And yet, I’m not sold. It’s because of that profoundly mind-changing conversation I had with my priest friend. As I’ve already made clear, the easiest thing in the world to do is treat the Situation simply as a problem with inefficient bureaucratic machinery. Profoundly American approach. But to do so fails, I think, to address the central problem: which is the total failure of the American Church to grasp the meaning and nature of the ordained office. The way out of this is not going to be more rules or a shinier bureaucracy. It is going to be a clergy (and laity) that understands and takes seriously the mission to carry the cross.
As Kelly notes, there is no particular mechanism in place in this proposal for what to do if a bishop doesn’t bother with implementing the proposed plan. Right. And I agree this suggests rather strongly that our bishops still are not willing to take responsibility for the wrong they have done. However, even if they were ready to take full responsibility tomorrow, the only conceivable mechanisms for dealing with unserious bishops that I can think of are a) Caesar throws the bishop in the pokey, b) the Pope yanks the bishop from his office or c) both of the above. What else is there? Lynching? Laity can (and should) make life hell for a neglectful bishop (as we’ve seen). This includes lay police, prosecuting attorneys and judges, when the situation warrants it. But the bottom line is, the Church is not a democracy. I don’t know enough about governance to know whether fellow bishops can badger a miscreant to step down, but from what I’ve seen this is probably not the case. The bishop is the legitimate head of the Church in his diocese. Ignatius of Antioch goes so far as to say he is Jesus Christ in his diocese and that where the bishop is, there the Church is.
This is why treating this merely as a problem in bureaucratic machinery will not serve. We cannot remake the Church as something Jesus did not institute (the People’s Democratic Republic of Heaven). Neither can we let abuse of children go unstopped. The only answer? If a serious episopacy is to be created, bishops must learn what their office is according to the Revelation and live it. External impositions of rules will only create an ecclesiocracy more adept at eluding them, unless the ecclesiocracy carries in its bosom the conviction that they are shepherds of souls and not oilers of an institutional machine. Therefore, laypeople must not let them get away with not learning their office and living it. Bishops (and we) must carry the cross. That’s why, I am convinced, JPII leaves them in office: to learn it. Otherwise, we opt for bandaid solutions and never get to the heart of the problem, which is refusal of the cross. If we fail to understand this, we will not be replacing defective bishop A with shiny new bishop B. We will simply be installing an equally defective bishop with no more clue of what his office is than his predecessor–and with as much likelihood of similar results as the crisis abates and life returns to oiling institutional machinery rather than shepherding souls.