What we have here is a failure to excommunicate
Admit it. Haven’t you been longing to use that line? Anyway, been thinking about the bizarre phenomenon of clueless non-American bishops talking about the Situation as a plot by the American media to bash the Church, etc. Those of us with some familiarity with the Situation want to tear our hair out when we hear them talk that way. And yet, I think there is more to it than simple clericalism (though, don’t get me wrong, I think clericalism plays a huge role here). But as I thought about it last night, I was noting again the weird way in which the American Press has done such a fine job reporting the Scandal, and then turned around and done such an all-fired atrocious job analyzing the Scandal. They seem to get the facts all right and the meaning all wrong.
The reason is not far to seek: the media are deeply conflicted: one of their favorite targets is embroiled in the biggest Scandal in its history on the North American Continent and they’re salivating. But wait! The Scandal is all about homosexual abuse! We can’t print that! Indeed, my sources inform me that at least one major eastern newspaper has killed a story exposing one high-ranking prelate (who will probably not stay unexposed forever) because the editor is gay too and doesn’t want to draw still more attention to the fact that this is all about homosexual abuse. And so, we see a huge amount of stupid blather (typified by the latest emissions from the Andrew Sullivan “It’s not about homosexuality” Fog Factory in Time). Sullivan, who has to be a decathalon champion in Avoiding the Obvious, has blamed celibacy, no women priests, the Church’s hierarchical nature, the fact that the Church has any teaching on sex at all, the bishops and practically everything else in the world for the abuse. But he has not been able to say the magic words: “This is all about homosexual abuse and the bishop’s failure to name and stop it and restore the Tradition.”
In his recent article, he continues the campaign to ignore the Tradition: “When so many church leaders could not treat even the raping of children as a serious offense, how can we trust them to tell us what to believe about the more esoteric questions of contraception, or homosexuality, or divorce?” This is a favorite question among the Jack Chicks of the world: “Why trust the teaching of a Borgia Pope?” It is a stunningly sophomoric thing to say. For, of course, precisely where such moral and doctrinal questions begin is where the bishop’s personal life and opinions end. That is, the Borgia Pope or the irresponsible American bishop did not just invent the Church’s tradition on homosexuality or contraception or divorce just a moment ago. It was handed to him by Christ and the apostles and the Fathers of the Church. He is a custodian. The bishop’s failure to teach or live the Church’s tradition in no way falsifies it. It simply shows the bishop to be a bad bishop, not the Tradition to be a bad Tradition. Yet Sullivan insists in calling the Tradition into question, not the betrayal of it.
Now, if our non-American bishops are primarily seeing that sort of thing in the press coverage from the US, it would not surprise me that they recognize a transparent agenda aimed at attacking the Church’s teaching, because that is, of course, what it is. What we non-revisionist Catholics have to make clear to them is: Andrew Sullivan and his ilk are not the whole story.