Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chicago Priests Call Cardinal George, President of U.S. Catholic Bishops, to Accountability

Speaking of voids of moral leadership: I find a report that appeared yesterday in Chicago Catholic News fascinating.  The report states that a Catholic pastor in the Chicago diocese, Rev. Thomas McQuaid of St. Leonard Church in Berwyn, recently used his parish bulletin to lambast a decision of Chicago's cardinal archbishop, Francis George, to name a batch of new monsignors in the Chicago archdiocese.  Fr. McQuaid calls the decision "silly" and "shameful."

For those unfamiliar with the term "monsignor," this debate might seem arcane.  It's significant, however, for two reasons.

In the first place, there had been a move following Vatican II to ease away from use of the honorific title "monsignor" (literally, "my lord") to designate certain hand-picked priests who are elevated out of the ordinary clerical status by being nominated to receive the monsignor designation from the Vatican.  The title is more or less totally honorific.  It does not give a priest so designated special rights, powers, or privileges.  It does, however, often situate the priest who is made a monsignor to be considered for an episcopal appointment, when a bishop's see becomes vacant.  Historically, a priest who has been made a monsignor has a certain edge over an "ordinary" parish priest when episcopal appointments are made.  And priests who are made monsignors get to wear nifty little hats not permitted to other priests, sartorial accoutrements that have been making a comeback in the restorationist church of John Paul II and Benedict.

After Vatican II, this honorific title appeared to be headed for the dustbin of history, since it creates an artificial (and irritating) status distinction among hard-working clergy, all of whom are (or should be) concerned primarily not with titles and honors, but with their pastoral charges.  However, during the restorationist reigns of John Paul II and Benedict, the practice of naming monsignors has enjoyed a revival.  And so we see big new batches of these little lords in dioceses like Chicago, where Cardinal George--who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and whose word and practice carry great weight among American bishops--uses the honorific title to honor obedient priests.  And to punish refractory ones.

And so (the second point I want to make), it is an act of prophetic courage on the part of Fr. McQuaid to call Cardinal George's choice to make a new batch of priests monsignors stupid and shameful.  As Fr. McQuaid explains to his parishioners, there are economic consequences to the practice of creating monsignors: for each priest given this title, a diocese is expected to cough up a "gift"--money--to the Vatican.  That money (Fr. McQuaid thinks the "gift" for each monsignor is now $8,000-$10,000; the diocese is maintaining that it's $150) comes--as Fr. McQuaid also notes--from the pockets of the faithful.

As Fr. McQuaid suggests, the head honchos of the church like Cardinal George might much better serve the church and respond to the real needs and wishes of Catholics if they focused not on giving lavish honorific titles to priests who toe the party line, but on the abuse crisis.  And the damage it has done to the church.  It's scandalous that, when that issue demands attention, a leader of the status of Cardinal George would be creating forty new little lords for the Chicago archdiocese.*

And, according to the Chicago Catholic News Report, Rev. McQuaid is not the only priest in the diocese speaking out about scandals caused by the hierarchy.  Another pastor, Rev. Larry McNally of Ascension parish in Oak Park, recently apologized to his parish for the mistreatment of women by church leaders.  As he did so, he noted that his spiritual director is a woman who has stopped going to church because she is fed up with what the church's leaders are doing.  

And in mid-August, Rev. Tom Hickey of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Glenview wrote in his parish bulletin that ordinary Catholics are very weary of the machinations of the "old boys' club" of the hierarchy, and that church leaders need to work harder at listening to and understanding the viewpoint of the faithful.  Rev. Hickey encourages his parishioners to speak the truth in love to the top leaders of the church.

We live in interesting times.  At a moment at which it is so clearly imperative that church leaders focus on dialogue with the faithful and on being transparent and accountable in dealing with the abuse crisis, more and more bishops are creating more and more monsignors--more and more exalted little lords among the clergy.  

It's as if they are intent on simply missing the point, isn't it?

(H/t to Bishop Accountability's abuse tracker for the article I'm summarizing here).

The graphic for the posting is Colombian artist Fernando Botero's 1996 painting, "Monsignor."

*Addendum, 11 Sept.: the figure of forty new monsignors is in Fr. McQuaid's statements, as reported in the media source to which I link above.  A recent Chicago Tribune article on this topic says that twenty monsignors have been named.

No comments: