Friday, September 12, 2003

I think that it is fair to argue that I have never been subject to the kinds of abuse many people have complained about. I've spent most of my life in the Archdiocese of NY and I have had exemplary bishops. I have, however, seen the effect a faithless pastor (particularly in conjunction with a wayward bishop) can have on the most faithful Catholics. I do not dismiss such Catholics as hyper-religious cranks with disagreeable personalities. I think that they are heartsick and often times valiantly engaged in a struggle against frustration and despair.

It is for this reason that I would never condemn or hold in contempt a parish-shopper. Sometimes retreat is the only sane response. I do think, however, that this course of action should be recognized as a form of surrender. It isn't something to be bragged about nor is it something to be advocated. It is at best a survival tactic. One lives to fight another day on another front.

If I were asked my opinion, I would recommend that someone stick with their territorial parish AND become engaged in one of the faithful lay movements. By doing so, they might serve in the front lines and still draw sustenance from a supportive, faithful community. In tending advice, I'd be careful to time my suggestion so that it might serve as a source of strength rather than an admonishment. A separation from one's parish that is based on "irreconcilable differences' holds an terrible immediacy of pain. We are engaged in a cultural war and many of us are casualties of that war.

One of the things that I like to keep in mind is that the American Catholic Civil War is a major front in a global conflict between the Culture of Life and the culture of death. It should be viewed in this light rather than as a discrete power struggle for control of the Church in America. The culture of death would love to enlist the American Church on its side of this larger war...much as they have now enlisted the American Episcopal Church.

If this is not possible, the servants of death want to destroy the Catholic Church in America or at least sideline Her. It seems to me that far too many American Catholics are playing into their hands. Yes. This does includes some priests and some bishops in addition to the laity. It also includes a great many activists on both sides of the aisle. In honesty, I find that a great many 'conservative' Catholics are becoming 'useful idiots' in advancing the multi-pronged agenda of the Left. Just as SAM rightly wonders whether I am ignorant of the ruthlessness of the liberal structures, I worry that many conservatives are naive as to its cunning.

Some conservative American Catholics have begun to object to perceived anti-Catholicism in the secular arena. Yet many of these same Catholics callously dismissed the claims of our Bishops (SA and European) that the Catholic scandal was itself a deliberate and concerted attack on the Church. These outspoken bishops saw the 'scandal' as the first American salvo on the American front in war against Catholicism. They should know. They "have the tee-shirts." They have seen the same sequence of events over and over again in their various countries. On each occasion, a "scandal" was useful in alienating the faithful from their bishops. It is a strategy that has proved its power to handicap and cripple the Church. Such 'scandals' have been the justification for abusive secular legal and governmental action around the globe. Yet many American Catholics dismiss these bishops as naive.

Now, before you jump all over me, I am not claiming that the Church is perfect. Dig deep enough, and you will always be able to find cause for scandal. Jenkins, who authored the book about "The New Anti-Catholicism", has also documented the waves of 'pedophilia' fear that have broken across our country in the last decades. It is a credit to the conservative Catholic activists that the Church scandal did not fall prey to this hysteria. Their insistence on defining the issue as pederasty and their success in doing so is a remarkable tribute to their talent, their activism and their power to persuade in public debate.

They were, however, less successful in keeping the focus on abusive homosexuality. When the left shifted the discourse to the issue of "abuse of power", most conservatives jumped on the liberal bandwagon. Most are still riding that bandwagon. In doing so, they are accepting liberal premises, structures, definitions and tactics. A single example should suffice.

Today, conservative Catholics seem to have accepted a 'de facto' American Catholic Church. Conservative pundits (including members of St.Blogs) harp endlessly about "our" bishops. In doing so, they deny an essential element of our diocese structure. Each of the bishops, responsible for a diocese, is sovereign and answerable only to Rome. Bishop Gregory's recent letter to Archbishop Dolan is a graceful acknowledgement of this reality. Sovereign bishops are loath to criticize each other (particularly in public) and they should be.

God has not granted Archbishop Egan authority over my local Church, which implies that God has not given him the grace sufficient to that task. On the other hand, God has given Archbishop Egan authority over his own archdiocese. By the same token, the Bishop of Los Angeles is no more and no less "our" bishop than the bishop of Milan. My bishop is singular. His name is Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and I belong to each other as distinctively and as surely as my father and I belong to each other. What most of you might consider heretical is that, when Bishop Daily was my bishop, he and I also belonged to each other as distinctively and as surely as my father and I belong to each other.

Earl raises the point that there is a critical difference between dissent against Catholic doctrine, the moral law, etc and dissent against the 'imprudent' prudential judgments made by bishops. What he claims is true. One can accept Catholic theology and Catholic moral teachings, without ever submitting oneself to the authority of the Church. It is an article of our Catholic faith that you don't have to be Catholic to agree with the teachings of the Church on these issues. To be Catholic is to do more than this. It includes submission to the authority of the Church. This translates into submission to the authority of your local church unless you are released from this obligation by a higher authority in the hierarchy. Your bishop can release you from your obligation to submit to your priest and the Pope can release you from your obligation to submit to the authority of your sovereign bishop.

If, rather than submit to your local authority, you choose to trust your own prudential judgment, you can exercise that judgment by moving to a more amenable diocese. It's not that different from the way America works. As a New Yorker, I'm subject to taxation by the state of New York. If I don't like it, I can move to New Jersey. I'm still be an American citizen, but I'm no longer a New Yorker. In this country, we think that it is appropriate that the rules may vary from state to state. It's called Federalism and most conservatives will defend the Federalist premise. It provides a structure within which a greater degree of authentic freedom might be exercised.

Somewhere along the line, I might outline my thoughts on obedience. For now, I'll simply note that the Church considers obedience to be one of the more difficult and praiseworthy virtues. Mary is the Church's model of obedience and we frequently refer to Christ as "obedient unto death." In my estimation, the obedience that a Catholic owes his bishop is comparable to the obedience that a soldier owes the commander in chief. A soldier may legitimately take part in civil discourse on proposed war efforts. However, once the decision for war has been made, the soldier does not have the right to question the prudential judgment of the President. Nor does he have a generic right to second-guess his superiors or to selectively follow orders. His job is to obey the orders of his superiors with the enthusiasm of a true believer. The only exception to this rule is his right and obligation to refuse "criminal" orders. In doing so, he had better be certain of their criminality. Similarly, Catholics are supposed to obey their bishops except when the bishop calls them to real (not imagined) sin.

In the period prior to the Vatican Council, the Church in America exercised a similar authority over Her people. Bishop Hughes was able to threaten the mayor of New York with a 1000 unruly Irishmen guarding his churches. He had called on his people and he was sure of their response. These men weren't saints. Some may have been scoundrels. But, they were Catholic; they held to the Church; they responded to Her call. I would be surprised to find an American bishop today who would have the audacity of Bishop Hughes. Our bishops are not fools. They know that their people can no longer be counted upon in this manner.

Before arguing that the Bishops are responsible for the current state of affairs, you might consider whether you yourself would be welcoming of such stringent discipline. The old standard of Catholic obedience runs contrary to the American spirit. Americans don't respond well to the claims of authority. We are an ornary people, protective of our rights and our perogatives. We believe in the claims of reason, the power of persuasion and the authority of personal judgment. It is fitting that our Bishops use these tools to govern the Church and proclaim the Gospel. It is also fitting that the Bishops have tried to conform the Church to the best in America. This is the much praised process of inculturation. Without some measure of inculturation, many of our most prominent and promising 'conservative' converts might never have even considered the possibility of crossing the Tiber.

I'm afraid that I've taken too much of your time and I haven't addressed the central issue: ie,discerning viable approaches to renewing the Church. My apologies...

I will post more on this subject, early next week.
And I look forward to hearing from you


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