Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Will and Won't Work

Yesterday I posted a response to Rod Dreher's American Conservative piece in which I struggled to join in his struggle in a struggling attempt to figure out (while struggling)

What the hell are we going to do now?
... which is to say, how are ordinary people, especially people of faith, supposed to react to sexual abuse in the Church aided and abetted and enabled by bishops - who are the successors to the apostles?

This becomes a pointed question on the heels of Bishop Finn's conviction and Fr. Groeschel's wrong-headed statements.

The only thing we can come up with is ...

1. Don't turn clerics or media celebrities into idols - "put not your faith in princes" - even princes of the Church


2.  Priests and bishops need to shape up.

Now in my blog post I critiqued both of these suggestions.  I was wrong in my critique of number two and only half-right in my critique of number one.


Let's take Number Two first. 

I had observed, simply, that we laymen can't make our clergy shape up. 

That's really not true. 

I have never heard any cradle Catholic suggest this, and maybe it comes from my years as a secular atheist and voluntary agitator, but the best way to change the behavior of our clergy is to vote with our wallets.

To take a very practical example - every indication I see is that Bishop Finn not only failed to protect the children of his diocese, or even get his pedophile priest the qualified psychological help he desperately needed - beyond that, every indication is that this man himself has a personality defect that makes it impossible for him to carry out his duties as bishop of Kansas City / St. Joseph.  That's harsh - but it's the only explanation I can come up with for how he behaved in this case, from his enabling of the situation, to his failure to lift a finger to protect the children, to his forcing the diocese to spend $1.4 million - money contributed by Catholic Schools and Parishes - to defend him against misdemeanor charges that carried no serious threat of fines or imprisonment - to his anger that the police were notified, albeit six months too late.

Now a growing chorus is calling for Bishop Finn to resign or even to be examined in a canon law tribunal for possible forced removal.

Will either of these things happen?  Well, he'll never be tried canonically.  The Church leaders set aside canon law any time it suits them, from refusing to deny pro-abortion politicians communion, to refusing to prosecute a bishop for canonical violations.  Canon law is about as highly regarded in the Church as the U.S. Constitution is in Washington, DC.

But will Bishop Finn resign?  Only on two conditions.  First, his brother bishops have to bring a great deal of pressure on him behind the scenes.  Will they?  Well, I have it on good authority that at least one bishop - a man I greatly admire, and a good solid orthodox Catholic - thinks Bishop Finn is being railroaded and treated unfairly.  He buys the lies of the Bill Donohue camp on this story.

And yet we have Cardinal Dolan as the new leader of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  Cardinal Dolan (who is both a cardinal and a St. Louis Cardinals fan) has been stirring the USCCB up of late.  He gave a tremendous witness in his benediction at the Democratic Convention.  And he could have just enough common sense (he's a big fan of G. K. Chesterton, the Apostle of Common Sense) to orchestrate the unseen politics that will have to happen for Bishop Finn to do the right thing and retire.

But, remember, frankly heretical bishops who have destroyed the faith of their entire dioceses have been allowed decades to do their worst, without being touched.  Openly homosexual bishops have been allowed to pervert the faith, and the seminaries, of their dioceses also without any consequence for years.  And yet a convicted bishop - even one convicted of a misdemeanor - well, that's actually embarrassing.  Those other things, apparently, aren't.

So pressure may indeed be put on Bishop Finn.

That's condition one.

Condition two? 

Western Missouri Catholics in Bishop Finn's diocese simply have to express their discontent financially.  Yes, we are obligated as Catholics to support the efforts of the Church - but that could mean supporting apostolates such as Theater of the Word Incorporated or ministries such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Are we obliged to donate to the annual Diocesan appeal?  Or even to donate liberally to our parishes?  No. 

In fact, prudence in a case like this would dictate that since the bishops work for us, we really ought to occasionally do what needs to be done and fire them. 

If the annual diocesan appeal took a 50% hit for the next year or two - Bishop Finn would hit the road. 



Let's take Number One - the suggestion that Catholics should not idolize their clergy. 

As I say, I got the critique of this one half right.

I pointed out that this kind of mini-idolatry or pragmatic clericalism, shows "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. "

In other words, we're made to love and admire other human beings.  We're made to look to our priests as holy men.  We're made to see Christ in them.

And this is why the Incarnation happened. 

The whole key to imitating Christ is TO IMITATE CHRIST.  This is why the Catholic Church has saints - men and women who imitated Him so well that we can look to them as role models, and as "sacramental humans" as it were, as men who, by their witness of holiness and love, direct our gaze to God.


Now we can use the power of the Boycott and get a bad priest or bishop to leave.

But we can't make other men holy.

We can, however, make ourselves holy, by God's grace.

Peter Kreeft explains this strategy all more fully here.

It is the only strategy that will really, ultimately work.  The only answer to sin and sinners is to become, for our sake and theirs, saints.


Tom Leith said...

> In fact, prudence in a case like
> this would dictate that since
> the bishops work for us, we
> really ought to occasionally do
> what needs to be done and fire
> them.

Positively not -- we are not congregationalists -- bishops do not "work for us" in this sense at all.

Chris said...

Unfortunately the whole abuse issue has led us to go to the extreme of wanting to get rid of people at the first instance of wrongdoing, and to cynicism. We are more scared of what the world and the media will think than acting with Christian charity and forgiveness. If the bishop says he is repentant and recognized he did wrong our first reaction is to take him- or anyone- at their word and not assume they are being insincere, etc. And if he/the diocese is willing to make changes in the way they address such claims then we can't dismiss that out of hand as being phony.

He has also been duly tried and punished by the civil authorities. Interesting that Catholics don't seem to be complaining about the civil authorities so much- they did not see fit to sentence him to jail but gave him a probationary sentence.

One does also have to be careful of knowing all the facts of the case versus what the media has reported. This is not to suggest he is being railroaded but the media there has been hostile to Bishop Finn from the start, and the same caution about being wary of the secular media's comments about any Church events are applicable here.

If the bishop had other instances of such conduct then one might have more of an argument for asking for his removal at this time. This is also why the judgment of a bishop is left to the Pope alone rather than to us.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Chris, I don't give a damn what the media thinks. Bishop Finn is not fit to serve. He is not sincerely repentant. Read the material. It's not about a hostile media. Read the Graves Report and the Stipulation of Testimony.


Joey Higgins said...

Positively not -- we are not congregationalists -- bishops do not "work for us" in this sense at all.

Well, how about, they serve us and require our financial support?

Unfortunately the whole abuse issue has led us to go to the extreme of wanting to get rid of people at the first instance of wrongdoing, and to cynicism.

This is tantamount to making a distinction between mistake and bad decision; they can get blurred because often mistakes lead to bad decisions.

It would be a mistake to trust a person that you thought was a good person with your children. While tragic, it would be forgivable in the sense that you might still be a good parent or bishop.

It would be a bad decision to let that person have access to your children if you had any evidence that they were a danger. It would be even worse if you failed to tell others about the information you had. This type of decision would earn you the label "poor parent" or "poor bishop."

In the second case of making a bad decision, you should be removed from your responsibilities because you have failed so completely to protect the most vulnerable, you cannot be trusted. Christian charity and forgiveness do not mean we allow evil to continue. Do you trust a man that has failed absolutely to protect his flock to do so again? How many more millions should we spend and how many more souls should we risk in the name of charity and forgiveness?

The answer should be we cannot afford to wait for either. I do not think it is consistent that charity/forgiveness and protection should be at odds - perhaps a post on what charity and forgiveness cover?