The Toxic Phase

When somebody has hurt you, there is a tipping point where you pass (if you aren’t careful) from being cautious about trusting them (which is entirely sensible) to assuming the blackest and worst about them. Indeed, to *enjoy* thinking the worst about them. To take whatever they do and say, no matter how insubstantial the evidence of ill will, and turn it into yet another piece of evidence in the eternal court of law which your soul has become, dedicated to the everlasting collection of proofs that the one you hate is a miserable son of a bitch who is constitutionally incapable of redemption and whose every act, however apparently good-willed, is at best just a facade on the black and evil monster that they *really* are.

Some people I am running into in cyberspace are starting to reach that phase with our bishops. I mentioned below that Loverde actually ordered the priest in his diocese who was having an affair to cut off contact with the woman. He was, of course, ignored by the priest, who subsequently left the priesthood and married the woman. A reader announces his verdict that this is: “yet another example of a bishop protecting a sinful/weak priest (telling the priest to cut off contact sounds like the same policy followed with child molesters).”

My response: What else do you propose the bishop should have done with the priest who was having an affair? Sexual abuse against children is a crime, and you can call the cops. An extramarital affair is not a crime, just a grave sin. Do you suggest he should have handcuffed the priest to the radiator? What, besides giving him a direct order–which he did–was the bishop supposed to do?

We are now entering the “toxic phase” of lay distrust for bishops. It’s the phase where people pass from being sensibly cautious about trusting bishops who have shown themselves untrustworthy to being reflexively bent on assuming the worst about every action and every word at all times and only grudgingly, if at all, relinquishing their steely grip on the will to condemn them on the slightest provocation. Just the other day I was being told by commenters on another blog that the “real” reason the American bishops oppose war with Iraq (and when was the last time you heard of bishops anywhere enthusiastically urging war?) was because they were sucking up to our “pacifist Pope” in the hope of getting back in his good graces. The evidence for this ridiculous scenario? Hey! Who needs evidence? No bishop could possibly have any good reason for anything they say or do! So simply assume the basest motive for any word or deed and assert it as fact. You’ll always find a chorus of people to nod agreement to your stupid charge. It’s bishops we’re talking about after all, not human beings. It’s not like they are capable of any goodness at all, ever, under any circumstance. So just attribute the basest motives at all times. It’s easy! The Pope proposes new mysteries for the Rosary? It can’t, of course, be because he believes prayer is necessary in this time of world danger. No, it’s because (as a commenter remarked elsewhere in the blogosphere) he is egomaniacially trying to put his fingerprints on the Rosary, like Bill Clinton obsessed with his “legacy”. Right. John Paul II: Egomaniac. Sure.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, another alleged “Catholic” voice of “reform” is now writing “Vaticanus delenda est!” (The Vatican must be destroyed!). Right. The Petrine office is not a gift to the Church instituted by Christ (Matthew 16:18). It is purely evil and must be destroyed. Hey! We’re only talking about an incontrovertible fact of revelation for Catholics, which we are no more at liberty to destroy than the doctrine of the Trinity. What does a triviality like that matter compared to my indulgence of hatred?

Our bishops have proven themselves abundantly capable of venality and corruptibility. This does not, however, justify asserting as *fact* that the only motive they have in every thought, word, and deed is “shelving the common good for the sake of episcopal image”. Like it or not, one’s rage does not give one carte blanche to ignore the Christian duty of charity. We are to be wise as serpents and not assume that unreliable bishops are automatically to be trusted. But we are also to be innocent as doves and not assume the worst about another person when we don’t know what their motives really are.

To say “Vaticanus delenda est” is to abandon Catholic theology, however much you may claim to be Catholic. But it is just as serious, indeed more serious, to assume the Pope promulgated the Luminous Mysteries out of a vain Clintonesque obsession with his Legacy that cares only about his ego. It is an act of wicked sin to pass from legitimate disagreement with the bishops about their opinion on war, to asserting as fact that the “real” reason a bishop opposes war is to “shelve the common good for the sake of episcopal image”. For these acts are fundamentally contemptuous of the divine demand for charity (and they make a fool of you to boot).

Theological blunders like calling for the abolition of the Petrine office can be due to profound ignorance. Not all Catholics know it is simply not something that can be abolished. They might, in their ignorance, conceivably think of it as a bit of bureaucracy that has outlived its usefulness and, in their zeal for the care of victims want to sweep it aside in the misguided notion that doing so will somehow reform the Church. It’s a much more excusable error. But direct sins against charity–sins which seek to call white grey and grey black until all is black–are far more serious and involve a more direct application of the will to the hatred of other human beings. Such sins ought to make us tremble, for they will surely be remembered on That Day if we do not renounce them. In short, the Righteous should consider the mote in their own eyes. Bitterness and the will to condemn can damn a soul just as effectively as unrepentant episcopal malfeasance.