Friday, August 23, 2002

Some Reactions and Observations

OK, it's not exactly "first thing" in the morning, but here it is anyway:


I have a few comments on your response:

Firstly , a few clarifications of my position are in order. I am not one of those people (if indeed any such exist) who believe that we must "never criticize the Pope" in matters that are not of Faith and Morals. Of course, we have a right and perhaps at times, a duty, to voice our concerns about the Pope's decisions in matters of prudential judgment. Furthermore, I am not articulating the position that Catholics must simply "live with" whatever malfeasance a bishop perpetrates. I don't think what I have written can fairly be construed to mean "God has sent us our bishops, and whatever they do, or fail to do, is to be accepted without protest as His will." The fact is, I raised the specter of deposing bishops back in June on my blog. I recognize that it is an appropriate measure in extreme cases. But such means have never been employed in a widespread fashion as an instrument of Church reform.

Rod, you wrote:

> No, the true violence was done first by the priests who sexually abused the
> powerless, then by the bishops who maintained them in ministry, and/or helped
> the escape the police, and finally by a Vatican that for whatever reason refuses
> to hold these bishops accountable for their actions.

I agree that the violence was first done by the abusers, and perpetuated by enabling bishops. But I think it is inaccurate to characterize the Vatican as "refusing to hold bishops accountable." That diagnosis is accurate only if "accountability" equals removal from office. And I don't think that's neccesarily so. I think for Rome to tell the Bishops "you clean up this mess you made" is a way of trying to hold them accountable. If Rome were to swoop down from on high and provide a "fix" for the problem, how would that keep the responsbility where it belonged? I think the bishops have made a very unpromising start, and they may make a hash of it yet, but Rome is trying to force the bishops who collectively created this disaster to live up to their duty of repairing it. One of the fundamental principles of moral theology is restitution: if one does something wrong, one is obliged to try to repair the situation as far as one is able. That is accountability.

You also wrote:

> I'm sorry, but this is cant.

Actually, you raised this objection several times. But invoking mystical (or any other kind) of theology is not "cant." If we are going to find a Catholic solution to the problem, and I hope you agree that we should be seeking a Catholic solution, then we must think with and through the Tradition. And to denounce those of us who are trying to do so as "invoking mystical abstractions" is unfair and unworthy of you. If my theology is wrong, tell me so, and tell me why. If I'm misreading the Tradition, tell me that, too. But don't dismiss these efforts as cant. We will not properly solve the problem if we don't think it through. As Catholics one of our primary tools for thinking anything through is our theological Tradition.

I am frankly shocked that you could dismiss my statement:

> We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the
> way out through Christ and His way of the Cross.

The Cross is the central mystery of our Faith. We must try to look at everything through the Cross, as there is nothing which is not subject to and redeemed by the Cross. To reform the Church we must think with the mind and in the heart of the Church. And that's not "cant".

You wrote:

> Good Catholic mothers and fathers will not sacrifice their children
> upon the altar of clericalism.

You are correct: they neither will, nor should they. But let us be clear about what clericalism is and is not. As I have written before on this blog, bishops covering up priest-abusers is a symptom of clericalism. But to demand that priest-abusers receive no more and no less than justice is not clericalism. To insist that the right of the accused to due process be respected is not clericalism. And don't reply that "of course, everyone understands that." Judging from some of the comments and e-mail I've seen, some people seem to have little trouble dismissing a priest's right to due process in the name of "protecting the children". And to call upon you and other faithful Catholics to try to think with the Tradition is not clericalism, either.

Rod, I agree with you that some of our bishops deserve to be removed. And it may yet happen that some of them will be. You and I and other "Vatican watchers" think that sometime soon, probably shortly after the Romans return from the August vacanza, the Holy See will send the Dallas norms back to the bishops and tell them to get it right. That will be a pretty swift response: three or four months. I would also see that as Rome beginning to hold the bishops' feet to the fire. I think to dismiss the Holy Father's lack of "action" so far as signs of indifference or "not caring" is premature.

I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the principle of subsidiarity: that decision-making and authority, and accountability, be devolved to the level closest to the people affected. Rome is trying to respect that principle, and in doing so she is thinking with the tradition. It may yet happen, and frankly, I expect, that the bishops will prove themselves incapable of dealing with The Situation. But it would not be holding them properly accountable for Rome not to force them to apply themselves to the problem.

You are correct in pointing out that this problem has been festering for a number of years. But I think that, far from demanding precipitate action, the long-standing nature of the problem necessitates a thorough, deliberate response. And I hope you will admit that removing some bishops will not constitute such a thorough response. Let's say the Pope does remove some bishops, then what? I think it would be best to have good answers to that question before proceeding with the purge.

Thank you for your thoughts on this issue. I appreciate your investment of time and your love for our Church. I'll be interested to read what further observations you may have.