Rod asks a good question down below and I think I’d like to blog my response
…since I think I’m safe in saying that my take on what the Pope is up to compelling our hapless bench of bishop to stay is definitely a minority–and unpopular–opinion with many of my readers.
I do wonder, though, what would have to happen for you to change your mind, and to see the Pope’s strategy as a matter of a serious failure to govern the Church properly, period.
I s’pose I’d have to have a better grasp of ecclesiology to answer that with certainty. As it stands, certain common sense things come to mind of course. If JPII did what Law did, for instance, and deliberately a) endangered children while b) lying to parents about it and c) putting the squeeze on witnesses to shut up, I’d call that bad governance. Likewise, if he deliberately had let O’Connell stay on, endangering kids, that would have been a clear act of bad governance, I think.
What I see with JPII is a deliberate (though counter-intuitive, as he frequently is) attempt to live according to the Tradition, particularly the theology of the Cross and the Church’s teaching on the grace of ordination, born out of a deep conviction that *only* fidelity to the Tradition and not secular templates, whether “conservative” or “liberal” hold any hope for the authentic restoration of the Church. Given his track record in asserting the Tradition against eastern forms of secularism a decade and a half ago, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here, while recalling all the while that we are talking about prudential judgments and not doctrine. Maybe he’s making a bad call here. Humans make mistakes and this is a tough call. What I will *never* believe is that he is being deliberately irresponsible. It’s not in the man.
In reviewing the above, I realize that you spoke, not of hypothetical bad things the Pope *might* do, but of his “strategy” (i.e., what he is doing). I should have addressed that better.
I think only time can tell whether his current strategy will pay off. The reality has always been that the Pope is not, for a large number of reasons, in a position to fire a huge number of bishops. It would, as I have already pointed out, been an exercise of papal power that would make Hildebrand blush and this Pope is not a Hildebrand but a Pope of the Second Vatican Council and the author of Ut Unum Sint. The “stroke of a pen” to get rid of “legions of bad bishops” was never gonna happen and *could* never happen given John Paul’s view (a correct view, I think) of his relation to his brother bishops. Myriad problems arise from such a seemingly simple solution ranging from “Why assume the replacements will be better?” to “Kiss reconciliation with the Eastern Church goodbye” to “Who the hell does the Pope think he is writing Ut Unum Sint and then acting like the autocratic King of the Church?”
Further, of course, is the problem I’ve mentioned in the past: the fact that it’s not, in the Pope’s view, just a problem with the clergy, but a deep deep problem in American culture that needs to be addressed. We are one sick bunch of puppies, as an evening’s worth of television will establish beyond reasonable doubt. I remind you again of the lawyer for Shanley’s victims who said of Shanley, “If he weren’t a damned pervert, he’d be my hero.” That the tortured state of American Catholicism and a bishopectomy won’t fix that.
So if he can’t can large numbers of the “hapless bench of bishops” and “fix it” what can he do? Well, it seems to me that he’s stuck doing what it appears to me he’s trying to do: steer the American (and, really, the English-speaking Church) toward the way of the cross and a corporate struggle for renewal. I think, by the way, that in doing this he’s agreeing to do his own cross-embracing in the form of the inevitable blame and hostility he’ll get for “not acting” etc. etc. Some of the “Destroy them all!” Brigade reserve their special hatred for him. That too, is part of the cross. But as I consider the matter, I am compelled to agree that it appears the only way out is through the cross, not around it. So through we must go.
How it will all work out I don’t know. I don’t even know *that* it will work out. Failure is part of life and maybe JPII will fail here. He’s not guaranteed success and neither are we. What failure would look like would be, I suppose, something like Grahmanns and McCormacks becoming more numerous, more whiny, more arrogant, and more clueless rather than the opposite. The main test of *complete* failure would be a repeat performance, not of clerical abuse (that will happen till the end of time because priests are sinners) but of yet another complex of coverups, intimidation and the failure of episcopal oversight that was the real heart of the crisis. And that’s something that we can’t evaluate for several years at the minimum.
But whether he fails or not (and the results will not be known in his lifetime), I think he’s trying extremely hard to do right by the Tradition (which means he is also trying very hard to do right by victims, betrayed sheep, the mercy and justice of God for wicked shepherds, and most of all, by Our Lord). I think one of the most tragic things about this time in our history is that to say that is to invite catcalls of “papalotry” from some of my readers, as though the presumption of good will in the absence of any evidence to the contrary is a sin or an act of lickspittle obsequiousness. For these, it doesn’t matter that I have expressed real disagreement with the Holy Father on certain prudential judgments. It doesn’t even matter that, if it were up to me, there are certain bishops who’d be outta there long ago. No, for those who loathe him, I must condemn JPII as personally wicked and morally corrupt or I’m a “papalotor” who never ever ever admits the Pope is wrong about anything ever.
Nonetheless, though I disagree with him on several prudential judgments, I will not accuse the Pope of being a wicked man because I believe from the bottom of my heart that he is a very good and very great man. I know you agree with this assessment of his character, Rod, because you’ve said it yourself. I hope some of my more rabid readers will rethink their loathing of JPII and thank God for the gift of his pontificate. He’s in a tough spot, trying to deal with the catastrophe the American Church dealt him. I don’t know if his approach will work, but I have no doubt whatever that he is trying to do what God wills.