Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Secret Vatican Document for Vetting Bishops: Does He Say Yes, Yes, Yes to the Holy Father?

The Australian Catholics for Ministry website and the Catholica website have uploaded a copy of a secret questionnaire used in the Australian Catholic church to vet prospective bishops.  The document has been generating a lot of interest at Catholic blog sites, including the Clerical Whispers site, where I first saw the Catholics for Ministry version of the article linked today.  I'm also grateful to Jim McCrea for emailing a copy to me and others on his email list yesterday.

Seeing this document brings back some memories for me.  I first heard about this vetting process when I was teaching at Xavier University in New Orleans, and when a priest who was also a theologian told me he had gotten one of these vetting forms asking for his input about a possible bishop candidate.  And what he told me corresponds roughly with what I see when I read the Australian document.

My theologian friend told me that the document came to him inside a sealed envelope, and the outer envelope informed him that the inner document came to him under the seal of pontifical secrecy, and if he told anyone its contents, he did so under pain of mortal sin.  My friend also told me that the document asked almost exclusively about the loyalty of the potential bishop to the Holy See, and whether he had ever said, done, or written anything that suggested dissent about the Vatican's positions on sexuality, contraception, women's ordination, or priestly celibacy.

Almost no attention was paid, my friend told me, to the pastoral history or pastoral acumen of the potential bishop.  Everything was about lockstep fidelity to the pope, even in areas in which teachings remain open for discussion and have not been infallibly declared.  And all was about scandal and handling of money--whether the bishop-to-be had ever been involved in any activities that might cause scandal if he were made a bishop, and whether he had a history of sound fiscal management.

And then down the road, another friend told me similar things about this document.  In her case, she knew of the broad outlines of this document because her sister and sister's husband had both gotten a copy asking them to comment on a man being considered for a bishop's position.  The sister's husband was the brother of a bishop himself, and also a man of some prominence in the local Catholic community.

My friend was livid with her sister and brother-in-law, because they had given the bishop-to-be a glowing evaluation--though they and my friend all knew that this man would be a lousy bishop.  Because he was, to put the point bluntly, a lousy human being.

My friend had known the man for much of her life.  She is many years older than he is, and throughout much of her life, she had done volunteer work assisting the seminarians at the seminary of which this bishop-to-be was a rector.  For years, she spent countless hours (thankless hours) teaching English on a volunteer basis to seminarians for whom English was a second language, becoming a mother and counselor to these seminarians, who were often treated as clerical fodder by the rector and faculty of the seminary, who would have preferred to deal with seminarians of their own class and cultural background, not these rag-tag seminarians from around the world who were now increasingly necessary to keep U.S. parishes staffed with priests.

And in her work in the seminary, my friend had seen much--too much--at close range, much that made her very doubtful that the rector should be turned into a bishop.  She saw ugly racism.  She saw abusive treatment of seminarians who were in any way seen as rebellious or problematic.  She saw favoritism of faculty members who toed the party line of the rector, and hard knocks handed out to faculty whom the rector regarded as threatening him.  She saw the rector rewarding faculty who stabbed other faculty in the back, who did dirty work and spy work for him.  She saw him kicking good faculty, people of integrity and intellect, in the teeth.

And she knew more: because she had known this rector even before he became the seminary rector--she had known him from the time he was ordained--she knew he had a secret life.  She knew he had a boyfriend.  She knew the boyfriend's name.  She told me the name.

And that, in itself, did not matter to her, because she refuses to stand in judgment over any adult who chooses to have an intimate consensual adult relationship with another adult, as long as no one is  being hurt by that consensual adult relationship.  Because this friend is African American, she also knows what prejudice is, and she has pushed back, all her life, vs discrimination against those who are gay or lesbian, since she sees anti-gay discrimination as connected to racial discrimination. It does not escape her attention that the same people driving anti-gay movements of discrimination ("evil conservatives" is her phrase for them) are the ones who have long driven movements of racial discrimination--though these political operatives are now trying to pull African Americans into the movement to oppose gay rights.

What appalled my friend about the fact that her brother-in-law and sister chose to give the bishop-to-be a free pass while they all knew about the longtime boyfriend was this: as the rector of the seminary, this man had persistently persecuted gay seminarians.  He had done heinous things to gay seminarians who displeased him--sending them away down the back stairs in the middle of the night, making cutting remarks to a seminarian he saw at a liturgy at the local cathedral, who had left the seminary when he realized he couldn't live the lie of the closet, and whose boyfriend had subsequently jilted him.  The bishop-to-be made a taunting remark about how he knew that the "friend" of the former seminarian had found another "friend" and had broken the former seminarian's heart--and goody, goody for him.

My friend also knew this: the bishop-to-be had made Steve's and my life miserable by taking away Steve's livelihood as a teacher without any sound reason for doing so.  And we all knew that at the bottom of that act of injustice lay the fact that it was becoming obvious that Steve and I were a gay couple.  And the rector needed a new scalp to send to Rome to prove his loyalty and so be made a bishop.

And made a bishop he was.  And then an archbishop.  And he's now a rising star of the United States Conference of Bishops.  He's regarded as a "moderate" who holds out hope for a less-radical church of the 21st century, one more willing to listen to the needs of the laity.  He's lionized by the centrist Catholic media.

Where the boyfriend is, I don't know.  I've written several letters to this bishop in the past, reminding him of what he did to Steve when I see some notice in the media that the gentleman has said something egregiously hypocritical about his commitment to justice and to human rights.  In each letter, I append a note asking about A., the "friend" whose first name I know.  I wrote the first of these letters when I learned, from the research of the Dallas Morning News in 2002, that this bishop was among the 2/3 of bishops who have shielded a child molester.

I have heard back from this archbishop only once, in response to my letters to him.  The response came to my letter asking him about his willingness to shield a child molester while attacking long-term committed gay couples and making their lives miserable.  I asked about the justice of his behavior.  I asked how he lives with the knowledge of who he is and what he does in the name of Christ.

And I got back a predictably angry response claiming that the media have made up the abuse crisis and he and other bishops are innocent of all the charges against them.  Now, as I say, I read glowing accounts in the Catholic media about this bishop, the rising star of the USCCB, who represents a new path for the American Catholic church--so we're told.

The letter makes no response to my question about A. and how A. is doing.

And as Paul Collins notes, commenting on the questionnaire used to select bishops in Australia at the two sites to which I link first in this posting, not once does the questionnaire even refer to Jesus.  Or God.  Or even the Apostles' or Nicene Creed, though the document claims to have an overweening concern for the orthodoxy of bishops-to-be:  

The Australian one [i.e., questionnaire about a bishop-to-be], for instance, leaves out the words 'God', 'Jesus', 'Christ', 'Holy Spirit', 'hope', 'ministry', 'belief', 'spirituality', 'prayer', let alone references to fundamental statements of belief like the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, are all omitted. There is no reference whatsoever to the Bible and not a single reference, let alone a quotation, from any part of Scripture. The whole emphasis is on loyalty to the pope, the Vatican and the Holy See.

Something is wrong with the Catholic church as it now lives and moves and has its being in the world of the 21st century.  And unless lay Catholics wake up very soon and realize that the church they love is quickly falling to pieces before their eyes under the leadership of a regime of ruthless careerist bishops hand-picked by a ruthless Vatican regime with no apparent strong interest in preaching the gospel or embodying the salvific love of Jesus in the world, it will soon be too late to save the Catholic church.  

The graphic is from the Catholica site to which the second link in this posting points.

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