(Bad) Business as Usual

From the Excelsis File – August 2002

Just when you thought it was safe to begin trusting the Bishops, Dallas 2002 came along. This was the alleged moment when the Bishops would address the tidal wave of scandals threatening to drown them. The most jaded Catholic observers thought that this was The Moment. Perhaps now the deep sadness of the past thirty-five years would be over. A thirty-five years when most of the bishops had dutifully genuflected to the zeitgeist, treating any other viewpoint (including pro-Papal ones) as recidivist. It was seemingly endless three decades when they tragically squandered their dignity and credibility and zealously fed the bottomless appetite of a leftist Leviathan which now devours them.

Alas, The Moment’s great promise died. With all the obtuseness of a Leo X refusing to face Fr. Martin Luther, they too marched backward. We all watched incredulously when we saw whom they had selected to tutor them on staying the crisis. None other than R. Scott Appleby of Notre Dame and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels of Commonweal. Both credentialed brahmans of leftist Catholicism. Each of their institutions have been roaring engines of the theological dissent that barked the marching orders for the American Episcopacy. They might as well have invited Bill Clinton to lecture them on character. If they wanted lay input, why did they lean on laymen whose viewpoints have created the crisis? Couldn’t at least one of the laymen have a reputation for orthodoxy? Ralph McInerny? Charles Rice? Deal Hudson? James Hitchock? Paul Likoudis?

No, The Moment came and went. And any who still held on to the possibility of The Moment had their hope dashed when Bishop Bruskewitz spoke. He respectfully asked the Bishops to consider the role theological dissent or clerical homosexuality might have had in the crisis. The Bishops promptly voted the proposal down. Of course, these are the Bishops whose name is Dialogue. You know, every viewpoint bears a hearing etc., etc. Their Excellencies ought to be careful, lest it appear that all along they embraced a double standard. With dissenters, yes. With the orthodox, no. Tsk, tsk.

We cannot overlook the good things about Dallas 2002. Oh, not the things that the Bishops did, but what happened on account of what the Bishops did not do. No one should be fooled by the diversionary tactics of The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People or the much-touted Office for Child and Youth Protection under the leadership of Governor Frank Keating. These measures are carefully constructed to quell the media howling and adroitly move the scandal off center stage. Like putting a Liz Taylor mask over the Wolf Man. It is truly business as usual. A razzle-dazzle PR solution where there should be a rigorous top-to-bottom reassertion of earthshaking orthodoxy. This is not the time for slick Madison Avenue posturing but for the severe glance of St. Pio of Pietrelcina. The Bishops should have adopted a policy of zero tolerance for committees and action items, status quo and old buddy network, winking at dissent and stonewalling the Vatican. They should have ordered the Catechism of the Catholic Church for every Catholic classroom and require instant conformity to Ex Corde Ecclesiae in every Catholic college. Those things would have gutted the crisis, not zero tolerance a la Dallas 2002.

But the good news. That took place after the Dallas conference. When all the cameramen went home and the boom mikes were shut off, a group of Catholics convened with Bishop Bruskewitz as their principal speaker. Bruskewitz there performed a memorable and historic act: he dared to lift his voice against his brother bishops. With the steeliness of Churchill he declared the men of Dallas 2002 to be, “this hapless bench of Bishops.” Only a spare five words, you say. But a mere five words that history will translate as, “Charge!” And history will show that other brother bishops followed.

One more piece of good news. It is Michael Novak. This savage crisis seems to be changing his neo-conservativism into a paleo one. This brilliant writer’s erstwhile perfectly manicured sentences of balance and calm seem to have given way to loaded pistols of indignation.  As with so many faithful Catholics, he is fed up with making excuses for bishops who have acted (or not acted) inexcusably. Novak may be a trumpet for many fence-sitting orthodox Catholics. Catholics who for too long have believed the battle against dissent slightly indelicate or vocal complains about bishops déclassé (or, even worse, impious). How can they listen to the words of the new Novak-as-he-Man and not reconsider:

Everything the bishops did in Dallas showed how fearful they still are of being thought conservative. That is why they refuse even to touch the one issue that John Paul II had told them is central: fidelity to the whole Catholic teaching on married love and sexuality. That would have meant antagonizing the secular, liberal press. That would have meant preaching Catholic doctrine straight. The bishops didn’t want to touch that task.

They refused by voice vote a motion to study the role of dissent in the present scandalous developments. They were afraid to probe that deep, neuralgic nerve.

Even the choice of two liberals to speak of Catholic laywomen and men displayed the bishops’ remarkable fear of being thought conservative. In that respect, the bishops still don’t get it.

The bishops need to understand that what we Catholics love and respect is the Catholic Faith, not them. If they lack courage to speak up for the Faith, what are they good for except to be thrown out and trodden upon, salt without savor?

I don’t know about you, but I hear more and more people saying that they should throw out the whole bench and get a new team. A few exceptions aside, this one doesn’t seem to be completely serious.

But my advice is to give them a little bit more time. And pray that one or two dead leaders among them will step forward for the good of the Church. Enough of Avignon. It’s time to take the Church back to Rome.

National Review Online, 18 June 2002

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it seems the time has come to put on your gloves. Our bishops may not want a war but we are giving them one anyway.


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