Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Please Lead, Kind Bishops

Are we watching another Canadian Bishop-scandal unfolding?

Another scandal resulting from long term infidelity to Church teachings?

No point in closing your eyes to it.

And no point in shooting the messenger either.

Ignore this post if you’ve got the whole ugly Bishop-scandal figured out. Yes, I said Bishop-scandal, not Priest-scandal.

By all means, skip this post if you've got a strategy to help turn the whole mess around and you're proceeding with it.

Otherwise, maybe there’s some truth in what I’m saying.

When a soldier fails to do his duty, the commanding officer must take responsibility. When there’s confusion, a loss of morale and dereliction of duty, the C.O. will answer.

Let’s illustrate with well known facts. In last year’s catastrophe in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, specifically with respect to the failure to immediately address the emergency needs of the victims, President Bush eventually took responsibility.


It’s all about authority, and the chain of command. To refer once again to President Bush, he repeatedly says that the war on terror will not be abandoned on his watch. What does he mean?

He has a watch. He has a duty. He is duty bound to defend American interests and safety. If there is failure, he will be held accountable. He has agreed to take this role and to fulfill the duties and responsibilities accompanying it.

What happens with the soldier on the ground in Iraq invariably reflects on the commander in chief, the President. If the soldier is ill equipped, poorly trained, improperly positioned, inadequately supervised, glitches (and worse) will appear in the system. Word travels fast in the chain of command and corrections are made. Specifications for weapons and supplies change. Tactics are improved and updated. Training guidelines are revamped. Commanders are moved. Sometimes soldiers are discharged. Sometimes colonels are demoted. Sometimes officers are court marshaled.


Because you’re in a war. Or you’re training for a war. Same thing really.

And the goal is to win the war. To defeat the enemy.

The duty of the Bishops, amongst other things, is to lead the Church onward in this spiritual warfare, having the promise of Christ that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, if Bishops will be but faithful.

When the enemy prevails over the souls of the faithful, it is not because Christ is insufficient or because He has failed His Bishops. It is most often because the Bishops have failed Christ. They signed on for the job. They are the commanders. They are duty bound and must answer for the casualties of war.

Remember that as Shepherds, they take their lead and cue from the Great Shepherd Christ. He is the perfect Shepherd, feeding His sheep and protecting them from the wolves outside. Let’s remember this analogy so that when in doubt we will remember very clearly what the duty of a Bishop truly entails.

There is no deficiency of resources to curtail the Bishops’ success or to excuse their lack of it. The promises of Christ are sufficient. He will move heaven and earth to care for His sheep, to protect His Bride. The armour of war and the strategy for war are His. Besides love,which is an all too obvious necessity, He desires and requires only one thing. Fidelity.

You may be asking at this point: What about the Pope? What’s his role in all this? That’s a good question. That’s an excellent subject for another post. But such a question really doesn’t distract from my discussion of the responsibility of Bishops.

Is it too much to assert that the Bishops are accountable for every success or every failure in their diocese or realm of responsibility? I don't think so. After all, this is what they signed on for. It is indeed their high and holy calling and vocation.

I believe we do a disservice to the office of Bishop if we deny the responsibility of that office to any degree. We also do a disservice to the office if we place obedience to a Bishop ahead of truth. Every Catholic is bound to confront and to correct error, particularly grave error and sin, wherever it is encountered. It is a danger to the faith and a sin before Christ to remain silent in the face of error and injustice, irrespective of the individual involved or the office attached to that person.

The words that are used to register the opposition or correction are not as important as actually accomplishing the feat. And feat it truly is when a Bishop is involved. It is an intensely spiritual event. It is not to be taken lightly or without a good deal of prayer, but neither is it to be avoided or denied.

If appeal to or correction of the Bishop is unsuccessful, then every Catholic is encouraged and has the right and duty to refer the matter to the Holy Father himself. This is the prescribed method, but in any exceptional circumstances, a Catholic is permitted to address the matter directly to the Pope if circumstances seem to warrant it.

How is such correction or appeal accomplished? The circumstances will dictate the correct means. A letter is probably the most commonly used and effective approach. A direct word is generally less effective, more difficult to accomplish and perhaps also ill advised, except in extreme cases of possible public scandal. A Catholic’s best resort in all such scenarios is a heavy reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Don’t expect things to change at all until Catholics keep their Bishops accountable.

Don’t expect a Bishop to repent and start doing the right things just because you prayed. Don’t expect the scandal and corruption to ease up because we’ve got a new German Shepherd Pope. It won’t change until Catholics raise their expectations of the Bishops to Catholic standards and demand nothing less than faithful Bishops.

We can’t expect that all corrupt Bishops will repent. Nor will they likely resign. They have simply lived in mortal sin for too long and are unmoved by the Holy Spirit, dead in their conscience and acting out their degeneracy, delusions and perversions. We’ve been hearing their stories now for years. Very sad, shocking and painful to say but such ones are headed for hell and, if removed from office, will have to be removed by the Pope.

And it won’t happen until sufficient numbers of Catholics are prepared to do their part.

Until then the loss and disintegration continues. Last week Bishop Bruskewitz put much of it in perspective.

We have lost much already. Confidence in our Priests. Confidence in our faith. Knowledge of the Catechism. Respect for the Sacraments. Our Liturgy. Our Catholic schools. Our Catholic news media.

But the phase to come will be even more painful, as we watch with our own eyes the final fruits of our apathy, indifference and disobedience.

Next are our parishes and church buildings themselves, being lost to strategies such as the cluster concept.

Following that will be our Priests themselves. And then Mass itself. Where, when and how far will we be required to go to find Jesus in the Eucharist? What will be left of our faith for the children and grandchildren? Will there even be any children or grandchildren to carry on the faith?

Only chance we might have in Canada is the immigrants who bring an authentic lively Catholicism with them. But even those numbers are unlikely to save the day.

Sound ridiculous? Too much doom and gloom?

It can happen. What are we prepared to do to prevent it?


[Notes and quotes:

It is the universal and perpetual teaching of the church that when the clergy or even bishops rebel against the Pope, or the laws of God or the Church, it is not only the right but also the duty of the faithful to oppose them. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that bishops are not to be obeyed in all things, since sometimes the directives of bishops go against the law of God, and in such a case, "it is necessary to obey God rather than men." A bishop's order can directly oppose the Law, in which case, the subject is bound to obey the greater authority. Furthermore, a subject is not obligated to obey his superior "if he is given an order in a matter in which he is not subject." (Summa Theol. 2-2.104.5)

The Second Vatican Council expressly prescribes "reasoned obedience" to the legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

In his Summa Theologica, SSP. Q.33 Article 4, Thomas Aquinas points to Augustine who says in his Rule: “Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you is therefore in greater danger. But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.”

He makes the distinction between correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment and the fraternal correction which is an act of charity.

He further says that “when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence or harshness, but with gentleness and respect.”

In respect of public settings, Aquinas observes that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of “the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith.” A noteworthy result of this exercise is that “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

Aquinas says that “there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger, as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.”

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, in an address to the Knights of Columbus:

"Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious."