Lay vs. Clergy Perceptions of the Scandal

I’ve been arguing for several days that one of the things Catholics are going to have to face is that we pretty much have the bishops that we’ve been content to settle for. I’m not saying that to excuse the bishops who have lied to and betrayed their flocks. Nor am I saying it to somehow suggest that victims of this betrayal (particularly kids and the families who trust their bishops to *do* something), had it coming. Rather, I’m pointing out what seems to me to be the obvious fact that bishops are not grown in hydroponics tanks, but are the products of their culture and reflect, in a peculiar way, what the culture values most. We American prize very highly religious figures who will not “impose their values on us”, will not interfere with our sex lives, and will reassure us that everything is just fine. What a shock! That just what our bishops have turned out to be: men who made reassuring noises to wounded families and then sent them away with the impression that some action would be taken. Then they turned to the abusive priests and made similar reassuring noises. Everyone went away *feeling* good. And the bishop went away feeling good too, because everybody liked him. Taking actual action was more difficult, so he just put that part off, since religion in America is supposed to be about feeling fine. And when the doo doo hit the fan last year, the bishops just kept up the pattern: they lied in court and pretended they’d never heard of the troubles they’d promised to do something about. In other words, they reliably took the path of least resistance. Where they wicked for doing so? Sure. Were they basically being the sort of men we’ve demanded bishops be for about 40 years? Sure. And is there much of a serious demand from the laity that they be terribly different men.

Nope. Not really. We’re more or less content. Not happy, mind you. But content enough that we don’t really intend to do much beside bitch in some comments boxes (a minority of us that is). Mostly we aren’t thinking about it all that much.

Now the interesting thing about this observation is that the people who are most critical of it are the ordained folk that read my blog. Many laypeople both here and elsewhere tend to agree with me. I suspect that is because laypeople like me feel more free to say the truth: that many lay Catholics live their faith at room temperature. Ordained folk are in an awkward position. They can’t point to this fact too strenuously because somebody will say they are trying to shift the blame away from the ordained office which is, after all, inhabited by a lot of corrupt idiots. Far be it from me to take from them that honor. You priestly readers of my blog are more than welcome to assign the immediate blame for the Situation to the people who perpetrated it: the corrupt and cowardly bishops who shielded evil men from the consequences of their actions and endangered the lives and souls of Christ’s most precious children. All I’m saying, as a layman, is don’t deny me the chance to point out that us laypeople too have wielded our little tridents in this tragedy and have lionized men like Paul Shanley and other authors of our morally deranged American Catholic culture. As a layman, I feel no shyness at all about pointing that out.

I cannot, as has been repeatedly noted, do a lot to change the workings of the Church’s bureaucratic machinery. But I can do something to call laypeople (including me, who desperately needs it) to holiness. Please don’t clericalize the Situation to the degree that laypeople have no hand, by their prayers, penance and good works, to effect the reform that the Holy Spirit intends. We’ve got a role to play too.


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