Monday, June 17, 2002

Deposing Bishops, Revisited

Several readers, most notably Joseph De Feo in The Widening Gyre have wondered about my seeming advocacy of deposing bishops in my blog Saturday.

Let me just go on the record and say that I am not in favor of the laity "rising up" and tossing out bishops guilty of gross misrule of their sees. Part of the problem is that so many laypeople have been so ill-catechized and spiritually malformed by these same incompetents and their cronies that you can't count on anything like an authentic sensus fideliumamong American Catholics.

But the loss of trust and confidence does create demand for drastic action. When people no longer trust those in authority to act with justice and prudence, they naturally seek to place limits on power and authority. People want first and foremost to be protected from injustice and injury. It is understandable that they would shout, "to hell with discretion and nuance. I want my children to be safe!" So we end up with "Zero Tolerance".

Zero Tolerance is a bad idea. It will not work. It will lead to further injustice. It has no provisions for dealing with episcopal misconduct. (For those interested in further reasons why the Charter adopted in Dallas is already a dead letter, see Pete Vere's excellent analysis on the Canon Law Blog.) The only way the bishops could have presented anything "less" than Zero Tolerance without evoking an avalache of protest would have been to begin actually manifesting their contrition and repentance with acts rather than just words. What sort of acts? How about Cardinal Law retiring to a monastery for fasting and prayer? How about Cardinal Mahony making public penance on the steps of his new Cathedral? How about Bishop Galante publicly apologizing to the parishioners he has inflicted with the "St. Sebastian Angels" priests he has been protecting? A few resignations would have been a good start, as well. These would all have made the point that the bishops "get it" far more powerfully than their guidelines or position papers.

Amy Welborn is right when she says:

"Historically the Catholic hierarchy has dealt with problems both big and small, with words. Statements,decrees, outlines, procedures and now charters, have been the medium of choice."

This is one instance where words alone are woefully inadequate. All the words in the world are no substitute, as I have said before in a homily, for our bishops being shepherds. They demonstrated in Dallas that most of them are still thinking in terms of protecting their own butts, not thinking as shepherds.

When I was ordained a priest, less than a year ago, I was configured to Christ as Priest, Shepherd, and Victim. These things all go together. You can't have one without the rest. Our bishops will not be credible again as shepherds until they begin offering themselves up in expiation for failing in their office.