The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Maintenance vs. mission

Bishops who imagined their role primarily as one of keep-the-lid-on institutional maintenance are one of the primary causes of the McCarrick and Pennsylvania scandals.

Pope Francis is pictured after posing for a photo with officials representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Vatican Sept. 13. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Just when the Long Lent of 2002 was coming to a boil in March of that year, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, took things from “boil” to “nuclear meltdown” during a press conference presenting John Paul II’s Holy Thursday letter to the priests of the world. Peppered with questions about the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the U.S., Castrillon peremptorily dismissed reporters’ queries, saying that the Pope had other things to worry about, like Middle East peace.

Sound familiar?

There have certainly been ham-handed (and worse) responses to the current crisis from some American bishops, including prominent figures who seem, incredibly, to be taking their cues from the Castrillon playbook. But this is not 2002. And while it isn’t often stressed in mainstream media reporting on the crisis, those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and no click-bait to concoct understand that there is a new resolve among a critical mass of U.S. bishops: a resolve to air out the McCarrick scandal; a resolve to see that bishops are held accountable for failures of pastoral and disciplinary leadership with wayward clergy; and a resolve to be seen to have “gotten it.”

Why? Because those bishops are disgusted with what has come to light in the past two months. And because they know that, unless the bishops get it right this time, and are perceived to be getting it right, their credibility is shot for the next generation and the New Evangelization will be severely damaged.

An example of this resolve may be found in a letter Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford addressed to his archdiocesan brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood, and to his seminarians, which also sets the current crisis in its proper historical context:

The anger and disillusionment of our Catholic people is only matched by my own, and no doubt yours as well. After all the massive effort that has been made since 2002 to rid the Church of this evil and to try to bring healing to victim survivors, how is it possible that we find ourselves confronting the same perception of the Church, and of us as priests and bishops, as if nothing has changed?

The Pennsylvania grand jury report, as devastating as it is, ostensibly covers a seventy year period, and is largely about a past that we have striven mightily to remedy. However, the allegations against [McCarrick] have to do with seeming indifference to repulsive conduct not only before, but also after, the great reforms and commitments that followed 2002. Whether before or after, it must be asked how he could possibly remain in ministry, and once the answer is known, steps must be taken to ensure that it will not happen again with any bishop.

….what is most essential is our spiritual vigilance over ourselves and one another when it comes to any conduct that is a betrayal of the priesthood entrusted to us for the care of Christ’s flock. To live a ‘double’ or secret life sexually in serious sin with or against another, is to betray not only the priesthood but the people who have trust that we, on becoming clerics at diaconal ordination, ‘believe what we read, teach what we believe, and practice what we teach’….

My brothers, these words are meant for myself as well as for you. Indeed, they are even more dire a warning for me as a bishop. Like you, I feel shame and spiritual dejection, as well as anger, at what has happened to victims and to all the faithful as a result of sexual abuse and depredation and the failure of some bishops to definitively remove clerical predators….

In pondering the reform of the episcopate for the future, the distinction between maintenance and mission should be at the center of the discussion. Bishops who imagined their role primarily as one of keep-the-lid-on institutional maintenance – whether in relation to their clergy, their brother-bishops, or both – are one of the primary causes of the McCarrick and Pennsylvania scandals. Bishops who think of their role as teaching and sanctifying a communion of missionary disciples are far more likely to build a presbyterate that is not a caste – and far more likely to call out brother-bishops who are failing in their responsibilities.

Institutional-maintenance Catholicism is finished. Purified, mission-driven Catholicism is the Church with a vital future.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About George Weigel 446 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. IF we truly want to bring wholeness to the Church, we must have full disclosure and transparency. “…and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”.
    The truth is that by the time that the second Vatican Council took place
    The Hierarchy of Bishops had been infiltrated by Moderates, What Pope St. Pious X called, the heresy of all heresies.
    When immutable truths and morals are watered down, in some areas contradicted and even denied, this has a profound destructive impact upon Holy Mother Church.
    So now instead of the Church rooting out heretics and correcting heretical teachings, it remain silent. This has led to virus that infects the Church and allowed a homosexual culture to become the ruling gang or mafia in the Church’s Leadership, dispite Papal instructions that homosexuals with deep seated tendencies should not be in seminaries nor ordained.
    These active homosexuals pederasts clergy are responsible for over 80 percent of all reported cases of sexual abuse of teens and men over 18 years of age,including seminarians. These predators must be removed from the clerical state and be replaced with heterosexuals well balanced clergy striving to be holy.

    • Deacon Joe, I believe that you meant to write that the Hierarchy of Bishops has been infiltrated by “Modernists,” not Moderates. Modernism is what Pius X condemned in his encyclical PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS.

  2. “Maintenance to Mission” and “New Evangelization” have become as trite as “Time, Talent and Treasure”. The New Evangelization has been going on for decades now and both eyes on the outside world have only contributed to no eyes on the Church. Mr. Weigel and so many other writers today use words like they are tools exclusively for their own pleasure; they risk taking a page from the progressive playbook of adapting meaning to their own purpose. Where most of us come from, “maintenance” is actually an excellent virtue (I dare any institution to attempt excellence without good maintenance). Maintenance is not an activity to be used in a comparison of something insipid or outdated. Why can’t we talk about doing both well – maintenance and evangelization (new or old). Why can’t we have maintenance and mission? Further, the statement by Bishop Blair is astonishing: “After all the massive effort that has been made since 2002 to rid the Church of this evil and to try to bring healing to victim survivors, how is it possible that we find ourselves confronting the same perception of the Church”. It is astonishing that an overseer cannot see that it is because no proportionate “massive effort” was ever made to purify the Church. Wouldn’t any priest or overseer at least know by now that this is one of the things Pope Francis was elected for? We find ourselves back in the same place because no effort was made to address the cause, since emphasis was always on improving the so-called “perception of the Church”; and isn’t a “massive effort” what we are now all asking for!? Could it be that while we have been off evangelizing in new and sundry ways that we forgot about good old-fashioned maintenance and that one of the primary tasks of maintenance is repair. Well, this may not be as exciting as evangelization, especially in the new form where we can be ever-so clever and creative – but it keeps the flock up and running.

    • The massive effort was focused on the laity. Laity could no longer volunteer to woywith children in the church without finger printing and Vrtus training. It made me angry that I was subjected to these new rules because of the failures of priests. I certainly didn’t see as a lay person what was being done at the level of church hierarchy. I understand screening and educating volunteers, but what was done at the church hierarchy level? Our current scandal would suggest not too much of anything.

  3. Inigo makes a good point about “maintenance” alongside “mission”. In the Navy context, any alert officer-of-the-deck of a Navy ship will readily remind us of a training poster well-engraved on the consciousness: “Attention to detail, gentlemen, a collision at sea can ruin your whole day.”

    But, what Weigel actually is saying is simply that get-along-go-along business as usual doesn’t work anymore. In his short article he compressed too-much into one word (maintenance) his entire earlier book—THE COURAGE TO BE CATHOLIC, 2002 and 2004 with an Afterword—which is well worth re-reading in light of the many-layered scandal of 2018, especially (but not only) the chapters dealing with bishops and the chandelier-and-microphone routines of the USCCB.

    • Peter thanks. I agree that Mr. Weigel was using maintenance broadly but those of us who love faith and reason need to be on watch against a use of language referenced as dangerous by C.S. Lewis in his Abolition of Man. I don’t want to lose or lessen any more words in the English language. It happens all the time with progressives; all the more reason we should not self-inflict. Admittedly, I never read his book about “Evangelical Catholicism”, but I always thought that his use of “Counter-Reformation” (as its contrary) was unfortunate as there was much in the counter-reformation that we could learn for our own evangelization. I agree that these terms are generalizations – but they do a disservice to the things they describe, while professional wordsmiths can and should do better.

  4. In the context of this article, the author seems to denigrate the word “maintenance”. I guess this is valid if maintenance only means protecting your public image. In the real world, you have a mission, core values, and strategic management. One factor for success is to conduct periodic maintenance inspections to ensure the system is running at optimum performance. Thus good maintenance is very important.
    Unfortunately, the New Age religion has replaced any concept of “good maintenance” with “continual change and renewal” so the baby goes out with the bath water. What a Shame!

    You cannot accomplish the mission without good, effective maintenance. Maybe they need a department of “Faith Maintenance” at the Vatican.

  5. Inigo, thanks. Your concern is well-taken and shared by all, I’m sure.

    And a second thanks—you give me an opening to put in a plug for my recent book which deals with our culture of deception through the manipulation of words: A GENERATION ABANDONED—Why “Whatever” Is Not Enough (2017, with an author interview by Catholic World Report:

    Before the cultural manipulators learned the art of euphemisms and redefinitions, they still sounded accurately like the genocidal lunatics of mid-century. Here’s an extract from my Chapter 10 (with the source):

    “…Here are some side-by-side snapshots with the first years, at least, of the abortion revolution: “I know of not a single case where anyone came out of the chambers alive” (Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess on the destructive capacity of Zyklon B gas, 1947) and “It never ever results in live births” (an experienced abortionist on the merits of dissection and extraction, 1981); “the subjects were forced to undergo death-dealing experiments ‘without receiving anesthetics’” (Dachau freezing experiments, 1942) and “the fetuses are fully alive when we cut their heads off, but anesthetics are definitely unnecessary” (Fetal researcher Dr. Martti Kekomaki, 1980); “no criticism was raised” (conference of German physicians to the Ravenbrueck death camp sulfanilamide experiments, Berlin, May 1943) and “no one ever raised an eyebrow” (meeting of American pediatricians to an experiment involving beheading of aborted babies, San Francisco, 1973); and “what should we do with this garbage”(Treblinka, 1942) and “an aborted baby is just garbage” (fetal researcher Dr. Martti Kekomaki, 1980). In Mein Kampf (1925) Adolf Hitler referred to Jews as “a parasite in the body of other peoples”; fifty years later, the year of Roe v. Wade, a radical feminist group branded the unborn as “a parasite within the mother’s body” (an early edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women). In recent years the abortion culture has dolled-up itself with euphemisms, but even in 2016 those opposed were still labeled in Presidential campaign rhetoric as “deplorables”

    (source: William Brennan, The Abortion Holocaust: Today’s Final Solution (St. Louis: Landmark Press, 1983), Chart 6, and 100-102).

  6. I agree with Inigo, where he says that he doesn’t see any opposition between maintenance and mission. I would add that the way of maintenance in the Church is mission. This starts at home, with the ordinary faithful in need of some clarification about the “global village”, as Marshal McLuhan said more than fifty years ago, into which has turned the world.
    I am Italian, grew up at the time of the diarchy of USSR and USA, leaning for the latter, and, looking for good reasons in favor of this preference at the time in which the Vietnam war made it questionable, I came to the States to study. So I collected a couple of doctorates, a first one in religious anthropology at Drew University, and a second one in philosophy at the Gregorian University after my return in Italy. But in the meantime, as we all know, the issues that led me to study have been changing. The so called globalization – I prefer to say planetarization of the world – has taken place. And I must say that my studies made me see the response to it in the Church, by those in charge of teaching, pretty much inadequate. As if the Prologue to the gospel of John meant nothing to them.
    The trouble is that bishops and theologians have been formed in the wave of the Vatican II, the counsel whose primary purpose was to establish a dialogue with the modern world. Too bad that it was old in the very moment in which it wanted to be new. It took the secular political order of the West – actually a result of the Christian distinction of church and state, after the state made itself superior to the church, eventually to reject her – as normative for the understanding of the world. This deprived those Christian leaders of the intellectual tools to criticize that order, save those that came from the self criticism of that order itself, like those that split it in right and left. I understand therefore the reasons why Weigel opposes simple maintenance, mainly worried to contain the damages, and evangelization, but I don’t completely share his projection in Evangelical Catholicism of the present concerns into a historical reconstruction.
    I belong now days as a lay associate to a small congregation called Institute of Charity. It was founded in the first half of the Nineteenth Century by the blessed Antonio Rosmini. Perhaps the greatest philosophical-theological mind of modern times, definitely catholic, he was sacrificed to the desire of Leo XIII, whom Weigel extols as the originator of evangelical Catholicism, to promote Thomism as the semi-official doctrine of the Church, so he is almost completely forgotten. Unfortunately Thomism as such proved itself incapable of reaching out of the walls of the Church, it was, we could say in Weigel’s terms, hardly missionary, as it shows the shying away from it of the Vatican II documents, while a perfect representative of the post-council Church as Jorge Mario Bergoglio can invite to build bridges and not walls, without worrying much about abstract, read scholastic doctrine. He seems to forget to say that we always had a bridge, and it is called Christ, not knowing that the abstract doctrine of which he is diffident didn’t aim at anything else than to enable to see that such is the case: to give voice, in other words, to the missionary essence of Christianity. It’s what I found instead in that half forgotten Nineteen Century Italian thinker, who did an enormous amount of work to bridge the gap between classical philosophy, patristic and scholastic theology, and modern thought. He realized a maintenance which is at the same time mission through the exercise of intellectual charity, to satisfy that need of understanding of which common Christians are hungry.

  7. Maintenance of buildings, properties, finances – takes a heavy toll on human resources. Few will dare to respond to a vocation to maintain material heritage.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Maintenance vs. mission -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.