More on “What is JPII thinking?”

Spoke this weekend with a wonderful priest friend, the soul of common sense and probably the closest I will ever get to meeting St. Thomas Aquinas. He is habitually cool and sane in his judgments and fully informed by the Tradition. In the course of the conversation, I became more convinced than ever that I am right in my guess about why the Pope refuses to relieve our bumbling bishops of their offices.

Fr. observes that the problem here is not “failure to consult the laity”. Laity, he noted, have been consulted all through the past two decades. The problem is: the laity consulted were lawyers and psychologists. Tremendous attention was paid to various secular models of doing business, evaluating problem priests, dealing with threats of lawsuit, etc. What nobody has paid attention to is the Tradition and what revelation says about the nature of the office of priest. Heck, even here in Seattle, the bishop’s letter to the archdiocese about The Situation closed with a reference, not to Scripture, but to Kubler-Ross. The bishops have forgotten the Tradition they are supposed to be teaching and flailing about in secular models and paradigms trying to get a clue about what they are supposed to be doing.

“I begin,” Fr. says, “with the rather obvious evidence that Cdl. Law is not a bad man. So how did we get to where we are?” His diagnosis in a nutshell is that the vast majority of American bishops simply have no clue what the office of priest means and have forgotten that they are priests, thinking rather that they were the CEOs of corporations and running their dioceses on models derived, not from an understanding of their offices, but on purely secular grounds. Thus, when something arises that threatens the smooth running of the machine, they think first of guarding the institution while forgetting what the institution exists to do. After all, “qualified experts” have counseled them to do exactly this, and they want to be “responsive.” Yes, that is what’s going through their heads.

What has not been named in this scandal, he said, is that the first one wounded in this is Jesus Christ, not the institution and not even the victims. It is the sacrament of Holy Orders that has been blasphemed and this is greater even than the crimes against children and other innocents for Jesus Christ is peculiarly present in the sacraments.

This diagnosis, though counter-intuitive, is simply right, I think. Children are not the primary victims of these sins: Jesus Christ is. And he is so precisely because he is present both in the children and families wounded and in the sacrament of Holy Orders which criminal priests and their protective bishops share.

This disconnect between the AmChurch bishops’ conception of their office and the Holy Father’s is, said my priest friend, quite clear and obvious to the Holy Father. He’s been re-reading the ad limina addresses JPII gave to our bishops a couple of year ago and, as you might expect, JPII has a markedly different conception–what some of us might call a Catholic conception–of the ordained office as being a shepherd of souls, not a CEO of a large corporation. Those addresses appear to have gone in one ear and out the other of our bishops. After all, when you live in the Land that has Progressed Beyond the Need for Confession, why do you need some old guy’s outdated musings on Holy Orders? Bill Gates, not John Paul the Great, knows what’s happening.

But now the need for a more Traditional conception of the nature of Holy Orders as shepherd and not CEO is suddenly making itself felt in exquisite ways to our hapless and chuckleheaded bishops. And ironically, I find that my conception of what to do about things is remarkably closer to Bill Gates than to JPII’s or my priest friend’s.

“The first blunder” said my friend, “was to yank abusive priests out before they had the chance to face the people they’d hurt.” He did not mean they should be left in place to harm more kids. Those priests (like Shanley or Geoghan) who did the crime should do the time. But in addition to handing them over to civil authorities, it should, said my friend, be church policy to allow their parishes and victims to confront them in some sort of parish meeting so that abusers can receive the full wrath (and the possibility of mercy and reconciliation) from the people they’ve hurt. Simply yanking them in the dead of night truncated the possibility of a victim’s working through their anger to forgiveness and positively encouraged abusers to think they were immune to the consequences of their actions. To be priest is to carry the cross, not to take a powder. And that includes crosses they themselves made and laid on the shoulders of their victims.

And this explains very well, I think, why JPII leaves the present crop of clueless bishops in their jobs to endure and carry the cross they have created and laid on the shoulders of so many innocent people. My priest friend thinks that JPII believes that this is the time when American clergy are going to have to carry the cross they made for others so that the American Church (both laity and clergy) learn what the true nature of priesthood is supposed to be. Simply treating this as an administrative problem will not serve. It is a failure to grasp the nature of the sacrament and yanking these guys off the crosses they now occupy will only mean that they don’t really face the consquences of their actions and that they will be replaced by more people who have no more conception of the nature of their priestly office than their predecessors did.

I’m beginning to be convinced that if we want to understand JPII’s actions in The Situation, that is where we are going to have to start.


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