Betwixt and Between

Rod Dreher takes the NCR to task for its piece on Frank Keating. Me, I’m conflicted. As I said yesterday, the basic problem is bishops who will not govern and who now stupidly have put themselves in the position of asking theologically ill-informed politicians and Clinton’s lawyer (Clinton’s lawyer!!!) to hold them accountable. The whole thing reminds me of a drunk asking a bartender who is strapped for cash to keep him from buying too much liquor during Happy Hour.

There have been times when the Church has been propped up by honorable kings when the Pope was a slob. A German king (Otto) once did a fine job of keeping the Pope on the straight and narrow when he was more interested in his… appetites… than in governing the Church about a thousand years ago.

But still, there are dreadful problems which our irresponsible shepherds are opening the American Church to. The lesson of the Reformation is that princes aren’t *always* men like Otto or St. Louis. The big winner of the Reformation was neither Catholic Faith nor Protestantism. It was the State. Now the bishops are asking a more or less Otto-like politico (Keating) to keep them on the straight and narrow. They either mean this or they don’t. If they don’t, then Keating is a paper tiger who can do do nothing and the bishops can ignore him. In which case, what is he doing and what are they doing with this lay review panel? On the other hand, If they do mean it, then what happens when the next powerful Lay Cop is somebody more like Ted Kennedy or Mario Cuomo?

Anti-Catholics once claimed of JFK that a Catholic in the White House would take direct orders from the Vatican. Now we have the bishops dancing around the idea of making themselves beholden to whatever some American politician decides is his definition of corruption. Yes, the priest scandals are obviously corrupt. But in 20 or 30 years, what if some theologically ignorant lay cop decides that a male-only priesthood is a violation of Title IX? Or the Seal of the Confessional is obstruction of justice? Or reservation of the Eucharist to Catholics is discrimination? Or use of a pulpit to speak to the political issue of abortion and euthanasia is a violation of RICO? Or teaching that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered is “hate speech”. And what if he has power to act on these convictions?

Caesar will, in the long run, make exactly the same cosmic claims for sole allegiance as Christ. This foolish, foolish show of abandonment of just governance by the bishops to some politician is a small step toward saying “We have no king but Caesar.” Give Caesar the One Ring now and he will do good–at first. That is how it always begins. But it will not end there.

The only real help here is for bishops to grasp the true nature of their office and live it out.

I should hasten to add that I think the reality is that Keating is a paper tiger and that the buck still stops with Rome (in extremity) and the local bishop (in ordinary times). In which case, the question is “What is Keating actually going to change?” Answer: nothing. It is the bishops who must change, and the way to do that is to carry their cross, not hire public relations firms.