A reader writes:

Mark, with regard to the question about the wholesale canning of bishops, I think there is a common-sense way of proceeding.

First, part of the problem certainly seems to be consultation — the current system of promoting bishops is incestuous and perpetuates the problem. I would like to see a group of people quietly identified who could serve as consultants on episcopal promotions. People like Fr Joseph Fessio, Helen Hull Hitchcock, Fr Jerry Pokorsky, Dr Germain Grisez, Mother Assumpta Long, Sister Bernadette Counihan, Fr Kenneth Baker, Dr Scott Hahn, and others, people who have been around the block a few times and whose orthodox credentials are established. These folks know good priests.

Then, one important consideration has to be, Where does one start?? There’s no need to set up the straw man of picturing the defenestration of the whole USCCB. As we are all aware, we have a number of spectacularly compromised bishops currently occupying sees. Start with them. A nice sit-down; “Your Excellency, remember that instruction you sent out about how the conditions for Perpetual Exposition of the Eucharist do not exist anywhere in your diocese? And the $100,000.00 settlement for sexual harassment paid out to the guy who was your public info officer? Well…” And the next chat, “Your Excellency, you know all that nasty publicity about how you contributed to the problem in Boston as personnel director? And helped keep Shanley in circulation? And six months AFTER these scandals broke into the public forum you chose to appoint as pastor a guy who had molested a teenager and had a police record? And then pointed out that the teenager was eighteen, so the assignment was okay since the diocesan policy on sexual abuse of minors wasn’t violated?? Well…” “Hey, your Excellency, remember that AIDS info program that has eighth graders in your schools learning about anal sex and bestiality in Catholic school classrooms? And how unreceptive you were to the parental complaints…?” “You know, it’s garnered a great deal of attention that your Excellency came down very hard on a priest who blew the whistle on active homosexuality in the ranks after being assigned to work with three homosexual pastors…” “Hey, your Eminence, I understand your Archdiocese still has a float in the Gay Pride Parade! ” “Your Excellency, explain to me how it can be that a priest who grabbed at a man’s genitals in the course of praying for the healing of a back ache is still rector of your cathedral?” “Um, do you remember when your Excellency said that you hadn’t called the cops on a recidivist pedophile because you thought priests weren’t civilly or criminally liable for assaulting kids…?”

One could have a bunch of those chats, as you know. And say, “I really require your resignation of your See for the good of the Church.” Those chats, coupled with the rather large number of foreseeable retirements coming up soon –a record number, I think — would account for a large number of vacant sees. A start. Do you really think that, faced with a chat like that based on his record, most of those guys could resist? And for those that did, it is time to use the Authority.

Then what you’ve got is a set of orthodox new bishops installed in a good number of sees all over the country. Be sure that they all know each other, encourage them to support each other, see that you offer them all the support they need. They will then help you identify candidates for further sees when God in His wisdom summons their occupants Home for consultations — these new guys already know a bunch of fine priests, plus you’ll still have the services of your consultants. And they’ll be a breath of fresh air in the USCCB (until there are enough of them to shut it down for good!!).

I just don’t see why this is an insuperable challenge.

I forget who it was who pointed out that the Episcopate in our country is a “corrupt institution,” defined as an institution incapable of self-reform. As things stand now, we have a largely incestuous system of promotion from within which is perpetuating the problem. For details about how it works, consult Fr Thomas Reese’s book, “Archbishop.” Clearly, the decision has been made that everyone is going to sit tight, hold his breath and wait until the storm passes. Meanwhile, the appointments of bishops slouch on as before (by the way, remember that Cardinal Law is still on the Congregation for Bishops, the body that recommends episcopal appointments to the Pope!). I cannot see why anyone would suggest that it is a good thing that these assignments continue being made as before, that this system doesn’t need a few volts– it is astonishing that, quite apart from the sexual abuse scandal, there has never to my knowledge been so much as a hint — a HINT — from our hierarchy that we’re living in anything but a great age of Renewal.

What to do with the “canned bishops” afterwards? I have said this before: it is more important to be a Christian than a bishop. If one is ordained, there will always be a place in the Church to which one can repair and, by dint of patient, quiet, faithful work, rebuild the shattered pieces of one’s ministry and reputation. Not to realize this is evidence of breathtaking personal impoverishment. But most of them won’t step down in disgrace; they’ll simply step down.

And, Mark, as far as the danger of schism goes: there are millions of Catholics in this country fed spiritual poison on a regular basis through a variety of our institutions who think they’re getting “Catholicism.” As a Priest, I have had couples come to me for a blessing because they were about to go to a fertility clinic for procedures which are immoral and forbidden; I’ve counseled Catholic women who had just realized (from the media) that sterilization is forbidden (“But, Father, it was a Catholic hospital!”), dealt with several couples who’d been counseled by priests to abort a ‘defective fetus,’ had people come to me to see about regularizing their marriages whom I recognized from the communion line. In the diocese next to mine, whose seminary we share, there is a layman taking the seminary and diocese to court (a “consumer fraud” case) because he plopped down good money for a course in Catholic Theology and ended up, over his objections, being taught methods in Moral Theology which were EXPLICITLY rejected by John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor in 1992 — TEN YEARS AGO. Two weeks ago a bright high school kid in my parish was on the phone looking for research info on monasticism. In the course of it I mentioned that mediaeval monks lived in dormitories and he said, “Oh, yeah, the Brother told us, with the old monks and young ones mixed together because back then the Church had a hangup about homosexuality.” Yeah. Way back then. Needless to say, he is a Catholic school student.

If these steps were taken openly and honestly and a rupture were provoked, at least people could find out that something is terribly wrong and, if they wish, choose the new religion. But I think the danger of schism would be very much minimized if it were clear why this was being done. The danger I see in the avoidance of schism at all costs is that genuine Catholicism is being eroded by what is really institutionalism: we have secularized “catholic” colleges owned by a handful of incognito nuns, secularized “catholic” hospitals dispensing immoral and degrading contraceptive services, secularized “catholic” universities through which one can pass without once taking a course in Catholic Theology…

“Yeah, we had a Catholic Theology course,” the young man said to me. “Have you ever heard of Matthew Fox?” True quote.

Next question: how do we get these eminently practical ideas off the pages of a blog and into the hands of people who can do something about them? It’s one thing for the mice to say, “One of us should put a bell on the cat’s collar so we hear him coming.” It’s another thing to actually make the plan a reality. So: c’mon people. We’ve got some intelligent, articulate, motivated and even ecclesially connected readers here. Use this space to discuss how these ideas might actually be implemented in real life, not just talked about in cyber-space.


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