Debris of Failure

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s Los Angeles Prayer Breakfast address got headlines today at CNS. I would have liked to see the whole text. “debris of failure” is the working quote near the headline. Lacking that, I’d like to zero in on two quotes:

Morally, we live in chaotic times. In such a climate, it’s very easy for people to develop habits that undermine virtue, character and moral judgment. It’s hard to reach a moral consensus when a culture can’t agree on even the most basic standards of right and wrong. As a result, for individuals, today’s conditions of daily life are often isolating and even frightening.

The archbishop is referring to the American substrate in which we live, but I think it might apply equally to the institutional Church and its clergy. Leaving aside the sex abusers in the clergy who transgressed for any number of reasons–addiction, compulsion, power, or some other psychological reason–I think we can see broad evidence that our bishops have developed many bad habits. Where to start? What about a curia out of control with intrigue? Bishops as targets of leaks and disrespect from within their own ranks. Financial mismanagement leading to internaitonal investigations. Secret assessments and bishops deposed out of dioceses for the flimsiest of reasons–and those are the ones we know about. Lots of bishops are grounded for reasons unknown. And it’s all for our good–if we only knew, we would be scandalized. So they say. But I don’t trust nearly any of them.

Bishops themselves can’t agree on right and wrong. Basic judgments that any half-baked parent would execute without delay or doubt. High profile bishops like Francis George, Bernard Law, and Anthony Bevilacqua dithered while sex abusers went free. It might be that bishops prior to JPII and his “reform” were just as bad–we simply don’t know too much. But we have seen many figures of that first JPII “generation” discredited. It’s almost as if doctrinal orthodoxy went hand-in-hand with the erosion of moral management.

And isolation? Isn’t that the life imposed on clergy from seminary graduation?

The clergy scandal of the past decade has … found too many American bishops guilty of failures in leadership that resulted in bitter suffering for innocent persons. As a bishop, I repent and apologize for that failure — and I commit myself as zealously as I can to do the work a good bishop must do, which is shepherding and protecting his people.

An empty repentance, unless he has committed particular sins as a bishop.

Ten years since the charter. We still have bishops misbehaving. Instead of telling us lay people how to pray, how to study, and what to forgive, I’d like the bishops to take their own examen a little more seriously. Maybe the USCCB needs to go on a directed retreat instead of holding a meeting in a hotel. Maybe individual bishops need to cut back on the jet-setting too. The cult of celebrity is another of those bad habits, perhaps. We don’t need 4,000 mini-JP2’s trotting the globe. Believe me: Raymond Burke is no Karol Woytyla. Doesn’t the LA archdiocese have a man or woman religious better acquainted with prayer than a politically-minded bishop? Unless the point is to draw a crowd for celebrity-worship.

These bishops still don’t get it.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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12 Responses to Debris of Failure

  1. FrMichael says:

    Not sure where your swipe at the Archbishop of LA comes from. I’m not his biggest fan by any stretch, but the feedback from LA priests I get is that they have a humble, prayerful man as archbishop. That’s from both conservative and progressive priests.

    “It might be that bishops prior to JPII and his “reform” were just as bad–we simply don’t know too much.”

    Actually, we know plenty, as they were as bad. Before we suffered from a good number of bishops who were corrupt and doctrinally lax. Now we suffer from a good number of bishops who are corrupt but more doctrinally vigilent. Better, but not sufficient.

  2. Todd says:

    Actually, the criticism is directed at Archbishop Chaput. I’ve never seen any proof that 1970’s bishops were doctrinally lax. Sure, we have the testimony of conservatives who disliked tax protesters, Vatican II implementers, and the like. Maybe if you included Cardinals Cody and Krol, four-letter words to be sure …

  3. FrMichael says:

    Weakland, Mahoney, John Quinn, Bernardin, Clark, Hubbard, Tod Brown, Moreno, Cummins, Straling, Francis Quinn, Walter Sullivan… names local and distant I easily came up with in the past 20 seconds who tolerated all kinds of vigorous open dissent in their presbyterates and senior lay staffs.

    I’m not aware of those types of bishops being openly ordained today to be Ordinaries, although some have an uncomfortable easiness with doctrinally suspect staffers, like the new arch in LA.

  4. Todd says:

    A mix of conservatives and middle-of-the-road guys. Almost all JP2 guys. Dissent is not always a bad thing, and you yourself, FrM, have positioned yourself as a dissenter, though a comfortably anonymous one. I note we’ve shifted to “doctrinally suspect staffers,” like that’s a problem, for example, with the ordinary’s car mechanic. Another example of conservative fuzziness on the issues. Care for another go at it?

    • Christopher says:

      “Almost all JP2 guys”
      For the record, Law, Weakland, Quinn, Bernadin, Hubbard, Moreno, Cummins, Straling, and Sullivan are Paul VI guys, as is Gumbleton. Not a strong group, IMO.
      I’ll add Skylstad (Paul VI) and Malone (Youngstown): he’s a John XXIII guy.
      I’ve personally lived through Malone’s “rule” and the effects of Sullivan’s (Richmond). Kneelers – gone. Tabernacle – gone. Crucifix on the altar – gone. Seemed like an “anything goes” mentallity.

      Given that the child sexual abuse scandal pre-dates JP2 (that is, the issue was around, and the case was made for its existence, before JP2); and these bishops were in place, are they not also “discredited”?

      And while we need our bishops to definitely re-cage their moral gyros, you don’t address the truth of Chaput’s message: the laity, too, must re-cage their moral gyros.

      (BTW, I don’t classify Roger Mahony as a conservative – not by a long shot)

      • Liam says:

        Mahony was actually a conservative; that was how he came in and his high concept of his powers solidified that. He was no progressive.

  5. FrMichael says:

    OK, I give up. Is there an American bishop of the past half century that you would consider progressive?

  6. Todd says:

    Gumbleton, certainly. Ken Untener, Jim Shannon probably. Mahony is a definite conservative. What about those “doctrinally suspect staffers”? My main problem with your diagnosis here is not that you’ve misspelled and incorrectly assessed the retired archbishop of LA. I object to the dodgy and scattershot accusations against nameless, and by association, any staff members.

  7. FrMichael says:

    Well, perhaps I’m universaling local experience. When Bishop Vasa (Santa Rosa) made his chancery and parish staffers sign oaths of fidelity, there was a sea of shudders among “professional Catholics” around NorCal: how dare the bishop require that paid staffers give personal adherance to the Catholic Faith!

    Thanks for the short lists of progressive bishops. I thought I was really getting into Twilight Zone here. I’m guessing you’ve not followed the Cardinal (i.e. Mahony) closely. Authoritarian, yes. Conservative? You’re a liturgist. Do you really think that those liturgy booklets put out by the Archdiocese of LA in the 90s exemplify “conservative liturgical theology?”

    • Todd says:

      “Do you really think …?”

      No idea. I never read them. I did follow his treatment of the Worker community around the time of the dedication of the new cathedral. It confirmed my decision years before to avoid working in that diocese despite a job offer from a parish a fair distance from the see city.

      What I think about the hermeneutic of complaint echoes what Cardinal Ratzinger expressed in a 1985 report:

      “(Y)ou and those who assist you have suffered from exaggerated criticism and routine misunderstanding. Our observations are based neither on the complaints of your more strident critics, nor on publications that are obviously biased. Nor do we wish to encourage extremist groups who are wholly lacking in a spirit of cooperation and seek to destroy or suppress whatever is not to their liking.”

      Conservatives such as yourself routinely unmask themselves as agents of destruction and suppression, unable to find the basic good in various situations with which they do not agree.

      Many modern Catholics come to a decision, then go in search of evidence and allies to support what they already know. This is inherently antigospel. That’s all I have to say on this topic.

    • Liam says:

      No, they represent liturgical pragmatism (often ruddered by preferences of religious ed types who do not care for a careful liturgical ars celebranda) by a conservative bishop. Not all conservative bishops embrace liturgical conservatism. Cardinal Law is another example, and he was no progressive in any way.

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