Saturday, July 27, 2002

What are the Bishops saying with The Board?

Firstly, kudos to Dom Bettinelli for uncovering the unsavory pro-abort connections of another member of the Bishops' Lay Review Board. Apparently Ms. Pamela Hayes is another member of the Friends of Clinton, having given thousands of dollars to campaigns for Clinton, Gore, and the evil Ice-Princess Hillary. I suspected that Ms. Hayes, being a New York trial lawyer, was probably an ideological-leftist Democrat, but I didn't know just how much she is one.

What message are the bishops trying to send by appointing people like Panetta, Bennet, and Hayes to the board? I think they're broadcasting to the East coast liberal establishment: "We're still bowing and scraping to seek your approval. We promise we'll get rid of those nasty pedophiles, but don't worry, we won't upset you by actually seeking and calling for holiness, or by questioning your shibboleths about homosexuality (or anything else). Look at our board! We had to include Republicans like Gov. Keating and a couple of token businessmen, or else those mean-spirited conservatives would scream and yell and write complaining letters to Rome. But we've made sure there are plenty of "our sort" of people on it, so you know that it's pronouncements will be in conformity with the New York Times editorial page."

The bishops, as I said in a homily a while back, got into this mess because they were more interested in listening to the world than to the voice of Christ. The board they have put together announces that they are still doing the same.

"Balance" on The Board

The other night I heard David Clohessy, the Executive Director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), inteviewed on WLS Radio Chicago. He was expressing his "disappointment" that no representative from his group was selected for the bishops' Lay Review Board. While I can understand Mr. Clohessy's frustration at having been more-or-less ignored by the bishops for years, I think his "disappointment" is misplaced.

Mr. Clohessy contends, and I have seen comments on other bloggers' sites echo his contention, that someone from SNAP or a similar group is necessary to provide "balance" on the board, or to assure that the victims concerns are "represented." These contentions illustrate a fundamental misconception about the nature of such a panel, and, I fear, fundamental misconceptions about the nature of the Church itself.

Those calling for "balance" and "representation" are, I think, laboring under a sort of fuzzy "democratism" (to borrow a word coined by Dr. Russell Kirk). Whenever we Americans put together any sort of committee anymore, we tend to think of it as representative body, al la Congress. But this is a fallacy. I already mentioned that The Board has been contructed in order to represent "constituencies" and for that reason alone will probably accomplish little or nothing (almost certainly little or nothing good). It is not necessary, or even always desirable, that a deliberative body always be "representative."

A friend of mine, who is a prosecutor, wrote me about this and pointed out that in the sphere of civil law, we don't let victims of crimes write the penal code, nor do we let them prosecute, judge, or sit on the juries of criminal proceedings. Why? Because victims cannot be objective about the guilt or innocence of the accused, nor can they be reliably evenhanded about imposing punishment. Even in the case of those found guilty, he wrote "there are other values at stake, such as the rights and dignity of the offender. "

But why is it that we think the answer to every problem is to appoint a committee? Anyone who has ever served on a committee knows that, in general, committees are a way to waste large amounts of time to accomplish very little. When we appoint Boards or committees to deal with problems, we are thinking like Americans, not like Catholics. When St. Paul was having problems with the Corinthians, he did not send a committee to deal with the problem, and he certainly did not take care to see that every different group among the Corinthians would have it's concerns represented. What did he do? He personally intervened by a letter, and then sent his representative, Timothy, to deal with the situation.

Historically, the Church has dealt with problems in a similar way: typically the Pope sent a legate, his trusted representative, with full powers to dispose of the problem in his name. Such legates also bore the responsibility for the success or failure of their efforts.

I suspect that the modern predilection for committees has a lot more to do with the diffusion of responsibility, and creating the appearance of "doing something", than the desire to represent everyone's "concerns". The Bishops' Board seems tailor-made to do just that.

I would have been impressed if the bishops had appointed someone like Bishop Bruskewitz or Cardinal George as a plenipotentiary to deal with The Situation. I might have even been more impressed if the bishops had asked the Holy Father to send a legate. Such approaches would have demonstrated that the bishops were serious about taking reponsibility for the crisis, and actually solving it. And it would have had the added benefit of actually being a Catholic approach. But most of what they have said and done, and the creation of this Board, is more about PR than about solutions.

And it is most definitely not Catholic.