I haven’t written one of those, “Why I am (still) Catholic” pieces, and I don’t intend to. Mostly, that’s because my reason for being Catholic remains unchanged from the one time I did address the question publicly, and in any case can be stated in too few words to warrant anything like an essay. I’m Catholic because the Catholic Church is true. That’s pretty much all I’ve got.
Bishop Barron recently wrote a small book, urging the faithful not to leave, but to stay and fight for the Church. That’s right, but it strikes me also as largely unhelpful. There don’t seem to be many fence-sitters, these days. Even if they are, the ones who do decide to stay and fight mostly made their decision a long time ago, and despite the bishops, rather than because of them or any one of them.
Declan Leary put it in a brutal and heartbreakingly accurate piece for the National Review, describing the recent assembly of the US bishops: “If there’s one thing that’s tempted even the most faithful of Catholics to leave the Church, it’s the manifest incompetence of her leaders.”
I thought about taking a swing or two at Bishop Barron when his Letter to a Suffering Church first appeared. I’m glad I didn’t. I mean, his letter is fine, as far as such letters go: sincere as any such document can be, coming from the pen of a zucchetto; what it says is right on, in the main. What it doesn’t say—which is what Bishop Barron knows or reasonably suspects regarding particulars of the crisis—is far more interesting, and would be genuinely helpful. “Put not your faith in princes,” the Psalmist warns us.
For people who have decided to stay, but aren’t much for fighting—not yet—because they don’t know how to fight, or what specific goals for which to fight, there is another book I read recently. Adam DeVille’s Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power is the book for anyone desirous of getting in the fight, but at a loss for how to get in it.
I’d like to do a full review of Everything Hidden. Here and now, suffice it to say it is the sort of book from which readers just coming to the arguments it engages will learn much, and also the sort of book with which initiates and veterans of many campaigns will argue—in the good sense of the word, and profitably—on almost every page.
DeVille—not himself a layman, but a sub-Deacon in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and a theology professor at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, In —builds from the ground, up: taking us from parish structures, to the diocesan level, to bishops’ conferences. Even when he turns to consider the possibility of introducing—actually, re-introducing—married priests and bishops into the ecclesial mix, he bases his work on the principle, “Nobody in any context for any reason at any point in human history deserves to have a monopoly on power of any sort.”
“What about the Pope?” one might urge. What about him? Sure, the Fathers of Vatican Council I taught that the Bishop of Rome has direct, immediate, and supreme authority over the whole Church and all the faithful. That’s papal supremacy, in a nutshell. It doesn’t mean that the Christian faithful of other ranks and states of life in the Church are utterly destitute of rights the Roman pontiff is bound to respect.
What’s true for the Bishop of Rome is true for the Bishop of Podunk, and for the pastor of St. Mary’s on the corner, and for every chancery official and curate with whom one’s path may cross. Folks have gotten the impression that these guys need to be taken down a peg (or six), and have begun to act on it. If one thing is certain, no bishop is going to embarrass a “brother” by public criticism. Ask Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, whose numerous and well-documented failures of leadership have garnered exactly zero public criticism from his fellows in the US episcopacy.
Bishop Malone recently walked back a decision to assign a priest who had made sexual advances on adults to a parish with an elementary school. After suspending Father Joseph C. Gatto and Father Samuel T. Giangreco, Jr. last year, and ordering “professional evaluation and remedial measures,” Malone decided to give the two priests new assignments, despite their “improper conduct”: Father Gatto to St. Christopher’s and Father Giangreco to Our Lady of Charity. The diocesan review board, it seems, considered that “the improper conduct did not rise to the level that would require removal from active priestly ministry.”
Following an uproar from parishioners at St. Christopher’s, Bishop Malone announced that he is putting Father Gatto’s assignment on hold. The decision is, the diocese said in a statement, “the result of continued thoughtful evaluation and discernment of the parish’s needs.” Maybe this will be the thing that finally moves Rome to act. Though Malone has been careful to couch his reconsideration in terms of ongoing discernment, it is clear he bowed to public pressure, and neither the US bishops nor Rome can afford to have one of the boys go wobbly over a few bad days in the press. Meanwhile, there’s no further word on the status of Father Giangreco’s assignment to Our Lady of Charity.
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!