Friday, November 16, 2012

The Bishops' Meeting and Abdication of Pastoral Leadership: Catholic Laity as Future of Church

Yesterday, I wrote, vis-a-vis the total silence of the U.S. bishops at their recent meeting about the presence of a convicted criminal, Bishop Robert Finn, in their meeting,

You don't convincingly teach people to lead good moral lives while you deliver your moral pronouncements with a convicted criminal who has protected pedophiles sitting among you.

And later in the day, I was interested to read Tom Roberts's statement at National Catholic Reporter about the annual appeal (i.e., for donations) that Finn has just sent out in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.  Roberts writes about the recent USCCB meeting, a day of which he attended:

Earlier in the week I spent a day at the meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, watching them run through the beginning of an agenda that appeared to be a playbook for an institution in deep denial. The church is bleeding people faster than any other religious institution in the country (its bottom line saved only by immigration, largely from Mexico and the rest of Latin America); the priest shortage continues apace; the number of parishes and schools continues to dwindle. It is evident that the persuasive power, not to mention teaching authority, of the U.S. episcopacy has bottomed out, if the results of the recent elections are any indication. The president so vociferously disparaged by some of the bishops won a convincing victory. And all of the ballot initiatives in four states regarding same sex marriage were decided in ways favorable to the gay and lesbian communities.

He notes that the point person for the U.S. bishops' phony "religious freedom" campaign against President Obama, Archbishop William Lori, gave a "largely self-congratulatory" presentation about that ludicrous (and failed--and costly) enterprise.  Roberts adds that the head of the USCCB, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then called on all of us Catholics (including bishops) to repent, managing to mention the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic church and the bishops' role in it only once, and that in connection with an Irish story.  And as Roberts says, 

All the while, sitting in the room, was Finn, perhaps the most glaring contemporary exhibit of the bishops’ total disregard of their own promises of transparency and accountability. Not once was he mentioned, nor was mention made in that meeting of the fact that a sitting bishop had been convicted of a crime that, were he a priest, would disqualify him from ministry. The fine print in the charter — rather the script written in invisible ink — must read: None of the above applies to bishops.

At this meeting, the bishops considered and then rejected a statement about Catholic social teaching that did not contain even one reference to their previous prophetic statement Economic Justice for All, and only a glancing, single-sentence reference to something critically important to Catholic social teaching, the right of workers to unionize.

The bishops cannot agree on--they can no longer teach coherently and credibly about--one of the most significant contributions of the Catholic tradition to political dialogue in the U.S., the long and rich tradition of Catholic social teaching that Frank Cocozzelli and Walter Collins will be retrieving and celebrating in their documentary about Msgr. John Ryan, a noted theorist of Catholic social teaching and champion of workers' rights.  The bishops cannot agree on or teach coherently about Catholic social teaching because, under the leadership of the current pope and his predecessor, they have, in the American context, willingly permitted themselves to be co-opted and muzzled by the 1%.  

As this has happened, they have adopted a laserlike focus on attacking gay and lesbian human beings, women, nuns--anyone who in any way appears to threaten a moral agenda focused more or less exclusively on pelvic issues.  Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, it was the nuns who are now under attack by the bishops who kept Catholic social teaching alive in public discussions, and it was the 50%+ of American Catholics who ignored the bishops' instructions to vote Republican who carried Catholic social teaching into the voting booth.

My conclusion: the bishops have absolutely and decisively lost their ability to represent Catholic social teaching in the public square, and to the extent that they have lost this ability, they have lost their ability to be credible moral teachers about any issues at all.  Because Catholic moral teaching is a seamless garment in which thread intertwines with thread, and when the important thread of Catholic social teaching is removed from the seamless garment, everything unravels.

If the Catholic church is going to continue to have anything meaningful to offer to the American public square at this point in its history (and, indeed, if it's to continue to form meaningful Catholic communities), the Catholic laity (and religious women) are going to have to nourish and keep Catholic community and authentic Catholic teaching alive.  The bishops have abdicated pastoral leadership.  We lay Catholics have already known this as we have watched their grievous mishandling of the abuse crisis.

The intent to abdicate responsible pastoral leadership is now crystal clear to us in their choice to gather with Bishop Finn among them last week, never once addressing his situation.  Their inability to teach convincingly about Catholic social teaching (or any other moral issues) is genetically linked to their failure to be pastoral leaders in the abuse crisis, and their selling of their souls to the 1% who have now muzzled them and thwarted their ability to articulate Catholic social teaching--and who have also helped them fund the coverup of abuse of children in the Catholic church.

The graphic is a sign from protests held in various places in the U.S. this past summer to protest the USCCB's attack on religious women, from A Jesuit's Jottings blog.

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