I want to follow up on my two most controversial posts from yesterday. First re Fr. Tom Doyle:

Doyle doesn’t sound to me like he’s simply repeating what the victims say. Nor does he sound to me like he’s talking about a process of healing in which victims learn to distinguish between the men and bureaucratic machinery that abused them and the Christ who loves them. He sounds like he’s saying maturity means outgrowing the need for sacraments:

But as they grow, as their own spirituality starts to mature, they realize that spiritual strength is something we have with each other. It’s among us. I don’t need to go into a church building, I don’t need to have a priest or bishop tell me I’m okay, I don’t need to ask one of them to pray for me. I’ll take care of it myself. There’s really a maturing; it’s a return, I think, in many ways to what primitive early Christianity was all about.

I’m all for laity ministering to one another out of their charisms. I’m all for laity maturing and taking their place in the body of Christ as free adults capable of making choices based on freedom and love, not on servile fear or clerical manipulation. (I can tell you my own story of outgrowing a dominating and manipulative clerical situation as a Protestant.) But it is simply false to say that we don’t need priests or bishops praying for us. We do. It’s called “celebrating Mass” and it’s kind of important given that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.

The fact that our bishops have been corrupt fools does not baptize Fr. Doyle’s every remark as wisdom that must be received by a deaf Church and defended by partisans grateful to him (a lesson I’m constantly being given by people who persist in thinking I don’t believe the Pope has ever been wrong about anything, no matter how many times I say, “I think he’s wrong to leave certain bishops in place.”) The ever-present danger when rightful authority has been abused is that we will simply react and declare things like, “If I have to choose between Law and Doyle, I choose Doyle!” This “I am of Doyle! I am of Law!” approach is a false dichotomy. This is not about taking the sides of personalities. It’s about not rejecting a gift of Christ. Holy Orders, like the other sacraments, is a gift of Christ. If Doyle is saying what he appears to me to be saying , then he’s wrong.

Surely, if we can say that the Pope, for all his greatness, has blown it in his handling of the Situation, we can acknowledge that a good man like Tom Doyle might also have blundered saying that mature Christians don’t need the prayers of priests?

I’m happy to have my mind changed. I can’t read his mind. I can only read his words. If I’ve misread him I’m happy to retract. But given the stuff I read every day from many people who have been driven to distraction by our lousy bishops, all I can say is that it sounds to me as though he is saying exactly this. If he didn’t mean to say that the sacrament of Holy Orders is unimportant then, at the very least, he articulated it very badly. If he was, for instance, really trying to say, “We are bound by the sacraments, but God is not”, he did a remarkably bad job of saying it. So help me, what Fr. Tom sounds like he’s saying is “We are not bound by the sacraments.”

I’m not trying to deny the pain of victims, nor am I advocating some inhuman and utterly unrealistic notion that victims who shudder at the thought of setting foot in a Catholic Church are cut off from grace. I’m the guy who got in trouble last year for constantly arguing that “we know where the Church is, but we do not know where it is not”. I have a high degree of confidence that God’s sacramental grace spills out of the ordinary channels in much greater volume than we are generally willing to admit. I have to think this since he did it with me in my totally non-sacramental church for years before I was Catholic. I’m even the guy who thinks that there’s a lot to von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope” thesis. Nor do I wish to minimize the suffering Fr. Doyle has endured in his frustration at our wretched shepherds. I’m simply saying that no amount of suffering transforms a false statement into a true one and no amount of greatness in a man, whether he be JPII or Tom Doyle, baptizes his every word and deed as beyond question. If all he really means is “We are bound by the sacraments but God is not” I have no problem with that. But if, as it appear to me, he’s saying “We are not bound by the sacraments” then we must not let our passionate appreciation of the great good Fr. Doyle does blind us into saying things like “If I have to choose between Doyle and Law, I choose Doyle!” You don’t have to choose either of them. They aren’t anybody’s savior. Neither is JPII. But the sacraments are the gifts of the One who is. Don’t let the passion of the moment corral you into defending the anybody, no matter how great, who mistakenly advocates the notion that they don’t matter. In turn, I will be quite happy to acknowledge that Fr. Doyle doesn’t believe what I have understood him to mean, if such evidence is made available.


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