. It is hard to establish this kind of equilibrium, and even harder to maintain it.

2. For the clergy and the episcopate, the task is actually more clear: they have to be good, consistently, and not just good, but strong.
We lay folk can't do anything about point number two. 

But point number one is part of our growing in maturity as Christians - a task which, with God's grace, is well within the scope of each of us.



I didn't quite get this right.  For WHAT WILL AND WON'T WORK in this strategy, see my latest ...


Rod Dreher said...

Thanks for this, Kevin. I agree with everything you've written here.

Tom Leith said...

> It shows, without a doubt, that
> Bishop Finn is not fit to be
> running a diocese.

Then who is, Brother Kevin? I think you're trying to have it both ways.

Let me draw a little parallel -- it may be hard to see, but bear with me.

When I first started racing sailboats I was crew on Other People's Boats. I learnt the rules pretty well for a beginner, especially for a crew expected to be neither helm nor tactician. Some years later I bought my own boat (for the curious a Gerard Star #6260, Not Sirius) and took the helm myself.

One of the rules is that a windward boat is required to keep clear of a leeward boat on the same tack. I knew the rule. But in my very first race, I broke it in the melee at the starting line. I learned what the application of the rule looked like from the perspective of the skipper and didn't make that mistake again.

It seems to me that Bishop Finn has just learned how the rules about mandatory reporting look from the helm, in his case the cathedra in which he sits. The lesson he got (one hopes) has been observed well by his episcopal colleagues.

If we're going to remove good men like Bishop Finn over misdemeanors we're not going to have any leadership left. I made this argument a year ago and still think it is the best course. And I am sure the whole episode will make Bishop Finn a better confessor.

Rod Dreher said...

I would say that a bishop whose instinct is to "save" a child-porn priest's vocation -- as Finn said was his intention -- as opposed to saving potential child victims of that priest proves by that fact his moral unworthiness to lead a diocese. In fact, it's astonishing to me that this is even a point of contention 10 years after the Geoghan trial and all it unleashed.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Tom, it was not failure to report, it was a cover up, and a marked unconcern for the people of his flock. The more I read about Bishop Finn's behavior in this case, quite frankly, the more I'm convinced the man has some sort of serious personality or psychological defect. He did NOTHING to protect the children or their families; they were clearly the last thing on his mind. It's not at all about failure to report.

Just read briefly the "stipulaton of testimony" which I link to in the post. It's three pages that point out the elements of the case that both the prosecution and defense agreed upon. Read that and tell me this man is fit to oversee a diocese.

And even if he is, and even if we believe he's genuniely sorry, why did he let the diocese spend $1.4 million to defend him on misdemeanor charges? There was no way he would have faced jail time, given this would be his first offense and he's a leader of the community. He could have plea bargained the deal he got - a year's probation and a Suspended Imposition of Sentence; he could have plea bargained that from day one and saved the diocese $1.4 million - paid from an account funded by the Catholic Schools and Parishes of Kansas City / St. Joseph.

But there's an element in my post that I didn't get quite right; something that's missing when we encourage Catholics simply to grow up and carry on.

I'll post on that as soon as I figure out how to describe what I'm thinking.

Kevin O'Brien said...

My update is here - WHAT WILL AND WON'T WORK -