To be perfectly frank, the Fall Meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Md., is near the top of the list of things about which I could not care less. I can’t even get up for the race handicapping part, which in other years has been fun. It’s just pointless, if you ask me.
There, I said it.
What’s interesting this time is the stuff that’s been on the sidelines and … ahem … peripheries of the meeting.
If Rome can be counted among the peripheries, the interview released by Vatican News on Monday morning – right about the time the US bishops were sipping their coffee – probably takes the cake.
It was an interview with Roger Cardinal Mahony, the archbishop-emeritus of Los Angeles, and it was mostly about the endlessly controversial draft document on “Eucharistic coherence” the bishops ordered at their spring plenary.
Cardinal Mahony doesn’t like it.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we’re even having this document before us,” he says, and calls it “totally unnecessary.” OK, he really doesn’t like it.
“[T]he document as we have it is being passed just as we come up on the holiday season, no one is going to read [it],” he says. He’s not wrong about that – and wouldn’t be wrong about it, were it written by St. Thomas Aquinas himself.
“Remember,” he says, “this document was intended primarily to go after and penalize Catholic legislators.”
Only, it wasn’t.
The idea that the US bishops ever countenanced targeting politicians or public servants in any branch of government at any level is one that played a big part in the pageant of idiocy that took place around the bishops’ last big pow-wow in June, but it was never going to happen and everybody who matters knew it – even and especially the ones who were ginning up opposition to the idea.
Anyway, that Cardinal Mahony doesn’t like the draft document is not exactly surprising. It also isn’t really any sort of news. What’s news is that the Vatican’s official information outlet ran an interview in which he says so, on the opening day of the US bishops’ fall gathering.
Now, it may be that Cardinal Mahony asked the pope’s news organ for some space, and they obliged. It may be that the editorial powers at Vatican Media sought him out, and he obliged.
I asked a couple of the senior people in the organization, but they hadn’t answered by late this afternoon EST – I’m stateside these days – and, anyway, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that the Vatican’s official communications outfit is running an interview with a senior US red hat – one with a dismal record on child protection and clerical discipline – in which the prelate criticizes his brethren in the American episcopate for doing things their way, rather than letting Pope Francis call the plays.
“The Holy Father,” says Cardinal Mahony, “is always, always looking for the path of encounter and dialogue to deal with issues like this, especially among the bishops.” He mentions the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Louis Cardinal Ladaria SJ, who sent a letter to the US bishops at Francis’s behest, in which Ladaria outlined “a wonderful three-step process” for the bishops.
“[W]e would meet regionally for maybe 2 or 3 days together,” step one. “And really come to know each other, to understand what was going on, what our differences were,” step two? He never got to step three.
In any case, the bishops never got to step one “because of Covid,” but “if we had done it I think we [bishops] would be in a far different situation,” and “would have decided we do not need this document.”
Three quarters of his brother bishops disagreed last June, though, and here we are.
Never mind that Cardinal Mahony’s preferred “way forward” would have involved more dialogue with the 60 Catholic US federal lawmakers who wrote a “statement of principles” including their belief that the “weaponization” of the Eucharist to target politicians who – like them – support legal abortion is “contradictory.”
I suppose folks may find Cardinal Mahony rather too sanguine when it comes to the possibility for dialogue with such figures, but really, it’s neither here nor there.
Kind of like him, these days.
Pope Francis wasn’t wrong when he decried the abuse of narrative in news media. Maybe his people didn’t get the memo?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
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