I’ve been thinking about what I’ve written the last couple of days and I’m not happy with all of it. I think I’ve been very quick to be cynical about our bishops and to stoke the fires of despair. Therefore, I want to apologize if I’ve prompted any reader toward more cynicism too. What got me thinking about this was the piece by Fr. Michael Sweeney (which, if you haven’t read it, you should immediately do). He writes:
Priests and bishops have failed to take seriously the lay faithful they serve and with whom they are called to collaborate in the mission of the Church. They have covered up the actions of certain priests, fearing that Christ’s people would falter in their faith if they became aware of such transgressions. They did not trust that the laity were as capable of faithfulness as they themselves, and that their faith—a gift of God—does not depend upon the witness of the hierarchy.
Reconciliation does not mean inaugurating administrative reforms or democratizing the Church. Indeed, such measures presume that no reconciliation is possible and that therefore drastic steps are in order. Reconciliation means that we of the hierarchy must recognize the dignity of the laity’s faith and apostolate and rely upon their support and judgment. It means trusting that they will respect our ordination and the role we have been given in the community, even as they insist upon the apostolic roles they possess for the sake of the mission of the Church to the world.
So, instead of me making snide remarks about how hopeless our bishops are, I should be about the business of trusting that God means to and will bring about repentance and genuine holiness. I should act on this by extending reconciliation to them, even if they are not yet capable of trusting (and, in some cases, deserving) it. This does not mean turning a blind eye when they do something absurd (like putting partial-birth abortion booster Panetta on a panel created in response to child abuse). Nor does it mean not being living the prophetic office of baptism, being “wise as a serpent” and making noise when one of them (like McCormack or Mahony) gives strong indications he is returning to old habits once the heat is off. But it does mean refusing to adopt a mental outlook of settled cynicism, as though God does not exist and cannot act. It means living my vocation as a layperson and doing my priestly office, also given in baptism, to offer reconciliation as Christ does. Such grace is not offered to those who earn it, but to those who need it, just as Christ offered mercy to the people who were executing him. For my failure to do this, I offer my profound apologies to my readers, my exhortation to do likewise, and the continued hope that our shepherds will take up the cross of Christ and find in it his mercy and the grace to do their office.