An interesting convergence of an opinion piece and a news quote on the America blog the past day. Michael Sean Winters posts one of the many millions of New Year’s prediction pieces. In it he suggests that the US bishops will be impressed by faint memories of Pope Benedict’s visit last April:
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit … was a chance for the pontiff to show his brother bishops how to conduct themselves in the public square. There was no finger-pointing. There was no communion-denying. There was encouragement, exhortation, incisive intellectual commentary on current social trends. He communicated the Catholic faith unfettered from the cultural Jansenism that has so long infected the Church in America. In the year ahead, look for more moderate bishops to point to his example again and again in their discussion with those bishops who want a more intransigent posture towards the culture.
Maine’s Bishop Richard Malone is trying to recast one of his most vocal critics as a stalker. The diocesan PR line:
For five years, we’ve really looked the other way. The bishop let him have free rein basically but we want him to know that from this point on, he must stop.
Looking the other way? Do shepherds look the other way? Is that the ministry posture of a pastor? I wonder if Bishop Malone ever considered an actual meeting with his foil, confronting the concerns head-on. Clearly, there’s a preference for ab/using the powers of office to dismiss an uncomfortable protest.
I recall an unfortunate situation with a parishioner many years ago. She felt aggrieved. I thought her point of view was overstated, and that she had intentionally taken insult when none was offered. My last exchange with her was a face-to-face argument.
But you know what? That the relationship deteriorated to that point was my fault. I was the one responsible for toning it down and I persisted in trying to make my points. First, I was right. Second, that it was a misunderstanding. In my role as a pastoral minister, it is not my job to be right. Nor is it my job to convince others when they prefer not to be convinced. Merely by getting into the argument, I had lost hold on the pastoral situation, participating in the ill will and bile.
Some bishops, too, need to step back and take a longer look at the pastoral situation. It is not enough to make press releases from behind the PR machinery of a diocesan office. Sitting down with an adversary: that’s a courageous act.
It would have taken courage for me to address what I thought were baseless concerns from my one-time friend and keep things professional. Likewise with a bishop who may feel harassed.
Not that every episcopal hanger-on deserves a meeting, granted. But the head of a major Catholic organization? You would think that a meeting would, in the long term, save time and clear away barriers. One simple question:
How can I address your concern and make it right?
That doesn’t concede the person’s point. It doesn’t promise action. It opens the dialogue. It keeps things pastoral. It doesn’t avoid the problem or avoid confrontation.
That Paul Kendrick may or may not be off base isn’t the issue. By his actions, Bishop Malone has shown himself to be open to being judged on tilt on this. A different route would seem to be warranted.