From The Washington Post:
A highly visible member of Washington’s Catholic clergy has made a dramatic declaration calling on Cardinal Donald Wuerl to resign, the latest blow to Washington’s embattled archbishop.
Deacon James Garcia, in his role as a master of ceremonies at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in the District, has assisted Wuerl during major liturgies.
But Garcia wrote in a letter to Wuerl, which the deacon published online Saturday, that he refuses to assist in any Mass led by Wuerl again. Since deacons vow obedience to their bishop, it is a bold gesture.
“The time for cowardice and self-preservation is long past. Victims cry out for justice and the faithful deserve shepherds who are not compromised. Apology and accompaniment are critical. But no amount of apology will suffice unless and until bishops and other complicit clergy are removed or resign,” Garcia wrote in his letter. And he addressed Wuerl directly: “I cannot, in good conscience, continue to assist you personally, whether as an assisting deacon or a master of ceremony…”
…Deacons are ordained clergy in the Catholic church, like priests, but they have different duties and can marry. They can baptize children and prepare couples for marriage. Garcia has helped teach classes for adult converts to Catholicism, and as a master of ceremonies, he makes sure that the cathedral’s most elaborate liturgies, with many priests and deacons participating, run smoothly and solemnly. He isn’t in a leadership or advisory role in the archdiocese, but his ritual position at the archdiocesan cathedral puts him in a visible spot.
Garcia, a married Arlington lawyer, began pursuing ordination in 2009 and became a deacon in 2013. He was assigned to the parish at St. Matthew’s, the cathedral in the Archdiocese of Washington.
You can read the full text of the deacon’s letter here.
This move by the deacon would seem to fall under the concept of “fraternal correction.” Pope Benedict spoke of this at some length during an Angelus address in 2011:
Brotherly love also involves a sense of mutual responsibility. For this reason if my brother commits a sin against me I must treat him charitably and first of all, speak to him privately, pointing out that what he has said or done is wrong. This approach is known as “fraternal correction”: it is not a reaction to the offense suffered but is motivated by love for one’s brethren.
St Augustine comments: “Whoever has offended you, in offending you, has inflicted a serious injury upon himself; and would you not care for a brother’s injury?… You must forget the offence you have received but not the injury of one of your brethren (Discourse 82, 7).
And what if my brother does not listen to me? In today’s Gospel Jesus points to a gradual approach: first, speak to him again with two or three others, the better to help him realize what he has done; if, in spite of this, he still refuses to listen, it is necessary to tell the community; and if he refuses to listen even to the community, he must be made to perceive that he has cut himself off by separating himself from the communion of the Church.
All this demonstrates that we are responsible for each other in the journey of Christian life; each person, aware of his own limitations and shortcomings, is called to accept fraternal correction and to help others with this specific service.
This was a courageous move on the part of the deacon—and audacious. But was it appropriate? That’s open to debate. Speaking personally, it’s not something I would have done. But that’s me. I think it’s one thing to express your sentiments to the archbishop privately in a letter; it’s something else to go public just four days after the date on the letter, before receiving a response.
One thing seems certain: Pope Francis appears to think Cardinal Wuerl is still fit for the job and should remain where he is for now. Wuerl submitted his resignation two years ago. The pope has yet to accept it. Presumably, the cardinal revisited that issue when he met with Francis in Rome several days ago—but it would appear the Holy Father is satisfied with his job performance.
For now, at least.
UPDATE: Bill Ditewig has a few thoughts on this topic, with a nod to Lumen gentium.
The reason that any of us in ministry exist, therefore, is “for the nurturing and constant growth” of the Church. This is the ultimate “test” for us to ponder as we move into the future. How will my action — or inaction — serve to nurture and assist the People of God? Will I tear down or build up? Let me be clear: sometimes “building up” demands powerful, prophetic and public witness. At other times the better course of action is quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Still, I think that this text gives us a very helpful source for reflection and for an examination of conscience. We must always be about the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.
I am NOT offering this as a critique or a judgment on the actions taken by my brother deacons. None of us knows what went into their particular decisions or what other steps they attempted in light of the situation. We must all struggle for balance on the moral tightropes we have to negotiate. It is the tradition of the Christian people and enshrined in scripture, that when we find a brother or sister in error we attempt private, fraternal correction first; if that is ineffective, we move gradually outward in attempting to resolve the matter. Certainly Lumen gentium 18 can serve as a foundational element in the formation of our own consciences as we ponder our own future actions.
Good stuff. Read all of it.