In the past, the Vatican has not hesitated to criticize individual bishops or manipulate their authority for matters grave or petty. Marcel LeFebvre was excommunicated. Raymond Hunthausen was given a co-adjutor. Emmanuel Milingo … well, the less said there, the better.
I’ve seen the statement coming out of the Pope’s meeting with the Irish bishops. Rock also has the “body language” report from Rome. I have to confess I’m not impressed, but then I didn’t think I was going to be, barring some sort of conversion at the top of the ecclesiastical heap.
Lots of lament, to be sure, about the horrific sins of offending clergy and religious. Notable praise for lay people working with the Church to ensure widespread abuse will never happen again. But icy stares will not satisfy people who are demanding an authentic “full force of renewal.”
Unless the pope is holding his tongue and pen for the sake of saving the faces of his brother bishops, nothing in the press release addresses the reason why people are white-hot upset. It’s still no news that tortured souls in the presbyterate have abused children, teens, women, and men. The shock of the last decade has been the degree to which bishops cooperate with manifest evil in their ordained ranks. And that the Roman hierarchy is practically a secret society within the Church in spirit and practice gives no confidence to lay people and clergy who rightly want their bishops to cooperate with reform, and publicly reject the status quo.
For the pope’s letter to Ireland to have any traction, it will have to include changes. Plans for changes. The desire to make changes. And those changes will have to include bishops.
Addicts flourish in secret societies. They also groom their superiors, cultivating allies and potential allies, and sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in both bosses and bystanders. On the surface, they look like charmers. Just like real charming people who don’t actually lead a secret life.
Bishops, too, say and do all the right things. But even guys like Bernard Law who cultivated a certain cred with liberals for his stance on race relations and conservatives for his “law and order” approach, found the whole thing crumble when the truth came out. Who knows who the next facade bishop will be? What country will be hit next?
I’m glad to know at least that Rome recognizes the grave wound this is to the Magisterium.
(T)his grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching.
Readers here know of many of my suggestions. I’ve written of them often here and on other sites: ending careerism in the episcopacy–the routine switching of bishops to larger sees, promoting priests from within a diocese to lead it, upping the age of presbyteral ordination to 40, or in special cases 35, closing down seminaries and schooling clergy with lay people, breaking up large archdioceses, upending the college of cardinals, etc..
These days I’m wondering if promoting bishops from the diocesan presbyterate is even a good idea in the most wounded of dioceses. Maybe it’s time to look to religious orders, especially monastics, to provide some stability and credibility for the episcopacy. I’m sure that Cardinal Sean is doing fine in Boston, but at what cost? His fourth diocese? The Eastern and Western Fathers would be scandalized by that alone, not to mention the reasons why it was done.
Abbots and others formed in the monastic tradition–carefully vetted by the actual fruits of their leadership–may be part of the solution for a deeply damaged episcopacy. It would be a balm for the multi-faceted challenge of careerism, autocracy, secrecy, and ambition among bishops.
I wouldn’t expect it to be a perfect solution. But it would be an unmistakable gesture of reform. Monastics I know take the Christian life seriously. If called upon, would they serve the Church in an hour of dire need?