I haven’t written an editorial since late July, in part because of the heavy and unceasing flood of news—most of it bad and some of it terrible—within the Church. In my last editorial, posted on July 23rd, not long after news broke about McCarrick and related matters, I wrote:
It is true, without doubt, that many of the bishops and cardinals are good men who are trying to do the right thing. But the rot in the Church cannot be covered by good intentions, the corruption in the Body of Christ cannot be treated like a PR problem, and the righteous anger of the laity cannot be placated by soothing sound bites. Put simply, the current course—which has all too often been a wearying combination of tweaks, spins, deflections, and obfuscations—has deeply damaged trust in the leadership of the Church. Not in the Church—One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic—but in her current leadership as a whole, which often seems to think the laity are either stupid or not able to handle the truth.
Now, as the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore wraps up, where are we? While I tend to list to the cynical side, I harbored cautious hopes that the bishops would make a push to at least present a unified and somewhat determined face in addressing the nightmarish McCarrick situation and the tangled web of secrecy, stonewalling, and straight-up evil involved.
And it appears the bishops also wanted to push forward in some way, having put forward two proposals for vote: one would establish (or at least outline) a new code of conduct for bishops, and the second would create a lay-led investigative body with the ability to investigate bishops credibly accused of misconduct.
Pope Francis, however, had other plans in mind. Or, at least, he didn’t care for the plan on the table (even though he praised the French bishops a week ago for establishing an independent commission to investigate their hierarchy’s response to abuse). And so, on Monday morning, at the very start of the assembly, a rather distraught Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, informed the bishops that he had been told late Sunday to set the proposals aside. Most everyone was surprised, except for Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, known both for his rapid rise in the episcopal ranks (with the direct blessing of Francis) and the low amount of esteem he holds among his fellow bishops, who immediately took the microphone. With a flat but clearly planned delivery, he stated, without the least suggestion of irony: “It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.”
No, it’s not.
What is clear is that Pope Francis has surrounded himself with men, including Cupich, who are either seriously compromised or who openly lust after ecclesial power. It’s not just that they show little regard for doctrine or truth, but how they act as entitled sycophants whose disregard for their fellow bishops is matched only by their disdain for the orthodox faithful. It’s also evident that Francis does not want any sort of investigation into McCarrick or related matters to be outside of his control. One need not be well-versed in canon law (I’m not) or sympathetic to the various claims made by Archbishop Viganó (I am) to connect the huge and proliferating dots.
Cupich, while emphasizing (again, without any sense of irony) the “urgency” of the matter at hand, suggested a non-binding resolution ballot and then a March 2019 meeting to follow a special February meeting with Pope Francis, which raised many other questions, including, “How many meetings does it take”? It later came out that the directive to DiNardo had not come directly from Pope Francis but from the Congregation for Bishops, which includes two American prelates: the increasingly omniscient Cardinal Cupich and the retired-but-going-nowhere Cardinal Donald Wuerl. (There were some, via social media, who wondered if Pope Francis knew about the directive, which does not speak well of social media. He knew. He called it. Period.)
There was much debate and conversation yesterday (read about some of it here), but it was already evident that little or nothing would come of it, even if some of the bishops made good points and issued exhortations worthy of consideration. The assembly was essentially dead in the water, or dead even before it got to the water. Things certainly couldn’t get worse, right?
Not so fast. Earlier today, the bishops spent some time debating a resolution that would, as CNA reported, “‘encouraged’ the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. After about a half hour of debate, objections that the resolution was redundant and ambiguous won out, and it was voted down by a clicker vote of 83-137, with three abstaining.”
Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, who had originally proposed the text, acknowledged, “This is not going to solve everything…” At least, it appears, it might have sent a modest signal to the Vatican that the U.S. bishops weren’t entirely pleased with being hung out to dry. But even that was too much, perhaps in part because the waters have been so poisoned with the notion that questioning or critiquing any statements or actions of Francis indicate an “anti-papal” sentiment.
Bishop Liam Cary of Baker, Oregon, made a cogent point in asking, “If McCarrick were to come to this microphone would he be allowed to speak?”, while he noted, as reported by CNA, “that there was no open microphone for his victims.” In a CWR interview last week, Bishop Cary spoke of “apostolic betrayal” in referencing McCarrick, stating: “The diabolical aspect of his betrayal is crucial. It goes beyond human frailty, it is a deep-seated evil, and a betrayal of the Son of God.” (Are you surprised that Cary is in eastern Oregon and not northeastern Illinois?)
Meanwhile, in an earlier session, Cardinal Cupich opined that in examining “those offenses against minors as opposed to adults, I would strongly urge that they be be separate. It’s a different discipline because, uh, in some of the cases with adults involving clerics, it could be consensual sex … There’s a whole different set of circumstances.” Again, nary a hint of irony could be detected in his delivery, even though his parsing of the particulars of canon law (as opposed to criminal law) when it comes to sinful, shameful acts bears a strong resemblance to the “teachers of the law” so often denounced by Pope Francis.
However, most striking, in reading accounts and watching video of the proceedings, was the contrast between parliamentary bickering and the huge stakes involved. Unlike some, I still do believe that many of the bishops are very good and holy men. There is a real sense in which they are held hostage by the nature of the Conference, which has shown itself to be mostly worthless if not worse. There is undoubtedly a lot of pressure being applied by the Vatican to conform and toe the line.
But that’s not good enough. Not now. As I wrote back in July:
The Catholic faithful do not want “easy”; they want the hard truth. They do not want therapists and counsellors; they want faithful men of God. They do not pine for happy talk, but for the joy found in the word of God, preached by servants of Christ in and out of season. And they do not easily trust those who do not vigorously proclaim and live the truth.
And, again, it’s not clear that the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously. But that’s a topic for another day.
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