A reader writes me to ask if I’m not being a bit cynical about the bishops response. Perhaps I am. I don’t like ecclesial politics and have never been interested in them. I’m ticked at the bishops in part because their atrocious handling of their responsibility has forced us all to bother our heads about what all these tedious diplomatic chess moves and nuances may mean. I am (somewhat) heartened by Phil Lawler’s piece this AM.

The good news is: Rome clearly gets it and is not stupid. Even better: they mean to hold the American bishops feet to the fire by means of “apostolic visitations” to see that the Augean stables of the seminaries are cleaned up.

The bad news is: this still depends in large measure on the American bishops suddenly growing some testicular fortitude to uphold chastity and orthodoxy and sweep out the chancery rats and pointed heads in the bureaucratic and educational structures of the Church who are “beyond all that.”

It was gratifying to see haughty American ecclesiats such as Mahony be humbled a bit (My imagined comments of JPII to Cardinal Anonymous of LA: “No, Roger. You’re not here to patiently explain to me how Smart and Special the American Church is. You’re here to give an account of why you guys could not figure out what every 11 year old victim of your priests could figure out. And will you shut up about the celibacy thing? It’s such a red herring. The issue is chastity and orthodoxy and your oh-so-clever attempts to evade, elide, water down, deflect and ignore this. And stop pretending that you are so morally superior to Law. Take some responsibility for your screwup and stop using this as one more opportunity to jockey for position.”)

But the big test lies ahead and I hope only in God, not in the bishops, that they will meet that test. The historical pattern of the Special and Smart American hierarchy has typically been to water down and evade what Rome asks. The 1981 attempt to clean the seminaries. Ex Corde Ecclesia. The dumbed-down ICEL translation of the liturgy. Rome, which has many other worries beside the vanity of Smart and Special Americans has pushed, but has never really tried to put them in a full nelson. I doubt it will do that this time either. So the Smart and Special guys go on thinking they really know better than Rome what is needed, with the result that Ex Corde Ecclesia is successfully neutered and Catholic schools are still excellent place to go to lose your faith. With this triumph under their belts its only natural to try to make parishes another excellent resource in faith destruction. And what better way to do that than to start with the tepid, foot-dragging, half responses and responsibility evasion which has characterized their reaction to this crisis. They seem therefore to have learned nothing from the debacle in Dallas 10 years ago.

My hope is that this time, the pain amperage, both from Rome and from outraged laity is high enough that they will finally learn something and actually act on the policies they have in place. But that is ultimately a mystery known only to God.

We have these treasures in jars of clay…