How to remonstrate with a bishop? The Church is not a democracy, nor even a constitutional republic. Catholics dissatisfied with Church leadership can vote with their feet — and about one in three do — but with their voices gone, the dialogue, such as it is, coems to resemble an echo-chamber.
A few propose alternative ecclesiological models that make the clergy directly accountable to the laity, in one way or another. But these typically make no impression — or at any rate, no good impression — on the people who need impressing. Once a scholar’s more eccentric ideas earn him the label of dissenting crank, it becomes impossible for him to cut any ice with his more accessible criticisms.
But in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a man named Jim McConnell might just have found a to get his bishop’s attention. Scheduled for ordination to the permanent diaconate last weekend, he begged off at the last minute with the following note:
Dear Holy Family Parish:
After a great deal of soul searching, prayer and reflection, I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received.
Because of the recent disclosure of failures within the diocese to protect the people of St. Patrick Parish from harm, I cannot promise respect or obedience that is a part of the diaconate ordination. To me this breakdown in the system that was put in place to protect God’s children is inexcusable.
It is with great sadness that I must inform you that I will not be able to serve Holy Family Parish as your deacon. Holy Family has been my spiritual home for over 30 years, and I have received great love and support during many joy filled and sometimes very difficult events in my life. Cindy and I will continue to support Holy Family in what ever way we can and wish to express our appreciation and love to all of you.
Jim and Cindy McConnell
If anyone really needs reminding, the breakdown McConnell’s referring to involved Fr. Shawn Ratigan, former pastor of St. Patrick’s Elementary. Though Robert Finn, bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was made aware as early as December that Ratigan had a photograph of a nude gril on his computer, he declined to refer the matter to police until several months later. Police charged Ratigan with posession of child pornography; Ratigan has pleaded not guilty.
Now, granted, Bishop Finn has apologized — three times. But who can say what his apology is really worth? Can any man really feel sorry until his mistake has cost him something? Given Finn’s particular vision for his diocese, nothing could have hit him where he lives harder than a talented parishioner’s rejection of Holy Orders — particularly if the rejection is made public.
According to National Catholic Reporter, Finn distinguished sharply between the roles appropriate to clergy and laity. He rejected the idea of lay parish administrators, and discontinued a very popular and successful lay ministry formation program, explaining, “We have to understand where the power of the laity is…It’s in the family, the workplace, the marketplace.”
McConnell obviously wasn’t going to become a priest, but still, in joining the diaconate, he would have been stepping up, as it were, into a new state where he’d have exercised greater responsibilities nnd enjoyed greater privileges. Instead, he said, respectfully, “Sorry, Excellency. Not with you in charge. I believe I’ll stick where I am.”
Now that might be one to remember.