Never say Never

A deeply wounded friend writes what I’ve been tempted to say many times:

“My rule, which I shall inscribe on my heart: NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER TRUST THE INSTITUTIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. ”

I have an English major’s congenital fear of rash vows. Too many myths and legends based on what happens to people foolish enough to make them. Plus, I have an incarnational Catholic’s worries about where such a vow as this has to lead. Yes, we’ve got a crop of bad bishops. And yet, what do you mean by “the instititutional Catholic Church”? What do you mean by “trust”? It seems to me there are two sorts of distrust: the sort we reserve for devils, and the sort we reserve for men. We distrust devils absolutely. Everything they say is a lie for the devil is a liar and the father of lies. But the distrust we have for men is not and must not be absolute. Sometimes the worst of them speak truth. We distrust them in the sense of “put not your trust in princes”. They’re unreliable because they are men. But they are not devils. We should not expect any man to be utterly trustworthy, but we have to, as far as possible, go on extending trust. That’s life outside the garden.

In addition, there is the reality of the Holy Spirit mucking up the formula and making our distrust even more problematic since these very unreliable men are entrusted to a) hand down the Tradition and b) to formulate doctrine. The catastrophe of the Irish Church is summed up in Joan Chittister’s article “that they’re not going to tell us again what’s right and what’s wrong anymore. From now on, we’ll be figuring those things out for ourselves”. It utterly fails to recognize that when the bishops (i.e. the Institutional Catholic Church) are teaching the Tradition, they are not teaching with their own (sometimes pathetic) moral authority, but with the voice of Christ. To go it alone under the burden of “never” trusting the institutional Church is to invite the mass assumption (as in Ireland) that the visible Church is unnecessary, with all the Protestant and Unitarian “invisible church” chaos that entails. More Stockholm syndrome.

Distrust the bishops as men? Fine. Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. Distrust them as devils and swear rash vows to “never” trust them (even when they are teaching the Tradition)? That way madness lies. They are, like all men, to be found on a spectrum. Some are at the O’Connell and Mahony end. But not all. Wuerl went to Rome and badgered them to reverse their rejection of his laicization of an abuser. Some of these guys are good. But even the worst of them is still, by virtue of his office, capable of speaking the truth. Never was nuanced thinking more necessary than now. Anger is second only to lust in clouding the intellect. Please be careful.


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