Taking a Supernatural Perspective on the Incompetence of Bishops

It appears from the news this morning that the bishops have opted for weasel words, derriere-covering and Clintonian, passive-voice, semi-measures. I am dismayed but not terribly surprised.

For me, one of the fascinating things about this is the distance between their behavior and their own teaching, particularly as it was promulgated in council (see below). They themselves do not seem to comprehend that the Holy Spirit was not kidding when he urged, through them, that laypeople take responsibility for living the Faith and being holy and that this would inevitably mean that laypeople–especially laypeople whose “intelligence and learning” was at the disposal of the Holy Spirit–would not overlook crimes and negligence which even pagans blush over.

How can there be such a staggering disconnect? A priest I know put it succinctly: A council often does not know what it’s really talking about.

That sounds like an insult, but it’s not. If we really believe that God speaks through the Church then of course we believe that the Church will utter things which even the utterer does not fully comprehend. This is why St. Peter tells us the prophets themselves inquired into the meaning of their own oracles. It is why St. Paul says that the mystery of Christ was “hidden” in the centuries leading up to Christ.

We as Catholics do not believe in new revelation since the death of the apostles. Vatican II offered no new revelation, only old revelation more profoundly articulated. But that is no guarantee at all that the bishops fully grasped the import of what they themselves were saying. And living proof of this is found in the current behavior of bishops who simply do not seem to have really internalized the fact that their mission is to lay down their lives for their sheep, not engage in “we speak” (“We, as a Church, need to do penance” Question: why do I need to do penance for this, your Eminence? “We” did not reassign abusive priests. You did.), not blather about “wake up calls” (If you’d asked us twenty years ago whether it was wise to stick a known abuser in charge of the Boy’s Camping Club at the parish most laypeople would have said no), and play legal hardball.

The sum of this meeting in Rome appears to be: baby steps, half-measures, unwillingness to really take responsibility for the most grave aspect of all this: why bishops whose job was to protect the flock continue, at this hour, to think primarily of protecting themselves and who even, at this hour, seem to think there is an acceptable minimum number of children who lives can be ruined before taking action. Seldom have we had a more dramatic example of Paul’s remark that “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” And, for all the hard time I’ve given him, Andrew Sullivan is, at least here, right:

Why should ‘notoriety’ have anything to do with whether a priest should be disciplined? These church despots are still worried about their reputation rather than children’s lives. And if you read between the lines, a priest who is discreet about his abuse or who has only committed it once may escape censure. The laity has to make it perfectly clear that this isn’t good enough.

I think “despot” is way over the top, but certainly “careerists” and “irresponsible men” seems adequate. The supreme irony is that the loudest voice urging the laity to make this clear is the Holy Spirit who, speaking through the bishops in Council and in union with Peter, reminds us:

This sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen – each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning – to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church.

Come Holy Spirit. You are the soul of the Church. Not the hierarchy and not–God knows–we layfolk who have largely created the culture of death and contempt for children, chastity and orthodoxy which has now seeped into even the priesthood and has gone unchallenged by men who refuse to take serious responsibility for their failure to challenge it. Cleanse your temple. Only you can.