Friday, October 5, 2012

Joking about Drunk Driving While Being Made Bishop: New Evangelization and the Reality of American Catholicism Today

Headline at USA Today site yesterday: "SF Prelate Jokes about DUI Charge at Installation."

Because what's funnier, after all, than operating a vehicle when you're drunk?  At night.  On busy streets in a major city.  With your elderly mother and a yet to be identified young man in the car.

Ha ha ha funny.

As someone who lost a good friend to a drunk driver several days after that friend retired--a drunk driver who had previously killed a teenager in another lethal accident when he was driving while intoxicated--I tend to hear these "jokes" with a certain revulsion in the pit of my stomach.  

So.  We American Catholics now have an archbishop of a major American city, San Francisco, who is not only arrested for DUI within weeks before his installation, but who has the temerity, the unmitigated gall--the total lack of grace and class--to joke about his criminal actions and his arrest.

But we also have a sitting bishop in another major American city, Kansas City, who's still sitting there on his episcopal throne, undisturbed in his exercise of office, after his criminal conviction for protecting a priest in his charge who possessed child pornography.  As Patrick Wall rightly observes in his latest posting about Finn and Kansas City, we American Catholics appear to be living in a church of bishops gone wild.

And not only is Rome not doing anything about this abysmal lack of bona fide pastoral leadership, it's Rome who's foisting these bishops on us and promoting and protecting them!

How should the Catholic church be carrying on its "new evangelization" project right now, Tim Reidy asks at the America "In All Things" blog yesterday?  I have an idea.  How about starting the ball rolling by giving us real pastoral leaders?

Ones who aren't criminals.  Ones who don't joke about being arrested, even as they're installed in their glitzy new plum episcopal sees.  Ones who don't coddle priests taking upskirt photos of little girls.  Ones who have the decency to resign when they've been found to be protecting such priests or when they're arrested for their crime of endangering children's welfare.  Ones who don't collude in covering up the serial abuse of boys in a deaf school for years on end.

That might go a long way towards newly evangelizing us and the world in which we live--the choice of Catholic leaders who are real pastors and not the opposite of real pastors.  Real pastors who lay down their lives for their sheep.  Real pastors who seek out the sheep who are lost and who don't actively drive the sheep away.  Real pastors who put loving, humble service above lordly domination, power, and control of others.  

Real pastors who model their lives as shepherds on Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Who eschewed worldly power, wealth, and domination of others for a life of humble service to others--walking among those in need, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, embracing the lost, lifting up the lowly, sitting at table with the scum and riffraff of his society, treating women as the equals of men.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, because it absolutely has to be said: a church called to be a sacramental sign of God's all-embracing love in the world cannot effectively communicate its mission or pursue its mission when its own leaders do not model that all-embracing love in their own lives and behavior.  This is the starting point and sine qua non of any effective evangelization within the Christian tradition.

Because proclaiming the good news of God's all-embracing love for the world--which is what the word "evangelize" means in its root sense--is a matter of doing the word and not speaking it, first and foremost.  It's a matter of using words only when absolutely necessary, as the saint often called alter Christus, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, famously observed.

A saint who kissed lepers, who walked to the Sultan to demonstrate that Christians can love Muslims.  Who treated the sun and the moon as his brother and sister.  Who relinquished his possessions when he heard Christ calling him to follow in his footsteps.  And who asked, as he was dying, to be laid on the ground, on mother earth, from which he had come and to which he was returning, as he offered his soul back into the hands of the Lord who had given it.

Give us a few bishops who even remotely approach those examples--all of which flow directly from the gospel and the Jesus whom bishops tell us they model in a premier way for the Catholic community--and we might be on the path to new evangelization.  But not until then.  Not as long as Finn sits on his throne in Kansas City and Cordileone cracks jokes about drunk driving from his throne in San Francisco.

God help us.

(Thanks to Dennis Coday's "Morning Briefing" column at National Catholic Reporter for the link to the USA Today article and to Patrick Wall's fine essay, which I had also read in emails from several survivors' groups.)

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