Like some other bloggers, I too didn't have any expectations that something earth-shattering was going to come out of this meeting. As I have written before, many of our bishops have forgotten or never knew in the first place what their office is all about. Some are, painfully, beginning to learn it and find their shepherds' voice. Some, unfortunately, show no signs of learning it. In some of those cases, Canon 401 will be the means of restoring the diocese. In others, change might come by other means: As an old, wise priest once remarked to me, "it never ceases to amaze me how many problems in the Church can be solved by the Funeral Rite."
Some of the participants, such as Leon Podles of Touchstone, have expressed frustration at the tepidity of the bishops' response, and their apparent unwillingness to act. Many "conservatives" are expressing their anger all over St. Blog's, and some have chided them for uncharity. One commentor, in so taking people to task, noted the lack of furor or expressions of unhappiness from "liberals" in the aftermath of the meeting they had with the bishops earlier in the summer. He seemed to suggest that that was because the liberals are somehow more charitable than conservatives.
Oddly enough, I had been wondering about the same thing: Why was there no outcry of dissatisafaction from liberals after their meeting with the bishops? I would imagine that the bishops at that meeting responded in much the same way as they did to Deal Hudson and the conservatives: listen and nod a lot, make conciliatory noises about the need for "dialogue", stress the need for "moderation". I imagine they counseled "prudence" and urged "charity" on all sides. They probably spoke of their desire to avoid conflict.
Liberals wouldn't be unhappy with that sort of milquetoastian talk because that is all they need in order to advance their agenda. With a few exceptions, the ascendancy of Liberal Catholicism happened not as a result of episcopal connivance, but because of episcopal indolence. Bishops who are "terrified of conflict" and "hostage" to the secular media (in the words of Greg Popcak) are not going to be inclined to say no to Sister Mary Polyester when she announces her intention to include prayers to the Four Winds in her "Eco-Spirituality Supplement to the CCD Curriculum". Liberals will be satisfied with episcopal complaisance because it gives them a clear field.
Conservatives, on the other hand, understand that preserving orthodoxy requires vigilance and deliberation. It doesn't just happen. While the bishops receive the deposit of faith, and are charged "merely" with passing it on, that is hardly a passive enterprise. To do so requires attentiveness to the errors prevalent in one's own age, and courage to articulate the Gospel's response to those errors. The Gospel has always been opposed by the World and distorted (often without evil intent) by some within the Church. This opposition and tendency to error did not stop in 1965 with the close of Vatican II, and I fear that many in the Church (not just bishops and clergy) had lost sight of that salient fact.
Conservatives are unhappy with episcopal passivity because they see that it allows the rot within the Church to go unchecked. The Scandals of last year (which are still very much with us) are a warning of dangers unfaced, which have been allowed to go on too long and have the potential to cripple the Church for another generation. Unlike liberals, whose agenda is served by the status quo, conservatives see an urgent need for action.
What sort of action, though?
Well, there are all sorts of things that bishops can do to rein in dissent and disobedience, and I outline some of them in my article, "The Bishops' Disciplinary Options" (clicking on this link will cause the article to be downloaded to your computer), which was published in the August/September issue of Catholic World Report. I wrote this after the Chris Mathews incident Holy Cross College in June prompted me to take a look at just what Canon Law empowered bishops to do with dissenters. I discovered that the bishops have wide powers under Canon Law to deal with dissent, as I argue:
The issue is not whether the bishops have the powers enumerated in the law, but whether circumstances warrant its exercise, and whether they are willing to so exercise it. These are questions of prudence and courage... But the bishops have the tools they need at their disposal: They are not compelled to stand idly by while dissent and confusion are spread by institutions within their dioceses.
Orthodox Catholics have tired of standing idly by while confusion and heterodoxy muddle and weaken the faith and life of the Church. While some of the bishops certainly heard the discontent and disillusionment at yesterday's meeting, it remains to be seen whether anyone was actually listening.
And it remains to be seen whether our bishops will actually do anything.