Scroll down to “Bad Shepherds”. This touches on my (still being formulated) philosophy about what we lay Americans should do about bad bishops.
Yes. We laity. No we can’t fire them. But there are things we can do, if we are willing to do them.
Somebody complained the other day that if the Pope is not going to remove bishops short of direct personal involvement in sexual sin themselves, and is (obviously) choosing to leave them there when they are grotesquely incompetent boobs like McCormack or Daily (whose testimony is some of the most cringe-making and maddening stuff you could ever read), then this appears to mean that laity are bound to do things like protest, withhold funds, and generally make life hell for a bad bishop until he gets a frickin’ clue. This, according to some correspondents, is very inconveniencing and the Pope should simply remove the inconvenience by firing the worst bishops.
This is, I think, part of the problem. Since I think a culture more or less gets the bishops it deserves–particularly a democratic culture like ours. We have bishops for the Age of Clinton because, at the end of the day, most of us care only enough to bitch, not to demand holiness and do something about it, both in our lives and the life of the Church.
I note several things. First, as I’ve said, the devil’s in the details. Not long ago, here in cyberspace, I was hearing rhetoric about the “hosts” and “legions” and “supermajority” of bad bishops. Not a few of my correspondents still seem to talk as though it was a given that at least 2/3 and possibly the entire American episcopacy are party, in one way or another, to deep deep corruption. Even the ones who were not utter idiots like Daily were still silent when they very likely were aware of what idiots like Daily were doing–or not doing, as the case may be. And so my question remains: how exactly does it work? If we fire the Names in the News, why not fire the rest? Why stop with the US since these problems are all over the world. Recognizing the implications of this, many of my correspondents have backed off demands for firing “bad” bishops to firing “extremely bad” bishops. And by this they mean extremely and probably criminally incompetent ones like Daily or McCormack or Law, not just deeply incompetent ones. I think a case can be made for this, and, as I’ve said, there are bishops I’d love to see go.
But, from a purely practical perspective, I have no say in that. I can’t do a thing about it other than pray. But there are things I can do (like direct my tithes elsewhere than a corrupt diocese (though Seattle seems to be doing okay). I can also protest (noisily) which I do on my blog.
I can also (just as important) avoid and counter counsels of despair, which I see a great deal more of than I like. Just yesterday I was watching people on another blog saying the Church (not the American Church but the Church) doesn’t have a hundred years left. Others were speaking of the Church being “doomed”. This is simply false and is as much a lie as anything the worst bishop has said. It needs to stop. The Church will be here till the Last Day. We have the word of Christ on that. Get a grip.
So where am I in my cogitation? Unfinished. The most problematic part of what Fr. Neuhaus note, for me, is this: Speaking of bishop, he says, “We believe they were made such by the Holy Spirit, and we cannot unmake them unless they have demonstrated beyond moral doubt that they have repudiated what the Spirit did or have otherwise created grave public scandal.” If Bp. Daily’s et al gross incompetence is not creating grave moral scandal, what is? On the other hand, I do take seriously the danger of Rome’s adopting a broader policy for amputating bad bishops and think many of my fellow Catholics are underestimating it. I also take more seriously than most of my correspondents (judging from what I’ve read) the reality that, as Fr. Neuhaus says, “reliance on the grace of office, which is, after all, solemnly taught as a gift of the Spirit.” I think the Pope take that grace extremely seriously and is counting on it to work in the lives of the American episcopacy in a way most of us are not. In short, I think he really is praying for a miracle, not as an outside hope, but as a result of faith in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Our Faith, after all, enourages us to take the reality and even (if I may be so bold) the *likelihood* of such miracles seriously, just as it binds us to think that a miracle occurs on the altar, not “now and then” but every single time the Eucharist is consecrated. So I’m still waffling here. Meantime, I reiterate that my point that my purpose is not to say, “The Pope’s gamble is absolutely right” but rather to insist that claims that the Pope is acting out of contempt for the laity are, in my view, wrong.
Meantime, I don’t see any reason to go easy on persistently moronic or irresponsible local bishops. It seems to me a good case can be made that laity will have to act as truly loyal opposition to bishops who continue to stonewall, make excuses, act like idiots and try to evade responsibility. It’s why I blasted Cardinal Keeler’s act of human sacrifice against accused priests. It’s why I post the grotesque deposition of Bp. Daily for public scorn. It’s why I think laypeople *should* make life hell for men like Joseph “They aren’t my children” Imesch and the many other pathetic excuses for shepherds we have to endure. I don’t believe the Church should be turned into a giant political action lobby. But I do believe there is such a thing as the sensus fidelium (and punishment for sin) and that laity have a right to the truth and to the Faith. When, as Mills point out, the bishops are persistently too timid to deliver the Faith, they should get an earful.
But while we give them an earful, we should also check the mirror. One thing we laypeople will have to face sooner or later is that our bishops reflect something of us back to us. We have been content with their torpor and timidity because we don’t really want the gospel in full strength. Catholics voted in huge numbers for William Jefferson Clinton. Catholics support, in huge numbers, abortion. Catholics are content, in huge numbers, to know nothing of their Faith, or to replace it with whatever gimcrack nonsense they can pick up from any and every quack. Many Catholics are enthusiastic supporters of precisely the agendas which our timid bishops timidly oppose. It’s all well and good to get all righteous with our bishops. But until (for instance) Catholics in the Boston area face the fact that a creature like Paul Shanley was lionized for years as the Brave Street Priest Who Told the Church Off, that righteousness rings hollow. A few months ago, one of the lawyers for the victims of Shanley said it all: “If he weren’t a damned pervert, he’d be my hero.” The stupidity of bishops who let him prey is a reflection of the stupidity of the culture that we laypeople have created. I can do a small amount to change my bishop. I can do a hell of a lot more to change myself and the culture I help create. As a layperson, that’s where I think I should focus.