33rd Sunday of the Year

Dear Friends in Christ,

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Baltimore this week, and it was a disaster. On Monday morning, before the business meeting had even officially begun, the bishops learned that on Sunday night they had been asked by Rome not to vote this week on long planned proposals aimed at redressing the crimes exposed during the Summer of Shame. A generous interpretation of this request is that Rome wants all the bishops in the world to adopt the same measures everywhere, and because a global meeting of bishops is already scheduled for next February, it was – in this version of events – thought to be premature for the American bishops to make decisions in advance of the discussion to come. But that is the generous interpretation. In the search for an adequate account of this strange request from Rome other explanations run from cynicism to wickedness to incompetence to self-serving clericalism. But whatever the cause of the chaos in Rome, our bishops failed us here at home.

Intellectual and moral incoherence in the Catholic Church has been a fact of life for more than half a century, and despite thirty-five years of steady and persuasive teaching from Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, no small number of bishops, priests, religious men and women, and professional theologians remain sincerely convinced that the Catholic Church is teaching falsehood about human sexuality (among other things) and want to see the Church’s teaching changed to accommodate many of the central goals of the Sexual Revolution. This dissent took shape in 1968 around the rejection of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, and from that time to this, an uneasy truce over these disputed questions has warped nearly every facet of life in the Church, including the episcopate. One consequence of this truce is that the bishops of every nation are often deeply divided and so cannot agree among themselves about how to govern the Church. This incoherence may not have directly caused the sexual abuse of minors by bishops and priests, but the problem of abuse was made much more difficult to confront and correct by the cognitive dissonance which flows from a minister who believes that the Church is teaching falsehood about central parts of human life and calling it truth.

It is the sacred duty of every priest to teach the revealed truth of the inspired Word of God and to help his people read the signs of the times. So here is what I see. We learned more than five months ago that a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church was suspected for decades of being a sexual predator, but he continued to rise in the hierarchy nonetheless. Responsible parties have made specific statements about how and why this man was able to thrive in clerical life, and we are still waiting for a response to or a rebuttal of those statements. And now, when our bishops gathered for the first time since these scandals emerged, the result was feckless disagreement, and they could not even agree on a resolution asking the Holy See for a full reckoning of the rise of Theodore McCarrick. Christ Jesus alone can reform and purify His Church. God help us all.

Father Newman