The Bishops Have Lost Their Moral Authority!!!!

The Bishops Have Lost Their Moral Authority!!!! July 5, 2012

I am perpetually amazed when Americans, with the historical perspective of fruit flies, announce that since the sex scandals, the bishops have lost their “moral authority” and therefore the Church no longer has any right whatsoever to talk about (insert pelvic/just war/gay “marriage”/random social justice issue here).

Excuse me, but the bishops lost their moral authority when the apostles fled Gethsemane like the pack of cowards they were, Mark ran off into the night buck naked, and Peter denied Jesus Christ three times. The authority of the Church comes, not from the dazzling sanctity of her bishops, but from Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit preserving the integrity of Christ’s teaching despite our best efforts to screw everything up. The teachings of the Church are not the personal property of the bishops. They no more depend on the “moral authority” of bishops than the multiplication table depends on the “moral authority” of a math teacher. Until the critic of the abundant moral failings of Catholics from Pope to dog catcher grasps that, he can’t hope to understand why his “Bishops are moral failures, therefore the teaching of the Church is worthless” arguments make so little impact on any educated Catholic. The Church’s teaching does not come from the Pope or the bishops. It comes from Jesus and the apostles. The bishops are the often reluctant and frequently inept transmitters of that tradition, not the originators. The integrity of the teaching is guaranteed, not by the fact that the Pope and the bishops are awesome saints (sometimes they are, usually they are not), but by the Holy Spirit.

"You said: “Perhaps the references to “Gehenna” in the Gospels refer to annihilation...”I responded that ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."
"What makes it "denigrating" or a "non-response"? Jesus didn't write the gospels. There is an ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."
""Disingenuous? No. Sarcastic, yes."No, disingenuous. In a discussion about what the Catholic Church actually believes ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."
"Disingenuous? No. Sarcastic, yes.I don't want to get into a discussion about the reliability of ..."

Where Peter Is has a nice ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ted Seeber

    Exactly. I should have thought of that response, and will use it in the future. Moral Authority? WHAT Moral Authority? Apostolic Authority isn’t equivalent to Moral Authority, and isn’t tied to the person but rather to the office.

    • Pete

      Theologically, this kind of holds in terms of Catholic teaching. Logically it will be seen as a cop out. “The bishops haven’t lost their moral authority because their moral authority isn’t derived from experience or inherent wisdom, but rather from a deity in which you may or may not believe.”

      Sorry, that’s not going to fly with a lot of people.

      • Mark Shea

        Um, if you don’t believe in the deity, why would you possibly care what the bishops say about anything at all? I mean, since you are into logic n’ stuff.

        • Qualis Rex

          Exactly. If you don’t believe in a Deity, morality itself is fluid and subjective. So, the point is moot.

      • Ted Seeber

        That’s not what I said. I said that they had NO moral authority, only Apostolic Authority over faith and morals, which is entirely different. And that authority comes from the office, not the man. USUALLY we choose humble leaders who are changed by the office. In a few cases, we’ve chosen leaders who are arrogant enough to assume that it’s their way or the highway- but their arrogance is NOT in keeping with the amount of authority they’ve been given.

  • I don’t have a problem with their moral authority. I have a problem with their supposed prerogative to delegate blame.

    When my Aunt Minnie has been teaching catechism for thirty years, and is told she has to have her background checked and be fingerprinted, like she was with the CIA or in prison, just to be able to continue, I have a problem with that. When my bishop tells me, “Well, you really don’t have the right to be a parish volunteer with children,” and one or more of them is MINE, well, hell yeah, I have a problem with that. It seems to me that they are determined to blame everybody but themselves for the scandals, when in fact a good percentage of them would be doing hard time for aiding and abetting felons or obstruction of justice, were they in any other line of work.

    That’s the moment when they don’t so much lose their moral authority, so much as the ability to command respect. No, I don’t respect people like that, I don’t care what their title is.

    • Cinlef

      Either I’ve not understood you at all or your literally the only person ever whose problem with the bishops is that as a result of the sex abuse scandal they’ve instituted strict rules to protect children from sexual abuse

      • Seriously? You don’t think it’s a problem for a church to treat everyone in it as if they were uncaught child molesters? I do. I think it stinks, it costs millions of dollars, and it isn’t particularly effective — if you’ve never been caught molesting children, you won’t be flagged. On the other hand, I think it’s the lawyers (not the bishops) insisting on it. A national club I belong to (not religious in any sense) recently faced a multi-million dollar suit because of one of its members being caught abusing children and children’s activities. Now they all have to do the same thing the Church does: fingerprinting, training, two adults present at all times, etc. It’s insulting and largely useless, but although it makes me angry I don’t see what the bishops’ moral authority has to do with it.

        • Rosemarie


          I think that’s why my Mom, God rest her soul, gave up teaching Sunday School circa 2003 after nearly thirty years teaching it in that parish. She objected to the new background checks and such, after her nearly three decades of dedication and not a single allegation or hint of hearsay that whole time.

        • Chris M

          Those rules and procedures are actually put in place for insurance purposes. Go ahead and apply for Abuse & Molestation coverage with a major carrier and see how far you get without instituting those sorts of safety protocols. Unfair and paranoid? Perhaps. Necessary to continue operating the Church (or any religious institution or school which would carry A&M coverage) without subjecting it to limitless lawsuits? Yes.

          • Adolfo

            Lawyers ruin EVERYTHING.

          • Rosemarie


            Yeah, I’m sure they’re necessary. That doesn’t change the fact that she was unhappy with it.

        • I’m sorry, but I find this ridiculous. In nearly every state in the Union, ANYONE that comes in contact with children in a professional atmosphere in a public educational/childcare setting, must have their background checked/fingerprinted and often other information gathered around them. If you were working as a tutor or reading assistant, a teacher’s aid, a coach, a lunch-room attendant, a bus-driver etc… etc… etc… then you would be submitting to these procedures. Why should those working in similar circumstances but within the Church be exempt. Certainly NOT simply because “We’re Catholic”. We sin, just as much, and probably more, than everybody else. . I’m sorry, but THIS policy should have already been in place, LONG BEFORE the scandals broke. It’s called being a mandated reporter. And THAT, most definitely could have/would have/does help stop abuse.

          • Ted Seeber

            And I’d point out that when the MAJORITY of this scandal broke (most offenders were ordained between 1956-1970) NO institution in the world did this.

    • Skittle

      I’m astonished that any developed country allows people to work with children without a background check. Thank goodness your Bishop is dragging your local church into the modern world. Particularly since most cases of child sexual abuse in parishes involves the laity, not the clergy.

      • Ted Seeber

        Actually, the Roman Catholic Church in America- in 2002- pioneered this. The Diocese of Dallas, Texas and the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon were the first to implement it, IIRC. There’s even more to it than that when you get into the priests specifically- a mere accusation, without any proof, is now enough to near-permanently remove a priest from service.

        • sahale93

          Actually the diocese of Austin, Texas pioneered EIM (Ethics and Integrity in Ministry) in 2001, which became a model for the rest of the country…

      • Amos2012

        Background checks are good, but they don’t catch first time offenders.

    • JCO53

      I would think that you, as a parent, would demand that those who work with your children undergo a background check. As one involved in parish administration that is one thing I want to be able to assure every parent — even if that person is your Aunt Minnie.

      • Ted Seeber

        What I really need is the assurance that records will be transparent and that people will be prosecuted. This background check stuff is nice, but it’s only about a quarter of what is needed.

    • Ted Seeber

      That isn’t the Bishops doing that. That’s secular society inserting their government into our Church and forcing the issue.

    • Fingerprinting and background check requirements do not originate in the Roman Catholic Church, but because of Federal government requirements. It would be a stretch for a bishop to claim that such Federal requirements are an unwarranted interference in the free exercise of religion.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Aside from the obnoxious background checks, there is the indoctrination that children never lie about abuse accusations, so if a child comes to you with an abuse accusation against another adult you should believe him and assure him that you believe him. With this mentality, one accusation against you and your life is over. Even if you never go to prison, you’ll likely lose your job and any future employment prospects, your marriage, your own kids if you have any. Anyone, but especially men who work with kids have just painted a big target on themselves and those are correct who point out that it is not just the Church which is doing this. Frankly, this is part of the whole feminist project to paint men as the evil, dangerous sex and remove them from any position to influence children.

      • carlamariee

        For the first time in history, the concept that children may actually be honest about their reports of abuse is taken seriously and you think it’s a conspiracy? Wow. Any idea how many kids have been subjected to years of abuse vs. false allegations?

        • Ted Seeber

          Actually, an entire industry sprang up in the late 1980s called recovered memories, which was really a form of hypnotism to convince adults that they were abused as children. Huge numbers of men have been accused under the scam of therapists ruining lives to get the government and other institutions to pay outrageous fees for therapy of victims that would not have ever existed except for the therapist.

      • Corita

        “…there is the indoctrination that children never lie about abuse accusations…”
        I have been through the diocesan programs in *three* different locations and I have NEVER heard anything like that. You sound insane.
        Encouraging staff who work with children to always receive a child’s complaint of abuse with openness and give the impression that you believe them is a *good* thing. It is not a denial that children lie. It’s a recognition that, if you do NOT do it and the accusation is true, the ramifications are horrifyingly destructive.

    • Pat Pasternak

      As a director of a religious education program and responsible for the people who are with our children, CORI checks are valuable. Abusers are not “recognizable” , they seem like regular folks. Sad to say, but parents too can be abusers. Priests, bishops, employees (like myself) are CORI’d just like the volunteers. Fortunately, our state doesn’t require “finger-printing” yet! If all this paperwork prevents even one child from being abused it is worth it. Public school systems also go through this same process. Sadly, we have some really sick & dangerous people everywhere!

    • Dan C

      You don’t get babysitting jobs without a back ground check. For good reason. Grt over it.

    • Colleen

      I am amazed that you would say this. Really? REALLY?
      These background checks were put in place to help protect our children. I work for the church and had to have the same background checks done and was glad to do it. Along with that, there are classes given to teachers and church employees and parents and to the children (age appropriate) about child sexual abuse and Safe Environment. There are now procedures put into place as to how to handle accusations of abuse. Most bishops, including my own, are working very hard to address this issue and prevent further cases of child sexual abuse. My bishop also has a Mass said every year for all survivors of child sexual abuse and I have found this to be so healing.
      As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I have always been amazed at how people live in denial of what is going on in front of their faces. For volunteers and employees to resent these background checks that are being done to protect the children, well… that is just horrifying to me and they should very well quit. They do not belong in a ministry with children if they are not willing to put the safety of the kids first.
      And yes, you need to believe the child until investigation reveals that the abuse did not happen or is unsubstantiated. Very small percentage of children lie about this. And we have to put the safety of the child first. But there still has to be other proof before prosecuting someone.
      Look at how Sandusky was able to do all he did and others just looked the other way. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. I pray for all whose hearts seem to have hardened.

      • Merkn

        Actually we do not need to believe the child in every circumstance, we need to respect them and treat the allegation with seriousness it deserves. As catholics we are also bound to treat the accused with charity while the charge is investigated. The criminal justice system includes a presumption of innocence and requires the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When a child makes a complaint the appropriate authorities should be notified immediately and the charge investigated by the authorities. Everyone involved should cooperate. That this was not done in the past to our everlasting shame, and led to the horrific scandals does not mean we should dump the rule of law now. Background checks are an unfortunate part of life. They also are insulting and demeaning to any honest man or woman. While we can acknowledge the unfortunate facts of life that require them, I don’t think we should be offended when honest men and women are offended by them. By the way what evidence do you have that “very small” percentage of theses charges are unsubstantiated? What exactly is the percentage? Google Dorothy Rabinowitz and read her frightening documented series of articles on the lives of people sent to prison based on demonstrably false allegations made by children.

        • Colleen

          There are a lot of different resources regarding stats on child sexual abuse, but the percentages are pretty close. I tried to post some stats here but got a message that my comment seemed spammy and to try again! Google Darkness to Light organization which is where I found the stats. It says that most fabricated stories are made by adults involved in custody disputes or by adolescents. And it is a very small percentage.
          Children do not have the experience or understanding of sex or sexual abuse to be able to accuse of such a thing, unless it has happened to them or they have seen it or they been coached by an adult. They do not even have the vocabulary for it.
          I agree with how you put it – children’s accusations need to be treated with respect. When I say they should be believed, I mean they should not be disbelieved, if that makes sense. A lot of harm can be done to an abused child who is not believed.
          Yes, I am offended when people are so upset about these background checks that they won’t even do the ministry any more. First we say that the bishops should have done more to protect the children and then we say but don’t ask ME to do more! If you put your child in the care of someone at church or at scouts or at school, don’t you want to know that they have done all that is possible to screen people?
          I am sorry but I do not understand such a strong reaction against it. Child sexual abuse victims are given a life sentence of shame and pain. That is what we need to get upset about. It takes a village to raise a child, and we all need to do our part.

    • ds

      They are not delegating blame, they are making sure the stuff doesn’t happen again. Given the terrible acts that happened I think it’s a pretty good idea to try to check things out beforehand.

      Nobody thinks Aunt Millie is a molester, especially because of her long service to the church. But they’re checking out everybody so maybe Aunt Millie should realize it aint about her and get over it.

  • Timothy Jones

    So… these people were attentive to the Bishops *before* the sex scandals?

    Also, do the even worse sex scandals in the public schools mean they have lost the moral authority to teach algebra? I hope so, because I hated algebra, and now I have a new stick with which to beat algebra teachers. I was right all along to sit in the back and doodle in the margins of my textbook. My life choices are vindicated!!

  • Reminds me of Kathy Shaidle’s comment about the [more or less daily news out of the] Vatican: “These people aren’t smart enough to tell me how to live.”

    Quite so. The Church teaches what was handed down by the Apostles, and from all accounts the Apostles were as sharp as a sack of wet mice.

    • Kristen inDallas

      Do these mice have teeth?

      • ds

        If the mithe have no teeth, thurely hith comment ith toothleth altho.

    • Qualis Rex

      Hmmm, not sure if you are deliberately trying to be provocative and disrespectful, but you are of course wrong. St Matthew and St Luke were “white collar” professionals: an accountant/tax collector and physician respectively. “From all accounts” is probably a gross misrepresentation on your part. Surely, you were being “ironical” or something far “sharper” than a sack of wet mice with your post.

      • No, I was not being ironical. I was alluding to the four Gospels.

        • Qualis Rex

          The inspired by God part aside, the gospels themselves are works of extremely sophisticated literature for their time. Whether the apostles are themselves the word-for-word authors or they passed them down to scribes, they are not the works of simpletons.

  • jcb

    I’ve never had the faintest idea what “moral authority” even is, and people only seem to appeal to it when they want to engage in obvious ad hominem irrelevancies.

  • Petros

    One of my favorites comments on this topic was from Flannery O’Conner in one of her letters responding to a similar accusation (I’m paraphrasing): Christ never promised that the Church would operate in a sinless or intelligent way, only that her teaching would be free from error.

  • Petros

    One of my favorites comments on this topic was from Flannery O’Connor in one of her letters responding to a similar accusation (I’m paraphrasing): Christ never promised that the Church would operate in a sinless or intelligent way, only that her teaching would be free from error.

    • Colleen

      I like that. Thanks.

  • Elmo

    I agree. Why then, are bishops given titles such as Your Excellency? I don’t think I could call any man by that title. Even the pope, whom I would call pope before calling Holy Father.

    • Ted Seeber

      It’s a sign of respect for the office, not the man.

    • Ted Seeber

      It also helps to think of such honorifics as not declaration, but prayer.

      • Elmo

        to whom am I praying?

        • Ted Seeber

          God. You are praying to God that this fallible man will live up to the high expectations of his office, that no man can fulfill on his own.

    • Maiki

      Pope is just an adapted word for the term “father” in Latin and Greek. I guess you don’t need to call anyone by any honorific title — you’ll be rude, but I don’t think it is a sin of any sort. You can call Queen Elizabeth “Lizzie” and a trial judge “Mr. Judge”, if you’d like. But Miss Manners will frown on you. 🙂

      • Elmo

        I told a bishop upon meeting that I didn’t know what to call him and he said call me Bishop. He understood my problems with “regal” terms.

        • Ted Seeber

          I understand your problem with regal terms, which is why I suggested thinking of them differently- as a prayer to God that this fallible person, who can’t possibly live up to the expectations of their office without God’s help, will live up to those expectations anyway.

    • kim

      while I personally dislike Obama and have no desire to meet him in person, if it happened, I’d call him “Mr. President” because of the office. Manners are like that. You engage in them for the ideal of respect and what the office could be….should it be inhabited by a man of character and courage and integrity.

      the bishops are verbally honored for who Christ is, and let them answer to their Maker for whether or not they’ve lived up…

  • The sexual scandal that the Catholic Church has endured is horrifying and yes, the priests that committed these crimes need to be removed and many have been so far. I am NOT trying to make light of this, but please look at the public school system in the US and the Protestant Churches in the US as well. Their percentage of child abuse is a lot higher than the 1% in the Catholic Church. The media refuses to report on these other cases, simply because they hate the Catholic Church and want to destroy her. Since these scandals broke, the dioceses have gone to great lengths in protecting children with safe environment training. The Church has endured so much in her past, she will survive and will grow stronger from of this. Don’t believe me? Look at her history.

  • Ignatius

    In the Decameron, by Boccaccio, (First day, II), Abraham the Jew decides to convert after going to Rome and seeing by himself the papal court. He explains his reaction to his friend Giannotto in this terms: “To the best of my judgment, your Pastor, and by consequence all that are about him devote all their zeal and ingenuity and subtlety to devise how best and most speedily they may bring the Christian religion to nought and banish it from the world. And because I see that what they so zealously endeavour does not come to pass, but that on the contrary your religion continually grows, and shines more and more clear, therein I seem to discern a very evident token that it, rather than any other, as being more true and holy than any other, has the Holy Spirit for its foundation and support”.

    Nothing has changed.

  • Qualis Rex

    OK, I do not really appreciate “bishop bashing”, especially on a Catholic blog. If by “moral authority” you mean the ability to teach church dogma pertaining to morals, then yes indeed they have moral authority. That’s what they are there for. All the sour-grapes posts I’m seeing here are unfortunately very typical of the Americath church; “I want it MY way! Whatever happened to Democracy!!??”

    No one has a “right” to any job within the church, be it EM, Catechumen, Liturgical Director, Tambourine player etc. And none of us has the right to dictate how our parish, diocese or church should be run to a bishop. In fact, I am located in an archdiocese headed by arguably one of the worst, scandalous bishops remaining in office in the US. Yet until deemed otherwise by the Vatican, he is the moral authority of the church where I am and I acknowledge and respect that fact.

    Lastly, it does rile me that nearly all discussions or arguments concerning Catholicism initiated or participated in by liberals, media, atheists etc will invariably end in the opposing parties brining up the sex-scandal whenever they are losing the argument at hand. But I do find it fun to watch them do all sorts of mental and emotional acrobatics to try and tie it in with the original topic when I ask, “what has the sex-scandal possibly have to do with the bishops’ stance on wholesalers hoarding rice in the Philipines?”

    • Colleen

      I agree with you and I think Mark Shea does too. Yes, they do have moral authority to teach church dogma. But I like how he makes the point that this ultimately comes from Jesus and it is HIS authority that we listen to and follow. I do get tired of people saying that we cant follow the bishops teaching any more because of the sexual abuse scandal. I was angry when that happened too! But I do not worship the bishops. I worship Jesus Christ!
      Look at what Peter did!! He denied Jesus 3 times. Jesus forgave him and gave him the keys. That is why I listen to the bishops.

      • Qualis Rex

        Definitely agree with all points there

  • Confederate Papist

    “The Bishops Have Lost Their Moral Authority!!!!”

    Next up, scientists discover that water is wet.

  • Bill

    Elmo it’s the office that commands respect. No matter how foul the person occupying the office might be, he is a Successor to the Apostles. He has fullness of Holy Orders

    I’d feel personally awkward not giving the respect.

    • Elmo

      I make no assumption about the character of the person holding the office; it’s just that I don’t feel comfortable using titles such as Excellency or Holiness to address a person who is a sinner like me.

      • Rosemarie


        A judge is a sinner like us, yet we call him “Your Honor.” The honorifics honor the office, not the person. It’s like in the military, you “salute the uniform,” even if the person wearing it is not worthy of honor.

        I look at titles like Your Excellency or Your Holiness as equivalent to kissing the ring. The latter is a sign of the bishop’s office, of Christ’s authority that He exercises through the bishop. When I kiss the bishop’s ring, I ultimately acknowledge Jesus the Good Shepherd who set up this earthly shepherd in His place. If I call him Your Excellency, it is an acknowledgement of Christ’s excellence. Did He not tell His first bishops, “He who receives you receives Me”?

  • kenneth

    If one is talking one Catholic to another, you can use the argument that bishops always have moral authority because they are just transmitters for some inerrant message. When they are actors in the wider world of public opinion and policy, that carries no water. We have no obligation or inclination to believe that they are God’s own front men, and so their words are measured against their actions, as is the case with all of us. They’re free to claim moral authority on gay marriage or any other issue.

    They’re free to talk about anything they want, and due to their position, they get a wide hearing. That doesn’t mean we have to buy what they’re saying at face value. In the real world, actions talk, and we all know what walks. Well, we walk. It just stinks up the sides and soles of our Wellies. Now, nobody expects humans to be perfectly consistent in word and deed all the time, but it’s not unfair to expect that a person’s words and actions at least travel sort of in the same direction most of the time, especially when they’re laying claim to big moral authority, as religious leaders are wont to do. Bishops have the right to run their own stall in the marketplace of ideas, but not the right to any special price supports, as it were.

    • Dan C

      I agree with this. If evangelization is the game, they better figure out better ways to attract folk than the cureent display. Evangelization to the never-Catholic will not come through any USCCB activity, because the title of its lead cheerleader, “Cardinal” Dolan, due to his and other’s actions, immediately will stop the never-Catholic from listening.

      Evangelization becomes the commoners role. I would recommend the “they will know we are Christians by our love” route. I do expect a little help from the bishops, like “stop embarassing me.”

      On another related note, pray to God that Bruskewiecz from Nebraska isn’t hiding anything, or that will be a new, well-deserved PR disaster after Lynn from Philly, then Finn from KC.

    • Ted Seeber

      “If one is talking one Catholic to another, you can use the argument that bishops always have moral authority because they are just transmitters for some inerrant message.”


      They have Apostolic Authority over matters of faith and morals while teaching on the Deposit of Faith because *that is what they were hired to do*. Period. When their personal behavior does not live up to the teachings, that’s not a problem with the teachings, that is a problem with their personal behavior.

      It is NO different than a physics instructor who one day gets high on drugs and decides that the law of gravity doesn’t apply to him and jumps off a cliff. That doesn’t invalidate everything else he said.

      • kenneth

        I judge a tree by the fruit it bears, and that goes for people and organizations as well. All three have their “bad apples” or even crops from time to time, but when the whole orchard is rotten for decades on end, it ain’t chance bad luck anymore. The abuse scandal was not a failing of personal behavior. It was a collective failing of personal behavior and ultimately a utterly corrupt culture which demanded and rewarded behavior which was in 180-degree opposition to its teachings.

        At that point, the only logical thing to do is look upstream in the process. Maybe the teachings themselves simply fail to resonate with humanity and to inspire good behavior. Or, more likely, it seems to me, the culture of the “middle-men”, the bankers of this “Deposit of Faith”, has simply become too thoroughly perverted to hold the authority with which they were entrusted.

  • Nate

    Martin Luther King cheated on his wife and plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation.
    Ergo, he has no moral authority to preach against segregation.
    Screw the Letter from Birmingham Jail. Screw the Speech on Capital Hill.
    His Nobel Peace Prize? He should have given it back. He committed adultery!

    Pick a guy or gal from history who crusaded for justice.
    Rinse. Repeat.

    • Qualis Rex

      Wait, you CAN’T bring up MLK! You just CAN’T! It’s…totally irrelevant to the topic at hand!

      Move along…nothing to see here….

      (p.s. spot on!)

    • Chris M

      Ahh, but it’s different for the backwards/medieval/oppressive/patriarchal/ad nauseum Catholic Church because we are OPPOSED to justice! Always and everywhere, we are the eeevil boogeyman just lurking in the shadows to stop the good guys from .. well.. doing whatever it is they feel is justice that week.

    • kenneth

      Let’s run the math on this. One one side of the equation, a man whose ministry had nothing to do with fidelity and whose own failings involved consenting adults and created one victim (his wife). On the other side, we have a multi-generational trans-Atlantic criminal conspiracy which actively enabled the predatory rape of thousands of children. It was perpetuated by an institutional culture and written procedures calculated to help cover up those monstrous crimes.

      We have one man’s unfortunate personal failings versus a calculated conspiracy to violate children in a manner so foul that Jesus himself prescribed the death penalty for it. The fact that bishops and their many defenders can see an “apples to apples” parity in these scenarios is precisely why the bishops have no moral authority among the public at large and even many of their own flock.

  • What do you mean by “historical perspective of fruit flies ” ?

    • Rosemarie


      I think he means that, since fruit flies live a short time, they have a short memory. Similarly, people sometimes seem to forget events in the past and think that what’s happening today is brand new. In this context, he is pointing out that Catholic bishops have always been imperfect throughout history. So the notion that they have forfeited some “moral authority” only recently because of The Scandal results from a very short-term historical perspective. Something like that.

      • David P.

        Thank You Rosemarie, that makes sense.

    • Ted Seeber

      All of that and also Americans, like fruit flies, have a very short history in comparison to say, the City of Rome, or the Vatican itself which started out as Boot Hill Graveyard in the Wild West of Italy *before* Rome started conquering the world and long before Jesus Christ came.

  • I suppose Jesus did not realize that the scribes-and-Pharisees had lost their moral authority and therefore everything they said should be ignored. (Matthew 23:1-3). How stupid of Him!

  • Rouxfus

    St. John Chrysostom, a Doctor of the Church, is attributed with saying: “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their sign posts.”

    And Hilaire Belloc described the Church as “an institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.

    Yet, while we may accept these hard observations as ringing a loud bell of truth, yet we must also recognize the authority Christ gave to the Apostles and their successors the Bishops of the Church to shepherd, to teach, and lead us in our pilgrimage to work out our salvation. I won’t belabor this thread with citations to scripture and Tradition – but they are thick on the ground supporting this idea.

    Some bishops, perhaps, have lost their moral authority, but it is prejudicial, unedifying, and scandalous to make a broad, sweeping, irresponsible and calumnious charge that “the bishops”, collectively, have lost their moral authority. Collectively, the college of bishops has moral authority even if individually some or many have not lived up to the Christian ideal, or to the duties of their commission.

    • Rosemarie


      I think Mark Shea’s point is that this talk about “moral authority” is a fallacy, an excuse for an ad hominem attack on bishops used to try to justify ignoring the Church’s teaching. He’s not denying that bishops have authority from Christ, just arguing that this authority has nothing to do with the personal holiness of any individual bishop. The whole “moral authority” concept seems rooted in the idea that only perfectly moral people can lecture others on morality. Mark is saying that is not so.

  • sound logic…although it seems to me less a loss of moral or divine authority and more a loss of courage and leadership. But what is moral authority? The “credentials” that give your word more weight in a moral discussion? The magnetic leadership ability to rally followers behind your position? The bishops have not lost their “credentials” as successors of the apostles as long as they echo church teaching but what good is being a shepherd in a Divinely authorised Church if the sheep hesitate when they hear your wavering voice. The Church was not built on Peter’s Denial, nor Mark’s streaking in the garden…it was built as a result of some pretty convincing miraculous “moral authority”.
    Similar logic includes, has the Church lost her holiness because of a few pedophiles?..then we chime in the fact that the Bride of Christ would be Holy even if every priest was a pedophile…and everyone feels the strength to carry on…yeah right…sound argument but I think we still need to see a few martyred bishops in order to reboot the moral authority app.

    • Ted Seeber

      If Obama doesn’t deliver martyred Bishops, I am almost certain one of his successors within then next 16 years will.

  • ds

    The bishops are the often reluctant and frequently inept transmitters of that tradition, not the originators.

    If they are inept transmitters, why is it so foolish or ignorant of history to suppose some the the transmission might be incorrect? Because Jesus said so. And who was it that taught us that Jesus said so? The inept transmitters.

    We discussed my objections to this at length in the earlier post, so I need not go on any further. Still I feel like some of the disciples when faced with a difficult teaching: where else will I go?

    • Mark Shea

      It’s not that simple. The revelation is not the Telephone Game. I would suggest you read Truth is Symphonic by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

      • ds

        Fair enough. I’ll check it out. You got your copy of The Kid by Dan Savage yet?

        • Mark Shea

          I don’t even have time to read books I want to read.

          • ds

            Step outside your Catholic shell a little. It’ll help you to love your enemy a little more.

      • ds

        Also, I know it isn’t that simple, I don’t expect a simple answer. But can you at least admit it isn’t so unreasonable to look at the mess and ask “you want me to listen to these guys?”

        • Mark Shea

          Of course. The problem is not that it’s unreasonable. The problem is that this slogan is repeated without a movement of the grey matter as Established Fact when, in fact, it betrays the reality that a huge number of people have given almost no thought to the reality that the Catholic Church is passing on a tradition, not a club where a few bishops voice private opinions they just invent five minutes ago.

        • Ted Seeber

          I say the same about the Gay Marriage movement. I look at a Queer Pride Parade and say “you want me to listen to THESE JOKERS?”

          • ds

            You just don’t like a party, man. The pride parade is a big ol good time. The people at the pride parade are, as much as anything else, putting on display what conservative moralists have always told them they are. We’re perverts and sex fiends and cross dressers and freaks? Yeah we are and we love it and we’re gonna party down with it!

            Trying to judge the Gay Rights movement by the pride parade is like looking at Mardi Gras and saying “oh my god, look at how that woman is dressed! I’d never hire someone that came to a job interview dressed like that!

  • Gee, all I wanted to say was nice column and I think you raised a good point, I know I often forget or don’t think about those church this really is! (I bet I am not the only one!)