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Bored and Boring Bishops 

Just as spouses look for adulterous outlets when a marriage grows cold, many priests and bishops look to the thrill of politics to soothe their boredom with the doctrinal components of their religious office.

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Ky., listens to a speaker during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Boredom among priests and bishops has become a common malaise. After Texas passed a pro-life law that prohibits abortions after six weeks of gestation, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, KY, tweeted:

Those who vehemently fight legal abortion, but are uninterested in providing basic healthcare for pregnant mothers or needy children, who are unconcerned about refugee children or those lacking quality education with no hope of escaping poverty cannot really claim to respect life.

Bishop Stowe’s insult to pro-lifers drew the expected response. Pro-life activist Catholics were outraged, disappointed, and discouraged. Why does he hold pro-lifers in such contempt? Does he oppose anti-abortion laws? The Bishop undoubtedly anticipated that his provocation would again make him the center of attention. Aside from the dishonesty and viciousness of the remarks, his comments suggest he is bored with his episcopal responsibilities.

The intellectual framework for living the Christian life is threefold: Church doctrine, theology, and applying our understanding of Jesus to the circumstances of everyday life. This framework of faith and reason also helps us understand the contemporary landscape of the Church and to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught.” (2 Thess 2:15) The clergy are custodians of Church doctrine and theological inquiry. They are the primary teachers of the faith. The laity – responding to their Christian formation — are custodians of the secular political sphere, sanctifying the world by holy lives.

Doctrinal and dogmatic teachings of the Church are central to the Church because they infallibly sketch the portrait of Jesus, the Word made Flesh. The Creed provides the focal point for essential doctrinal truths that derive from the history of salvation. The precepts of the Ten Commandments similarly provide the pedagogy for teaching moral absolutes. The interplay between the Sacraments and Catholic doctrine safeguard prayer: Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer [is] the law of belief”).

Theological insights help us understand Catholic doctrine. But different — and even competing — theological perspectives (such as the theology of Augustine and Thomas) do not necessarily suggest infidelity and heterodoxy. Theological studies reward inquisitive minds with understanding and wisdom. The duties of the clergy generally focus on Catholic doctrine and theology. Their sacred duty is to hand on the faith with integrity: “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).

Assenting to Church doctrine as augmented by study of theology prepares us to live a Christian life. With God’s grace, we apply Church teaching to the everyday circumstances of our personal, public, and community lives. Prudential judgments belong to individuals: whether to marry or remain celibate, to consider religious life or continue in the lay state, to advocate this or that law, and so on. While the Church’s doctrinal assertions are comparatively few, we all make countless applications of Christian principles to our everyday circumstances. The role of the laity is to “sanctify the world” by their secular work (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem).

So the laity – not the clergy – have the responsibility to establish just laws, tax policies, government programs, and immigration laws. Although there is some overlap in responsibility (laws that directly violate the Commandments, for example), the lines of demarcation coincide with the command of Jesus: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17).

A chasm separates conservatives and liberals within the Church. We usually label priests and bishops who routinely invoke Church doctrine and theology as “conservatives.” We commonly identify the clergy who presume their authority includes secular and political judgments as “liberals.” (The USCCB has a record promoting social programs, government spending, and immigration policies that usually coincide with Democrat Party positions.) Most conservative priests and bishops reject the bureaucratic political positions of liberals but usually refrain from public criticism. (There are anecdotal accounts of bishops privately dismissing liberal USCCB policy positions but vote for them in the Conference.)

Conservatives may fear that liberals are, at heart, unfaithful dissidents (especially concerning abortion and human sexuality). Overlooking the liberal politics of the Church paper over differences and give the appearance of unity. So the bishops sponsor uncontroversial pastoral programs (such as “The Fortnight of Freedom” prayer initiative of years past) and reward pastoral inertia. Then-Cardinal McCarrick’s and now Archbishop Gregory’s refusal to invoke Canon Law to warn pro-abortion Catholic politicians dramatize the impotence of liberal and conservative unity. Indeed, with conservatives neutered by silence, the liberals become even more vocal – and irrelevant.

Wearied by Church doctrine and unable to find delights in the study of theology, liberal clergy look for the excitement of politics. So they enter into the arena of prudential judgments and go well beyond their competence as churchmen.Their clericalism edges out the rights of the laity – even silencing them — and presumes to speak with an authority that exceeds the boundaries of their religious mandates.

Bishop Stowe’s tweet perfectly illustrates this new clerical pattern. He cleverly undermines Church doctrine by attacking faithful prolifers with liberal political advocacy using the informal Twitter platform. His carefully crafted remarks remain outside the setting of formal teaching. But with plausible deniability, he implicitly and unmistakably signals that the cluster of moral evils assaulting marriage and family are unimportant, not binding, or inconsequential. He finds the real action in the arena of liberal politics.

Just as spouses look for adulterous outlets when a marriage grows cold, many priests and bishops look to the thrill of politics to soothe their boredom with the doctrinal components of their religious office. Bishop Stowe’s political distraction demonstrates this analogous form of clerical “promiscuity.” But the teachings of Christ, passed on faithfully by the Church, are not the whimsical playthings of the clergy. Passing on the gifts of the faith with fidelity and precision is often thankless work, similar to marital duties. It is not within their power, authority, or ability to tweak them as they desire or as the zeitgeist demands.

Alas, in a liberal culture, the views of liberal clergy are redundant. How long will it take for liberal bishops like Bishop Stowe to realize that they are, well, boring?


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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 15 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.

42 Comments

  1. Bishop Stowe tweets: “Those who vehemently fight legal abortion, but are uninterested in providing basic healthcare for pregnant mothers or needy children…”

    Not so long ago, the USCCB had things the other way around:

    “Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 23).

  2. This is the same Bishop Stowe who had to apologize for his ignorant, uncharitable, and wholly wrong comments about the Covington kerfuffle, back in the afore time, before Covid, yes?

    • Bishop Stowe did not apologize. Weeks after the facts about the incident had come to light, he wrote in an op-ed – “Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.” The best he could come up with was not “placing the blame entirely” on the students. The Bishop of Covington apologized.

  3. BRAVISSIMO Fr! What a great relief to hear your words echoing what so many faithful think.
    Boring and irrelevant what they have rendered themselves to. Very sad to write this but it’s nevertheless the truth. Praying for holy Bishops.

  4. Too many of our bishops are entirely ignorant of basic Christianity. Social activism has exactly nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mission that Jesus gave to his followers was not “Go, make the world a better place”, but rather “Go, make disciples and teach them to live as I have commanded.” Not “save the world”:, but “save people from the world.” These bishops aren’t worth the space they take up.

  5. Questions for Bishop John Stowe:

    1) How many pregnant mothers or needy children have you personally provided basic healthcare for?

    2) How many refugee children have you personally taken in?

    3) How many children who lack quality education have you personally helped get educated and offered opportunity to escape poverty?

    4) And, while I’m at it, how many innocent children in the womb have you helped escape the savagery of abortion?

    I would wait for your response, but I’ll not live long enough.

  6. Father Jerry writes:

    “The intellectual framework for living the Christian life is threefold: Church doctrine, theology, and applying our understanding of Jesus to the circumstances of everyday life.”

    There is something not quite right about this. On the whole, there is something a bit too dualistic and simple about this article. I have to think about it more in order to properly articulate it, but “applying our understanding of Jesus to the circumstances of everyday life”? Is it really a matter of applying an understanding? It seems to me that it is more about “he must increase, I must decrease”, and “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. It is more about “carrying in my body the death of Christ so that the life of Christ can be manifest in me”, etc. I also don’t think he’s got the role of priests down all that well. I’m not sure if “custodians of doctrine and theological inquiry” is completely accurate, or fitting. I believe this author is taking a particular “aspect” and making it central or fundamental.

    He writes: “They are the primary teachers of the faith. The laity – responding to their Christian formation — are custodians of the secular political sphere, sanctifying the world by holy lives.”

    It’s not entirely wrong, but far too dualistic. Gosh, aren’t we all called to sanctify the world by holy lives? And is it really true that bishops ought to shut their mouths when it comes to political matters?

    Although I don’t think bishop Stowe’s tweet was political, nor was it very charitable–it was quite miserable, to be honest and simply untrue to the facts–, I think this article is dangerously old, simple, stuffy, and shall I say “rather pre-Vatican”. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something not quite right about his “framework”.

    • The idea of ‘applying our understanding of Jesus to the circumstances of everyday life’ is nothing more nor less than accepting and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to develop habits that conform us to the image of God within. Your points about Paul do the same.

      You are on the same page as Fr. Pokorsky.

      If bishops see their role as strictly political, they’ve missed Jesus’ boat. They’ve chosen to neglect God while digging their hole in the world.

      • Meiron: Perhaps you are right, but Father Jerry’s specific formulation of that idea is really deficient. I don’t think I’m quite on the same page as Fr. Pokorsky. It is this separation between the clergy and laity in his article that I find a bit problematic: the priest/clergy are those who “stay inside” and study theology and doctrine (to be the custodians, etc), while the laity are the ones who “go outside” into the world, sanctifying the world. Of course, it is true that the laity are charged with sanctifying the world, but so are clergy. Christ sent the Apostles out “into the world” to make disciples, and making disciples involves much more than studying theology in order to be the custodians of doctrine. We don’t win souls over to the Lord by lecturing to them about doctrine and theology. That’s one thing that is so good about Pope Francis. He understands this well. There’s way too much lecturing among clergy. That’s all many of them seem to know how to do, and all they seem to want to do–give talks, more talks, talks and dinners, write articles, more talks, etc. That’s not what brought me back to the Church. What brought me back was the meeting of a down to earth priest who was in the world, who loved people, was NOT an interior/Cathedral/rectory/sanctuary priest, but a priest who was out there among the sheep, among those who belong to the Royal priesthood of the faithful. That’s another point that is problematic about this author’s dichotomy between clergy and laity. The separation he introduces between clergy and laity obscures the true meaning of the Royal priesthood of the faithful (their true identity): “We are the priests, you are the non-priest whose role is nothing like ours”. No, rather, you, the layman/laywoman, are priest, prophet and king, and a separated clergy does not serve to help the laity understand how this should be lived out.

        Moreover, the best moral theologians in my life who have been the real custodians of sound moral teaching have been lay people, not clergy, i.e., John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, Germain Grisez, William May, Ralph McInerny, Fulvio DiBlasi, and so many others.

        I don’t think Father Jerry’s commentary on the tweet by the bishop was spot on at all. First of all, the tweet was in no way political (just ridiculous), and I’m not sure that it is rooted in boredom as much as it is rooted in timidity. Many clergy are the very kind that Father Jerry seems to hold up as models, i.e., interior/sanctuary/study priests who settle for a life in the rectory, reading, stepping out just a few steps to lecture everyone. It seems to me that Bishop Stowe is not much more than that, except he’s politically correct and safe, so it seems more likely he is just feeling irritated at the tremendous devotion of pro-lifers, because it reminds him of how timid he is, and so instead of taking a good look at himself, he denigrates the source of that irritation, namely those in the pro-life movement. Father Jerry’s article seems to miss the mark.

    • Very odd that if a modicum of research on Father and his writings was done, you’d find one has not judged rightly….such and absence is also against justice and charity, which means ‘one increased while Christ decreased’, that one ‘did not have the same mind and heart in them-self as in Christ’….it seems you inadvertently put the dualism in play, perhaps because of your understandings??

      Each statement you spoke to has a perfectly Christ truthfulness to it…e.g., saying that the lay faithful are not to go and sanctity the world is dualistic in another manner – Father is only saying that they are to take what Christ does in His Marriage Feast and bring it into the world to sanctify it in a way and place that the priest cannot, but Father knows that the priest is to go out and make disciples of all nations as well…. He is not proposing an either/or but present the both/and…he was just sharing what each does do but not saying it was exclusive vis-a-vis the other. Blessings

  7. The legion of episcopal zeitgeist addicts amount to nothing but a herd with their heads stuck in the sixties. Provocateurs, hungry for a vacuous personal relevancy, spiritually tragically impoverished. It is boring but above all agonizing to observe and scandalous to the degree it always distracts from Jesus Christ.
    It is not about you, guys, it is about Jesus Christ.

  8. On the hopeful side, Archbishop Cordileone wrote on op ed critizing pro abortion Catholic politicians. However such criticizing need to go beyond op eds, and proceed with excommunications.

  9. We need to pray for our bishops and have Masses offered for them. So many seem to have lost their way…if love for God and the Faithful are not #1 priority in their lives, we are sunk. Jesus Christ and His Way must be the path they take, regardless of political views, government money, etc. The Lord always takes care of His own, especially the shepherds.

  10. I do not find this a Christian contribution to debate. It vitiates itself by its polemicism. Jesus should be Jerry Pokorsky’s model. He would not write nasty stuff like this. Christianity is religion of love and tolerance not condemnation and rejection.

    • I recommend that you actually read the Gospels and the words of Jesus. Here’s a sample from Matthew 23:

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

      “Woe to you, blind guides! … You blind fools!”

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.”

      “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

      “Christianity is religion of love and tolerance”. Yes, true love and authentic tolerance.

      By the way, it’s worth noting that what Fr. Pokorsky here has the added value of addressing specific comments by a specific bishop, unlike the many vague and undisciplined insults leveled by another and more famous priest.

      • While you’re at it, Carl, you might want to recall another passage from Matthew: specifically Mt. 25, where Jesus says that anyone who gives food, drink, welcome etc to one of the least, does it to him. So, yes, Bishop Stowe is very much in line with Jesus because he sees the whole person and all persons, regardelss of place of origin, language, religion. To provice health care, education, adequate housing, welcome to foreigners is absolutely pro-life. While pro-life includes the unborn, it cannot be limited to the unborn, it has to include all people, that means people on death row, as well.

        • “To provice health care, education, adequate housing, welcome to foreigners is absolutely pro-life. While pro-life includes the unborn, it cannot be limited to the unborn…”

          Have I said otherwise? No.

          And as someone who has, along with my wife, adopted five children, I think I understand both the priority of protecting the unborn and the need to care for the needy, lowly, and vulnerable.

          One problem with Stowe (and you seem to share the same reflexive judgment) is that he seems to assume that those who fight abortion don’t give a damn about the children once they are born–or about those in need, etc. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

        • “To provice health care, education, adequate housing, welcome to foreigners is absolutely pro-life. While pro-life includes the unborn, it cannot be limited to the unborn, it has to include all people, that means people on death row, as well.”

          Gee, thanks for including the unborn. Almost an afterthought in your comment.

          How is it possible to do as you ask if they’re never born?

    • Christianity is religion of love and tolerance not condemnation and rejection.
      Can you point to those passages of Scripture in which Christ enables the sinner rather than exhorting them to repentance?
      “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Jesus Christ, Luke 12:57

    • So what exactly is “loving and tolerant” about the words of a bishop who characterizes all the parents and teachers and doctors and nurses and firefighters and attorneys and first responders and unpaid caregivers and people from hundreds of other disciplines within the pro-life movement, who operate centers that give aid to pregnant women and their families, of being the sort of people who are “uninterested” about the health of pregnant women and their families?

  11. To Bishop Stowe and all the Mario Cuomo Liberal catholics who clothe themselves outwardly with issues of climate change and immigration reform we will never stop trying to overturn RVW because it is an intrinsically evil law.

  12. A person cannot express with his lips what he does not believe in his mind and heart from his mind and heart Those priests who do, who should be elevated to the episcopacy, are instead canceled, removed from ministry to allow drivel to be expressed by those whose faith still needs development yet hold sacred office.

  13. I do not understand the point of view that equates the murder of the most vulnerable lives in a mother’s womb with children who are hungry and other human injustices. Those children have been born! There is frequently than one death in an abortion: the unborn child and the mother’s conscience. The mother can repent and receive forgiveness from Christ as he is merciful. There have been 60 million murders of unborn children since the passing of Roe vs. Wade. That is a holocaust on a very large scale. Priests who put 60 million preventable deaths of the most vulnerable…the unborn… on the level of reversible social justice issues (feeding a hungry child, helping the poor) seems to have an issue with critical thinking and should be assessed for their fitness to serve the Catholic faithful.

  14. “Boring” would be easier to take than “condemning.” Whatever the reason, any bishop who attacks faithful Catholics for not doing enough discourages those who are actually doing something. I always find a difficulty when encountering the adjective “liberal” applied to any Catholic — hierarchy or lowerarchy. Catholic teaching is what it is, and Catholics of all ranks either believe it and are Catholics, or they don’t and aren’t Catholics. No liberal. No conservative. Just Catholic or not.

  15. Bores can be lethal. My bishop is a “conservative,” and a bore. And he, along with perhaps a dozen bishops, perhaps many more, has sent seminarians to Mt. St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., where all of them (young men just over 20, at virtually no risk from the dreaded covids, and at great risk from spike-protein-induced myocarditis [among other disorders]) have been given the spike-protein bio-weapon. In my darker moments, I have wondered, “If any of them die as a result of their craven compliance, how much is the Church really losing? If they are ordained, how much is the Church gaining?”

  16. “Pro-birth” only but not “Pro-life.” Bishop Stowe is right. The Church’s pro-life teaching embraces the whole spectrum of life. Those who fight against abortion only should not be properly called “pro-life” but “pro-birth” only. It’s time we have a proper usage and understanding of the term. Catholic pro-life advocacy embraces and defends the whole scope of life from womb to tomb. A grave misunderstanding of pro-life defense is when this expanse of life is trivialized by some bishops using the mantra, “preeminence,” to tag and focus only on abortion and disregard the rest of life issues. It is even notable that “preeminence” does not mean “only.” If the bishops in the name of pro-life advocacy want to deny Catholic politicians communion for their promotion of abortion like Pelosi and Biden, how come they were silent on Barr then restoring the death penalty and relaunching executions and even gave him the Faithful Christian Laity award. These “pro-birth” only bishops are indeed in another sense bored and boring.

    • how come they were silent on Barr then(sic) restoring the death penalty and relaunching executions and even gave him the Faithful Christian Laity award.

      There aren’t any Bishops on the Board of the NCPB – National Catholic Prayer Breakfast – which bestowed the Christifideles Laici Award upon Barr.

    • Joseph, you have a point, but all human rights come after the right to life, i.e. abortion is the first step in restoring respect.for life and eradicating the evil of utilitarianism. And it is not wrong to support the death penalty as a Catholic, one can be in support of it.

    • Many pro-lifers who work hard to protect the unborn are also involved in prison ministry, St. Vincent de Paul, and contribute financially to people in need. They visit families who live in motels, people who live in cars, visit the residences of sex offenders released from prison. To say that they are simply “pro-birth” is not only insulting but is calumny. You are proceeding from your prejudices and self-righteous judgment. Is it possible that people who employ your line of argumentation are simply afraid to say that they are pro-abortion rights?

  17. We can’t anesthetize conscience with somnolence. “Those who vehemently fight legal abortion, but are uninterested in providing basic healthcare” may be attached to a great number of persons including His Holiness. Fr Pokorsky is right that boredom incites us to seek something exciting. Boredom is sign of a belabored intellect succumbing to what can’t be reconciled. If politics excites why boredom? Forced adaptation of new age values forced because of opposition to that nagging Law Within written there by God. So we have our idols that become idolatries and with it mental fatigue. Moral somnolence is a deadly disease not something to take lightly. Bishops with misplaced priorities are not just insufferable bores. They are purveyors of death.

    • If only they were irrelevant….to be certain the parable of Lazarus and the rich man reminds us that the sins of omission are as mortal as the sins of commission. By misplaced priorities you must be referring to scattering the flock of Jesus Christ to the wolves to the displeasure, the disservice of Jesus Christ. Then of course basic health care provided by the state requires acceptance to the terms and conditions of the state (Ceasar, Babylon) hence we need a means to provide basic health care independent of the state that is progressively atheistic.

      • “By misplaced priorities you must be referring to scattering the flock of Jesus Christ to the wolves”. Yes AFCz. You describe it well. A wolf hidden under sheep wool may frequently be taken as an easy going nice guy. The kind that fear upsetting parishioners if they address the truth about the key issues, and by that omission destroy credibility in Catholicism. Avoid political wrangling, controversy at all costs. Keep the deadening peace and makenice. Being innocuous pleases everyone [that is the majority who can’t handle the truth] and saves no one.

  18. Just as one political party has been infiltrated with RINO’s So too the Catholic Church has been infiltrated by Bishops of Stowe’s “peculiar” brand of faith.There is no difference between the two.

  19. Many of us are tired of Bishops who don’t actually lead but enjoy attacking their own flock for imagined sins, much like those who foist concepts like “white privilege” on a credulous public. Or who make inane comparisons. The church did itself much damage when too many clergy stood on the side of those burning looting, injuring others and otherwise tearing down our society. Priests kneeling in “solidarity” ( of what? Violence?) Bishops who refuse to admonish those giving public scandal ( whether politician or actor) or take steps to correct the situation. The obvious desire by upper churchmen to schmooze and gain the approval of government officials by their compliance, even if those same officials would gladly shut down the church permanently if they could. The clear choice such Bishops have made in that cooperation,is that the body is more important than the state of the soul.Finally I felt complete disgust to see photos of George Floyd on the altar in a catholic church, he a convicted felon who once held a pregnant woman at gunpoint. Not exactly a model to follow. Such clergy appear to think that adhering to communist-like social justice issues are equivalent to being a Christian. These clerics accuse their flock of unfairness to illegal immigrants, yet never balance their admonishment by telling the illegals that they need to follow the law. Indeed, often activist clergy and their supporters are found actively helping such people FLOUT the law. How is breaking the law a catholic social good? How is it not a sin? Social justice to them seems even more important than Christianity , judging by their decisions. It is not. The perspective and respect, and yes even rule following owed to God has been lost, and I wonder if it can be revived??

  20. Someone should explain to bishops who disgrace their office that holding their office provides no special privilege for trashing the Eighth Commandment. Reducing human beings to caricatures with presumptions about what they care about or don’t care about in their heart, mind, and soul is to bear false witness in case no one has ever explained the Eighth Commandment to Bishop Stowe.

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