Tom Hoopes from National Catholic Register writes:
Mark, sorry to dump this long e-mail on you but I’m worried about this whole Rod Dreher-is-disappointed-in-the-Pope WSJ thing and you seem the logical guy to make the opposite case. Why do I care about it? Because it will drive a wedge between souls and Christ. I’d make these three points to you:
1. The Church has never functioned in the way he wishes JPII would run it. Not in the times of the Cristological heresies, when the Church lived in another practical schism. Not before the Reformation. Not after Trent. Not at Vatican I, either, Lord knows (dissenting bishops stayed in place even as they renounced Papal infallibility). Lord knows it wasn’t that way in the 1950s. It’s incredibly naive to expect JPII to be able to do the impossible. The Pope isn’t the police chief, he’s the Vicar of Christ.
2. Play an imagine game: what would the Church be like if JPII had made heads roll from the beginning? There was no one who could have taken over the posts in the Churches. There were no lay movements, except in nascent form, no World Youth Day alums, no Steubenville grads, no St. Ignatius Institute people, no Christendom, no living, energetic, healthy orthodox community to “take over” in place of the bishops whose heads may have rolled. The American Church might very well have schismed (ithe thread holding some of them to Rome was thin indeed) and literally millions would have been denied the sacraments. What is it like after JPII’s approach? The only life in the Church is orthodoxy. The bad guys have lost. All that’s left is for them to start turning over their sectors of the Church, which will happen slowly, the way things always happen in the Church. He has done for us what he did for Poland: created “facts” that will be the only thing left as the other guys fall.
3. Repeat after me: The Church is here to save souls through the sacraments. It isn’t primarily a teaching body (though, yes, yes, yes, this is vital, it isn’t primary) any more than Christ was primarily a teacher (though that, too, is an important part of his ministry, I don’t deny it). Christ came to give his life to us — a giving that continues in the sacraments — not simply to deliver the sermon on the mount. The Church, in times of trouble, similarly has to be understood according to the basics, and decisions that are made regarding the Church have to be made according to the principle: How can I save the most souls? You don’t sacrifice the main thing, the availability of the sacraments, to “fix” the teaching with a blunt instrument. You do what JPII did: keep the Church together while purifying the teaching by promulgating encyclopedic encyclicals and the Catechism.
4. Arguments like Dreher’s are very much a product of precisely the circumstance he criticizes: There is a lack of solid Christian formation. It seems that people who came into the Church (I don’t know how Dreher did) through apologetics were totally unprepared for the current scandal. They believe because the Church is eminently believable; it makes sense intellectually. But when faced with sinful pastors, the intellect isn’t enough to hold the faith together. Apologetics alone produces a weak faith. Catholic faith has to be based on love for a person, Christ, and trust in him and the knowledge that he is at the heart of the Church, which is his body. That requires prayer. When you know him you aren’t as scandalized by some of the things that happen. You know that he is the Lord of the wheat and the tares (and this parable not only applies, it is in the Gospels in order to speak directly to today’s situation as much as any other), the Lord who chose Peter and Judas, the Lord who made sinful men and not angels the ministers of his sacraments, the Lord whose ways we can’t fathom. You believe with St. Catherine that his popes and bishops should be confronted privately, not publicly, you believe with St. Paul (and Christ in Revelations and JPII) that his erring churches need to be set straight through exhortation.