Rod Dreher Argues with me

About the pope sacking bishops.

I’ve said this before but it tends to get lost in the shuffle: it’s not a question of what the Pope “can” or “should” do.  It’s a question of what he will do. I personally would like to see the Pope kick more butts (*cough* Mahony *cough*). But I think this unlikely due to Ut Unum Sint. There was a brief flicker of hope I was wrong due to a tale that ran in the Daily Mail. But that appears to be misreporting.

With respect to my comments on Rod’s confusing ecclesiology,  it is a question of how he squares his own communion’s theology with his ultramontane wishes for a name-taking, ass-kicking pope who treats his brother bishops as middle management flunkies.  My basic puzzle is that while an ultramontane Catholic is consistent, an ultramontane Orthodox is pretty much a contradiction in terms, so I don’t understand how Rod reconciles that in his mind.

We’ll see if this pope is different, but what with his devotion to the Ukrainian rite and his fondness for the East, my bet is that he will continue JPII’s eastern conception of the papacy and not run around kicking asses and taking names.  However that may be regarded by us Latins who would like to see him get his Innocent III on, for any Orthodox who takes Orthodox ecclesiology seriously, the Pope’s refusal to do this is a feature, not a bug.

Finally, Rod complains that I am engaging in ad hominem and insinuating he is a picking on the Catholic Church as a “pissed-off schismatic”.  I meant no such insinuation.  Indeed, I specifically dismissed the “you are a pissed off schismatic” charge by pointing out that Catholic scandals are bigger news because the Church is bigger while most Americans are unaware of the existence of the Orthodox, so it’s perfectly understandable that an American reporter would aim the camera there.  My point is not “You are a pissed off schismatic” but “Given your communion’s ecclesiology, I don’t understand why you cling to an ultramontane theology of the papacy that would horrify any Orthodox theologian worth his salt.”

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  • Sofia Guerra

    Whew! Tell us how you REALLY feel, Mark. I met & spoke with Rod Dreher for an evening (and gave him a ride home when I was living in DC) when he had just started out at the Washington Times. It was an intellectually stimulating and truly “Latin” Catholic conversation. I was saddened by him leaving the Roman Church for the Orthodox and have prayed for him ever since. I have noticed a big change in his demeanor from that evening many years ago.. Sad, but true.
    BTW, Mark, there are times when I don’t agree with you but this is one time I do>>>”However that may be regarded by us Latins who would like to see him get his Innocent III on, ” but then I am probably one of those “socially, maladjusted Traddies”. :) and :( Still love you brother in Christ Jesus! Keep up the good work!

    • Mark Shea

      Whew! Tell us how you REALLY feel, Mark.

      ? I’m puzzled. Do you think I was being harsh? I thought I was just having a conversation.

      • Sofia Guerra

        Oh no!!!! I thought you were great! Im sorry I guess Im not Jane Austen and I cant write well enough to get that across, I guess..I thought it was refreshing that you were clear, consise and really said what you meant. In these days when everybody worries about their “brand” , its so different to hear what someone really feels and thinks.
        I must admit reading in a post long ago your term “socially maladjusted traddies” and feeling sad. But, I must agree with you to a point there. I’m a Catholic first and a Latin Mass devotee second. Im not nutsy, weird or lack charity (my words ) as some and I say some traddies are defibitely that way. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see young, or more mature “normal” acting people come to the Traditional Mass. My former parish is Mater Ecclesiae in NJ & we have a great priest and congregation…If you are ever on the East Coast near Philly please go visit Fr Pasley there and stay for Mass…It is truly a 21st century parish which happens to have the Traditional Liturgy. I know you will pleasantly surprised. (Lots of little kids and young couples and singles) Anyway, you were not harsh at all…Just really brings a smile to my face to see someone be honest instead of worrying about being an “A” list blogger. Thank you for taking the time to read my comment and reply.
        Ad Iesum per Mariam, Sofia

        • Mark Shea

          Thanks Sofia! It sounds like a great parish! And you sound like a great disciple!

          Re: “A list bloggers”. That’s like being the best opera singer in Tulsa. :)

          • MaryMargaret

            Samuel Ramey was (maybe still is) one the all time great bass-baritone opera singers. He is from Colby, Ks. :)

            • dianeski

              Oh my gosh, he is such a gorgeous hunk, too!!!! Saw him with Marilyn Horne when the Met came to Boston once. I am drawing a blank on the opera…I think it was by Handel.

  • B.E. Ward

    Along these lines (kinda, sorta), this is making the rounds among the Orthodox in this country:

    Let this not be deemed a Ritually Impure Source. Fr. Damick is a stand-up guy.. and I think this thread and his could actually bring about some fruitful and interesting conversations.

  • EdL

    Yeah, I really didn’t understand how Rod saw an “ad hominem” attack in your remark. I thought you were respectful. Luckily nothing hangs in the balance, whether or not we have a debate about ecclesiology or whether someone “wins” such a debate, since it won’t impact what Pope Francis does. Luckily also that this needn’t diminish the respect and affection that you and Rod have for one another.

  • Kenneth

    I don’t think Rod’s point was as esoteric an issue as reconciling Orthodox and Catholic conceptions of papal authority. The point is that A) A pope clearly can sack a bishop and they have done so and B) If a bishop’s grievous failure of pastoral leadership leading to commission of THE most heinous violation proscribed by Jesus is not grounds for sacking, what is?

    The pope is at a fork in the road on the abuse issue. He has essentially, two choices that can be framed as a question. “Am I willing to exercise authority to do the right thing EVEN if it goes against the grain of look-the-other way collegiality among my own caste?” AND “Do I want my Church to have a more credible moral voice than Scientology?”

    That’s the nut of the issue, whether you’re “ultramontane”, semi-montane, or like me, don’t care enough to even Wikipedia the term. There’s no going back and no third prong in the road’s fork. If he doesn’t demonstrate the will to sack bishops in at least the most egregious cases and sticks with the “mistakes were made” culture, he might as well warm up Tom Cruise as the Vatican’s new ambassador and approach David Miscavige about a merger.

    • Mitch

      No, false. The pope simply ousting bishops is hugely problematic. Local bishops conferences should have the power to oust bishops, but I don’t think they do now. That needs to be fixed immediately. But the pope should not dictatorially remove bishops. The ultramontanists were at the height of their power in Vatican 1. They caused a schism. Ever since the church has been moving away from ultramontanism towards a more collegial church. Should bishops who harbor abusers, turn a blind eye, etc. be removed? Yes! But not by the pope! The USCCB should convene a tribunal any bishop currently in office accused of covering up sexual abuse and if they are found guilty of doing so remove them from their diocese and order them to a monastery for penitence until any possible civil trials. The pope should not act in a dictatorial way, he should however grant authority to try bishops on a local level. (all cases would obviously be appealable to the pope, but he is not the first court to hear such cases) And these trials ought to be transparent. All findings published at the end of the trial, etc.

      • dianeski

        Thank you. Exactly.

    • Mark Shea

      If a bishop’s grievous failure of pastoral leadership leading to commission of THE most heinous violation proscribed by Jesus is not grounds for sacking, what is?

      You know, if the Church were not founded on a man who betrayed the Son of God in his darkest hour and was then restored, not sacked, you’d have a devastating point.

      Look, if you don’t really even understand the inner dynamics of the Church’s theology, you should at least refrain from talking down to Catholics. Of *course* the obvious thing is to just kick ass and take names. It’s the American way–as in Iraq. And yet two Pope, obviously holy and good men and one of whom spoke with revulsion of the “filth” in the Church, have not done the obvious thing. The simple and wrong explanation is that these decent men are really evil. I think the key to their thinking–right or wrong–is in their conception of their office. To get at that you need to consult not canon law, but Ut Unum Sint.

      Like I say, I’d like the Pope to kick butt. I also would have desired JEsus to call down a legion of angel to defend him in Gethsamane. What I want, plus five bucks, will get you a cup of coffee.

      • Kenneth

        There’s a few critical distinctions with Judas. One, his betrayal didn’t harm kids and didn’t destroy the credibility of the mission. If he had at that germinal stage of things, Catholicism would be about as prominent today as a Thracian war god cult. Two, Judas apparently was sorry. REALLY sorry for what he had done and while Jesus may have “restored” him, He sure as hell didn’t retain him in the executive suite, nor turned him loose to be His head rep in a regional office.

        Surely a pope could come up with some approximation of leadership and assertive justice that falls between total inaction and Iraq-style aggression? I think he could probably get his point across with a sacking rather than a drone strike on a fellow bishop (though that would end the ambiguity).

        I don’t think it necessarily follow that the pope’s inaction makes them “evil”. It does at a minimum suggest a profound lack of vision and courage combined with a failure to grasp the gravity of the situation. On the eve of St. Patrick’s day, let’s frame this in Irish terms. The most recent two popes effectively “de-evangelized” Ireland in the span of a decade and a half, unraveling the work of a millenium and a half. he way today’s bishops have done.

        • rmichaelj

          Mark was talking about Saint Peter, not Judas.

        • Mark Shea

          Not Judas. Peter. And his betrayal was of one far more innocent than a newborn baby.

  • R. Howell

    The king of Saudi Arabia has absolute power in his country. I think he should use that power to immediately issue decrees giving women equal rights to men and giving all equal rights to Muslims.

    However, I also oppose absolute monarchies. I think Saudi Arabia would be better off as a representative democracy rather than a monarchy.

    Am I a hypocrite?

    • Mark Shea

      When did you stop beating your wife?

    • Kenneth

      Whatever Saudi Arabia or the Church “should” be is secondary to the issue at hand. The issue relates to what “is” and neither outfit is a democracy. They are each in their own ways monarchies or something on that end of the spectrum. They have centralized power, so that being the case, they ought to use that power wisely and toward justice.

  • Michelle

    Kenneth, the point was that Peter betrayed Christ by denying Him, not just once but three times and yet he was the first pope. I don’t think Mark was referring to Judas.

  • Subsistent

    What happened to the report of a public speech the other day in Spain by a present or former papal nuncio to the effect that Benedict XVI had in fact caused bishops to leave their posts — by requesting their resignations, and if they did not comply, by removing the bishops? And this at an average rate of a couple of dozen bishops a year, during his papacy?

    • Subsistent

      For an easy reference to that EWTN report, type “Madrid” in the “search” box at Deacon Greg Kandra’s Patheos blog The deacon’s Bench. This will take you to his Feb. 26 post titled “Nuncio: Benedict has ‘carried out a cleansing of the episcopate’”.

  • Pauli67

    I think this is why a lot of writers don’t cross Dreher. He’s overly defensive even if you approach him in a friendly way. Once a well-known Catholic writer sent me an email stating that he agreed with me about Dreher’s ideas, but not to tell anyone he said that. I was sort of taken aback by the paranoia he exhibited; a number of people, for some reason, are afraid to offend him.

    • Mark Shea


      • dianeski

        No, Mark; it’s true. I know of the case Paul cites. (And Paul is a truthful guy.)

  • Wryman

    Somewhat off-topic, but positive news to reflect on:
    Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople has announced that he plans to attend the inaugural Mass of Pope Frances on March 19.
    The appearance by the Ecumenical Patriarch–the “first among equals” of all the world’s Orthodox leaders–is an unprecedented gesture. The Patriarch of Constantinople has not attended a papal installation since 1054, when Constantinople split from Rome.

    • dianeski

      Wonderful news indeed!