I have become aware of a growing disconnect between many of the priests who serve faithfully in this diocese and myself. It saddens me to hear reports that a number of our priests feel anxious and uncomfortable in my presence and that rather than being co-workers with me, a number of priests feel left out of consultation.
Awareness, especially self-awareness is absolutely vital in ministry. Knowing one’s weaknesses involves the basic examination of conscience and subsequent confession. But it’s more than cataloguing the number of impure thoughts, white lies, and missed opportunities of charity. Not knowing Bishop Lennon at all, to appearances, this could be a sincere reaching out. The man supposedly invited a fellow bishop to assess his leadership last year. He has said he would not contest the reopening of parishes. Should his clergy take him at his word? A seemingly heartfelt statement:
Know I am entering this process willingly and open to change. Please join me in this sincere effort to improve the spirit, communication and trust in our relationship.
Charity and the relationship in ministry obligates. But this would be a last chance type of effort. If this outreach–and I mean what takes place beyond and behind the group meetings–fails, then the familial schism will likely not be healed. On the other hand, no Catholic can reject the opportunity for redemption.
On the other hand, Cardinal Dolan seems to have landed himself hip-deep in something that’s not yet a scandal and not quite a difference of opinion. Mark Silk seems to have the measure of the situation. Is the bishop who most thought was a can’t-miss jovial face for American Catholicism finding it hard to tread treacherous waters? Giving money to a sex offender priest: many sensibilities are offended. What is the boundary line between charity and a pay-off?
Many of those outraged at episcopal mismanagement might want clergy offenders paraded through life in an orange jumpsuit. Or wearing a scarlet S for all to see. A ten- or twenty-thousand dollar check is pretty nice, however you define it.
If I were paying closer attention to the New York prelate, I’d listen for tone of voice and watch body language. Does he exude a sense of peace and calm about how he has conducted himself as a personnel manager making tough decisions? Or does he come off as shrill and defensive? I’d want to have more than just what I read in the blogs. Here, too, I respect a man who makes an effort at reform and renewal. He’s been public about losing weight. I can totally understand that struggle. But the believer can also become bloated with lies, falsehoods, and words that lead others away from the truth. How does one shed that sort of excess weight?
Many correspondents suggested I check out Max Lindenman’s latest post on bishops and paranoia. As the token liberal at the Patheos Catholic Channel, I often wish his input there would match the relentless tone amassed by many conservatives there. When I read his words on paranoia, I was thinking more of the bishops as products of a culture of narcissism. The secular culture they were raised in as Americans is undeniably self-focused. Two, there’s the Catholic sense of entitlement. Then you throw in seminary training. And the way people seem to get appointed to sees, not to mention the George Jefferson methodology for upward mobility … It might be a minor miracle these guys aren’t worse than they are. Cardinal George, long/once thought to be the intellectual fulcrum for the USCCB is quoted:
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.
Right. If this prophecy comes to pass, it will be because successor number one will have been convicted of child endangerment. Or that successor number two will get mugged by his own clergy and/or laity.
And lastly, when I think about the Philadelphia trial of Msgr Lynn, one commentator nailed it as a lose-lose for the archdiocese. What a choice: Cardinal Bevilacqua was a heartless dictator, or the clergy screening bad behavior were giving the brothers a friendly pass. It looks bad for the episcopacy any way you slice it.
Is there a bright side to any of this? Any hint of metanoia could be, must be the grace of the Holy Spirit.